adoption · Down syndrome · special needs parenting

The Next Step in Pro-Life

This weekend marks the 45th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion nationally. I am not even going to attempt to discuss the law, rather, I’d like to examine the next step.

What happens after birth?

What happens when children are born with disabilities, and in an instant a parent becomes a caregiver?

What happens when a parent gets addicted to opioids or dies of an overdose?

What happens when parents hurt their children because of human frailty, or neglect, or substance abuse?

What happens when children have enormous medical challenges?

What about services and support for people living with mental illness?

And so much more.

Wouldn’t robust support of families caring for children with exceptional needs be pro-life? Would women be less likely to terminate a pregnancy with a child who has a prenatal diagnosis of disability if they knew that access to everything their child would need to thrive would be available and affordable?

Wouldn’t it be pro-life to fund research and resolution for opioid addition? And while we’re at it, there are record numbers of children in foster care at present, in large part related to opioid addition, being a foster parent is, in my humble opinion, the most stunningly beautiful example of pro-life imaginable.

Do you get what I’m saying here?

There are dozens of ways to embody a full-circle, lifelong pro-life stance without even bringing abortion into the conversation.

But it’s hard.

It’s easy to talk about changing a single law, and to carefully hand select politicians who have a certain box checked on their platform. But if that’s your stance, can you answer what should happen after the children are born?


But wait, is it right to separate a child from their ancestry for life? Biology is enormously important, and while infant adoption is sometimes necessary, far too often it’s a lifelong solution to a short term problem when better solutions for both the child and parents are available.

I don’t claim to have answers, in fact, it’s the questions that overwhelm me.

But as a person who has spent my adult life focused on the children who are already born, the ones with disabilities, the ones whose parents are addicted, the ones who have been orphaned, the ones with mental illness, the ones with so little support. I have come to believe that if everyone who made sure that they voted for the pro-life candidate took a step or two to care for the children once they’re born that it would transform everything. We have the ability and the obligation to fill in those vast gaps for the children who are already born.

Down syndrome · special needs parenting

You Just Had a Baby With Down Syndrome, What Now?

We opted not to have prenatal testing, so our son’s diagnosis of Down syndrome was first suggested by a neonatologist while my abdomen was still wide open on an operating table. I write this according to my own experience, and because it sure would’ve been nice to have it when I was recovering in the hospital and trying to understand what having a child with Down syndrome meant, both in the immediate future, and longer term.

Our son, Alex, was whisked away after only a brief introduction. He was born in distress and needed the support of the neonatal team in order to stabilize. By the time we got to see him again later that night he was on oxygen. This is common in newborns with Down syndrome, but it unnerved me. Learning to breathe takes a lot of energy for any newborn, and since people with Down syndrome are born with low muscle tone (hypotonia) breathing takes even more effort than average. The oxygen gave him a little boost until he became strong enough to get the hang of breathing on his own.

I spent my time in the recovery room wondering if my husband would still want to name our son after his grandfather and himself if he did actually have Down syndrome. I can smile about it now, knowing that there was no question about it, that we did make him a namesake and have never regretted it. But this is what went through my mind, and though it seems silly in hindsight, it was a legitimate fear at the time.

By the next morning a feeding tube had been placed in his nose, and a cardiologist had been called in to check his heart. This is all status quo as well. Over 50% of babies with Down syndrome are born with heart defects, and many go on to have open heart surgery. Alex had a small hole in the septum between the ventricles in his heart, but his did not require surgery. It closed on its own and after a year of appointments and echocardiograms he was given the all clear.

I was disappointed right off because I had breast fed my first child immediately after her birth and enjoyed nursing her for a full year. My son needed the benefits of breast milk even more, but because of his need for neonatal care, I wasn’t able to nurse him right away. I did start pumping immediately, and tried to get him to nurse. He was tired and floppy though, and just couldn’t latch. The lactation consultants at the hospital coached me along and helped ease my disappointment. Even though Alex couldn’t latch, the attempts to nurse gave us skin on skin bonding time, which is precious as well. Thankfully I had no problem producing milk, and before I knew it I had a stockpile of breast milk ready for him.

It took Alex about a week to get breathing and eating down pat so that we could bring him home. He had no medical complications other than the tiny hole in his heart, which gave him a big advantage. He was still in the hospital when we got the results of the genetic testing (called a karyotype) that gave him the official diagnosis of Down syndrome, but we knew before it even came that he did indeed have it.

Upon his discharge from the hospital, he got referred to Early Intervention services, and within a week an Occupational Therapist called to set up a meeting, which occurred right at home. Our OT was kind and professional, and a huge help in learning about things like hypotonia and gave us tips on helping Alex become strong and capable. She continued to see him until he turned three and started school and she became a family friend.

