"Maria" was adopted internationally, her new parents knowing that she would need a heart surgery. Their only regret was that they couldn't speed up the paperwork so they could start their life with her sooner. She practices her violin along with the other children in the family. "Lili" is the well-loved middle child and functions almost at a level of her much younger sister. She participates in a homeschooling drama group and will be in the year-end Shakespeare play. "John" was a DS surprise in a multi-lingual family; he uses sign language to communicate most of his needs. Through the loving care of his Catholic family and the prayers of the faith community, his physical challenges are healing. "Amy" is an only child with verbal skills that increase every day. She likes to have friends over to play and is a joy to her church family as well.
Although any disability is a challenge and makes child-rearing more difficult, all four of these children show that Down Syndrome is a gift simply for the reason that they themselves are gifts to the world. They make their families stronger, more prayerful and more tolerate of the differences that exist in each person. Children with DS are gifts to God from God Himself because every child is a gift to God from God. And it follows, children are gifts to their family and the world from God.It is every parent's hope that their children will make the world a better place and contribute to society with their talents. A child with DS might change expectations, but then the parent starts to see the unlimited potential that their child has. The child might not be conventional, but he or she gives more to the world than he takes. The innocence, optimism and hard-working nature of the child inspire other people to emulate their character.
Knowing these kids with DS reminds me a little of why the Eastern rites exist in the Catholic Church. (It always can connect to that for me :)....) Wouldn't it just be easier if we gave up our rite and went with the much larger Roman rite? Or perhaps we should just be Orthodox. As the state religion in their respective countries, they are so much bigger and powerful than we. No, we'll stay the way we are- small and unimportant, as a reminder to the world that the Church was one. In a similar way, it might be easier to not have a child with DS. There are parental expectations of worldly success that the child most likely will not meet and possible severe health complications. But the child with DS reminds the world that all human life is in the image and likeness of God. The child with DS tells us that he or she is as much in the image of God as the intellectual and the athlete. The child with DS shows all of us that making a family is not an outcome-based factory; it is a domestic church that welcomes all whom God invites.
I have four physically and intellectually normal children. I cannot relate to the fear that DS parents might feel, knowing that their child will be so different. I cannot relate to the isolation that these parents feel; statistically, almost 90% of babies diagnosed with DS in the womb are aborted. There should be many more of these children with DS, but they are gone from this earth. DS is much more likely with a mother over the age of 40, and more over-40 women than ever are giving birth. We should be seeing a lot of kids with DS. Most of these children exist only in the bosom of Abraham and the mind of their parents, perhaps regretting what they have done.
The personhood of people with DS cannot be denied. So the moral law of the Church applies to them as much as for any other person. In some ways, they are more 'person' than intellectually normal people. I look at a child with DS and I see a special son of God, given a coat of many colors. I look at the child and I see a person who is closer to God than the typical child....
About this all-over-the-map, confused post: I wanted to write a post on Down's this Sunday after seeing one of our friends and being inspired by her and her family.
Then, this past Monday a bit of a blow-up occurred in the Catholic blogosphere- Simcha Fisher wrote an eloquent response to an article Jason Negri wrote at Inside Catholic. You can cut and paste the address to see where they were both coming from- http://simchafisher.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/sterilize-the-inconvenient/