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This is why moms of kids with Down syndrome are getting matching tattoos

Mica May had an idea to celebrate being the parent of a child with Down syndrome by designing a special tattoo for #theluckyfew.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

A simple design with a lot of meaning behind it is uniting parents of children with Down syndrome, symbolizing both their strength as individuals and the common bond they share.

In October, Mica May met up with several other moms who, like her, have children born with the genetic condition Down syndrome. Though May had met Heather Avis, Liz Plachta, and Lisa Eicher online, this was the first time they spent time together in person. Their connection was immediate, she told TODAY Parents. "We all bonded pretty instantly, because, as Heather says, 'The magic of Down syndrome is real,'" said May.

When May's son Jackson, now 8, was born with Down syndrome, it was a "complete surprise" to her and her husband, Jonathan. May writes about Jackson's life on her Instagram feed with the hashtag #letterstojax. The Mays also have two daughters, Madelyn, 7, and Harper, 4.

At their gathering, May and her friends discussed the idea of getting matching tattoos to acknowledge their bond, but May, who is a designer, knew it would need to be special. "I spoke up and joked that I was not about to get a tattoo that didn't have an absolutely amazing design to it," she said. May shared a recurring dream she has had for a long time with the group. In the dream, she wakes up with three black arrows on her arm — always the same design and always the same placement.

"As I started describing the design from my dreams, tears started rolling down the faces of all these mamas," said May. "It was like a lightbulb went off. Everyone was like, 'yes! This is our design!'"

Moms of kids with Down syndrome get matching tattoos.
Designer Mica May had dreamed about having three black arrows on her arm for years. The design is a perfect symbol for parents of Down syndrome children, who have 3 21st chromosomes.Courtesy of Mica May

The three arrows are the perfect symbol for parents of Down syndrome, May explained, because the number three is representative of the three 21st chromosomes that result in Down syndrome. The arrows, May said, represent how the parents of these special children "rise up and move forward. We rise the highest after we've been pulled back and stretched — sometimes even more than we think we can bear," she said.

The group tested the design on themselves that night using a pen and decided to all get the tattoo the next day. But what started as a bonding moment for a small group of friends has grown to include hundreds of other parents from all over the country.

Parents getting the tattoo are posting pictures of themselves on Instagram with the hashtag #theluckyfewtattoo, inspired by a phrase created by May's friend Avis, who wrote a book titled "The Lucky Few."

"'The phrase 'The Lucky Few' started as something that came from Heather's heart when talking about her kiddos, because we all do, indeed, feel like we are 'the lucky few' who get to have people with Down syndrome in our immediate family," said May.

"But then, the phrase resonated with so many people and it spread like crazy, and has now become a way to talk about and connect with the tribe of parents, siblings and friends in the Down syndrome community," she said. "When we began seeing that this tattoo was picking up, we wanted to have a dedicated hashtag that was simper simple and easy to remember, so #theluckyfewtattoo just made the most sense."

May is now getting word that groups of 30-50 parents with Down syndrome children are reserving tattoo parlors to get the tattoos themselves. "It's absolutely amazing," said May. "I'm so so thrilled that this has become so much bigger than any single person — and it's so very beautiful to watch and be a part of."

Moms of kids with Down syndrome get matching tattoos.
While on a retreat with other moms of children with Down syndrome, Mica May (left), Lisa Eicher and Heather Avis decided to get matching tattoos symbolizing their strength and their bond as parents of special children. The idea and the design have caught on, and now parents around the country are getting their own #theluckyfewtattoos.Courtesy of Mica May

The tattoo has also served as a talking point for strangers to approach May and ask her the meaning of the three arrows on her arm — opportunities May welcomes to spread education and awareness about Down syndrome.

"It brings me so so much delight and joy to tell them the story, show them pictures of my Jackson, and talk about this incredible tribe," she said. "It somehow breaks down any walls that might be there and invites them in and allows them freedom and comfort to ask questions about Down syndrome and our family that they might normally avoid."

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The tattoo, said May, is "a physical symbol that there are thousands up thousands of people in this community that are advocating, fighting for, challenging, and shouting the worth of these kids and adults with Down syndrome.

"This started as such a personal decision to get a tattoo as a reminder for me every day that I am not only so fortunate to be able to love and support my Jackson throughout his life, but I'm a part of a tribe so much bigger that myself," she said. "When there are times when I have struggles that can rob me of the joy that Jackson brings to my family and those around him, I am reminded that I'm not alone in this journey."

This story was originally published February 13, 2018.