On November 13, 2001 a little girl turned my life upside down and made me become a better version of myself.
How it all began … I had the perfect pregnancy. Three weeks before Juliana’s due date my gynecologist found that the fetal heart tones were at a very low frequency so she immediately sent me into the hospital: emergency caesarean section. For one day we were in heaven and the happiest parents on this planet, until the pediatrician entered my room the next morning and told me in consternation: „Your daughter has Down Syndrome.“
The following days we cried our hearts out. Nobody congratulated us to the new addition of our family. Instead we’ve been commiserated and got the book „Words of Comfort“. The phone remained silent. And I fell into a depression. I couldn’t see my friends. I couldn’t watch any films or browse through magazines. I couldn’t laugh, eat nor sleep. I could only ask myself one question: What horrible thing have I done in my life that God punishes me so hard? With such a child. What will my colleagues think now about me? What will my old fellow students think about me? What do my friends think about me? What do the grocery clerks think about me? What will the people think about me when they stare into the buggy? What will society think? About this flaw? About this special child?
It was the worst time of my life – until four months later. My gynecologist had given me the number of another mom who had a boy with down syndrome. When I was finally ready to call her, she spontaneously invited me for coffee with a bunch of other moms of kids with down syndrome. I remember how nervous I was to meet all these moms and their kids. Until that day I hadn’t known anyone with trisomy 21. When I walked upstairs, I already heard these women joyfully laughing very loud and a Champagne cork popping. How on earth could that be, was my immediate thought, because I had somehow expected to meet a depressive bunch of women mourning. Three-year-old cutie Yannik greeted me at the door with the most charming smile, grabbed my hand and l took me inside. That day changed my attitude and my perspective and my life went uphill again. At that time Juliana also gave me her first smile and I was head over heels.
The first months after Juliana’s diagnosis I spent days and days, hours and hours contemplating how I could change my daughter so that she fits into our society. One day it finally dawned on me that Juliana is absolutely perfect the way she is. There was nothing I wanted to change about her or even to fix her. Instead I knew that in future I would need a lot of love and patience for our society. Everyone wants to be special, but nobody really wants to stand out. Everything is pretty mainstream, and they all go with the flow. And most of the people have very little knowledge about this extra chromosome. People are oftentimes scared of things they don’t know or are prejudiced. If I ever get a chance, I encourage them to ask me anything they want to know about our daughter and her little extra. Sometimes they ask the weirdest or funniest questions, but that is okay. Because I’ll always remember how little I knew 15 years ago when Juliana was born.
2004 I published my first book „Außergewöhnlich“ where I portrayed 15 mothers and their beautiful kids with down syndrome. The mothers who had helped me to find my way out of the dark. I began to see with new eyes.
I became aware that real beauty is much more than meets the eye, and how symmetric the face and body are. It‘s the inner beauty. Somebody with a beautiful mind and soul is a very beautiful person. And a happy one!
After I had published the book, I started to get inquiries of friends whether I could photograph their kids and families with a little extra. Soon their friends came knocking on my door whether I could also photograph their kids and families and some more months later „Conny Wenk Lifestyle Photography“ wrote their first invoice. I love photographing people and kids no matter how many chromosomes they have.
More published books followed and in 2009 the Neufeld publishing house and I kicked of the Wall Calendar series „A little extra“. Ever since then I feel like I’m on a mission to spread positivity and goodness and show the world the beauty and love and joy that our kids with down syndrome bring into our hearts and our world.
I get often asked if the fairy would show up in my home and grant me a wish wether I would ask her to take away the 47th chromosome of my daughter. To be honest, 15 years ago it would have been an immediate yes. Today, it definitely is a clear NO.
Juliana has been the best teacher in my life and opened my eyes for so many things. She taught me that physical appearance is not important, but how you are as a person, and how you make others feel about themselves. She made me become a photographer, which is such a fulfilling and rewarding profession. I absolutely love my job through which I get to photograph and to know so many incredibly wonderful people. She has taught me that we are all vulnerable and that every one of us wears an invisible sign that reads „Please notice me, and make me feel important.“ She has taught me that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something. After she was born I noticed that people dared to let their guard down in front of me and confide in me their struggles and challenges. Juliana made me gain a lot of self-confidence and resilience. I had flat-out hit rock bottom, but I managed to get back up on my feet again – stronger than before with incredible insights and growth. She taught me that life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but to learn to dance in the rain. Last but not least she taught me that it’s only with the heart, one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.