Please take the time to meet my friend Katie. I am so fortunate to know her; you would be fortunate, too.
Katie currently is a 31-year-old woman. When she and I met, Katie was a baby; and the first thing I remember was how she smiled at me … innocent, loving, adorable. OK … you are probably thinking: all babies have that genuine smile. Yes, that’s true. In countless ways, Katie was just like any other baby. In some ways, she was different. Katie was born with Down syndrome. And all of us who know her bless the day she was born.
Katie has had quite the life. She has a family who knows her as someone who is fun, loves to sing along with the radio, doesn’t always want to clean her room, can be stubborn, appreciates hugs, loves to play with her nephew; and, along with so many personality complexities, values her family and friends. Katie has experienced what would be considered a “normal” childhood that consisted of, in part, going to dance classes, being a cheerleader, playing with her sisters and other friends, testing limits with her parents, watching her favorite television shows, working at Bob’s Stores, and having crushes on boys. And, she is the go-to person in the family for quotes from “Romeo & Juliet” and moves in Uno®.
In fact, Katie is just like others her age; she is also atypical. Because what you won’t find in Katie is animosity, selfishness, meanness, or dishonesty. Katie is loving … genuinely loving. That is the one trait that distinguishes Katie, and most with Down syndrome, from too many other people. When my husband passed away recently, Katie knew instinctively when to wrap her arms around me and give me a hug; she knew when to look me in the eyes and say, “I know; I miss him, too.”
And, yes, academics have presented a challenge … but have not inhibited Katie; she now volunteers three days a week at Cornerstone Alzheimer’s Center in Warwick and, because of her appreciation and understanding of music, has her own disc jockey business where she entertains at special events such as birthday and holiday parties. She also has a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend Bobby; other couples could emulate the kindness and caring that they display toward one another.
I was prompted to have you meet Katie because of two recent situations that are particularly troubling. A couple with whom I am familiar just discovered that their unborn child has Down syndrome. Without delay, their doctor inquired as to when they might want to schedule “the abortion.” Please understand: I am not judging anyone’s decision when it comes to continuing a pregnancy. However, that doctor immediately equated Down syndrome with something undesirable; he, at a time when parents are particularly vulnerable, passed on his personal attitude and encouraged, consciously or not, these two adults to take a course of action without offering them appropriate guidance. (They looked for another doctor, in case you were wondering.)
According to a recent article, “Down Syndrome Births Are Down in US,” 92 percent of women who are told of a Down syndrome diagnosis choose to have an abortion. This, truly, is lamentable … not because of the ultimate decision … but because studies revealed that many based that decision on “myths” and “misinformation” and not on valid facts. How many, I wonder, were even told of the compassionate people on waiting lists that long to adopt a baby/child with Down syndrome?
Let’s face it: having any child is a risk. Ask any parent. No guarantees exist on the personality type, or the happiness, wellness or challenges that child may have or may create.
Do I think every woman who gets a diagnosis of Down syndrome should continue with the pregnancy? Not my call. However, I would hope that people who receive that diagnosis would do thorough homework and that all medical professionals would provide accurate, up-to-date data to their patients (and I am sure a significant number do) as well as perhaps the telephone number of the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island (401-463-5751), where questions can be answered and contact with parents can be made.
Katie is my friend … my good friend. Today, as I write this, she is jotting down ideas about a school presentation she would like to do to encourage acceptance of diversity. She is an extraordinary woman … and so many lives are enriched because of her. Ninety-two percent termination rate: regrettable.
A former adjunct English professor at Johnson & Wales University, Gail Doyle has been working part-time as a job coach with Katie. She is a member of the Executive Board of the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island.