“She Is a Beautiful Person”: Parents of Children with Down Syndrome Speak Out
by Sarah Terzo
Babies with Down Syndrome are common targets for abortion. Estimates of the percentage of pregnancies involving children with Down Syndrome that end in abortion vary, but one study found that abortion has reduced the number of babies born with Down Syndrome by 30%.
Ethicist Joseph Fletcher described people with Down Syndrome as “sadly non-or un- or subhuman creatures.”1
In 2017, CBS reported that in Iceland, 100% of babies with Down Syndrome were aborted. On April 16, 2019, the Facebook page “Abort Ableism” compiled the following reactions to the news:
“Not everyone wants to deal with a 40-year-old toddler until they die.”
“I mean they aren’t going to contribute much to society, are they?”
“They are not special. They are a drain of families and communities. I worked with special needs children when I was in middle school . . . the world would be better off without them.”
“Once saw a kid with Down’s throw a little dog in some sticker bushes. They’re not all magical lmao.”
“We should follow their example.”
“Good for Iceland for killing the unwanted.”
Patricia E. Bauer’s daughter Margaret has Down Syndrome. At a dinner party, Bauer overheard a college professor say that parents have a moral obligation to abort babies with disabilities to spare their children suffering. When Bauer tried to share her experience as the mother of a disabled child, the professor “smiled politely and turned to the lady on his left.”
Margaret does not view her life as unremitting human suffering (although she is angry that I haven’t bought her an iPod). She’s consumed with more important things, like the performance of the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs and the dance she’s going to this weekend.
Oh sure, she wishes she could learn faster and had better math skills. So do I. But it doesn’t ruin our day, much less our lives. It’s the negative social attitudes that cause us to suffer.
Ashley Engele’s first-born daughter has Down Syndrome. While pregnant with her third child, she discovered that baby also had Down. She chose life. She describes her eldest daughter:
Rilynn is just like any other precocious 4-year-old girl. She goes to preschool, loves Trolls, Barbie dolls and her “typical” younger sister. They are best friends, they love each other fiercely, and also have the classic sibling rivalry. We fight over what outfit she’s going to wear, or how she’s going to wear her hair for the day. Most of all, she loves other kids and babies . . .
We know how when we’re having a bad day, one smile from Rilynn can completely turn it around . . . She can make even the grumpiest or angriest people smile and win their hearts over in an instant.
According to Engele, “[O]ur lives are better with Down Syndrome in it.”
In a booklet encouraging parents of disabled preborn babies to choose life, Ellie describes her son Michael, who has Down Syndrome:
Today, Michael is a 12-year-old boy with a great sense of humor. He attends a regular classroom in his neighborhood school. Michael rides a two-wheeler bike, plays soccer, baseball and basketball and has lots of friends. He is more like any other child his age than he is different. The unconditional love that he gives is an example to all of us.2
She says, “I’m proud to be his mom.”
Jodi Reimer’s 13-year-old son Kellen has Down Syndrome.
In a letter to him, Reimer wrote, ” . . . I didn’t realize how fun and fascinating it would be to see your gifts, talents, and personality develop. Your sense of humor often takes me by surprise.”3
She reminisces about the day Kellen tried to go to school in a life jacket. Another time, right before the school bus was scheduled to arrive, Kellen dressed up as a pirate. She recalls, “Even though there wasn’t any time to spare, I just had to stop and laugh.”4
Tammi Hodson wrote about her son Parker:
Parker is more like my other kids than he is different. Yes, he is much slower in learning how to crawl. He is slower in learning how to talk. But like my other kids, he loves to be cuddled and tickled. He loves to be the center of attention. He wants to do what his brothers and sisters are doing. He loves to roughhouse and be thrown into the air by his dad. And he will do something that he knows is naughty and then try to use his heart melting smile to repent – the same exact smile and attitude that my oldest son uses so effectively to get his way. He is, in more ways than not, just a typical Hodson boy.5
Christine Allison said of her daughter with Down, “Chrissie is a blessing in a way a normal child is not. It is in describing her that the word ‘special’ rises from banality and comes grippingly alive.”
Shelley Burtt, whose son Declan has now passed away, recalls that he had “an infectious enthusiasm for life which illuminated any interaction with him, an ability to give and receive love that was uncomplicated by the egoism, self-awareness, or self-consciousness of a ‘typical’ child.”
Jeanette Bollinger wrote of her son Carter:
I began to notice that people had a very strong reaction when they met him for the first time. It didn’t matter what sort of mood or frame of mind they were in, as soon as they met Carter, they seemed happier and just wanted to be around him as much as possible. All he has to do is smile at a person once, and he has them wrapped around his cute little crooked pinky. He has a peaceful, happy presence that is very contagious.6
Bollinger says that when people ask her if she wishes Carter didn’t have Down, “My answer is always no, because that would mean changing Carter, and I would never want to change him.”7
Nancy Iannone writes of her daughter Gabriella:
Gabriella continues to amaze us as an adorable 17-month-old. She loves to sway to music, splash in the bath or the pool, and squeeze her sisters’ faces . . .
She is learning sign language at a pace that has amazed her sign teacher… Though I delight in her physical and cognitive progress, the true joy I receive is seeing her shining, laughing face, especially when she thinks she is playing a trick on me . . .
My baby is not a diagnosis, not a list of her potential woes. She is a beautiful person, full of laughter and grins.8
Emily Zeid found out that her daughter has Down Syndrome only after she was born. She refers to her six-month-old as “happy and healthy” and says:
She smiles easily and laughs often. She becomes more beautiful with each passing day. I now see the beauty in the differences that I used to believe were flaws. Her upturned almond eyes are filled with wonder, the flat space across the bridge of her nose is a favorite kissing place, and her low set ears show off her ponytails perfectly.9
Jim Hartman, father of Jesse, describes his son’s compassion for others:
[H]ow he just loves up on people, and how he loves them, and he hugs them and he listens, and he has a special intuition about what they need, and what they feel, and if somebody’s sad or they’re happy, he knows these things. [He has] almost an extra [sense] above what we have about those feelings…
Everybody’s his friend, and he’s got to go around – it takes us quite a while to go out of a place, because he has to go and give everybody their hugs, tell them goodbye, tell them how much he loves them. Being so expressive, he definitely is the life and the energy in a party. Just the way that he loves his dad is amazing. And he loves everybody else the same way.
These children are all unique individuals. They are not in any way subhuman but are precious human beings who are deeply loved by their families. Their lives have value and meaning.
- Joseph Fletcher, “The Right to Die: A Theologian Comments,” Atlantic Monthly, April 1968.
- Bernadette Zambri, Hope in Turmoil: A Guide for Decision-Making after Receiving a Difficult Prenatal Diagnosis Regarding Your Baby (2014), .
- Jodi Reimer, “On His 13th Birthday,” in Kathryn Lynard Soper, Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives (Bethesda, Md.: Woodbine House, 2007), 17–18.
- Tammi Hodson, in Soper, Gifts, 35, 36.
- Jeanette Bollinger, in Soper, Gifts, 53, 54.
- Nancy Iannone, “A Hopeful Future,” in Soper, Gifts,
- Emily Zeid, “Loving Emma Jayne,” in Soper, Gifts,
Note: the pictures above came from Microsoft Word clip art; they aren’t photos of the individuals being described.
For more on people living with disabilities, see: