By Leticia Velasquez, Co-founder of KIDS (Keep Infants with Down Syndrome)
Editor’s note. We’ve run two stories about the amazing response that saved an unborn child who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome and whose mother was threatening to abort him. The following, from a mother of daughter with Down syndrome, has additional detail and special insight.
When I read the email, my pulse quickened. As the mother of an eleven-year-old girl with Down syndrome, I often help parents cope with the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. This email was urgent,
“There is a couple in another state who have contacted an adoption agency looking for a family to adopt their Down syndrome unborn baby. If a couple has not been found by today they plan to abort the baby. If you are interested in adopting this baby please contact Fr. VW IMMEDIATELY. We are asking all to pray for this baby and the wisdom that this couple realize the importance of human life and do not abort this beautiful gift from God.”
The post asked people to call the church’s office after 9:30 a.m. Monday or to email Father Vander Woude.
I jumped onto Facebook and Twitter where the web of special needs parents and pro-lifers is endless. Within a couple of hours I had two adoptive parents whom I knew were serious. Another woman just asked for time to discuss it with her husband when he arrived home from work. I know her husband, the answer was going to be “yes”.
I breathed a sigh of relief, a perfectly beautiful baby whose only fault was having an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome was going to survive to sing her song in this world. To add that special dose of love mixed with spice that every parent of child with trisomy 21 or Down syndrome has known. Jewish philosophy says that to save one life is to have made your entire life worthwhile. Could this be my time?
I had no idea what was happening as the message went viral. Fr Vander Woude’s secretary tells the story.
“When we got in and opened up around 9:30, it was nearly nonstop. All day long, we were receiving phone calls from people who wanted to adopt the baby,” church staff member Martha Drennan told the Washington Times. “Father Vander Woude has gotten over 900 emails in regard to the baby.”
Offers to open heart and home to the baby with an extra copy of chromosome 21 poured in from across the country and around the world, including from England, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands, Drennan said. The response was so overwhelming that seminarian David Dufresne offered to help field calls.
“I was taking calls for about three hours straight, just talking to people who are willing to adopt this little baby they never knew about until that morning,” Dufresne, who will be ordained to the priesthood next year, told The Times.”
The pro-life and Down syndrome communities had demonstrated something to the editorial writers at USA Today which had run an editorial criticizing laws which ban abortions after 20 weeks. The editorial read in part
“While some genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, can be detected with amniocentesis at 16 to 22 weeks, even then it can take two weeks to get results. Add specialists, research and time to reflect, and a 20-week ban forces women and couples to make heartrending decisions against a ticking clock.
“In some cases, they’d have no opportunity at all.” [www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/06/30/20-week-abortion-ban-editorials-debates/2477579].
And, of course, this is presumed to be a tragedy. Because no one wants to have a baby with Down syndrome, right?
If you looked at the 75-90% abortion rate you might be tempted to agree. It is now a proven fact that even though the overwhelming majority of mothers chose to abort their children with trisomy 21, this does not mean these children are not wanted by someone else.
Over one thousand parents were willing to make an instant decision to take a child with Down syndrome into their arms. Many of them already had children with Down’s so they understood the challenges raising such a child can contain. But they understood something the pregnant parents didn’t: That doctors can tell you all the negatives which can accompany trisomy 21, but what most of them can’t tell you is the joy which this child brings into your life.
Fr. Tom VanderWoude was the perfect man for the job. He was one of seven sons of a large, devout Catholic family which includes Joseph, a brother with Down syndrome. Joseph and Fr. Tom’s father, an airline worker who retired to a farm in Virginia who worked as an athletic director in the local college, always accompanied his son proudly at public events and made a place for him in his work.
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One day, while work was being done on the farm, Joseph fell into a cesspool and was drowning. His father, Thomas, threw himself into the filth to save him and told those who had gathered to help, “You push, I’ll pull.”
Joseph was saved but his father succumbed to the fumes. Fr Tom said he had given his life as Christ did, for love of another.
Such is the caliber of this holy parish priest in suburban DC whose parishioners often include our elected representatives. His father’s sacrifice inspired a piece of legislation aimed at helping parents faced with a difficult prenatal diagnosis chose life for their children as I described in “Down, Hero Dad and Palin.” http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/16157
The Vander Woudes and those thousand parents believe that that 6-month-old unborn baby is every bit as worthy of life as my daughter and Joseph. We like to think that, if called, we would, if necessary, offer our lives as well. The least we can do is open our arms and our hearts to them.
[The information about Fr. Vander Woude’s family is derived from http://www.catholic.org/video/watch.php?v=2121
Editor’s note. Leticia Velasquez is author of “A Special Mother is Born.”
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