It was Freddie’s birthday on Wednesday. The anniversary of the day he was first placed in my arms; of the day we were told he has Down’s Syndrome.
We gathered in the living room to watch him open his presents. I was so engrossed in watching his developing imaginative, or ‘pretend’ play skills, as he hatched the baby dinosaurs from his Playmobil set out of their eggs and made them squeak to the mummy dinosaur, that I lost track of time. Suddenly it was ten past eight and we haven’t even had breakfast; the school minibus comes for him just after half past.
You can’t rush Freddie. It takes a fair amount of energy and patience to coax him, step by step, through his morning routine. Though the time between getting up and waving him off on the bus is hectic, hand on heart I cannot say it is any more stressful than the one-and-a-half-hour commute to work I used to do when I lived down in that fancy London.
The easiest thing to do was to keep him off school. I have the luxury of being able to do that because I’m a stay-at-home mum. I’m not going to pretend that it’s harder than going out to work, because, for me, it isn’t – it was my choice, the life I wanted, warts and all.
My mother always advised me against having children as, she said, “there’s nothing for them in this world”. I don’t think she believed that, I suspect she just didn’t enjoy motherhood. I have friends who chose not to have children, but that is because they like a certain lifestyle that would not be possible with kids in tow. They do not dress that decision up as a selfless sacrifice made to spare any potential future child from a grim life in a hard, cruel world. They know they have a right to choose whether or not to bear children, and under what circumstances, and they take ownership of their decision, knowing that society questions childlessness by choice, and often condemns it as unnatural.
This week I have read two articles in which women have justified their recent decision to terminate a baby with Down’s Syndrome because “it was best for the baby”, in order to spare it from a life of constant pain and suffering. Down’s Syndrome does not cause constant pain and suffering, and, these days, in a developed nation, a little googling will soon bring that information to your attention. Now, those women do have a right to decide whether or not to bear children and under what circumstances, but let’s be honest about this, they made that decision in order to spare themselves from a life they didn’t want. Why shift the onus for their decision onto the faulty child for forcing them to make this ‘heartrending’ choice by being disabled? Own your decision, ladies. If you don’t want a child with Down’s Syndrome, or feel that you, personally, could not cope with one, say so. But don’t pretend you’ve done it to spare the child, because, in the case of Down’s* all you’ve done is spare them days like this:
In claiming that you ‘immersed your child in love as it died’ you insult the midwife who called me lucky, and sobbed over my child because her boy with Down’s had been stillborn. You insult all parents who have ever wrapped their born-sleeping child in the blanket they bought to take him home in, and gave one first-and-last -kiss that had to encompass a whole lifetime of love that’d they’d never get to give. Your cowardly lie insults every woman who has been honest about her reasons for terminating a pregnancy, and faced the judgement of others.
Nobody is suggesting s woman should be forced to bear a child she doesn’t want or can’t cope with, but lets not dress this up as an act of selfless love when, in the case of Down’s Syndrome, it clearly isn’t.
*Just to be clear, I am talking here only about Down’s Syndrome, and not about any other condition for which a woman might seek a termination, but about which I have no knowledge or experience.