Why we are so scared of Down syndrome.
Last year, there was a story going ‘viral’ on the internet, one that many of us that call ourselves #theluckyfew found with a pit in our stomach. One that often comes when the diagnosis of Down syndrome is in the headlines. This time, a celebrity couple who have chose to live their lives on social media through posts and vlogs was told at their 20-week ultrasound checkup that their baby had a two-vessel umbilical cord, dilated kidneys, and could possibly have Down syndrome. How the Today Show and other media outlets used this ‘story’ is what is making the need for Jack’s Basket that much more evident.
This isn’t a blog post about how this couple responded, it’s recognizing how media, the power of words and assumptions, and the world’s response has contributed to why we are so scared of Down syndrome.
I get it. I get the fear that comes when you’re given news that’s unexpected. My family has received unexpected news many times throughout our lives, not to mention that the last few years have included addiction, recovery, miscarriage, death by suicide, a liver cancer diagnosis, and the news that my son has Down syndrome. So much shock, confusion, and fear of the unknown in each of these circumstances.
I can also honestly tell you that in 2013, I hoped that the nurse practitioner that walked into the room, where my husband was sitting alone with our new baby (while I was still in recovery) and abruptly told him this life-changing diagnosis of my son having Down syndrome, was wrong. I hoped the official test confirming this suspected diagnosis would tell us our lives would be what we knew and planned for. We are often scared of what we do not know. Oh how thankful I am that they weren’t wrong.
What happened next is what felt like the punch and what makes life with a child with Down syndrome the hardest and challenging part of the journey.
The articles read the words ‘healthy’ and ‘good news’. I read the ignorant comments and reactions. And then saw the follow up story by the Today Show, ‘Uplifting update after pregnancy complications’…A news ‘story’ sharing the ‘answered prayers’ expressing great relief.
The world was rejoicing over the fact that the baby doesn’t have Down syndrome.
Punch in the gut. Your answered prayers are that your baby will not be like my son.
And now people are singing praises of God because there aren’t anymore ‘complications’? Is this the same God people are quick to forget, mock, or deny when life is not affected by such ‘devastating’ news? Please.
“Baby is healthy, baby doesn’t have Down syndrome.”
Just to clarify, a baby with Down syndrome doesn’t =unhealthy, and anyone that knows anything about the unique genetic condition or anyone blessed by a person who has it, knows this isn’t a disease. Babies with Down syndrome may have health concerns and/or a heart defect, but the diagnosis itself doesn’t define a baby as unhealthy.
As I wrestled with my own feelings and fears in the beginning, I recognized that there are many things that contribute to our grief of what we ‘thought’ our lives would look like. But came to understand that the grief of who I thought my child would be was easily forgotten when I discovered who he was uniquely created to be. Those feelings were also impacted by the grief of how the world doesn’t accept that my child is different, if his life should be celebrated and valued, or bluntly put, existent. And from this news report, I can assume the world is sad for me.
There are so many thoughts rolling through my head…which quite frankly has been stirring in my heart and mind for years. I haven’t had much time to sit and write a blog post lately, because I’m working hard to help medical providers recognize that when they share the diagnosis of Down syndrome to share it without their personal bias. Example: Your hopes and dreams are over for your child because he has Down syndrome. (2018)
“I have bad news, your baby has Down syndrome.”
Again, just to clarify, Down syndrome is not a bad thing. It’s unexpected.
A question I often ask myself is how are families loving their lives with their child with Down syndrome, yet the way the diagnosis is given as if it’s devastating news. Why such a disconnect? How does that impact a parent’s ability to accept their new life? Why does research say that 99% of individuals with Down syndrome love their lives. I sure know a lot of people that don’t have Down syndrome that don’t love their lives. Maybe we could learn a little something from individuals with Ds.
Let’s also not forget that 50 years ago in our beloved country, if I was to deliver a baby with Down syndrome, a person in a position of power, my doctor, would so directly (as if a fact), tell me not to take my ‘Mongloid”, ‘Retarded’, or ‘Down syndrome child’ home, but put ‘them’ in an institution, because “they” won’t do anything.