The Early Intervention team eventually included a teacher and speech therapist (SLP). Some kids also see a physical therapist, but that was not the case for Alex.

I eventually gave up on nursing him, and focused on stockpiling enough breast milk to feed Alex until he was about 6 months old. I was pretty cranky about pumping, which took a half hour, and feeding Alex took about the same amount of time, and we fed and pumped every 2.5 hours around the clock, doctor’s orders. I felt like I had no time for anything, and had just had it, when my husband suggested trying to nurse Alex just one more time. It had been a couple of weeks since I’d tried, and I did it out of pure spite. How dare he, the one with useless nipples, tell me I should try to get our son to latch. I might have even told him it would be about as useful as him getting Alex to latch. But I did try, and Alex did latch. He was 6 weeks old, and from that day forward he nursed exclusively. This experience is more of an exception than the rule, but I think it warrants inclusion in the story, because it taught me to never underestimate the power of trying just one more time.

Alex had the very typical experience of having sinus and ear infections, and went through about a dozen sets of ear tubes as well as tonsils and adenoid removal, but has been otherwise healthy.

I fell into a mindset when he was tiny that my child with Down syndrome would be high functioning, which would make everything okay. For a couple of years I clung to this notion, before realizing that my son was okay no matter what. He was and is precious and worthy, no matter what his IQ, which is just about average for a person with Down syndrome.

We’ve learned a lot in the almost 16 years since, but most importantly that Alex is a good human being. His bonus chromosome doesn’t make him an angel, more precious or wonderful, and it doesn’t make him less than anyone else. He is who he is, and that is a witty, goofy teenage boy with more than a little attitude and a whole lot of fun.

parenting · special needs parenting

Why Is a Homecoming Date a Headline?

This is Alex.

He’s a pretty cool kid if I do say so myself. He is clever, empathetic, funny and just plain sweet.

Alex is 15 years old and a freshman in high school. He has loads of friends, even though we just moved to a new district. People like him, which makes sense, he is a likeable person.

Some time in the next 4 years, I think he would totally dig going to a formal high school dance. He enjoys socializing and dancing, I think he would have a blast. Whether he goes stag or has a date, he would be in for a great night.

But when I think of Homecoming (or Prom), there’s a bit of trepidation. Alex has tons of friends, both in in his special education classes and in the school in general. What if a young lady asks him to the dance? And what if it happens to be a young lady without a disability? And what if the local news caught wind of it and decided that they need a feel good piece to round out their broadcast?

I don’t want my son to be a feel good news piece.

And I don’t want him to be asked to a dance by someone with secret hopes being a the local hero for the day.

I get it, it’s moving. Perhaps it seems like a Cinderella story. But there’s a term for stories that use people with disabilities to play the heartstrings of others; it’s called inspiration porn.

Just like the standard type of porn, you know it when you see it.

And just like the standard type of porn, the subject is objectified in order for other people to get off.

If Alex does end up going to Homecoming, why can’t it be just like every other student in the high school?

Is it because we assume that anyone who would ask him must be some sort of saint? Really? Only a saint would want to get dressed up and spend an evening out with him?


But what other reason would there be for news coverage of two high school students attending a formal dance together?

So please, think about it. Put your child or yourself in those shoes. How would you feel if your high school student got on the news for getting a date for Homecoming? Isn’t that something most students take for granted? Isn’t that a normal rite of passage?

I plead with you, use your critical thinking skills. The next time you see that feel good headline, picture your child as the person whose date to the dance is such a novelty that it’s considered newsworthy. Then pause and reflect on whether that’s something we should embrace as a society.

I don’t think it is.

advocacy · parenting · special needs parenting

Why Do I Post So Many Pictures of My Kids?

Many bloggers take great care to avoid showing their children's faces, to keep a modicum of privacy for their families. They make up blog names for their kids and keep the family's identity anonymous. I get that, the Internet is far from safe, people steal photos of children and use them for rotten purposes. It seems that it's foolish to churn out photo after photo of my precious brood.

But I do.

It's because I want you to see them, to really see my kids.

I want you to get used to their features; those almond shaped eyes and small mid face that are the hallmarks of Down syndrome.

I want you to see their humanity, their preciousness, and to recognize them as the multifaceted, complex people that they are.

Alex was stared at yesterday. Blatantly, unavoidably stared at for several minutes yesterday. I'm sure it's because he wears his diagnosis on his sweet face. Anyone who might not be familiar or comfortable with Down syndrome will see his differences and not be able to stop examining him in order to perhaps put a finger on just what is different about him.

