Why These Articles on Down Syndrome Matter to Us All

There are two interesting articles on the Yahoo Parenting home page right now – the titles speak for themselves – If I Knew My Daughter Had Down Syndrome, I Would Have Aborted and To My Daughter With Down Syndrome on Her Wedding Day.  Even in our political times, I can’t remember ever seeing such a juxtaposition of polar perspectives.

Both pieces are drawing great attention for obvious reasons, and many of the responses and comments are emotional, understandably.  But looking strictly at them as two pieces on what one could say is the same topic – a daughter with Down Syndrome – where are the universal truths?

First, the evident clinical truth is that Down Syndrome is a chromosomal condition with a very broad range of medical and behavioral implications.  Although many times we prefer to categorize groups of individuals together, individuals with Down Syndrome are unique individuals.  In these two pieces, it seems fair to assume that while one of these daughters is capable of leading a life that includes marriage, the other may not achieve that type of independence.

Second, the social truth is that community is what sustains us, in all scenarios.  One parent speaks of a “strong support system” that got her through the early years.   The lack of community she feels now – by dismissive therapists and school personnel – clearly causes her to struggle.  The other parent states that his initial concern for his daughter was that other kids like her – and stand with her in the “vital social arena.”  We all recognize our need for community support and acknowledge the difference it makes when we have it, and when we don’t.

Finally, the “north star” truth is that each of us gets to tell our own story.  One daughter “reads….loves swimming…performs in an adaptive ballet troupe…sings and twirls her way to the classroom” and the other “danced on the junior varsity dance team and made lifelong impressions” on everyone she met.  Both girls are enjoying their lives and are having a positive impact on those around them. These articles are not about the two daughters with Down Syndrome.  These articles are about the two adults who are the parents.

The real questions these articles raise are not whether the lives of individuals living with Down Syndrome are worthwhile or whether the pro-life movement has gone too far in Ohio.  The real questions are personal questions for each of us.  When faced with unanticipated challenges in life, how we will we tell our story?  How will we respond?  Will we be like one parent here who centers her story on regret, or will we be like the other parent who centers his story on joy?  We have one choice really:  we can define our stories, or we can let our stories define us.

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