Adventist Hinsdale Hospital is participating in a program to raise awareness of the joy that comes with every child’s birth.
Holly Simon started the I Am Who I Am foundation in 2012 so obstetricians, nurses and family members would not feel sad when a child with special needs is born.
When her son Nate was born with Down syndrome 11 years ago, the attending doctors and nurses “hung their heads,” Simon said. “They said they were sorry.”
The focus was on what Nate would not do and who he would not be.
“They brought a negativity we did not welcome,” Simon said. Had their reaction been more positive, “Our path would have been different for sure,” Simon said.
“Early on I felt some guilt that I did not celebrate his birth the way I did my other children,” Simon said.
She created the I Am Who I Am program “to erase the sorrys in the delivery room and to bring congratulations and celebration to every child at their birth and throughout their lives.”
Her goal is to raise awareness in hospitals throughout the Chicago area. The effort includes giving an I Am Who I Am congratulatory blanket to every newborn with special needs.
Simon, who lives in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago, hopes the program “helps parents accept the realities and welcome the gifts of parenting special needs children,” as the website, www.iam-whoiam.com, states.
Simon has presented her program at several hospitals, but Hinsdale is “the very first hospital that really embraced it and plans to educate the entire hospital and its community, from the janitors to the president,” she said.
Chris Martin, Hinsdale Hospital’s clinical coordinator of labor and delivery, runs the program.
“We are going to be there for you,” Martin told the families of children with special needs born at the hospital, who were invited to a reception Feb. 13.
When hospital officials asked her to start I Am Who I Am in Hinsdale, they did not know her 11-year-old son Jake has Down syndrome.
“There is not a better brother in the world. There is not a better son,” Martin told the 70 or so people gathered in the hospital chapel and lobby.
Martin said she is privileged to tell parents their child is going to be the greatest blessing of their life, although they may not realize it yet.
The Muncies of Westmont were glad they attended the reception because it’s an opportunity “to feel welcome and to tap into other parents who can provide support and comfort, which a goes a long way,” Julie Muncie said.
Ben Muncie, 6, is one of the children featured in a photo exhibit that will be on display on the first floor of the hospital for six weeks, along with biographical notes about the children and their artwork.
Curtis Yonker of Darien said it was interesting to hear from parents of children who were born at the hospital in 2002, the same year as his son. He would have liked to have met them sooner.
“You almost felt like you were alone,” Yonker said.
He also wants to offer support to new parents of children with disabilities, if they need it.
Thomas Hupperich, 13, also had his photograph taken for the exhibit and his parents, sister, grandparents, aunt and cousins were there to enjoy the reception with him.
“I am honored to have a son like him,” Nancy Hupperich said. “If I didn’t have Thomas, I would not be so well-rounded. I am humbled everyday by him.”
She had not met the other parents at the reception, but said, “we are all family now. We need to get these kids out here and let people know being disabled is nothing to hide.”