I want a world where every single person can look at someone with a disability and see the human being, not the difference.

By my sharing of photographs and our daily ups and downs, I hope to give insight that will facilitate that. I want people to understand that my children are as adorable and adored as any other child, and also to realize that there are differences and challenges; both for them and for us as parents and caregivers.

This is all my bodacious effort to make the world a place where they are accepted.

How can I do that if you never see their faces?

I know that some will disagree, and I'm okay with that. In fact I'll gladly listen to any dissenting voice. I've never claimed to have all the answers. I'm just doing everything in my power to make the world a safe, accepting, and welcoming place for my children.

Something many parents get to take for granted.

parenting · special needs parenting

My Life Feels Like a Test I Didn’t Study For

A friend posted those words yesterday and I tried them on to find a perfect fit. 

Remember those swimming tests you had to do to get the special arm band at summer camp, you know, the one that meant you could swim wherever you want?  Those tests terrified me. 

I had what could (perhaps slightly dramatically) be called a near drowning as a toddler. It’s one of my earliest memories, being under the water at my aunt and uncle’s in ground pool on the nation’s bicentennial. I didn’t lose consciousness or anything, and my dad scooped my out relatively unscathed, except for a lifelong fear of deep water that kept me from completing swimming lessons when I was too terrified to jump into the deep end of the pool. 

Regardless of my lack of swimming instruction coupled with the ability to sink to the bottom of the pool and remain there with zero effort which has left me a remedial swimmer well into adulthood, my fear of missing out demanded that I not be left in the shallow area of the lake at camp. So, by sheer force of determination, I took (and passed) the swimming tests at summer camp every year.  I always started out convinced I would drown, but somehow managed to keep my chin just above the water line for the full time mandated to get my armband of freedom. 

And now that’s how I live life every day. 

When we got married and started having kids I had no notion that anything other than 2.3 typical children would be our end result.  I didn’t realize how intimately acquainted with terms like “translocation 21:21” or “ganglion cells” or “bone anchored hearing aid” I would become. Or that it would be a sink or swim style test that I had no preparation for on an almost daily basis. 

But here we are, and today I am reminding myself that I haven’t drown yet. 

The test is different every day. Often I pass like it’s no biggie. There are times, though, when I need a lifeguard to throw me a floatation device, and there are days when I have to grab the dock and climb out of the water because my nose is barely clearing the surface. But most days I pass the test.  Thoses days when it’s a near miss, they blow my confidence, but generally leave me unscathed, though I never quite get past the fear of drowning. 

Life feels like a test I didn’t study for, but I’m learning that I pass it almost every time, even if it’s by the skin of my teeth, and even on the days I don’t pass, I survive to try another day. And I think I’m learning to be okay with it. 

advocacy · special needs parenting

Is Modern Medicine a Luxury?

Welp, here it goes. I can’t be silent. I reviewed the Senate Healthcare Bill, and it affects my son.  I don’t know if my blogging does a darn thing, but I believe I’m obligated to advocate for my child. As such, doing what I can to ensure that people are aware of the ramifications of this bill and asking those who care to make their voices heard, is the least I can do. 

For the sake of brevity, I will keep this to the two factors which have the greatest impact on my child.  The photos below were taken from an NPR summary of the bill. 

Many people think that Medicaid is a hand out to able bodied people who choose not to work.  However, around 90% of Medicaid dollars go to the elderly, disabled or working people whose income falls below the threshold in their state. Therefore, reduced funding to the program hits heaviest on the most vulnerable populations. As adults, both of my sons will rely on Medicaid for their medical coverage.  It’s not exactly clear what these cuts will mean to them, and perhaps that’s the most worrisome part of this. Alex might be just fine if he stays healthy, but Benjamin’s health needs are lifelong. If he cannot stay on our healthcare plan, and Medicaid is cut, what would the options be?  Nothing here is clear, and for families like ours it’s terrifying. 

This part is even more harrowing. In addition to his developmental and medical needs, Ben has serious mental health needs.   He sees a psychiatrist, uses psychiatric medicine, and needs autism therapy, which is a mental health benefit. Without these in place, his wellbeing is in jeopardy. I cannot overstate the seriousness of this situation. As it is, resources for people with developmental, medical and psychiatric needs are sparse, if funding is cut, it would be nothing short of devastating for Ben and our family. 

