As you may know, October is Down’s syndrome awareness month. There are a lot of lovely people sending out fantastically positive articles, photos, Facebook statuses, tweets, media stories and so on, in order to raise awareness of the condition. However, there is a lot of negativity too – articles, stories, tweets etc about people with Down’s syndrome. People with the condition are often the ‘butt’ of people’s jokes and internet memes. One story was so ludicrous last week that I actually found it hilarious (you may well disagree) – it was so offensive and off the wall that I can only hope that no-one believes it! Articles like this are often not worth commenting on or getting worked up about. (Here’s the link: http://www.pyroenergen.com/articles07/downs-syndrome.htm)
Occasionally though, I read something that profoundly affects me. That hurts my heart. That needs a response. An article in the Daily Mail came to my attention featuring a mum who chose to abort her baby, Oscar, because he had Down’s syndrome. She claims it was the kindest thing to do for him. I thought of Asa and how different our life would be without him in our life. I posted my thoughts on Facebook and a friend suggested I write to the Daily Mail.
Here is what I wrote:
I’m so saddened by this article in the Daily Mail: ‘Aborting my baby Oscar was the kindest thing to do for him’. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2787202/Aborting-baby-Oscar-kindest-thing-I-Woman-agonising-decision-end-child-s-life-discovering-Down-s-syndrome.html
I read this article and cried. My husband and I have two children, Emelia aged 4, and Asa our son aged 2. Asa was born with Down’s syndrome in 2012 & he’s 2 years old. Let me explain why I shed so many tears reading about Oscar’s life that was cut short.
I could actually empathise with the mum, Suzanne, because Asa too, like Oscar, had a lot of fluid on the neck at our 12 week scan. We were then ushered in to that small side room of ‘bad news’… We were referred to the Fetal Medicine Unit at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff the following week. There we were told Asa would have a 1 in 2 chance – 50% – of having a chromosome abnormality, the most common being Down’s syndrome. Our baby also had a 10% chance of a heart problem with no chromosome abnormality, & a 15% chance of the pregnancy ending in a miscarriage with 25% chance of no medical or health problems. Initially, embarrassing to admit, it’s safe to say Jon & I were gutted to receive this news – we feared our son wouldn’t survive but we also feared he would have Down’s syndrome. This was mainly down to our own ignorance and fear of Down’s syndrome as we knew very little about the condition. We chose to continue the pregnancy without any further diagnostic tests, simply because Asa was our child. The diagnostic tests carry a very small chance of miscarriage – about 1% of pregnancies will end as a result of these tests. As Christians, we didn’t want to take that chance because life is precious. If tests diagnosed the Down’s syndrome then we would not have terminated our baby’s life. If he had Down’s syndrome, we’d research it and we’d cope. I had regular scans throughout the pregnancy to monitor the baby. Asa did seem to have a small heart problem and we saw a fetal heart specialist for detailed scans and he would be scanned after birth. When he was born and the doctors asked to speak with us, we knew then he had DS. The thought of terminating his life sickens me to my stomach. Ok DS isn’t what we would have chosen for him, but it’s certainly not a reason worthy of ending his life. What really is shocking and heartbreaking is thinking back to being told we could still have a termination if we changed our mind, even up to 32 weeks in the pregnancy, EVEN WITHOUT A DIAGNOSIS! …Because the LAW says that is ok… This is the ‘Category E’ section of abortion law. The law also states that a baby with a ‘significant disability’ & confirmed diagnosis can be ‘terminated’ right up to point of birth (I would strongly disagree that DS is a significant disability – the law here is extremely grey and needs challenging), and if that precious little life is born with difficulty breathing or not breathing, doctors do not have to resuscitate that baby’s life. When Asa was born, he had problems breathing and needed the CPAP machine. The doctors saved his life… So to think that a baby could be left to die in this painful inhumane way absolutely breaks my heart. The law is in desperate need of a review of ‘category E’ abortions.
As a Christian, I am pro life. However I wouldn’t judge any parents facing this situation. What I would like to see is more up to date and relevant information and support being given to parents receiving this kind of news. The medical profession, generally speaking, seems to be biased in favour of terminating the lives of children like Asa. This is so wrong. Parents can ultimately do what they feel is best (and let God judge, not us); but if they are choosing to end a baby’s life simply because they fear DS, or have the wrong, out dated information, or out of ignorance, then that cannot be condoned. But if they choose to terminate even after correct, up to date, support and information then obviously that is their choice.
Having a baby with Down’s syndrome isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s the start of a new one. All babies deserve a loving home, someone to believe in them and be a voice for them, whether or not they have Down’s syndrome.
This is why I share a lot of our life with Asa (and Emelia of course). We’re just an ordinary family, getting on with life. We have ups and downs (pun!) just like the next person. The hardest part of our life with Asa so far has been his wretched Reflux. Dealing with that on a daily basis is challenging!!!! He has a hearing loss because of glue ear, but many kids without DS have that! He may need glasses in a few months, but again, many children without DS need glasses. Do you see where I am going with this?! You wouldn’t terminate a baby just because they have a slight hearing loss or poor eyes, would you? Thankfully after birth, a heart scan revealed that the heart problem resolved itself and we were discharged from the neonatal cardiologist. We know that many babies have a range of heart problems which can be serious and worrying for parents. We had worried when it was a ‘minor’ problem so we can empathise with other parents. Babies born with heart problems now have access to some of the world’s top heart surgeons. Miracles are seen regularly in paediatric heart surgery. We are fortunate to live in the UK where we have the NHS and complicated life saving operations occur daily. Little Oscar only apparently had 1% of survival… I’m sure that must have devastating news for any parent. But it’s still a chance at life. A chance for a highly skilled heart surgeon to operate. A chance that he would have pulled through and now be running around playing with his older sister and younger brother. A chance to love and be loved every single day.
Asa is very much like his sister. Our life is a bit different to when Emelia was little. We now have hospital checkups for ears (hearing) & eyes, and appointments for physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, communication and language development groups, a portage worker (child development service). These things can sometimes be a minor inconvenience but all in all are there to help Asa develop to his full potential and to support him as he grows up.
Asa is loved, happy, grumpy at times, sociable, cheeky, blows raspberries, modelled for clothing company Boden, annoys his sister by pulling hair, pulls my glasses off, empties the toy box, empties the nappy change box, puts the remote control under the settee, has Reflux, gives me kisses by gently licking my face – and he makes me laugh and makes us proud every day! He’s just Asa. Our son. A brother. A grandson. A cousin. A nephew. A great nephew. Precious. Adored. A child of God. WANTED.
October is Down’s syndrome awareness month. I hope this response helps in some way to raise awareness about it. Thank you for reading.
If you would like to read more about the Disability Abortion Law, Hayley at Down’s Side Up has spoken in a Parliamentary debate and written about it here: http://www.downssideup.com/2013/02/evidence-by-downs-side-up-in.html