Down syndrome is a great equalizer. It can happen to any parent during any pregnancy. It strikes without regard to race, religion, economic status or age. For almost all, the initial diagnosis comes as grim news. Hospital staff talk in hushed tones, family and friends tip toe about and acquaintances express sympathy. Most look at their newborn with confusion – as if this baby ushered away the baby they were “supposed” to deliver and snuck into its place. If we only knew in that moment of despair what joy and love awaited us, what a different welcome we would craft.
Perk #1 – Lifetime Membership to Exclusive Club – When you have a child with Down syndrome, you become part of an exclusive club. Before sharing a single word, fellow members understand your deepest fears and frustrations, hopes and dreams. They appreciate your near hysterical delight when your child takes his first step or makes her first best friend. You share tears and laughter, resources and information, play dates and late night talks. You classify your friends into “Down syndrome friends” and “other” friends. On some days, you’re not sure which group knows you best.
Perk #2 – Immediate Shift in Values – When you have a child with Down syndrome, you are forced into an immediate shift in values. The traditional measures of wealth, power and achievement take a back seat to kindness, determination and generosity. You spend more time looking for the gifts in others and less time focusing on who is smartest or first. You become less tolerant of prejudice and bristle when you hear the “R” word. These changes make you a better person, a better role model for your children.
Perk #3 – An Adventure – When you have a child with Down syndrome, you embark on an uncommon journey, an unexpected adventure. Though 400,000 people in the United States have Down syndrome, only a few of us (the lucky ones) know someone with Down syndrome before giving birth. This adventure leads some of us to slow down, some to reevaluate life and some to find God; all of us grow. It adds texture to our lives and eventually leaves us wondering what we would do without our son or daughter. Love, admiration and grit replace hesitation and ignorance. We would have it no other way. The Great Stories we share tonight serve to document some of the wonders that Down syndrome brings. We hope they help erode old stereotypes and pave the way for a community ready to embrace the diversity and gifts of people with Down syndrome. Once again, we are humbled by your support and generosity.
Enjoy the evening.
William and Dana Halle