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What the 'Today Show' Missed About a Former Olympian’s Possible Down Syndrome Diagnosis

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I have been watching the “Today Show” since I was a high school student, and that was over 40 years ago! Yesterday, the “Today Show” did a feature on Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson Eastman, and her husband, Andrew. To be more precise, they did a show about her pregnancy and concerns about something detected on an ultrasound. The couple released a YouTube Vlog earlier this week about struggles with miscarriages and their excitement about their “new blessing” — they were expecting again.

They had some type of test and then came the news “they were praying for.” If you watched, you can see they were grateful and joyful their unborn child did not have Down syndrome.

It may surprise you when I say, I am not upset with Shawn and Andrew. Honestly, most people do not dream of having a baby with a genetic condition with increased risks for all kinds of co-occurring conditions. In one of my speeches/blogs/articles for the Kansas City Star “A Glimpse of God’s Grace,” I talk about our journey. With full-disclosure I admit the devastation that came with my daughter’s prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. We could not love Rachel more, and I have become a fierce advocate for the inclusion and rights of individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities. But at the moment of that diagnosis, it was devastating. Partially because of the unknown and partially because it is human nature to want the best for people we love. We cannot predict anyone’s life and the physical and mental health issues they will face. I do know that Rachel is at a greater risk for many things because she has Down syndrome. I do know she works twice as hard as everyone else does to do many things. I do know that sometimes people look at her dismissively and look at me with pity. I also know she has made, not just my life fuller, but she has made the world brighter just because she is. While I would take away her struggles, I would not take her Down syndrome away. Like all life, her life is valuable. This is the life I’ve been given, and I will do my best to support Rachel and others with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities, to help create a more accepting world.

That said, I believe the “Today Show” missed an amazing opportunity. Co-anchor Savannah Guthrie has helped spread positive awareness about individuals with Down syndrome. She grew up with an uncle with Down syndrome. As I watched yesterday’s segment, I kept waiting for Savannah to say, “If you do get a diagnosis of Down syndrome, here’s a family to tell you their diagnosis story.”

Yes, “Today Show,” you missed the mark yesterday. Shawn Johnson East and the “Today Show” have an enormous circle of influence. How easily you could have really educated the public about what happens if your baby is diagnosis with Down syndrome. You could have easily interviewed a family who had walked that walk. You could have pointed out the many resources available to families with a prenatal diagnosis. You could have introduced your viewers to individuals with Down syndrome. You could have given information about national organizations that provide support. You could have educated, and you could have spread positive awareness.

But you did not.

So “Today Show” and Savannah Guthrie, I’m asking you as a faithful viewer and as mom to Rachel, to please do a follow-up story and tell us the rest of the story. You see, it’s not that we in the Down syndrome community begrudge Shawn and her husband for their feelings. It’s that as we watched, we waited like we were listening for Paul Harvey to say “Now you know the rest of the story” piece that never came.

Since I can’t really improve on what she said, I will quote one mom from Facebook, Natalie Gilbert Palin, who said, “This segment further marginalized one of the most marginalized groups of people in our society, and it sends a message of fear to expecting mothers who may be faced with the decision of continuing or terminating a pregnancy.” She goes on to say, “If you don’t have a child with [disabilities], it may be hard to understand the gut-punch that comes every time I hear of someone celebrating not having a child like mine.”

How about it Savannah Guthrie and the “Today Show,” now will you tell the rest of the story?

A version of this story originally appeared on The Sassy Southern Gal.

Originally published: July 23, 2019
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