My son Cade is a survivor.
Eleven years ago this week, Rebekah
and I celebrated the birth of our first-born. Despite his Down syndrome
diagnosis, we were overjoyed to welcome this new life into our family.
But not everyone welcomes children like Cade.
It’s no secret. People with Down syndrome have been targeted for extinction. In November, the New York Post heralded The End of Down Syndrome and profiled a new, safer test for pre-natal detection. Before this test was available, 92% of Down syndrome diagnoses
(and many times false diagnoses) resulted in the mothers choosing to
terminate their pregnancies. With these new tests, some experts foretell
the end of Downs.
Why the rush to rid the world of people like Cade?
Certainly, it isn’t because his disability physically threatens anyone. Rather, Down syndrome children pose a different kind
of threat to society—the in your face reminder that our aspirations for
“perfection” may be flawed. People like Cade disrupt normal. Whether
it’s his insistence that everyone he says “hello” to on the busy streets
of Manhattan respond in-kind or his unfiltered ability to hug a lonely,
wheelchair-bound, homeless man without hesitation: people like Cade
bring new dimension to what normal ought to be.
encouraged to see several pop-culture venues putting on display just
how normal children like Cade—and the surviving 8%—really are.
I was surprised and delighted when I opened a Nordstrom catalog a
few months back and saw a young boy with Downs syndrome posing as a
model for children’s clothes. No mention or special attribution was made
of it. But there he was, hanging with a few other boys, included as one
of the gang. The way things ought to be.
last month, dozens of major news outlets picked up this story line when
the same young model was included in the latest Target ad campaign. One
father and advocate, Rick Smith, took the story viral when he posted 5 Things Target Said Without Saying Anything on his blog.
Only two weeks ago on the popular show Glee,
a sixteen-year old girl with Down syndrome was portrayed beautifully.
Her character showed life as a high school teenager, a member of the
cheerleading squad dealing with the pressures of modern teen life.
During the episode, you could hear her internal thoughts playing out as
the writers took a bold step forward in portraying how it might feel to
walk in her shoes.
But these public displays of inclusion are only part of how we counter the extinction of those with Down syndrome.
Why do the majority of expectant parents determine not to carry these pregnancies to full term?
Fear of the unknown.
Fear that life will never look the same.
Fear that they won’t have what it takes day to day.
Fear that they themselves, won’t be accepted.
humans—feel ill equipped to handle life-altering uncertainty. If we
could see the future, we’d do everything we could to keep things safe.
Yet it also seems that when we can control the future, we don’t do well.
In the case of prenatal diagnosis, when we catch a glimpse of the
predicted future, nine out of ten times we choose not to permit the
adventure of life with a Down syndrome child! We buy into the utopian
lie that we know what’s best for ourselves and for this world.
is where community comes in. Mothers, Fathers, family members and
friends need each other to come alongside and encourage that the Creator
has a full intention for this life. To use this story to challenge our
understanding of what it truly means to be human. To dispel our
temptation to control, preserve order and protect a superficial version
of what a perfect family must be.
When our second and third
children were en utero, Rebekah and I were highly encouraged to do
prenatal screenings; but we politely declined. While we knew we had the
highest odds of repeating a Down syndrome birth, it made no difference
to us. A life was a life. On our worst days, we focused on the fear of
the unknown. On our best days, we focused on trusting God to give us the
strength to parent whomever’s life we were about to be given the
privilege of stewarding.
So, why should you care about a Down
syndrome diagnoses? This isn’t just about Down syndrome. It’s about our
understanding of the common good.
The historic definition of the “common good” is the most good for all people. But today this definition has a competitor called the “public interest.” In this presupposed progressive view, the most good for the most people
is all that matters. Only one word changed but the implications are
enormous. A commitment to the common good demands we value the elderly,
the disabled, the unborn and those unlike us. It’s an old, rooted
conception being lost on a generation consumed with progress.
We must allow life in our world that doesn’t follow our scripted narrative.
We must have the courage to choose that which is good over what is convenient.
fellow citizens have fought hard to encourage and protect diversity and
acceptance in our society. We wear political correctness as a badge of
honor; but the rising statistics of pregnancies terminated after a Downs
syndrome diagnosis reveal the hypocrisy of our celebration. We see
equality as sameness and diversity in shades of color. We embrace
differences when they fall within our market-driven, politically correct
framework but rarely when they disrupt our status quo. When a fetus is
diagnosed with Down syndrome and the mother chooses not to carry the
child to term, more is lost than her future inconvenience and fear. The
world loses another soul in its greater body.
What would you do
if you were faced with this challenge? If you had an unplanned pregnancy
over the age of 35 and a prenatal test showed that your child might be a
candidate for Downs, how would you and your spouse face this decision?
Would you be open to a new kind of perfection? One that disrupts your
current life, but that could bring a deeper meaning you’d never
imagined. All this because you walked with courage into the unknown.
Cade’s life, and those like his, offers an alternative view of the good life.
These individuals alter career paths and require families to work together.
They invite each of us to engage, instead of simply walking by.
They love unconditionally, asking little in return beyond a simple acknowledgement.
They celebrate the little things in life, and displace the stress that bogs most of us down.
They seem to understand what true life is about, more than many of us.
They offer us the opportunity to truly value all people as created equal.
Birthday Cade! I’m so grateful that God let us be your parents. You’ve
changed us in ways we would have never changed ourselves. You’ve given
us permission to measure loving kindness over productivity. You’ve
offered us a glimpse of God’s grace while shattering our preconceived
ideas of what is most important. We love you!