Friday, October 9, 2015

Reeve's Tees

    I am excited to feature a very near and dear company to you today: Reeve's Tees! Many of you know that a photo was taken of Ari sporting a very popular style of Reeve's Tees, making him skyrocket into Facebook fame, after it was posted to the Global Down Syndrome Society's Facebook page. The original post has nearly 150,000 likes and over 85,000 shares! Ok, enough bragging, but seriously, how often does this kind of thing happen in life?! 

    We owe it all to Reeve's Tees for making such a great shirt. The first time I saw this shirt, I bought it immediately. I love that it is funny without poking fun. For me, putting him in shirts with these kind of messages is a way of answering the question that might be in someone's mind (does he have Down syndrome?), but that they don't feel comfortable asking. It is way to put a smile on someone's face. It is mostly a way to show that I am so proud of Ari and all that he is, not ashamed of him. 

    I asked Shana of Reeve's Tees to answer some questions, and give some details about her awesome company. I hope you enjoy! 

Shana, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

     On the personal side - I've been married to my husband Jason for over ten years.  He's a pilot in the Air Force, which means that we've had an adventure-filled life involving lots of deployments and cross-country moves. We are currently living in Ohio. We have two sons - Colby (age 9), Reeve (age 1), and another boy due in February.

    On the professional side - I've been a business consultant in the financial industry for about 13 years. Six years ago I left work to study business full-time at University of Michigan. In 2011, I graduated with an MBA focused on strategic marketing. After graduating, a classmate and I founded a boutique consulting firm where we provide outsourced strategy, marketing, and web development to small businesses that do not have these departments in-house.

When and how did you decide to start a tee shirt company?

    I mention my business background because it played a huge role in my decision to start Reeve's Tees.  As a marketing consultant, I help companies who are struggling to effectively communicate their identity to the public.  

    Two years ago, in my first trimester, Jason and I found out that the baby we were having (Reeve) had Down syndrome.  At that time, I had never personally met a person with the condition.  At first the news was very heart-breaking.  There were a lot of "I'm sorry"s, "I feel bad for you"s, and general discomfort when discussing Reeve's condition with others.

    While I was still pregnant, I decided to become involved in our local Down syndrome organization (Miami Valley Down Syndrome Association - MVDSA). Our family also started going to a local tennis program called BuddyUp tennis for kids and adults with Down syndrome.

    As we met more families, and spent more time with individuals who had Down syndrome - I noticed a complete misalignment with the public perception of Down syndrome (sadness, discomfort, and pity) with what was really going on within the Down syndrome community (joy, love, acceptance, and pride).  Families were not sad at all - they were proud - so so so so proud!

    This inspired me so much - both as a new mom, and also as someone who has focused my career on helping others communicate their unique personalities to the public.  I wanted to bridge that gap between public's perception of Down syndrome with the true nature of the Down syndrome community.  

    I felt that the easiest way to do that would be to make t-shirts to change the paradigm.

What makes your company unique? 

    I believe that there are three things make our company unique... the first one is our edgy brand of loving humor, the second is our packaging process, and the third is that we are a for-profit company by design.

    As a marketer, I know that to capture people's attention, one must be both pithy and interesting.  Prior to starting Reeve's Tees, I had seen a number of Down syndrome awareness t-shirts that said things like "I love someone who has Down syndrome."  Those were great, but I didn't think that they captured the magical flavor of love and acceptance within the Down syndrome community, nor did they turn heads or cause people to think differently about the condition.

    I wanted a new voice for the Down syndrome community - one that was a little edgy - a little shocking - and a little bit humorous.  I needed this voice to grab attention, change perceptions, and most importantly, to communicate to people that they can feel comfortable around those with noticeable differences.  As they say: humor is often a great way to diffuse awkward situations.  

    With humor, one has to be very careful.  Historically, humor has been used at the expense of individuals with Down syndrome.  I wanted our brand of humor to express love and invite connection to people with Down syndrome.  

    Through my own anecdotal experiences, I noticed that saying "My baby has Down syndrome" created silence, distance, and awkwardness.  On the other hand, saying that "My baby is a homie with an extra chromie" led to smiles, comfort, and even genuine curiosity and heartfelt questions about Reeve's condition.

