My friend Susan brought it up to me during a coffee break at the center where we trained developmentally disabled adults.
She said to me, “It would make sense for us to wind up with Down syndrome children someday; we’d know what to do.”
I was startled, but thought: Susan might be right, given what we did for a living. Of course, life doesn’t work that way, and other mothers have those babies, those challenges.
I understand Shaunti’s fervent anti-abortion stance, yet her odd combo platter of tax breaks and increased special programs wouldn’t affect the decision-making of any distraught, pregnant woman.
And if you agree with her that raising a Down syndrome child to adulthood was easier to “visualize” 40 years ago, I’d like to buy you a time machine.
Throughout my 20s, I worked with developmentally disabled adults. Many had been shuttered away their entire childhoods or warehoused alongside mentally ill patients – still burdened with behaviors that were learned from those peers.
When I began this work in 1983, the median age of death among Down syndrome people was 25 years old. Before 1975, only 1 out of every 5 children with a significant disability was even educated in our schools.
The truth is that the best argument for raising a Down syndrome child is all around us, right now. How far we’ve come, now placing disabled kids in most mainstream educational environments from Brownie troops to your average high school.
It’s now standard to see a Down syndrome adult helping out at your grocery or hospital.
And while it is true that in-utero screening has increased terminations, Down syndrome is hardly being eradicated.
The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study points out the number of Down Syndrome babies born in the U.S. actually rose from 1,676 in 1996 to 2,085 in 2006. Other studies put the annual birthrate much higher. So why are many women terminating these pregnancies? Perhaps it’s because life hands us so many unexpected difficulties, few want to take on the expected ones.
Whatever the reason, I am only sure of this: Deciding to keep or terminate a pregnancy is often a difficult choice. And it is a choice that should be preserved.
Andrea Sarvady (ASarvad@gmail.com), a married mother of three, is a writer and educator specializing in counseling.