But we aren’t the only ones. In fact, we’re pretty fortunate so far. Mike works for the state and has his choice of excellent healthcare plans, of which we have chosen the most thorough and economical coverage. Many are self employed without access to such benefits. For us, the cost of healthcare thus far has been a strain, but one that we can manage. For many, it’s already past management and only set to get worse, highlighted in this Washington Post article. 

Look at smiling 12-year-old Parker from Utah, who needs a feeding tube, an aspirator, a trach and loads of medication to survive. One drug costs $100,000 a year. For a while, his family relied on food that neighbors left on their doorstep because Parker’s medical bills were so high after their health insurance capped out.

I’ve followed Parker’s story for years now, and his family deserves better.  They’re working hard, being resourceful, and just want their son to live! 

Here’s the thing, we have spectacular medical science that’s evolving and growing daily. We are able to save lives that just a few years or decades ago were hopeless. It’s marvelous, simply marvelous. But it’s expensive, as would be expected, too expensive for any but the wealthiest citizens to afford. Do we reserve such marvels for those who can afford to buy it? Is modern medicine a luxury for the few?  Is it a commodity available to only those who have the cash reserves to pay for it?  

How do we decide who gets this care?  Do we deny children whose parents don’t have jobs with a hearty benefit package?  Or do we put caps on it and say we can only spend so many dollars to save a person’s life, and after that just shrug it off?  Or do we leave people with mental illness without access?  This is dangerously close to eugenics. I shudder to think that denying Medicaid coverage for mental illness is a tidy way of saying society shouldn’t be obligated to help them. 

Finally, I want to point out that it’s the “pro-life” party that is endorsing all of this, and I’m calling bullshit.  There is nothing life affirming or life-protecting about any of this.  This is prioritizing finances over people and it’s repugnant. If you suggest that charities or churches should fill in the gaps, please just get off that ridiculous notion. In eleven years of managing complex medical, developmental and psychiatric needs, we have tapped into private resources to a great extent, I’m quite savvy at finding and accessing them, and we have had a church with a congregational care employee who identifies and designates church resources for families in crisis. Between the two, the help has been incredibly helpful for certain things, but only a drop in the bucket compared to the day to day impact of copays, deductibles, time and miles. It’s simply not feasible for private organizations to offset such monumental costs. 

So I ask you, do you really think it’s okay for people to suffer and die when medical care is available, but not affordable?  

parenting · special needs parenting

Some Middle School Girls Made Me Cry Today 

Alex’s choir went to the state choral festival today. I met them there and observed their stellar performance. But I observed so much more. 

I drove Alex there myself for a variety of reasons best summed up by saying that life is complicated and that was the simplest solution. As such we were early, because I’m always early, so we sat together in the foyer awaiting the arrival of his choir. When they entered, Alex hesitated, but his dear friend Maddie was at the front of the group and when she saw him standing there a smile lit her whole being (and as a stunningly beautiful and dynamic young woman, Maddie’s smile was something to behold) then she beckoned for him to join her, he glanced at me for approval, which I granted, and jetted over to join her. She clasped his hand as they took off with the group for warmups. 

This has been standard since Alex joined the choir. Maddie had participated in the LINKS program in elementary school, and every time I see her she exudes warmth and friendship toward Alex.  I’ve seen it before, but I never quite get over my sentimentality about it. 

Then, after their performance, they filed into the seating area of the auditorium. Alex was a bit confused about which direction to head, and I watched him from afar with anxiety building. In familiar areas Alex is independent and confident, but in this new territory he appeared uncertain and hesitant. I constantly waffle about how much support to offer since independence is our ultimate goal for him, but from where I sat there was nothing I could do anyway. I watched, wondering if he’d get frustrated or upset, but before I could even begin to fuss, another young lady took his hand and escorted him in the right direction.  Again, when it was time to go, she glanced toward him and took his hand to escort him in the right direction. Though I recognized her, I don’t even know her name.

As I observed, I couldn’t control the tears. 

All parents carry some degree of concern ofr fear over relinquishing control of their children in the world, but that universal emotion is magnified by disability. Alex is almost 15, but he’s as innocent as a first grader. He’s going into high school but he reads at a second grade level. He has a young man’s body, but the spirit of a boy.   He’s on a path toward independence, but it’s more meandering than average.  

As he navigates his way to maturity and independence, there are gaps along the way. Those gaps are worrisome to us as his parents, but today I saw his peers recognize and step into those gaps, of their own volition. 

And today I am encouraged that his path, though littered with hazards, is also sprinkled with helpers. Helpers for whom I am at a loss for words to express the gladness they bring to this mom’s soul. 

And I am grateful to the parents who teach and model for their children acceptance and inclusiveness, because their children are changing the world.