Two years ago, on this very day, you gave me some news that changed my life. You told me my unborn son would be born with Down syndrome. This must have been hard for you. I don’t know if this was the first time you had to do this or if you had done it before. Perhaps you felt you held the responsibility of crushing my dream of who I imagined my child would be.
I believe you delivered the news to me the best you knew how. You said you were sorry many times. And you quickly rushed to help me with my options. Options that I took very seriously. I was traumatized and your solutions were very enticing. I did not like the news you were telling me and if I could get out of the situation I was willing to listen. I knew nothing about Down syndrome and I looked to you for guidance. You told me everything you knew about Down syndrome and it sounded very bleak. You told me about all the things my son, Cody, would not be able to do and all the possible problems he may endure. It sounded horrible and I thought maybe your suggestion of terminating my pregnancy or giving Cody up for adoption would make my life and his much better.
I am writing you this letter because you deserve to know the outcome of my story. I want you to know that your role as the deliverer of a Down syndrome diagnosis to future mothers may look a lot different when you hear my story about Down syndrome. Yes, I needed to know the hard stuff about Down syndrome, that is your job, but I wish you would have started with the positives, because there are so many!
Despite Cody’s Down syndrome diagnosis, I have a very capable, happy, adorable little boy who is easy to love. I absolutely love being his mom. I cannot imagine my life without him. It’s different and not what I expected, but it is not bad, it is not scary and it is definitely not something to be sorry about. I believe terminating a pregnancy just because of a Down syndrome diagnosis should not even be a consideration. People with Down syndrome can achieve so much and contribute great things to our world. Cody is so much fun, with an energy we can barely contain. He is full of smiles, has big blue eyes that melt your heart and his contagious giggles make him a constant joy to be with. He fits in perfectly with our family and is always right in the middle of the fun with his big brother and sister. His Down syndrome diagnosis does not define him, and honestly we forget about it most of the time.
I have met a lot of parents of children with Down syndrome since I received my diagnosis and none of them are unhappy or miserable being a parent to their child. Women that receive a Down syndrome diagnosis need to know this!
Sure, some days are hard and frustrating and the extra time needed to accomplish milestones can be challenging, but my other kids are also hard and cause me frustration, just in other ways. Cody has not decreased my quality of life at all. In fact, he has given me new purpose and I have grown so much as a person since he has entered my world. I am more patient, less critical, I hand out grace more freely and I have learned about inclusion and acceptance of all people.
This growth has led to me being a part of starting an inclusive program for students with intellectual disabilities at the college where I work. Yes, people with Down syndrome can go to college! This fall 12 students with various intellectual disabilities, including Down syndrome, will come to Judson University in Elgin and live in the dorms, eat in the cafeteria, go to classes, participate in co-curricular activities and gain work experience through both an on-campus job and an off-campus internship. These students will be prepared for independent living and pursue competitive employment at the completion of the program. The world is such a better place for people with Down syndrome thanks to so many who have seen the value and significance that these wonderful human beings have despite the stereotypes and false perceptions. I feel honored that I am a part of moving society forward in inclusion and acceptance.
Approximately one in every 700 babies born in the United States is born with Down syndrome, so there is a good chance you may have to give a Down syndrome diagnosis again. If you do, please don’t tell them you’re sorry. Do not start with the negatives. Communicate to them that it will be a different road than expected but that it is not a bad one. Educate them about the many therapies and services ready to help their child achieve. Tell them that people with Down syndrome are included in mainstream school and can even go to college and hold meaningful jobs. Make sure they know that most parents enjoy having a child with Down syndrome and instead of giving them the phone number to an abortion clinic, give them the phone numbers of some local moms that have children with Down syndrome so they can seek advice and reassurance from them.
My hope is that my story has inspired you to learn more about Down syndrome and that you will deliver the news of any future diagnosis with encouragement and hope. Reinforcing to these parents that, despite their fears and probable challenges, they need to be brave. Brave to have faith and embrace this different and wonderful gift that they will soon be so thankful for. And please, don’t feel sorry for them, they just hit the jackpot.
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Thinkstock image by BerSonnE