It may have slipped your notice, but October is Down Syndrome Awareness month.
Down syndrome (DS) is a genetic condition that occurs in one of every seven hundred babies born in the US (CDC). The medical community, as evidenced from the source above, views it as a disease that makes life not worth living for those affected by it–which explains why so many mothers choose to abort their babies when diagnosed.
While it is true that some individuals with DS might frequent hospitals more often than a human without the challenge, and their lives might look different than what is considered normal, the life of a down syndrome human is the exact opposite of burdensome to their family and friends.
If you have never had the good fortune to meet a person with DS, I indeed pity you. God blessed these unique individuals with the ability to see beauty in the mundane, to laugh at the ordinary, and to love unconditionally, without any expectations. I speak from intimate experience.
On the cold day of January 29th, 2020, my youngest brother was born. Minutes later, he was diagnosed with down syndrome. My seventh sibling, a warm bundle of red, squishy, blinking wonder, had down syndrome. I stared at the new life in my arms and slowly processed the fact that as fragile as every newborn is, this one was more so. As much as every newborn needed attention and love, this one would need more. But it would be a type of attention and nurture that my family had never experienced before. On the third day of his life, my parents brought Owen into the hospital, with the concerns that he wasn’t breathing well.
My family hadn’t known our little boy would have medical challenges; the ultrasounds hadn’t picked up on the fact that he had an extra chromosome as well as medical complications. We weren’t prepared to send this baby, who we had just met, under the knife on his third day of life or for him to be hospitalized for nine days while a g-tube and colostomy bag were inserted into and onto his body.
Gradually, my family and I learned, as the pandemic set in, that even though this little child with plastic on his side and down his throat had a long road ahead of him, he only needed to be loved and treated as all his siblings had at his age. We read him countless books, plopped him on our laps when playing piano, and, after finally winning the approval of mom, brought him into the pool. A week out from the first hospital stay, I had forgotten he even had down syndrome, because his growth and personality were the same as any other baby. He became the sun of our family solar system: his laughter the best reward, his curiosity a joy to behold, his cuddling warmth in our arms the only way we could feel content.
Six surgeries and one and a half years later, Owen is a beaming, thriving toddler who makes the heart of any onlooker melt and store workers beam behind their masks. His life is filled with running after his brothers, eating everything in sight, dancing to the Newsies, and providing his mother’s heart unnecessary jumpstarts by deciding he can descend the stairs on his own.
Our family is without question better with Owen in our midst. Our world is better with him and others like him in it. Down syndrome people are blessings in disguise to the communities in which God places them in. They create ripple effects you will never be aware of, and better their social circles by implicitly teaching family and friends patience, contentment, and a purer form of love–one that does not expect anything in return.
As we celebrate these exceptional humans this month, let us always remember that even if our fellow man is different, be it with an extra chromosome or anything else, it does not mean they are less. Oftentimes they are more than we will ever be.