It’s a very special day. It’s a day we celebrate those around us who add unique and uplifting elements to our lives. They give unconditional love and make friends with nearly every person they encounter. Their parents and siblings say they’ve received far more from these individuals than they’ve given to them. As you can tell, I’m talking about some very, very special people.
It’s World Down Syndrome Day. And there’s a special reason we choose today to celebrate the lives of those who have “super powers” according to one mom. March 21st signifies the third or extra 21st chromosome that identifies Down syndrome. I could write volumes about the joys and challenges of life with these special people. But today, let me tell you about just one family.
Even though Down syndrome is cause for celebration, parents feel many things the day they get the news they have a child with “super powers”, and celebration usually isn’t one of them….
Megan had a very strong mother’s intuition. She knew she was pregnant before she could even take a pregnancy test. But halfway through her pregnancy, Megan received unexpected news. An ultrasound showed her baby had dilated kidneys. Being cautious, the doctor ordered a level II ultrasound. It was then that Megan discovered her son had several markers indicating he may have Down syndrome. A genetic counselor recommended a DNA test to determine if the baby had a chromosomal abnormality. The results would take two weeks—the longest two weeks of Megan’s life. Finally, she received the doctor’s call confirming that her son did have Down syndrome. Overcome with emotion, she felt like the room was spinning as she experienced waves of grief, sadness, anger and fear.
Few things in life are more paralyzing than a fear of the unknown. This is what many parents face when they learn their unborn baby has Down syndrome. They grieve. They question if they can handle having a child with a disability. What will the future hold? They’re vulnerable and in need of support, reassurance and hope.
Statistics show as many as 90% of children, when prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome, are aborted. It’s heartbreaking to realize that under this circumstance only one out of ten of these precious babies is given a chance at life. Research from Harvard Medical School reveals that the information parents receive at the time of prenatal diagnosis frequently determines if they choose life or death. About half reported they felt rushed or pressured into making a decision about continuing the pregnancy. Most felt their doctors didn’t explain Down syndrome adequately and in a balanced fashion. Unfortunately, the medical community generally assumes that if a woman is willing to go through prenatal testing, then she must be willing to consider abortion as an option. That influence, combined with the parents’ shocked state, leaves many parents thinking that abortion is their only “choice.”
But here’s the other side of the coin. One of the key factors of those who chose life was that they received positive, encouraging information about Down syndrome, either in printed form or from talking with the parent of a child with Down syndrome. When parents receive reassurance, rather than apprehension, it can be a revelation that saves the life of their baby.
With education and peer support, Down syndrome myths are demolished. In the past, most believed that a Down syndrome diagnosis would mean institutionalization. People with Down syndrome now live fulfilling lives. They go to school, make friends, are employed, even live on their own, and contribute much to society. Multiple support organizations, like GiGi’s Playhouse, exist to help parents and show how children with Down syndrome are developing and thriving.
Megan came to terms with the fact that she and her husband had a decision to make, and admit they felt lost. They considered abortion, but then ruled it out. They also investigated adoption, but came to the conclusion that wasn’t right for them either. Through research, they became aware of the limitations of Down syndrome. But they also realized this child could be amazing in his own way. Although daunting, they knew what they needed to do. Regardless of the diagnosis, this was their son and they’d love him no matter what. Together, they’d face the challenges and life-altering experiences, but also enjoy the many blessings that would accompany the birth of their child.
This week a video was released in honor of World Down Syndrome Day. It’s entitled, “Dear Future Mom” and features 15 young people with Down syndrome addressing the concerns of a mother who’s expecting a baby with Down syndrome. In a beautiful and heart-warming fashion, each person has an encouraging message… “Don’t be afraid.” “He’ll be able to hug you.” “He’ll be able to go to school.” “And he’ll tell you he loves you.” “Your child can be happy. And you’ll be happy too.” It’s incredibly moving, so be sure to have a Kleenex ready. Visit our website where you can also connect with: practical resources, engaging stories, articles, and videos that’ll touch your heart and mind. It’ll reinforce the incredible value those with Down syndrome bring to life. Welcome to the celebration!
Celebrating the “super powers” amongst us,
Life Issues Institute