This contributes to why we are so scared of Down syndrome today.
My heroes are the parents that took their CHILD (not diagnosis) home and raised him or her just like any other child. Saw the potential, blazed the trail for all the families like mine, seeing their child as a gift and not the so called ‘burden’ that has been labeled on them for decades. Learning patience and purpose, celebrating milestones on a different timeline, seeing others without labels, and experiencing a love that is like no other.
Why we are so scared of Down syndrome.
Over the course of the past six years of learning more about my son and meeting hundreds of new families that are raising a child with Down syndrome, those words have gone from a question to a statement.
Why we are so scared of Down syndrome.
“Your baby has Down syndrome, do you want to keep her?”
“Your life will be filled with pain and suffering.”
These statements, these assumptions, these moments of celebration of results that baby doesn’t have Down syndrome, is contributing to the idea that is okay for the world to think that you don’t have to have a child with Down syndrome.
So as our world is trying to become more accepting of ALL people, I ask you, really? The most dangerous place for a preborn baby with Down syndrome is a mother’s womb and these babies are discriminated from the very beginning. I want a baby, but not THAT baby. Not to mention that now the conversation is happening even before conception with an infertility doctor defining an embryo not viable if the genetic makeup would include an extra chromosome.
As I mentioned earlier, I can empathize with receiving unexpected news. We all respond differently to circumstances and a lot of that is impacted by our life experiences up until that time. But I can’t help point out that the view and opinions of others heavily impacts and influences our response.
“You won’t want to connect with other parents, because they will persuade you differently.”
But before this narrative around Down syndrome was created, society has impacted how we view (measure) others. We do it everyday, almost every conversation. Emphasizing WHAT we do, rather than WHO we are. Compiling the notion that WHAT a person accomplishes brings value to life, versus WHO you were created to be. Easily defining and determining if a life has worth or is worthy of it, listing accomplishments and achievements, labeling each other with words of smart and gifted, instead of attributes of caring, compassionate, and loving. But really, who needs those anyway? The world has too much love, right?
If you’re a parent and have never had to defend your child’s life, please know that there are parents everyday having to do so, because we are so scared of Down syndrome which has contributed to =a choice. There is also the space in which when there are difficult moments on this journey, I hesitate to share (with those not close to me) because it’s often assumed that it’s hard because our child has Down syndrome and nothing to do with the fact that kids and parenting are hard. But we signed up for this, right?
Here’s a glimpse into one mom’s experience (which is all too common).
A few weeks ago, I had run into an old co-worker/acquaintance. As she came up to me, smiles an all, she had asked if she could see B. I replied, “of course.” I was told how beautiful she was and that she enjoys seeing pictures of her, and how lovely it was to see her in person.
Followed by, “Are you happy you chose life for her?”
I immediately gasped, thinking to myself, ‘am I hearing this right? Was I JUST asked this question?’ I responded, “Of course, there was nothing to question and never a thought.”
Followed by her, “Well, that’s good. Life will be really difficult for you. I’ll be cheering for you. Happy Holidays.”
NO parent should ever have to experience this. NO parent should have to defend that their child deserves life.
This is why you will see so much advocacy from families. How does this type of interaction and the way the world views individuals with Down syndrome make the journey hard? How much of this journey is hard because an individual with Down syndrome is not respected, given opportunities, and valued in society? How do these experiences influence the idea that it’s okay to have a choice for this life?
So we speak our truth. That the life and impact of our child has made us better. Choosing to live our lives so publically to cultivate change, vulnerably sharing our hilltops and valleys of parenthood, so that one day the world won’t rejoice over the fact that the baby doesn’t have Down syndrome. So that the life and impact of future babies will be welcomed, celebrated, and respected like you and I were.
That is newsworthy.
Do you know a baby recently diagnosed with Down syndrome? Request a Jack’s Basket on our website: www.jacksbasket.org