Read Time: 7 minutes
It was already a challenging time in our lives.
While I had spent years practicing law, I was going through a season of questioning what I wanted to do for the rest of my career.
My wife, Jill, and I had been married for 12 years, and already had three children. And to be completely honest, we weren’t thinking that we would have a fourth child.
But lo and behold, the Lord had other plans for us…
When we found out a fourth child was on the way, our initial reaction was, well okay, here we go! Maybe another child wasn’t part of OUR plans, but clearly it was part of God’s plan.
A few weeks later, Jill called me at work to tell me that she had gotten some early test results back, and it was possible our child would have Down syndrome.
We were both shocked, concerned, and had so many questions. What did this test really mean? How likely is it that our child will actually have Down syndrome? What were the next steps? Are we prepared to have a child with special needs?
At that point, we elected to have a blood test taken to give us a more accurate diagnosis. Sure enough, the results showed it was almost certain our child would have Down syndrome.
In that moment of confirmation, it was terrifying.
Here I was, in the middle of an uncertain and unsettled time in my career. We weren’t planning on a fourth child, and now on top of it, our child would have special needs. Candidly, I didn’t know how to process it all.
In the days and weeks after the test confirmed the diagnosis, we shared the news with our families.
Overall, we were extremely blessed to have a strong support system. Despite everything we were facing, they were excited for us and looking forward to another baby in the family. Naturally, there was some degree of worry and concern for us, but ultimately, they knew our child was no less valuable or a blessing than any other child.
In fact, one of the most impactful moments in the midst of worry and fear was an enthusiastic “Congratulations!” we received from a dear family member. She may not have known it, but her simple and sincere gesture was a light…a gift that spoke to the truth that Matthew and his life are to be celebrated.
With our doctors, the reaction was more mixed.
Some doctors helped guide us on what to expect, celebrated our child with us, and were an encouragement, while others treated the pregnancy of a child with special needs as a somber occasion and did little to equip us for the path ahead.
In fact, Matthew was our only child for whom the topic of abortion was raised, when a doctor offered to provide a referral to an abortion clinic if we wanted it. That is a very telling picture of the battle our family and friends with special needs face.
Here is the truth. Our child is made in the image of God and has a right to life, a right to live his life with dignity and purpose – just like any of our other children…and just like any child.
A Blessing Beyond Measure
As we prepared for the birth of our child, I had no concept of what to expect. All I knew was that no matter how nervous I was, he was coming and we needed to be prepared to care for him.
Then one day, Matthew was born, and… he was a baby. He cried, he ate, he slept. He did all the things that a baby does.
Matthew was Matthew.
Sure, there were some extra challenges. He was born prematurely. He briefly needed extra oxygen. We had to work through early feeding challenges. But at the end of the day, Matthew was a baby, who needed the same love, care, and attention as any baby.
Fast forward to today, and Matthew is seven years old and like all of our children, he is a blessing beyond measure.
Where I once feared what life might be like raising a child with Down syndrome in the darkest days of understanding Matthew’s diagnosis, I can’t imagine life without Matthew.
He has impacted our other children in ways that I would have never imagined. He has helped to shape their hearts and minds to have compassion, patience, and unconditional love. He has shown us all what it looks like to stand up for what’s right, to be an advocate, and to be inclusive.
You can see the richness, and you can see the beauty and depth, that comes from living life with someone who naturally exudes it and brings it out in others.
Jill and I are honored and blessed to be Matthew’s parents, his protectors, his advocates, and his champions. We look forward to seeing where he goes in life and the impact he makes in other’s lives as well. And we are so humbled to have been selected by God to fill the role of his parents.
We know that there will likely be decisions to make to support Matthew as he gets older. However, we are not living in fear or planning in fear. Instead, we are joyfully living life with our family, putting our full trust in God, and making the best decisions and guidance we can for all our children.
Who Are We To Decide
When we were first given the news of Matthew’s diagnosis, in many ways, we were a prime example of a couple who – without our convictions – could have considered abortion. After all, we thought we were done having children, and it was all happening at an uncertain time in our lives.
The devastating reality is, a diagnosis of Down syndrome is often used as an excuse for abortion – not only in America, but around the world.
As Jeff Bradford has discussed in previous blogs, the most recently available data shows that roughly 67% of pregnancies in America where the preborn child is diagnosed with Down syndrome ends in abortion. In France, around 77% of preborn children with Down syndrome are aborted. In Denmark, it’s approximately 98%. And in Iceland, nearly 100% of preborn children with Down syndrome are aborted.
In many of these countries, these stats are a point of pride. But they completely misunderstand what it means when they strive to “eradicate Down syndrome births.”
For individuals with Down syndrome, the diagnosis is literally part of their DNA. It’s a part of who they are, not something to be cured or eliminated.
That means eradicating Down syndrome births does not eradicate the diagnosis from the population, it eradicates a people group from the population.
The fact is that everyone deserves the fundamental right to life, no matter the challenges they may face.
We often hear the argument that a Down syndrome diagnosis may negatively impact a person’s “quality of life.”
I ask: Who are we to decide whether someone is living a quality life?
Matthew lives his life through his own eyes and experiences – just like any other person. His interactions, his interests, and his day-to-day activities are uniquely his. He is uniquely Matthew.
I understand the fear and I understand the worry that may come with parenting a child with Down syndrome. But fear and worry come with raising any child.
I also understand that having a child with Down syndrome may not be the journey many parents expect for themselves or their child. But this journey, ups and downs and all, is full of possibility and growth for the parents and child. And every child deserves to have their journey.
Being A Voice
Around the time we found out about Matthew, I was presented with the opportunity to work at Human Coalition full-time.
While I had long believed in and supported the pro-life cause, the circumstances in my life put a whole new perspective on the issue. I could feel the Lord’s hand and His calling that this is where I belonged.
Now seven years after joining Human Coalition and from the birth of Matthew, I can say looking back, the feelings of fear and anxiety that I had were unnecessary.
Not that what I was feeling wasn’t common for many, but the reality is there was no reason to fear.
Families who are facing what we were need an advocate to show them the truth. They need someone to stand with them and celebrate what a blessing their child is. Someone to say, “Congratulations!” And these children need a voice and someone fighting for them and with them.
That’s why my challenge to you today is to be a voice for these children and families.
Be a voice of truth that ALL human beings are worthy of life – regardless of whether they were planned, or of any challenges they may have.
Every life is precious. Every life is purposeful. And I’m honored to stand in defense of each one of them.
Learn more about the discrimination against preborn children with Down syndrome, and how you can get involved: www.humancoalition.org/down-syndrome-discrimination/.