Studies show that approximately 90% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome choose to end their pregnancy. Our child is one of the lucky ten percent to be born. We want the world to know the blessing of raising a child with Down Syndrome. Then perhaps they will see that we are the lucky ten percent!
How the Pro-Life Movement Can Help Families of Children With Special Needs
I'm giving a talk at a pro-life conference tomorrow. I can't decide if I want people to wish me luck, or wish me laryngitis. In any event, here is what I'm planning to say. If you see any glaring errors, speak now or forever hold your peace! (Alternately, you may send chocolate, and tell me my hair looks nice) _______________________________________
one of the lucky ones. I was raised in a strong pro-life family and I’ve always
considered myself pro-life. A while back, maybe even before I was married, I
remember thinking that, God-willing, I’d have a big family, and that when I was
in my 40’s, I’d probably have a child with Down Syndrome. I didn’t think of it
as a good thing or a bad thing, just…that’s what happens.
I didn’t expect was to have a child with Down Syndrome when I was 30 (which is
weird, because I’m only 29 now). We
didn’t know Julia had Down Syndrome before she was born, and the news definitely
took me by surprise. We were fortunate – the attending physician spoke to us in
a very gentle, non-threatening manner, and simply said, “We’ve noticed some
features consistent with Down Syndrome.” My initial reaction was to think, “She
doesn’t have Down Syndrome, YOU have Down Syndrome.” But then my husband turned
to me and said he had noticed those features, as well. When they brought Julia
back over to me, I took one look at her and realized, “Yeah, she totally has
Down Syndrome.” Even though it took almost a month to get the chromosome
analysis results back in, everyone was operating under the assumption that
Julia had Down Syndrome from that moment on.
show that an overwhelming number of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of
Down Syndrome choose abortion, upwards of 90%. I can’t even comprehend those
figures. Down Syndrome advocacy organizations, like the Mass Down Syndrome
Congress, are working to ensure that women are given accurate, up-to-date
information with the diagnosis, and that doctors are trained to deliver that
information in a neutral manner. But for many families, the medical community
served to only deepen their fear, hurt, and confusion by attempting to schedule
an abortion after a prenatal diagnosis has been made, or by warning of looming
disaster should the child be born.
said, we were very fortunate. The doctor on duty did not present this as a
bleak situation, or one that we should’ve “remedied” sooner – and I’ve heard
horror stories, stories of doctors attempting to schedule abortions right after
a prenatal diagnosis has been made, or telling a woman who’s just given birth
to a child with Down Syndrome that she should’ve had an abortion because having
a child with Down Syndrome would put such a strain on her marriage that she’d
end up divorced. Everyone in the hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where
Julia was born was very kind and supportive. Nobody told me how to feel, they
simply asked how I was doing or what I needed. They brought books and pamphlets.
When they would examine Julia, they would declare that she was the most
beautiful baby in the hospital. One of the doctors on rotation had a friend
with an adult daughter who has Down Syndrome. The doctor offered to put me in
contact with her friend. I figured we’d chat on the phone some time after I
went home. The next thing I knew, her friend and her friend’s daughter were in
my hospital room, with gifts for Julia and me.
from family and friends were mixed. Some were quick to tell me what a blessing
I’d received. Others apologized. A few simply didn’t respond to emails or
texts. None of those was particularly helpful.
Julia is a tremendous blessing and I wouldn’t
change a thing about her. But timing is everything. When I first received
Julia’s diagnosis, my head was spinning. I was tired, I was confused -- I had
been caught completely off-guard. I didn’t need people telling me how to feel.
I needed people to tell me that they were there for me, to support me through
of the books they gave me at the hospital was titled “Babies With Down
Syndrome” and the cover featured a little boy with Down Syndrome. I couldn’t
look at that little boy for the first month. It’s not because I found him
offensive or I thought he shouldn’t have been born. I just needed time. Now, I
wouldn’t bat an eye at that book. In fact, I’d probably pick it up and fuss
over how cute the boy on the cover is. But it just takes time.
long after Julia was born, we became acquainted with an organization called
Reece’s Rainbow, which helps families in the US adopt children with Down
Syndrome and other special needs from overseas, children who would otherwise be
left to languish in horrid mental institutions. I wept as I scrolled through
the pictures of all the sweet babies waiting for a family, and I was struck by
the Reece’s Rainbow motto: “Because every family deserves the blessing of a
child with Down Syndrome.” By then, I agreed. But my husband didn’t. Not yet.
