Northbrook mom an advocate for family unity
Randi Gillespie (right) of Northbrook with her children (from left) Sarah, 8, Maddy, 7, and Liam, 4, in their central Northbrook backyard. | Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
MARRIED: 11 years, to Tom
CHILDREN: Sarah, 8, Maddy, 7, Liam, 4.
INVOLVEMENT: family support coordinator for the National Association for Down Syndrome
Updated: July 1, 2012 12:59PM
When Randi Gillespie moved to Northbrook two summers ago, this mom of three saw potential here.
“Nineteen-oh-one,” said Gillespie, noting the home’s age. A cedar picket fence, added by the new homeowners, adds to the curb (and safety) appeal, where cool treats are almost hand-delivered from a white truck off the historic Cedar Lane side yard.
“I hear the ice cream truck,” shouted Sarah, 8, while her siblings, Maddy, 7, and Liam, 4, ran to her sidewalk square nearby. Gillespie, family support coordinator for the National Association for Down Syndrome, couldn’t have asked for a sunnier day.
“We’re a family of five,” said Gillespie. “We are not a family of four with a fifth (child) with Down Syndrome, you know?
“We did not know we were having a child with Down Syndrome,” Gillespie said, recalling her pregnancy with Maddy. Gillespie opted for genetic testing which came back negative.
“Obviously, it was inaccurate.”
After Maddy’s birth, maybe 24 hours later, was when the new mom of two was told by doctors her newborn had Down Syndrome.
“I immediately called my husband. But then this nurse, she knocked on the door and looked at me and as I was crying with tissues, she said, ‘What a bummer.’ This is what a shift nurse said to me.
“All she (the nurse) had to say was, ‘Congratulations.’ I honestly believe that would have the changed the course of our lives.
“Within 24 hours of my daughter’s (birth), I already had to advocate (for her) and that is what is riveting to me.
“I was a new mom for the second time,” said Gillespie, shaking her head during the backyard interview. “It just doesn’t dismiss the fact that anyone could be that rude and dismissive.”
But the experience has “made me a much better parent for all of my kids, a much better advocate.”
Maddy held an iPad on a garden bench.
“Where’s Angry Birds, Sarah?” asked Maddy to her sister, wondering how to find on that touch screen those popular cartoon characters. Her mom pointed out another iPad game, skeeball, which Maddy loves to play with her siblings.
Gillespie’s husband of 11 years, Tom, is a Chicago property manager.
Of their second youngest: “Maddy is great, just great,” said Gillespie. “She’s just fun, exciting.
“And just like the other two kids are the center of our world, she’s (Maddy) hysterically funny.
“She has a lot of energy, she has friends, she rides a bike, she plays floor hockey, she loves to read...” When asked, Maddy said her favorite book is “Curious George,” then looking back to that iPad screen featuring bowling. “She can turn it on quicker than I can, finding the button — seriously,” said her mom.
“My expectations for her are exactly like the other two,” she said. “I want her (Maddy) to be the best she can be, and she’s on her way.
As NADS speaker/spokesperson, Gillespie reaches out to families with new diagnoses or those seeking anytime support.
When Gillespie addresses audiences, “their mouths are wide open.
“I’m hoping that when I’m taking to future doctors, I want them to be horrified at my little story,” said Gillespie, who also uses humor in her message. I want them to feel shocked, to feel something, instead of saying, ‘What a bummer.’”
“There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
NADS, the National Association for Down Syndrome can be reached at P.O. Box 206, Wilmette, IL, 60091. Call 630-325-9112. Email Randi Gillespie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.nads.org