It’s lunchtime and adorable two-year-old Claire Polley smiles as she waves enthusiastically across the kitchen table.
‘She’s learning sign language and she thinks she’s a little genius,’ proud mother Megan Smith, 30, tells New Idea with a laugh.
Claire was born with Down syndrome and her mum candidly admits that the shock diagnosis – which came soon after her daughter’s birth in September 2015 – caused her world to ‘fall apart’.
‘Nothing can prepare you for that moment,’ she says. ‘The room was silent and I felt the walls crash in around me. ‘How could there be something wrong with my perfect baby? They had to be wrong.
It was a mistake. ‘As I looked around the room, everyone was crying. My midwife held my hand with tears streaming down her face.’
While pregnant with her third child, Megan, from the Sydney suburb of Blacktown, chose not to have prenatal screening for Down syndrome.
‘I just did not think I could ever go through a termination,’ she says frankly, but despite this she is insistent that others in the same situation should be given the right to choose.
While she admits her daughter’s diagnosis was ‘terrifying’, soon the doting mum realised that this was not the end of the world as she had first feared.
Claire was special and her mother determined that she would not let Down syndrome define her path any more than her head of beautiful red hair.
Even so, others have not been as supportive, and Megan – who now runs T21 Mum Australia Network, a support group for parents of children with Down syndrome – admits some of the vitriol she has faced has been truly shocking.
‘As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, a new type of judgement is thrown in,’ she says.
‘I have been told I am a sick, twisted person for believing that a parent has a right to choose – that the only sane and morally correct choice is to abort a baby with Down syndrome.
‘I have been told it is cruel to let my child live in a world where she will be bullied, judged and treated unfairly.
‘I have been told that people with disabilities wish they were not born at all due to their hardships.
‘I have been told that 100 years ago, my child would have been killed at birth and this is survival of the fittest.’ But the caring mum’s response to those who criticise her is clear.
‘Claire is not a burden or a difficulty,’ she says. ‘She is a valued and loved family member. She is a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a niece, a granddaughter and a friend.
‘She is not sick. She does not suffer. Claire will experience a full and happy life. Claire will experience challenges, but she will have family and friends that will help her overcome any obstacle in her way.
‘As her mother, it is so hard to hear people validate their own choices in life by presuming my child has a life filled with hardship.
‘It is not OK to say that all children with Down syndrome suffer. Does this look like suffering to you?’
For more visit the the T21 Mum Australia Network at facebook.com/t21mum.
For more amazing real life stories see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!