Being the mom of a child who has Down syndrome, autism and a plethora of health issues, it is not uncommon to find yourself at the doctor; sometimes several times per week. Usually those visits go smoothly. You sit in the waiting room, get called back, see the doctor and leave. In the waiting room you might smile at someone or say hi to people around you, but for the most part, you keep to yourself as others do.
Today though, we had a different and difficult experience. Difficult in the sense that it ripped my own personal blinders off and exposed one of my greatest fears — my sweet little girl being targeted for having Down syndrome.
“I don’t want my child exposed to her,” is a phrase that will be forever etched in my mind.
Here is what happened:
Hannah and I were sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office minding our own business. Hannah was playing with her iPad and I was texting a friend. This little girl came over to sit down next to Hannah (the waiting room was packed) and before she sat down completely her mom said, “No, we aren’t sitting next to her.”
It made me look up from texting and I realized that the “her” she was talking about was my Hannah. I asked the lady, “did my child do something?” Thinking perhaps Hannah was rude (I mean it can happen if you get between Hannah and her iPad, she is a child, after all).
She said, “No, I just don’t want my child exposed to her.”
I said, “My daughter isn’t sick.” Thinking for sure she thought we were there for a sick appointment and she didn’t want her child exposed to a sick child. I get that, there have been times I have avoided a coughing child or one with a runny nose myself.
She said, “She has that disease.”
I looked at her and knew what she was talking about and realized this was now turning into Down Syndrome Education 101. I said, “Down Syndrome is not a disease. It is a chromosomal condition that happens at conception. It is not contagious. You can’t catch it like a virus. It is the way God made her and there is nothing wrong with the way He created her.”
She said, “Oh, you are one of those pro-life Bible thumpers, aren’t you? Well, I just prefer not to have to explain to my child about things that she doesn’t have to concern herself with.”
I was almost speechless, but replied, “To answer your question, yes, I suppose I am one of those pro-life Bible thumpers, but this isn’t about that. I am also a human being, a mom and someone who is going to teach you something today. So let me get this straight, you are deciding not to educate your child about those who are different from her? You are going to teach her to judge, to be unaccepting of others and their differences, to be unkind and to be like you….ignorant?” I then told her, “You are everything that is wrong with society! As parents we want our children to be loved, respected, accepted and treated kindly, but yet people like you don’t think you need to show kindness and respect to get it.” I looked at her and said, “I feel sorry for your child. I feel sorry for you; that you are so blinded by your own ignorance that you can’t see the beauty in Down syndrome, that is truly your loss.”
By this time the crowds had gone down but we had a few people listening, watching and applauding! The lady grabbed her kid, turned around and walked out.
It hit me like a punch in my gut and a slap in the face. This is what some kids are being taught by their parents. This was a grown woman teaching her child that my child was unworthy, lesser and like a contagious disease.
We have to do better as a society. We have to teach our kids that even though someone looks or acts differently than they do, it doesn’t mean they are “lesser”. Respect is something we all should show regardless of who we come in contact with. My Hannah is a child; she doesn’t have a concept of being different. If you smile at her, she will smile back. If you say hi, she will say hi (and most likely she will tell you that she loves you). My child doesn’t care if you are black, white, asian, latinx. My child doesn’t care if you are rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, a Democrat or a Republican. She is going to respect you and be kind to you regardless of anything else. This has made me so angry today to think that my child was singled out because of the way she looks!
Come on society… be better, do better, choose kindness and respect for all people!
I think I am totally changed forever after today. I am thankful my sweet girl seemed oblivious and I hope her innocence remains intact; but today I am changed. There is now another layer of trust that has been ripped away exposing another raw scar in this life of raising a child with disabilities. But that rawness won’t go to waste — it has set a fire in me for more advocacy and more education so other parents like me and kids like Hannah don’t have to endure what we did today.
Today changed me. Today I took my place with other moms who fight and advocate for their children. Today I found my voice and used it for good for all of our kids. Today, one more person has been confronted on their beliefs on Down Syndrome and hopefully it will make a difference.
Today, I hugged my sweet girl a little tighter and I told her I loved her a few extra times. I reminded her that she is indeed fearfully and wonderfully made and I am so blessed to be her mama.
Today, I fought for her and won!