He does now. But it takes time.
those statistics are so horrific, I am often reluctant to discuss the struggles
associated with raising a child with Down Syndrome. I’m afraid that if I say
that’s it hard, people will look at those 90% figures and conclude that those
women made the right decision. I have always been pro-life, and we would’ve
never considered an abortion if we’d known about the Down Syndrome prenatally.
But the truth is, sometimes it is hard. And it doesn’t mean Julia isn’t a
blessing, or that she’s a lesser human being. She’s just a kid who comes with
some extra work.
other people recognize those struggles would be enormously helpful. Sometimes
folks, however well-intentioned, are quick to paint a picture of Julia, a
stereotype really: “Oh those Downs kids, they’re just angels. They’re so
loving.” It’s true, Julia does have a unique capacity for love and it is her
primary means of engaging with others. But it’s also true that at 2 years and 2
months, she still gets virtually all of her nutrition from a bottle, and can
barely eat pureed baby food off a spoon. One time, after a particular difficult
feeding session, my father remarked, “I thought these children were supposed to
be so loving!” Julia is incredibly loving – but she’s still a toddler. And many
things are harder for her than for the typical child.
make frequent visits to Children’s Hospital, where Julia has many specialty
medical appointments to check her various issues: her heart (she has a
congenital heart defect, as do many children with Down Syndrome), her eyes
(they cross, and her tear ducts were clogged), her ears (she had fluid in her
middle ear and some hearing loss), her tummy (she projectile vomits milk and
soy products), her brain (she used to have unusual head movements upon waking,
and then an involuntary head bobble), her thyroid (many children with Down Syndrome
have thyroid problems), her speech (her speech is delayed due to cognitive
delays, low muscle tone and hearing loss), her feet and legs (she wears
orthotics on her feet to give her extra support for walking)……
are so blessed to have so many fantastic medical resources at our disposal, and
all of Julia’s doctors have been great. At her recent cardiology appointment, after
declaring that Julia does not require surgery at this time, her doctor even
made a point of saying, “She’s really cute.” But it can still be hard. Taking 2
kids to the Longwood medical area, then waiting 2 hours because the
ophthalmologist is running behind schedule, then driving home in rush hour
traffic with a screaming baby who didn’t like getting her eyes dilated…that’s stressful.
It would mean so much to families in these situations to have people recognize
that these stressors exist. A call or a visit, or even a meal every now and
again, would do so much to rejuvenate tired and weary parents.
have so many wonderful life-affirming people here in the pro-life movement that
sometimes I have to remind people to make a fuss over our other daughter, Anna.
She is a great big sister and recently said to me, “If I have a baby with Down
Syndrome in MY tummy, I’m going to say Yes!”
Down Syndrome advocacy organization here in Massachusetts, the Mass Down
Syndrome Congress, does a great job supporting families, educating professionals,
and empowering individuals with Down Syndrome. They have worked tirelessly to
show the many things people with Down Syndrome can do. That’s great, and I’m
glad Julia will have more opportunities than she would’ve even just 20 years
ago. This time last year, Gov. Patrick signed into law “AnAct Relative to Down Syndrome Genetic Test Results,”
which requires providers in Massachusetts to offer accurate and
culturally-sensitive information when delivering a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
Expectant parents are connected with current parents of children with Down
Syndrome. This is due in large part to the efforts of the Mass Down Syndrome Congress.
fall short, however, by not taking a stand in the abortion debate. They are
tireless advocates for people with Down Syndrome, but not for the unborn. With
the development of new non-invasive prenatal tests for Down Syndrome, those
staggering statistics, which indicate that 90% of women opt for abortion when
given a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, could rise even higher. This is an
area where the pro-life movement could be a great asset, by recognizing not
simply the potential of individuals with disabilities but their inherent worth,
regardless of ability. At the end of the
day, Julia’s worth comes not from what she can do, but because, as Dr. Seuss
wrote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”