Prioritizing Her Own Mental Health Was The Best Decision This Special Needs Mom Ever Made

Mom + Friends: Nao Hatamochi

Mental Health Awareness

By PJ Feinstein

Despite struggling with mental health issues her entire life, Nao Hatamochi never really felt the urge to seek out professional support. But when her second daughter, Emalee, was born with Down syndrome, “I knew that I needed to take care of myself in order to do the best job that I can for my girls,” she says.

Four years later, Nao believes that getting help was the smartest choice she’s ever made. “I know more than ever that self-care is so important to be the best version of yourself that you can be,” she says. For the stay-at-home mother of two, self-care includes going to therapy and taking her medication as well as exercising and enjoying occasional nights out with friends. As a result of taking care of herself, Nao says she’s better equipped to handle stressful situations in her everyday life.

In addition to recommending that all new moms prioritize their postpartum self-care, Nao advises new special needs moms in particular to find their village. “‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is not just a proverb, it’s very true,” says the Toronto-based mom. “Whether online or in-person, I was able to meet so many amazing people that have imparted far more valuable information than any doctor or textbook ever could. Many of the connectections I have made along our DS journey are those that I truly hope will stay with us for a lifetime.”

When did you learn that your daughter has Down syndrome, and what was your first reaction?

During my pregnancy, we were told that the standard first trimester blood work and Nuchal Translucency test came back as having a 1 in 800 chance of Down syndrome. At the time, we never imagined that our daughter would be that ONE.

After a fairly uneventful delivery, we were approached by our delivery nurse and a pediatrician that they suspected DS based on her physical traits. We were completely floored by the news, but looking at our girl, we knew in our hearts that they were right.

What's the most difficult thing about raising a child with special needs?

Raising a child with down syndrome

Trying to disprove society’s (and our own) presumptions and stereotypes about people with differing abilities, not comparing Emalee to other children, and continuing to remind ourselves that each child has their own unique strengths and abilities.

What's one thing you wish people knew about Emalee?

That Down syndrome is SO much more than what doctors and textbook definitions will tell you. Our daughter, with her extra chromosome, has gifted us with a new appreciation for life, a new definition of happiness, and a community of lifelong friends, to name a few.

My hope and motivation for spreading awareness about DS is to show the world that this diagnosis is not something to fear or shy away from. It should be embraced and celebrated because there is so much joy, beauty, confidence, and determination -- qualities that everyone can learn from.

Where is your family's happy place?

Anywhere that we are able to spend time together. My husband and I both know that the time we have with our children where they actually WANT to spend time with us may be limited… So we always try our best to prioritize family time. Whether it’s spending time at home, reading together or hanging out in our backyard, to taking family trips.

Who are three of your favorite moms to follow on Instagram?

Katie Jameson (@katie_jameson): Katie and I have gone from virtual IG friends to real-life friends for life. She’s gone through hardships that most people cannot even imagine but continues to spread beauty and honesty into the world. I’m proud to call her my friend, and even though we live on opposite sides of the country, I hope that our daughters (she has a daughter with DS as well!) can be lifelong friends as well.

Nikki Lawrence (@nikkizl): The better (equally good!) half of @thatdadblog. I started following them very early on in our DS journey, and because of their IG posts about their son Wil’s experience with Infantile Spasms, I was able to spot the same seizure disorder in Emalee very early on. I am forever grateful to them for that!

Alyssa Blask Campbell (@seed.and.sew): Alyssa approached me to do an interview about our DS journey for her podcast “Voices of Your Village,” and since then I consider us to be friends. Her IG account and podcast spread honest opinions and inclusive knowledge about parenthood, and she is the BIGGEST cheerleader and fan of Emalee. I sincerely hope that we can meet one day so that I could hug her in person (although I’m pretty sure I’ll have to stand in line behind Emalee to get my hug…)

mother to a daughter with down syndrome

What TV show, book, or podcast are you currently obsessed with?

A dear friend of mine gifted me Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives when Emalee was still in the NICU that I will treasure forever.

I also love all three books by Heather Avis (@theluckyfewofficial) and love following her on IG. (She’s also incredible in person, as well as her kids and husband!)

“Born This Way” is a show that I can’t watch without a box of Kleenex, imagining what my girl might be like when she’s older.

And, of course, the Voices of Your Village podcast.

What are your favorite apps? What are your children’s favorites?

We try to steer away from screen usage as much as possible, but when we do use apps, the girls enjoy Khan Academy Kids, and Maya, 7, likes to help Emalee, 4, with Smart Shapes, Endless Alphabet, Endless Numbers, and the Sago Mini Series.

What 5 words best describe you?

Extroverted introvert

Advocate

Passionate

Inclusive

Determined

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PJ Feinstein