What a difficult, backwards world we live in.
The Huffington Post ran an article earlier this week about how France has banned the above award-winning (and rightfully so–it’s beautiful!) video about Down syndrome…because the participants are too happy. You see, it is apparently believed that this terrible Trisomy 21 happiness is “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices”.
I have so many thoughts about this, beginning here: I am mother to two children with Down syndrome. I adopted my daughters when they were four- and two-years-old, respectively. Like the lovely folks featured in the video my daughters are also quite happy, most of the time, although one of them isn’t much for school. (Who is? Had I not had so many inhibitions as a child, I may have taken off and thrown my shoes too, when I didn’t want to do a thing.) They will probably never be able to live completely independently, and have a myriad of developmental delays. But, whatever. It is what it is. They’re people, made in the image and likeness of God.
And in the day-to-day, parenting them is not so different from parenting my other seven children. We meet their needs, give them as much responsibility as is appropriate, and try to be patient. I figure it is not such a bad thing to cultivate empathy, compassion, and love for the vulnerable around your dinner table every single night. My daughters have their little quirks but then, don’t we all.
But I have to admit that historically, I have taken no small issue with disabilities being presented to the world as NO BIG DEAL AT ALL! because LOOK HOW HAPPY THEY ARE! because, well, as a mom to children with special needs? It is a big deal. I meant what I said when I told you that in the day-to-day it’s not so different from raising neuro-typical children, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It is actually oftentimes hard. And frustrating. No two children with Down syndrome are exactly alike, but I think it’s fair to say that none of them are happy all of the time (is anyone?), and a fair number of these kids struggle on the regular with things like screaming, hitting, and throwing tantrums. Like my own daughter does at school, and occasionally on the bus. (Though never at home, really. Thank goodness!) I am all for giving women hope, and encouraging them that yes they can absolutely do this, but sometimes I feel like these videos tend to selectively feature what appear to be extremely “high functioning” people (yes that’s a loaded term, but you know what I mean), only showing a very small part of the very complex and nuanced picture.
As an example, a couple of months ago my daughters and I were at the hospital for their bi-annual visit to the heart clinic. As we were going to leave and piling into the car, I was startled by some very sudden (and loud!) shouting and banging. As I looked around the parking garage for the source of the noise, I was surprised to see it was coming from a boy of about fifteen or sixteen. His parents were helping him into his fancy wheelchair, and he was yelling and slamming his fists as hard as he could on their car. “This is our car! This is our car!” he screamed happily, hitting and flailing and slamming and laughing. His mom and dad smiled, and talked calmly and cheerfully as they made their way through the garage and towards the hospital entrance with their son. My twelve-year-old daughter, who had come along to help with her sisters that day, was initially concerned. “Is he angry? Why was he yelling, Mom?” I told her that actually, he was happy, but that he had some special needs–kind of like Mekdes and Tigist do–and that we ought to say a special prayer for him and his parents.
All I could think of was that this couple’s parenting journey is surely nothing like they thought it would be. The milestones and accomplishments, the ups and downs, it’s all so different from what their neighbors and relatives know. They are surely exhausted. But the peace and joy evident on their faces–while I was sitting there thinking about how annoying it was to fold up my stupid stroller–spoke volumes. Just because a life is hard, doesn’t mean it won’t be good.
So that is why I have general concerns about videos and materials that tend to sugar-coat experiences. I am typically not a huge fan, even as I understand what they’re going for. Please believe me when I say that it doesn’t help anyone to pretend that suffering doesn’t exist.
But to ban a video because it features happy people with Down syndrome, all so it won’t hurt someone’s feelings?
That is discrimination of the worst kind.
How dare someone’s abortion decision somehow trump my child’s voice, or right to be heard! How narrow-minded to allow space for a child’s life to be ended, but not space for another woman’s child to smile! What is wrong with the world when someone being happy is seen as some sort of objective offense?
My daughters’ birthmoms should not have to apologize to anyone for choosing life for their daughters. Happy people with Down syndrome should not have to pretend they’re not happy so people can feel okay about their abortions. This is a twisted, messed up ideology that is rooted, among other things, in a prejudice against the differently-abled, and a preference for radical progressivism over a plain and simple respect for the dignity of human life.
And, that really should disturb your conscience.