    Reeve's Tees are different because they defined by this voice within the Down syndrome community which expresses a unique brand of loving humor.

    The second differentiator is more operational - it is our packaging process.  For anyone who has ordered a t-shirt, we hope that they were pleasantly surprised by the work, thought, and care that has gone into the packaging. 

    Our tees are packaged by adults with Down syndrome or by special education students who work with us as part of their vocational training.  Each of our packagers has unique intellectual and/or physical challenges, and packaging these tees has been a means for them to refine their skills, show off their capabilities, and become proficient in a process for which they can feel proud.

    For adults with Down syndrome, finding work can be challenging.  Packaging for Reeve’s Tees is a way for them to earn money and save up for their own personal goals.

    The care and dedication that our homies put into their work is amazing - consequently, our packaging has become another way in which we express the pride felt within the special needs community.

    Lastly, most organizations focused upon raising awareness for individuals with Down syndrome are non-profits funded by donations.  We are a for-profit company funded by revenue.  I wanted the individuals who work for Reeve’s Tees to be a part of the economic process. 

    It was important for me to be able to tell them: "You are doing important work that creates value.  You are making money because what are you are doing has meaning.  You are earning money because people respect your abilities and appreciate your hard work."  

    While we are "for-profit" - we are also a very generous company that donates both cash and merchandise to non-profits whose missions are to empower, educate, and/or provide research to enhance the lives of individuals with Down syndrome.  But for ourselves, we are proud to say that we are completely funded by our customer's loyalty - for which we are most appreciative!

    Most revenue goes back into growing the business so that we can continue to expand our company and further our mission – to help others “Get comfortable with difference!”  Soon we will be selling shirts that help raise awareness for other genetic conditions.
   Thanks to Shana for doing such wonderful work. You are an inspiration! Here are some more images of the staff at Reeve's Tees and a couple of videos that show the love that goes into the packaging! 

   My family teamed up with Reeve's Tees and Virginia Stiles Photography to get some images for marketing, and we had a blast! 

I am happy to announce that I am doing my first blog giveaway! If you would like to win this Reeve's Tees homies tote bag, simply leave a comment below, telling us what you love about Reeve's Tees. Winner will be chosen on Sunday night. Make sure to check out all the great products Shana has available at

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Genetics Behind Down Syndrome

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The first thing I delved into after Ari was born, was the genetic component. I wanted to know, why and how did this happen? If you enjoy science, then read on. I put the information I found in the book, "Babies with Down Syndrome" into my own words. I want to make sure I credit Chahira Kozma. If you wish to have more detailed information, she does a wonderful job explaining.

Our genes are made up of our DNA, and they tell our body what to do. Chromosomes are the package that our genes come in. Normally, each cell in our body contains 46 Chromosomes, or 23 pairs of chromosomes, one chromosome per parent in each pair.

This is a karyotype, which is an image of the chromosomes in a cell. The chromosome pairs are numbered according to the amount of genetic material that they hold. The first chromosome pair contains the largest amount of genes, and the 21st holds the least (they used to believe that the 22nd held the least, thus it is incorrectly numbered). 

At conception, a baby is formed by the combination of 23 chromosomes from the egg and 23 from the sperm. The cell, now containing 23 pairs, or 46 chromosomes, begins to replicate itself, with each new cell containing the exact same information. 

So how is it that the sperm cells and the egg cells only contain 23 total chromosomes? They go through a process called meiosis, which splits the pairs of chromosomes so that the baby can receive one chromosome from each parent. It is during meiosis that most errors occur. 

Here is a breakdown of the 3 ways that Down syndrome can occur:

In nondisjunction, the cell that splits to form the egg or sperm (46 chromosomes) may split improperly and result in two eggs containing 22 chromosomes and 24 chromosomes, respectively. The one with 22 chromosomes could not survive/be fertilized, because it is missing an entire chromosome. The one with 24 chromosomes can survive, but it brings an extra chromosome along. When the egg is fertilized, the cell now contains 47 chromosomes, one of the chromosomes having a third copy instead of the usual pair. This is called a "trisomy." If the extra chromosome is added to the 21st pair, this is Trisomy 21, or Down syndrome. The cells then duplicate until every cell in the body contains 47 chromosomes, instead of the typical 46. Nondisjunction results in the the most common form of Down syndrome (95%).  Below is a karyotype of a male with Trisomy 21.

