Every baby is a celebration
Words by Mary Alayne B. Long
Photos by Jack's Basket
At Jack’s Basket, they understand that every baby deserves to be celebrated, and they knock it out of the park with each celebratory basket they deliver. Founded by Carissa and Chris Carroll after their son Jack was born, they share this message loud and clear: Every baby is created with a purpose. While I am certain you agree with that statement, I am sad to say we still have people—some even in the medical and healthcare fields—who don’t believe that’s true for children born with Down syndrome. Families in the Down syndrome community deserve to be celebrated at the birth of their children, and they should feel covered in love. Happily, the world is learning to properly welcome and cherish these babies, and the people at Jack’s Basket are a big reason why.
Back in 2013 when Jack was born, the resources for families welcoming a child with Down syndrome were not as readily available as they are today. Sadly, many of those beautiful new babies weren’t celebrated at all, much less in the same jovial ways other typical newborns are. In the year after Jack’s birth, a year filled with love and learning, the Carrolls decided to search out another family welcoming a child with an extra chromosome and that shared Jack’s birthday and give them a gift basket. They never intended to go beyond that first basket delivery back in 2014, but when the family they chose told them it was the solitary congratulations gift they received—Jack’s Basket was born.
After that delivery, Carissa started driving to every hospital in town, asking what was done when a baby with Down syndrome was born. When she was met with an answer of “Nothing” each time she asked, she got to work. She is one of the sweetest ladies you’ll ever meet, and she’s feisty too—which I love. “Feisty gets things done,” she says, and I couldn’t agree more.
“Jack reminded me that everyone is created with a purpose. Every life has value. My love for Jack and what he’s brought to our family is overwhelming. I am grateful for the calling to be his mother. Sure, his diagnosis was unexpected, but unexpected doesn’t equal bad.”
In 2016, Jack’s Basket received its 501(c)3 status and now has volunteers in all 50 states. Over 70 men and women across the country fill baskets for delivery each year, and as of the last count, they had delivered more than 6,000 baskets in over 40 countries. Each basket contains letters from Jack’s family and others in the Down syndrome community, along with precious baby gifts and a list of resources to welcome families into the 3:21 tribe. Moving into 2023, they look to welcome over two thousand babies.
Carissa told me: “You know, we used to institutionalize these babies physically. Now we do it with words.” She’s added to her mission and has formed a curriculum for doctors and healthcare workers to adequately educate them about Down syndrome. She further helps them understand the most loving and helpful way to deliver a diagnosis. It’s something that can be done with joy—not sadness—and she’s making sure the people sharing that news have the tools to do so properly. She’s teaching them to honor these families and these children. “We kept hearing from families who were given no information after a prenatal diagnosis other than resources for termination or adoption. They were all being met with the information as if it were bad news.” Predicting that there’s a terrible life ahead for these children is simply wrong, and a life with Jack is proof of that. “We help providers remember what their role is in these diagnoses and make sure they honor the life of those babies. They are there to offer medical, unbiased information, and now we have a team to help with that.” Partnering with local and national Down syndrome organizations, they provide support from the time of diagnosis through each child’s first birthday, which launches each of those families into the support community as well. They make sure every family knows that they are welcoming a very special child. And while Down syndrome may be a part of that life—and it is likely those parents’ lives will revolve around that precious baby—their lives won’t revolve around Down syndrome.
I asked Carissa what she would say if she could get everyone everywhere to listen to one thing about Down syndrome, and she told me: “In the past nine years, I’ve learned a little bit about Down syndrome and I’ve learned a lot about Jack. He has made my life so much better, and I think if we need to look at each person with an understanding that every life has value, we should be more patient and understanding and kind and accepting. My love for Jack and what he has brought to our lives isn’t dependent on this extra chromosome, and I feel like we are on a mission to change the way the world views Down syndrome and those uniquely created with it. I’m just grateful for the calling that’s been placed on my heart to change the narrative around the diagnosis. I’m grateful we are changing that story from the beginning with Jack’s Basket.”
Well, I don’t think there’s anything I can add to that.
If you would like to learn more about Jack’s Basket, if you’d like to volunteer, or if you would like to access the educational resources they have available for healthcare providers, please visit jacksbasket.org.