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Why I'm Done Making Excuses for Those Who Discriminate Against My Child With Down Syndrome

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On September 28, 2017, two police officers showed up at my weekly Concord Hospital (Sydney, Australia) market stall and told me someone had filed a report about my son with Down Syndrome being with me at work.

This was not the first time some anonymous member of the public lodged a complaint about Noah’s presence at my stall. Two years previously, I made the news when another anonymous campaigner launched a petition to remove him from another market where I had operated for 14 years. I subsequently quit that stall, which leaves me with Concord Hospital Market as the one last remaining weekly event where I earn an income from selling Malaysian food.

At Concord Hospital, around this time last year, a woman came up and yelled at me for “child abuse,” and said she was going to report me to the authorities. I filmed our interaction and ended up being invited on television to talk about it.

Every time I post about this on social media, the average person is perplexed about what the problem is. What’s wrong with a child staying with his mom at work? Why do people get so worked up about it? On what basis would they be lodging their complaint? Some people assume I’m doing something wrong to get this kind of attention.

In fact, when the story came out on the front page of “The Daily Mail” two years ago, some of the commenters suggested this was a publicity stunt by me looking for my 15 minutes of fame. Others are indignant I would think I’m entitled to bring my kid to work when they don’t have that privilege (this one always stumps me because it’s so obvious — the difference between my situation and theirs is that I’m my own boss).

The fact is, efforts to thwart my integration of my child with my business have been taking place in more subtle forms since way before these incidents. I understand from my fellow stallholders that people gripe to them about Noah’s presence at the markets. They wonder why I’m not home looking after him or why he’s not in childcare — as if he’s better off with strangers for eight hours than with his mom in an environment he absolutely loves.

Except for the one woman last year who yelled at me, nobody has had the wherewithal to confront me directly.

Throughout all these years, I’ve tried to address this issue with some level of restraint and diplomacy. I’ve tried to assume these people’s motives are pure but misguided. I’ve suggested it’s probably a cultural issue; that some Westerners find the idea of kids in a work environment to be offensive and an example of poor parenting. I’ve figured in their lack of understanding of my child’s disability, they assume he’s not getting the stimulation he needs to thrive.

I’ve lost count of the number of market stallholders who have since reached out and told me they raised their kids at the markets and never had any problems with complaints. The only point of difference is that my child has Down syndrome.

Yet, I harbored no resentment. I figured they meant well. Because he looks vulnerable, it must trigger some people to advocate for him by trying to destroy my livelihood and reputation.

My frustration stems from these people’s refusal to engage me respectfully to find out my story. They hide behind a wall of anonymity so I never really know the real motivations behind their actions. I decided to provoke a conversation, so I put up this sign the following week at my stall. Halfway through the day, I was told by the market organizers to pull down the sign based on a complaint by someone at the hospital.

“To the person who called the cops last week. Tell me — what do you find so offensive about my Down syndrome child’s right to stay with his mom at work?”

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m done with diplomacy and I’m done with being a sitting duck for malicious, anonymous campaigners.

I’m done being told to keep quiet.

When I quit my other market stall two years ago, one person who had experienced disability discrimination in her own life posted on my Facebook page. She begged me to stay and fight. She said I have a voice and I need to use it to speak out for those who don’t. She’s right.

Enough is enough.

I’m speaking out during Down Syndrome Awareness Month so people realize the biggest threat to my child’s quality of life is not those who blatantly believe all people with disabilities should be in institutionalized care and out of sight. It’s the sanctimony of the intolerant campaigners who disguise their militancy as concern for my child’s welfare, while driving towards the same outcome.

Follow this journey at Baby Noah’s Story.

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Originally published: October 23, 2017
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