In translocation, which is harder to explain, a mother or father's cells have a rearrangement or chromosomes, usually having two stuck together. When meiosis occurs, a piece of chromosome 21 breaks off and attaches itself to another chromosome, resulting in extra 21st material. Only 4-5 % of babies with Down syndrome have a translocation. This is also the only form of Down syndrome that is inherited. Parents of a child with type have an increased likelihood of having more children with Down syndrome.

Mosaicism is found in 1% of babies with Down syndrome. Mosaic Down syndrome occurs when only some of the cells in the body have an extra 21st chromosome and the other cells do not. This can happen in one of two ways.  1. The cell starts out with 47 chromosomes and during the replication of cells, one of the dividing cells corrects the error. In this case some cells continue to copy the extra chromosome and the other cells copy the corrected cell (which now has 46 chromosomes). 2. The reverse of number one...the cell starts out typical and somewhere along the cell division, an error occurs. Cells from the original are copied and cells from the abnormal cell are also copied. People with Mosaic Down syndrome can often be less affected, both intellectually and physically; it depends on what part of the body is affected by the abnormal cells.  

Why is Down syndrome the most common chromosomal abnormality? Over half of all first trimester miscarriages are a result of chromosomal abnormalities.  A baby will not survive if the cell contains an extra 1st chromosome, for instance, because this chromosome holds the most genetic information. The larger the amount of genes on a chromosome, the less likely the baby will survive. Of course, some babies do survive with many different genetic conditions, and the chromosome(s) involved determine the affect it will have on the baby and their quality of life. Because the 21st chromosome contains the least genetic information, it has the smallest affect on the person, and it makes sense that these babies have the greatest chance of survival and of living fulfilling and often independent lives. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Happy Birthday Violet

   Did I not just post her birth story? Time has gone incredibly fast, and I am not feeling quite ready to let the baby stage go forever...but, not much can be done about it.

   Violet was not always an easy baby. In fact, she was down right maddening for a good portion of her first three and half months of life.  I can't blame her for having colic, and I feel terrible that I couldn't make her more comfortable, but it was so incredibly trying for us. I pretty much had to sleep with her on me, which was difficult, but I admittedly miss that sometimes. I felt pretty bonded to her because of it. Honestly, I was certain that we would have an easier time postpartum than we had had with Ari, because we would likely not be dealing with the same emotional trauma. Turns out, it was much harder this time around. We clearly took for granted how chill and easy Ari was as a baby! We also didn't realize the extent to which having two children would change our lives. It has been much more difficult, but we wouldn't choose another life.

    Everyone told us to give it a few months, and they were right. She slowly came around, and she is now a delightful little person. I have so enjoyed watching her personality reveal itself . She is hilarious. She tries to make me laugh, when I am attempting to nurse her to sleep, by making funny faces (the slow blink and the scrunched nose are her top contenders). When I tell her I am gonna get her, she leaps forward, throwing her body down on the rug and giggling.  She has a new nightly game she plays with her brother while he sits on the potty. She leaves the room and then sort of plays peek a boo with him in the doorway. Ari enjoys making her belly laugh. I can't get enough of her deep toned laugh either. It is fun to see how silly both of our kids turned out. It isn't too surprising, as they have the world's silliest mother.

  She seems to be a fast developer. She was walking at 10 1/2 months and she currently has about 12 words. One that makes us laugh is when she throws her food on the floor (naughty!) and says "Uh......Ohhhhh!" She's never been big on being spoon fed, preferring to do it herself. She is mama's girl, which makes me feel good, since Ari is all about his dad. She is affectionate, already giving kisses to us and to some stuffed animals, as well.

