There is an ugly statistic made well known by none other than The New York Times from a 2007 article; 90 percent of all pregnancies where the unborn child is given a diagnosis of Down Syndrome end in abortion.
Have you ever met a child with Down Syndrome or with other special needs? I have met plenty of them. If fact, one of my own children has special needs. We say she may be delayed at most things, but she’s very advanced at loving.
I’m not going to paint a rosy picture and say it’s all sunshine and smiles being the parent of a child with special needs. There are extra trials and days you wonder if you’ll be able to keep your head while you heart feels like it’s breaking. My husband and I explain it to our other young children that their sister needs extra help, more help than most kids her age. Sometimes it’s not easy being a sibling of a child with special needs. But none of us could ever imagine our life without her, without her smile, her laughter, her hugs and (extra wet) kisses.
That’s why that statistic causes me to shudder. How many beautiful children meant for this world have been killed because some test didn’t come back perfect? How many smiles and hugs has the world lost because this little life wasn’t given the chance to take a breath and change minds, hearts and lives? Here’s a newsflash: none of us is perfect; some of us just have more visible crosses than others.
“We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Pope Benedict XVI said this a few years ago, and I have since had conversations with other parents who have children with special needs about the last part: necessary. These kids who have extra struggles, extra pain, need extra help, are necessary. Many a lesson can be learned from them: selflessness, humility, sacrifice, joy, triumph.
The extra struggles lead to greater triumphs. The first time she independently got that morsel of food to her mouth or was able to sit up for a few minutes without assistance, joy welled up inside of me far exceeding that of my other kids reaching appropriate developmental milestones. Parents are not the only ones who feel this way. Siblings share in the extra joy too mushrooming into an exponential effect for the whole family.
Daily, my daughter teaches me these things and more. In fact, for the time being, I’ll be taking a break from this column and a professional break from the front lines in the fight to build a culture of Life so her lessons sink in more deeply. I thought I needed to go out into the world to help build a culture of Life, but lo and behold a daily building will occur in menial tasks with the potential for monumental triumphs. Families with children who need extra help do this every day and are a testament to the world that each life matters, including, and perhaps especially, the special ones.