Melissa walked up to me at the book signing table.

I had noticed her sitting next to her mother during my presentation, and a quick, physical assessment – faint crow’s feet, visible smile lines with or without any smiles – placed her somewhere in the same decade of life as me.

I wasn’t sure what she had thought of my talk on barrenness. She hadn’t given me very much eye contact when I was speaking, but neither had her face shown any immediate signs of pent-up anger or sadness.

At the table, though, she looked me directly in the eye and smiled with a joy unbounded.

“I am an auntie!” she exclaimed.

She had been listening!

“Me, too,” I said. I jumped up and gave Melissa a hug, reveling in our shared connection. “What are their names?”

Melissa listed each of her nieces and nephews, her hands gesturing proudly with each name. I noticed she had no wedding band on her left ring finger, and her mother stood quietly behind her, eyes misty.

“…and Braden is walking, now!” Melissa finished, her slightly slanted eyes large with wonder, but there was something else there, too. A knowledge of pain.

And that’s when the truth washed over me like a warm wave.

Women with Down syndrome rejoice in the gift of children just like everyone else and grieve their childlessness just like everyone else. And so do their families.

little boy learning to walk