She and Ari didn't have the greatest start either. I can understand why he might be frustrated with this new, always crying, attention-sucking baby, and he acted out those frustrations with lots of pushing and shouting at her. His first pronunciation of her name was "butt." Touché. We are still dealing with some of that, but now that she is more mobile, they are starting to become friends and they always love giving each other a goodnight kiss!

   Though it hasn't been the easiest year, and in many ways it has been the toughest, I still feel sad that it is over. I got teary last night while feeding her and holding her chubby little baby legs, imagining how soon she won't be little anymore. My last baby is one year old. It is bittersweet. 

   Happy Birthday, beautiful girl. You and Ari have always been the pieces missing from my heart, and now I am complete. Thanks for being you and for making this mama so very happy. I can't imagine my life without you in it. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Violet's Birth

The long awaited day arrived three days after her due date. I had gone on a walk earlier in the day, which ended with Ari and I playing on the porch and taking pictures: the last pictures of us as mom and only child.

I was eating dinner when I started having regular period-type cramps. I went to bed and was fairly certain labor was starting. At 1:00 am, I could no longer rest and decided to go downstairs and let Tim sleep for as long as possible. I called my midwife, Jen. After she arrived, I phoned my doula and my mom. They both came as soon as they could. I labored downstairs and Jen used rebozo on me to get the baby into a better position, as she was feeling posterior. After doing that through a few contractions, baby was in a good position and my labor started coming on much stronger. We went upstairs to get the tub filled up in our bedroom.

While the tub was filling, I sat on our exercise ball next to the door to the deck. My mom opened the door to let cool air in because I was feeling very warm. Jen massaged some calming essential oils into my shoulders, neck, and head.

I got into the tub once it was filled and I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't warmer. I labored in the tub for maybe three hours? It was intense and my contractions were fairly irregular. I remember as each one started, I would say "no," and shake my head because the intensity and pain was pretty high.

It felt like I pushed for a long time, but I assume it wasn't as long as it felt. I tried many different positions, and near the end, I was leaning back against the tub, knees up, with baby making her way into the world. I’m proud of myself for being able to breathe through the crowning, especially since it lasted way longer than I was prepared for. It was around this time that Ari woke up for the day, and my mom brought him in. Tim told him that his sister was being born. He was groggy and probably a little frightened by the room full of people and a noisy mama, but I was so glad to have him in the room to witness the birth.

I finally birthed her head fully, and I tried to push her body out, but it wasn’t budging. Jen checked and realized she felt fingers. She said, “well, I guess the hands are just going to come with.” I tried one last time to push and Jen told me to turn over. I got onto my hands and knees, and in the process, baby’s head came out of the water. Jen said, “out of the water, stand up!”. The second midwife helped me  position my hands on the edge of the tub and bend my leg slightly. Jen used her finger to move baby’s hand off of her face, thus releasing her partial shoulder dystocia. She quickly came out into Tim’s hands with a big scream, and was passed through my legs, into my waiting arms, while Bon Iver’s Holocene played in the background. She was healthy with no complications and had APGAR scores of 9 and 10!

Violet Elizabeth Hochman, born September 21, 2014 at 6:14 a.m. 7 lbs, 9oz.

I cried and took in her beautiful face, repeating “oh, my God.”  My perfect little girl, the baby I had always dreamed about, was here, and that was worth every ounce of pain and discomfort. I am not sure how to properly convey how much that moment means to me, the moment when I first lay eyes and hands on my child. In one instance, I feel relieved that I won’t ever have to birth a baby again, and sad that I won’t ever get to have that moment again. There is nothing more beautiful about being a human, nothing more incredible, than the fact that we can create new, perfect, life-breathing, blood-pumping beings. How lucky I feel to be a woman, to have that privilege.

I am so thankful to all the people who were involved, and to my oh, so skilled birthing team, who in a somewhat scary moment, were quick and poised, and confidently brought her into the world safely. I am so impressed and even more confident in midwives, home birth, and the natural ability that women have to birth babies (in most, low-risk situations). It was so special to have her at home, and to have my mom there to witness and support as well!

Birth photos by my lovely doula, Amy Haderer of The Mandala Journey.
Photos below by my talented, beautiful sister-in-law, Virginia Stiles, of Virginia Stiles Photography