Abortion, Down's Syndrome, and What to do Now: A Perspective on LIFE.
"I'm trying to decide whether to keep this baby or not." My friend shared with me sitting at our kitchen table as her eyes were wide with fear. She had just received news after testing that her child might have Down's Syndrome. As an immigrant family with few resources and being raised with a cultural stigma on those with special needs, she was terrified at how her child might be treated. I felt her pain into my bones, but it also was impossible to not feel my own piercing heartache upon hearing her words.
The recent U.S. court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade has left many spinning. For some the issue is a strongly held stance, a core belief system about life on either side of the battle. They are fighting on behalf of the masses. For others, it’s an intimately personal issue that has less to do with belief and more to do with current life situation. It affects their today, their tomorrow, in the most practical way.
The issue of life, abortion, women's rights- however you have titled this platform- is massive in scale. Personally, I’ve found myself in an odd and quite specific space doing some reflection on the time around our daughter’s birth.
The first year was a blur. It was sweet, tender, busy, and to be quite honest, both exhausting and terrifying. Sometimes I hesitate to share the harder parts of raising Esther, our daughter born with Down's Syndrome. I am afraid to increase fear in any future parents who might get an early diagnosis in the womb. It’s estimated that 60-90% of those who receive a Down's Syndrome diagnosis choose to end the pregnancy. In Denmark, rates are over 95%. Only 18 people in that entire country were born with DS in 2019. I have read many articles calling Esther, now 6 years old, and her peers, “The last generation”. It can be a very hard and painful thing to think about at times, knowing so many people are afraid of raising someone born like our child. I was sharing with a friend the other day that I actually run into people with Down's Syndrome all the time; but a vast majority of those I meet are adults. It’s a rare moment for us to come across another child with DS, and when we do it feels like a celebration on a deep level. We celebrate because I know why we rarely see kids like our Esther. With early testing offered to nearly every pregnant mom, it has become almost a given that a positive diagnosis results in a doctor's recommendation for abortion. But the truth is, while at times I wrestle with that reality, I also have deep compassion on the fears and uncertainty so many mothers face staring into the unknown of a future with a child that has special needs. When Esther was born, I felt like I had no clue what I was doing- still don’t sometimes; and that’s coming from a well-seasoned mom with a great support system! It absolutely is scary to think about caring for a child with special needs. I ache for the moms that hear this news alone and that are given no hope of what could be. I understand the confusion and guilt that comes from wishing for normalcy. I have never wished for no Esther, but i will share that there have been moments I wished for no Down's Syndrome. But the two, our Essie and her diagnosis, are intricately woven together, something we have become forever grateful for.
Perhaps that's the human struggle we find ourselves presented with at every turn in our current climate. Life devoid of a face, a name, a personality, a smile, can be hard to connect with; hard to relate to and have compassion on. Reflect on social media comments, twitter rants and angry sharing that is often more connected to a platform than a person: an unborn person, a hurting lonely person, a violated person, an grieving person. We have just encountered a monumental moment in US history with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. There were homes that wept with rejoicing, while others wailed in anger. And yet the space that most challenges me is the mother that wept in fear. So how, in this challenging space of uncertainty and differing belief systems do we engage with real Christ- like compassion and empathy?
In every fiber of my being, I believe that every life is worth saving, from the womb to the grave. No one is excluded. (Yes, not even your least favorite politician). I would choose again, without hesitation, to have Esther, knowing that she would come with Down's Syndrome. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Choosing life for many moms is the most terrifying thing imaginable for a diverse array of reasons that cannot fit so simply into a box of “good or evil”. And yet I still believe that God has purposes for every soul alive, and that every soul will have the chance to choose how to respond to Him until their dying day.
Many will agree with me on what’s right, many will not. That’s actually not my point. My point is, if you have ever had a moment in life where the right thing hurts like hell, you know it’s a place where deep compassion, understanding and support are vital to being able to not only survive, but to thrive.
So even though I believe it is right that those in the womb are souls worth fighting for, I also believe it is right for the church to acknowledge how hard it is for many to do, both during pregnancy, but most specifically after. Speaking as a mama raising someone with special needs- we need you. This is not easy. Esther is deeply good for the world and forever a gift to our family, but it can be hard to raise her. For those with little to no support, it’s even harder. There are many aspects of Esther’s life that have been and will be more difficult than my other children’s. Her first year of life I practically lived at the doctor’s office or in therapy. I learned new terms and chose to take one day at a time, knowing it was all I could handle most days. I felt increasingly isolated from friends, and even family- feeling like I was being “normal” when needed, but secretly living in a newly navigated scary world of my own. I could give you a list of the hard things, but I could give you an even longer list of the beautiful joys and miracles we have witnessed in our first almost seven years of raising Essie.
For those of you who are passionately rejoicing about the removal of abortion as a constitutional right: I agree with you that something deeply holy and good just happened. But now there is an even greater need. They need you. It is not the laws of the land that will change this next generation, it is how the people of God respond to their pain. As it was written in the book of Esther, “Perhaps you were made for such a time as this.” If you are alive and you follow Christ, you were made for this time in history- and not just US history- global history. This is a time to put action behind our passionate posts. It’s not the end of a long fight, rather the beginning of a greater journey to healing and hope.
If being pro-life is something you have felt strongly about, I appeal to you to enter these spaces from a place of compassion and empathy, asking now, “Lord, how should I respond to the very real needs that will arise from this change?”
A specific note to the scared mom that gets a Down's Syndrome diagnosis and doesn’t know what to do: you aren’t alone my friend. I see you. And while it might not feel like it yet, God sees you. Because (I believe) this scary diagnosis is being given to you not out of punishment, but out of God’s fantastic love for you. (PS- you’re pretty special that God thinks you’re up to this task. You must be stronger than you think you are!) There is a huge community that you haven’t met yet. If you send me an email, I will give you all my information and I want to talk. Ask me any question- I promise I will be honest. If you need someone to cry with or yell at, call me. If you need prayer, call me. If you need diapers or help to know where to begin in finding resources, call me. If you want to facetime me and meet Esther, she would love to make a new best friend (no seriously she would). You are NOT alone right now. I will not tell you that it will all be fine. It’s ok that you’re scared. But I will also tell you any story you’re ready for filled with laughter and reasons to have hope. I would also add, please feel free to share this with anyone you come across that just needs someone to talk to, judgments and explanations removed.
I know that a Down's Syndrome diagnosis is only one of many reasons that parents may choose abortion. But it’s the space in which I can speak and relate. It’s a space in which I can be present with my actions and not just words. I cannot singlehandedly fix all the broken systems, nor can I fix anyone’s current painful situation, but I do believe we are called to speak life and testify to what we have seen and know.
So to the population of mamas and daddies staring this diagnosis in the face that now don’t know what to do- with all my heart I believe that it’s not just your child that God wants to give life to- He has abundant life for you too.
For those looking for debate- congrats, you will find one in any room you enter right now. I don’t desire to enter one with you, but I will talk if you would like to, knowing good dialogue is needed for understanding. My greatest desire in sharing, however, is to give you a glimpse of another perspective and to offer hope to that one person who reads this and needs it.
Romans 12:13-15 (TPT)
“Take a constant interest in the needs of God’s beloved people and respond by helping them. And eagerly welcome people as guests into your home. Speak blessing, not cursing, over those who reject and persecute you. Celebrate with those who celebrate, and weep with those who grieve.”