Journalist Greg Jericho typically covers economics for the Guardian in Australia, but this week his writing took on a very personal tone.
Jericho wrote a moving column about his 9-year-old daughter Emma and his journey to seeing her as more than just someone who has Down syndrome. His column “I no longer see my daughter’s Down syndrome, I only see a beautiful girl named Emma” was published on Sunday, a day ahead of World Down Syndrome Day.
When Emma was born, Jericho said he was worried that he would never be able to see her for more than her disability.
“I feared in those first tear-filled days that I’d forever look at her and think, ‘There is my daughter, Emma Down Syndrome Jericho,’” he wrote.
But as Jericho watched his baby daughter in a himidicrib in the neonatal intensive care unit, his fears quickly washed away.
“… in my eyes she looked perfect,” he wrote. “And of course like any parent, I continue to think that. But while I now only see Emma, I know others see her DS first.”
Sadly, seeing only a child’s disability – rather than the unique individual human beings that they are – has led some families to abort their unborn babies, rather than give them the opportunity to live. Some studies indicate up to 90 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted simply because of the genetic condition.
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While Jericho never mentions abortion in his column, he expressed concern about how society views his daughter and others with Down syndrome differently.
“I understand why they do, and it is why I think I love showing her off in public – whether it be in a school dance or just at the local shops where she follows me as I buy the groceries.
“Due to the ignorance I had of Down syndrome when she was born, I want her to be able to show others how much she can do – so that they will not be as scared as I was when, nearly 10 years ago, Emma came into my life,” Jericho wrote.
She is nearly 10 and is yet to speak a complete sentence to me. She can however sing along to every song in Frozen (and do the dance steps of course).
She also understands much more than she can say. She certainly understands enough to know that my dad jokes deserve a contemptuous and exasperated cry of “Daaaaaad!”
But she may never grasp something as abstract as a graph, let alone understand what I write.
Then again, she might.
Her entire life she has defied my expectations – slowly, yes – two steps forward one step back, most certainly, but consistently across many aspects of her life Emma has shown that she gets there in the end.
It’s easy when looking at someone with DS to lower the expectations down to nought. Part of my learning as Emma’s father has been to let her be the judge of what she can (or wants to) do.
It also involves reassessing just what is important.
I have known enough parents who have had to deal with tragedy to know that whether or not she’ll be able to read the Jane Austen novel after which she was named is pretty irrelevant. The fact Emma is healthy and that she still reaches out her hand for mine when walking to school, means I am very lucky.
Having a father that values her for who she is makes Emma a lucky girl, too.