A featured letter to the editor posed a question that offers a different perspective on a prenatal test result for Down syndrome.
Several years ago now, a book of essays by mothers of children with Down syndrome was published that had a significant impact. The book was edited by Kathryn Lynard Soper, who titled the collection, Gifts: Mothers reflect on how children with Down syndrome enrich their lives. I don’t know how many copies it sold, and it was not a New York Times bestseller, but it still made an impact.
This is Grace. I just wanted you to know that if I hadn’t read your book, my daughter wouldn’t have been born.
These books demonstrate that the term “gifts” is one that is often used to describe children with Down syndrome. It reflects the surprise parents experience in finding out their child has Down syndrome, and how it may not have been something they would have chosen, but is something that they have accepted–so much so that they consider their children gifts.
So, while this idea of children of Down syndrome as gifts is not new, the letter to the editor by a mom put a bit of a different spin on it.
The mom wrote the following:
If someone gave you a package and the outside of the box was tattered, torn, crumpled, etc., would you open it, or would you look at it and just throw it away thinking, “Nothing good could be in this”?
I doubt many people would simply throw away a gift because it was poorly wrapped. Instead, I think most would still accept the gift and still excitedly open it.
Now, I’m posting this while I’m still making my way through George Estreich’s book, The Shape of the Eye. I just finished the section where George shares how, at the time of reading up on Down syndrome after receiving his daughter’s diagnosis, he couldn’t stand the descriptions of children with Down syndrome as “angels” and “sweet.” I wholeheartedly agree with George’s reaction.
When I’ve presented on providing balanced, accurate information about Down syndrome, I’ve derided those who wish to describe children with Down syndrome in such terms as the “sunshine and roses” crowd. Describing and discussing Down syndrome in such a saccharine way is not balanced or accurate, and it strips children with Down syndrome of what most needs to be appreciated: their humanity. And, as humans, they are flawed, difficult, and not “angels” or “sweet,” at least not all the time.
The writer of the letter to the editor goes on to engage in such description, writing of how children with Down syndrome can be “a beautiful, rare diamond.” They can also be as dirty and dark as the lump of coal that preceded the diamond.
But, her point on accepting a gift, even if poorly wrapped, is one that I thought was a good perspective. It should not be read to mean that people with Down syndrome are “poorly wrapped,” or at least no poorly wrapped than the rest of us. But,if someone were to give you a gift, even if it was poorly wrapped and didn’t look on the surface like something you would want, I would bet most of us would still open it up to get a better look at what’s inside. And, that is something we may need to appreciate in this new era when more, and soon most, will receive a diagnosis prenatally before their child is unwrapped from the womb.