Your son is born. The doctors come in to look at your son and tell you that, just by looking at your beautiful baby boy, they know he is going to live a long, healthy life, be a straight-A student on the honour role, be the captain of his high-school soccer team, go to university and graduate top of his class, go to med school and become a doctor with a successful practice, get married to a beautiful woman and have five children — he will live a long, healthy and successful life! All that just by looking at him. How happy would you be? You would walk away thinking, "Man, I just won the lottery... I couldn't have asked for anything more perfect!"
Now imagine this:
Your son is born. The doctors come in and look at your beautiful baby boy and say, "I'm sorry, but your son will have many medical complications. In fact, we have a list of things to keep an eye on as he grows. Don't expect him to live longer than 60."
"Your son is also going to take a long time to learn to do anything, if at all. He will go to school, but don't really expect much from him, because in the end he won't even graduate from high school with a diploma, because lets face it, he doesn't need it."
"He is already set up by the government once he turns 18 to live below the poverty line, because he will never be able to work and make his own living. He will likely have a shorter-than-average, sad, pathetic life full of hospital visits."
How sad would you be? You would walk away feeling sad and angry, thinking, "How did this happen? Why me?"
Now, I ask you this... how possible is it for the first scenario to actually happen? I can confidently say it's impossible.
Unfortunately, a mother and father who had just welcomed a baby with down syndrome into their family almost always seem to hear the second scenario. But just as the doctors can't tell you what's in store for your newborn typical baby, they can't tell you what's in store for your newborn baby with down syndrome.
Scenario number two was what played out for my husband and I when we found out 17 weeks prenatally that our baby would be born with down syndrome. We were lucky and had a lovely geneticist that shared a few positive things about individuals with down syndrome, but a lot of the information that was given to us was more focused on things our unborn child would not be able to do or would have difficulties doing. We even had a medical professional suggest we terminate our pregnancy "because your life will be in and out of hospitals."
The medical community and the education system already have their minds made up before they even give him a chance.
This is why I constantly advocate for people with down syndrome. People always think they know what my son is capable or not capable of doing simply by the fact that he has down syndrome. The medical community and the education system already have their minds made up before they even give him a chance.
I promised to my beautiful son, Christian, when he was in my belly that I would do whatever I have to do to make sure he gets everything he wants and deserves in life, so that is why I do what I do. That is why I always talk and educate on down syndrome... to show our physicians, families and communities that you CAN'T predict someone's future with simply a look.
My hope is that, one day, when a baby with down syndrome is born, that it's just that — the doctors and nurses will offer parents their congratulations on their new addition instead of the "I'm sorry" followed by doom and gloom.
Paula Anderson is a wife, advocate and mother of two beautiful children: Christian, 3.5, and Lucy, 16 months. She is the founder and chair of Project 321 Peel Down Syndrome Association.
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