Many years ago while doing consultation with an agency here in Canada I met a young staff, maybe in her early twenties. She was a strong and dedicated woman and I liked her almost right off. As we lunched one day she told me that she had made application to adopt a child and in particular had requested a child with Down Syndrome. She wanted to be a parent and didn't see that happening in the near future so she had decided to go the route of adoption. Her request for a child with Down Syndrome came as a natural result of her work with people with disabilities. She knew that there were fewer limits than believed and further believed that if she knew 'going in' that the child had a disability, she could use parented as an antidote to dour predictions. As I've said, a remarkable woman.
I only consulted there for about a year and it was near the end of my time as their consultant that she told me that a baby, a wee infant, with Down Syndrome had been borne and rejected. She was next on the list. She had to prepare to parent with barely 9 days, not the typical 9 months. Her excitement was palpable. She immediately went on maternity leave and began preparations for the arrival of her little girl.
Several months later I was back in the office as a follow up and I asked after her. I asked if I could call her to see how she was doing. The agency called her, asked her, got her permission and then gave me her number. She agreed to let me come over for a visit after work that day and gave me her address. After getting lost a couple of times, I eventually found my way.
Tea was on and we sat together and she looked so, complete. The baby was still sleeping so we whispered as we talked. I asked a bit about the child's natural parents and she told me little, other than the fact that they didn't even want to hold the baby once she had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. A social worker had tried and failed to get them to reconsider, offered all sorts of help and support but they were resolute. The child came up for adoption because their was fear for her safety if she had gone home with them.
Suddenly there was a soft sound from another room. My friend closed her eyes and said, "I never tire of that sound." She got up and went to get the baby. I realized I was trembling with excitement. This was so cool. Finally a happy ending.
The baby was beautiful. Beautiful in that way that babies with Down Syndrome manage to be. Forgive me, but that extra chromosone ups the cuteness quotient of so many babies. The baby was just waking and she rested into strong hand and arms. I declined to hold her. I like babies but I'm always afraid of dropping one. I'm not always that coordinated. But I did get in close for a look and make all the right kind of baby sounds. She opened her eyes and looked at me. She may have been rejected once but I hope she saw acceptance in my eyes.
As we finished our tea, wee babe rested in those strong arms. We fell silent for a minute and she looked down at the baby and began to stoke her face, saying, "You have the most beautiful eyes, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You have the most beautiful smile, it's one of your gifts. You have ..." And on she went a little litany of attributes. I was moved to near tears.
She looked at me and said, "She's going to get so many negative messages as she grows, I've decided to start filling her up with love now, I want her to hear how beautiful she is so that when others call her names, her ears will be full of positive words."
We then talked about what she wanted to do as a parent. She of course wanted to provide the maximum amount of stimulation and opportunities for learning and fun. But she also wanted to prepare her to live in the world as it really exists. A world that will attempt to devalue her little girl because of her disability, because of her Down Syndrome. She said that before she leave home for school, her daughter will know what it is to love and respect herself.
I thought then, and now, that she was a wonderful parent. She wanted her baby to be prepared both intellectually and emotionally for living life as a kid with Down Syndrome. She wasn't going to raise her child 'just like any other kid' ... because her little girl would have challenges that other kids didn't have. Challenges, not to learning, challenges from a sometimes hostile world.
Leaving them I figured that that little girl had won the 'mom lotto' and got a good one.
She got a mom who wanted a better world for her child, but also wanted to make sure her child could live in this world - until the better one comes along.