How my daughter with Down syndrome inspired me to become an inventor, a fearless tech CEO, and a better mom.
I would like to share the story behind how I came to invent Baby Barista. I hope that sharing in this personal way will nurture a community of like-minded people and encourage moms, especially working moms, to pursue their passionate ideas.
In 2011, my husband Jack and I learned that I was pregnant with our second child. We had been married for seven years and had a lot on our plate. Our spunky two-year-old son was giving us a run for our money, I was working full time as a registered nurse in a busy suburban ER in Los Angeles and Jack was in grad school.
My pregnancy wasn’t exactly a surprise. I had been begging my husband to give me his blessing to have another child.
While assertiveness did not come naturally to me, I had no trouble expressing my genuine desire to give our son a little brother or sister. The urgency I felt was rooted in two issues. First, I had grown up as an only child and felt a deep sense of regret that I did not get to experience the profound bond that many siblings share. Second, I was in my late thirties and my dream of becoming a mom for the second time was slipping away. I felt empowered when Jack agreed to grow our family. I was so grateful that I had been heard and respected and that I had Jack’s full support.
All the puzzle pieces had fallen into place so gracefully and I sensed that our family would soon be complete. In fact, things had fallen into place sooner than I expected. A home pregnancy test I took at work confirmed that we were going to have another child. I loved sharing my surprise with Jack when I got home and he was elated.
As fate would have it, the baby that we so desperately wanted had Down syndrome. Mia Analise Armstrong came into the world one cloudy February evening sporting “designer genes” or as we lovingly say, “a little something extra”. Mia’s “something extra” is a third copy of her twenty-first chromosome. Mia’s magic extra chromosome brings with it immeasurable blessings…and some unique challenges that impact her neurological and physical health and development.
Right out of the gate, doctors told us that certain things would be “difficult”. It was a lot to wrap our heads around. In those early days, I wrestled with tons of guilt. I saw great irony in the fact that I had finally found my voice and asserted my will to have a second child only to receive a life-altering diagnosis that would undoubtedly impact all of our lives in ways we couldn’t even imagine.
One morning at 3 am (about three months into our unanticipated journey), I walked into our tiny kitchen holding a crying, hungry Mia. I desperately wanted to get Mia fed and back to bed without disturbing the rest of the family. But to accomplish this I had to first prepare a bottle, a task that both Jack and I dreaded. I had taken for granted that I would breastfeed my daughter. As a nurse, I knew about all of the benefits of breastfeeding. But low muscle tone is a characteristic of Down syndrome that can prevent some babies from being able to latch properly. For those babies including Mia, breastfeeding is not an option. I was already afloat in a sea of emotions (and hormones), nearly drowning in “mom guilt” and this realization felt like yet another heavy blow.
So in the middle of the night, I was holding my tiny daughter close, supporting her “extra” wobbly head in the crook of my left arm while desperately trying to prepare a bottle with my free hand. Mia was crying and preparing her bottle felt like running the last mile of a marathon. I had never been more exhausted.
In that moment, I glanced up at the coffeemaker sitting on my kitchen counter and wondered why I could touch a button and have a fresh cup of coffee in under a minute but I couldn’t do anything comparable for Mia. I “daydreamed” of a day when a frazzled parent could push a button and have a perfectly crafted bottle ready in under a minute. That was my “A-ha!” moment. Surely, someone already had this idea. I looked to see if such a product existed and was amazed to find that it did not. Now, I was officially on a mission.
The difference between an idea and an innovation is action. Bringing something from your imagination into the physical world is an incredibly exhilarating experience. It’s easy to become paralyzed in the face of all of the steps that lie ahead. But “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
The first step was articulating my intention. When Jack woke up, I told him I have a really great idea! Jack resisted the temptation to roll his eyes because he saw the determination in my eyes. “I’m going to do this!” I declared. And I DID! I took that first step and have never looked back.
Years later and after countless speed bumps on the way to commercializing Baby Barista, our daughter Mia is thriving in second grade. She is changing our hearts and minds every day. Her life is a beacon of hope piercing the darkness. I like to think Mia gets a little of her determination and grit from me. I know that I get my determination and inspiration for this entrepreneurial journey from her. It’s amazing to realize that a young girl with “a little something extra” is helping parents she will never even meet enjoy more precious time with their kids.
So here’s what I have learned on my nine-year journey: Inspiration can be found in unexpected places. There is hope in the midst of daunting, life-altering challenges. And wonderful ideas can arise in spite of our fears…and sometimes because of them.
Cara Armstrong is the Founder and CEO of Baby Barista, mother of three, and a passionate advocate for the special needs community. To learn more about Cara and her entrepreneurial journey, go to MyBabyBarista.com/journal. You can follow Baby Barista on Instagram at @mybabybarista and her daughter Mia at @count_mia_in