In a recent article on Yahoo! Parenting, pseudonymous Sophie Horan wrote about her decision to abort her baby who was diagnosed with Down syndrome. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this article since I first read it last week. Two years ago, my husband and I found out that the baby we were expecting, Samuel, would be born with Down syndrome, so this article felt personal.
In a handful of rebuttal articles and Facebook posts I saw in response to the article, people focused on how misinformed this woman was about life with Down syndrome. I’ve seen people make excellent points about the way the medical community handles Down syndrome diagnoses (Hint: It’s poorly.) and the many misconceptions in the Yahoo! article about the abilities (or lack thereof) of those with Down syndrome.
But what has really gripped my mind since reading this woman’s story is how she ended her article: “Only then, after I’d gotten to know my baby as well as I possibly could [by learning the baby’s sex], did I feel I was ready to make the hardest decision of my life — terminate the pregnancy.”
If Sophie thought that she had gotten to know her baby by two facts — its sex and an extra chromosome — then she truly has no idea what she has missed. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the fears and worries that Sophie faced. My husband is the only person who has even close to an idea of what a dark and difficult time my pregnancy with Samuel was for me. In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t had a prenatal diagnosis. Finding out that our baby had Down syndrome at 17 weeks along meant that I had a long, long time of being terrified without the benefit of knowing who Sammy is aside from Down syndrome.
I worried I’d only see Down syndrome when I looked at him; instead I see beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair and a remarkable resemblance to his sister. I fretted about things like how he might not be able to breastfeed; one-hour-old Samuel would put any other one-hour-old baby to shame with his killer latch. I worried I wouldn’t love him as much as I love my daughter, but, oh! This boy has my heart. I love him so much that it takes my breath away. I didn’t know he would immediately start bopping his head when he hears The Jackson 5 or that he’d be ticklish under his chin. I didn’t know that “The Wheels on the Bus” would be a fail-proof way to snap him out of fussing or that sitting through church with him would be far easier that it ever was with his sister, because he’s so content for me to just hold him. Nineteen months in, and I’m still scratching the surface of getting to know Sammy. I can say with the utmost of confidence that I did not know him when I received his prenatal diagnosis.
Sophie said that she was making the best decision for her baby in order to prevent him or her from suffering, but there is no escaping trouble and hardship and heartache in this life. I wish desperately that I could shield both of my children from difficulties, but I cannot. Bringing a child into this world is an enormous risk without any guarantees. You can have a perfectly healthy newborn who later goes on to be in an accident and require extensive care, or your child could get cancer, or he or she could grow up to wrestle with addiction or suffer through a terrible divorce. If it’s truly in a person’s best interest to be spared difficulty, then nobody should be born, Down syndrome or not.
How can we, from our limited vantage point, even begin to understand the purpose of and value of suffering? Should we euthanize the elderly if they are in physical pain or have dementia? Should we close down all of the intensive care units in the hospitals because it’s better to just let people die if they’re that sick or injured? Does anybody who is a “drain on society” (as I noticed several people mention in the comment section of Sophie’s article) not deserve to live? Is this truly the level to which our culture has descended? Lord, have mercy! God creates each and every life, and He doesn’t make mistakes. Even people who require extra care and are not “productive” by our society’s standards — or perhaps especially these people — are created for God’s own glory and pleasure. Who are we to decide that the lives these people lead are not worth living?
It’s been my observation that many people in the Down syndrome community want to reason with people such as Sophie by talking about the many wonderful aspects of life with someone with Down syndrome, about how people with Down syndrome report being very happy with their lives, about the many capabilities of people with Down syndrome. While those arguments have their place, I understand the skepticism of someone without experience with Down syndrome, because I once shared their skepticism.
I would say something a little different: I would acknowledge that life with Down syndrome is really, really hard as a parent. Maybe it won’t always be so challenging, but the last two years have been emotionally, physically and financially draining for our family. Most days, I’m still terrified of raising a child with Down syndrome. But I’m also terrified of having a teenage daughter someday. Parenting, like life, is hard.
But I would also say, without hesitation, that it’s worth it. Sammy is worth it. And he, like every other child disabled or not, has dignity simply because he is a person created in the image of God. And that is why, when offered the option to “terminate” or “interrupt” my pregnancy with him (or any other euphemism that you’d like to use for the stark reality that I was given the option to kill my child), my husband and I chose not to see Samuel as disposable. I’m so thankful for a faith that informs my worldview in such a way that there was really never even a choice to make. I’m so sorry that Sophie lost the opportunity to know her precious baby, and I’m so thankful that we didn’t miss out on Sammy.
LifeNews Note: Ellen McGladdery is a member of Messiah Lutheran Church, Danville, Calif. Photo credit Kevin McGladdery. This article orginally appeared in the Lutheran Witness.