By Kristi Burton Brown
The TODAY Show sparked an outpouring of celebration when it posed a photo to its Facebook page on April 14. The photo showed Ryan and Jillian with their parents on their wedding day. Both Ryan and Jillian – who was smiling with the eternal smile of a joyful bride – have Down syndrome.
Paul, Jillian’s dad, shared a letter he had written to his daughter, and TODAY posted it for the whole world to see. The post already has more than 50,000 reactions, 5,700 shares, and 2,000 comments – many with parents celebrating the accomplishments and inherent beauty of their own children with Down syndrome.
In part, Paul wrote:
“Dear Jillian, I don’t know what the odds are of a woman born with Down syndrome marrying the love of her life. I only know you’ve beaten them … What we couldn’t do was make other kids like you. Accept you, befriend you, stand with you in the vital social arena. We thought, “What’s a kid’s life if it isn’t filled with sleepovers and birthday parties and dates to the prom?” I worried about you then. I cried deep inside on the night when you were 12 and you came downstairs to declare “I don’t have any friends.” You’re a natural when it comes to socializing. They called you The Mayor in elementary school, for your ability to engage everyone. You danced on the junior varsity dance team in high school. You spent four years attending college classes and made lifelong impressions on everyone you met. Do you remember all the stuff they said you’d never do, Jills? You wouldn’t ride a two-wheeler or play sports. You wouldn’t go to college. You certainly wouldn’t get married. Now … look at you. You’re the nicest person I know. Someone who is able to live a life of empathy and sympathy and without agendas or guile, is someone we all want to know. … A decade ago, when a young man walked to our door wearing a suit and bearing a corsage made of cymbidium orchids said, “I’m here to take your daughter to the homecoming, sir,” every fear I ever had about your life being incomplete vanished. Now, you and Ryan are taking a different walk together.” (Credit: Paul Daugherty via The Mighty)
The response to Paul’s love-filled letter to his daughter was astounding, as parents poured out their own hearts.
One dad wrote: “Dear paul, youve just made a grown man cry with your letter to your daughter. My little girl mia is down syndrome also and i also hope she can achieve these dreams in her life, i know now her mum and i will do all we can to help her achieve these dreams.”
A mom with a young baby girl exclaimed: “Awww the tears of happiness r just streaming down my face OMG I sooo hope this happens with our precious Scarlett!!! You have given me lots of hope!!!oxo!!!”
Another mom explained: “This letter said what I have been feeling, it made me cry and that’s something I don’t do well. I push every day with my daughter, we were told she wouldn’t walk and many other things, but with years for physio and me being stubborn and determined, she walk and trys to run… the sky has no limit…”
Lea shared: “I hope my little girl is able to fulfill her hopes and dreams just as your beautiful daughter has done”
A very proud grandmother responded: “My little grandson Mark is 9 years old now, has Down Syndrome but has really beaten the odds in so many ways. He’s recently gotten into The Special Olympics for track. He’s quite a runner, winning medals, so proud to win one. He has no shortage of friends, he loves everyone and is one of the happiest kids I know. We know we’ve been blessed to have this beautiful child in our life. He’s taught us so much. He doesn’t know any limits.”
Bridget wrote: “Love people telling their stories of loved ones with down sydrome…hope my little Lewis finds someone too.”
One mom shared: “My little boy was born with Down Syndrome, I hope that he finds someone special like your daughter has!”
Others who responded to Paul’s letter and the picture of Jillian and Ryan agreed that we ought to celebrate the lives of all – including those who may be different than our wrong, ill-conceived ideas of “normal.”
It just goes to show that people with Downs Syndrome don’t have a disability, they just are a bit different to other people..and when you get down to it, what is the norm???
A brother wrote:
Why is it that the beautiful people in this world make grown men cry. My beautiful sister has downs & we were told she wouldn’t live past 40, she is 67 & a gentle, beautiful person.
Mark Bradford, president of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation USA,published a study for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, describing how abortion tragically reduces the population of the Down Syndrome community:
[I]t is estimated that abortion following a prenatal diagnosis of DS results in a 30% reduction in overall DS births. Jamie Natoli, et al., proposed another statistic that correlates well with this study. In a 2012 publication in Prenatal Diagnosis, their research calculated a weighted mean across the U.S. of a 67% termination rate following prenatal diagnosis.
Whatever the statistical realities may be, the number of those who choose abortion after a prenatal diagnosis is far too high. It should be none. To paraphrase the recently deceased disabilities rights activist, Dr. Adrienne Asch, the only thing prenatal diagnosis can provide is a first impression of who a child will be. Making such a radical decision as to end the life of a child based upon a first impression is a most horrible and violent form of discrimination. It has no place in an American society that is committed to ending discrimination in any form and that has intensified that effort for persons with disabilities over the last 25 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990.
A proud sister shared this photo of her brother and wrote to parents who might be currently facing a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome:
“I hope anyone who may be contemplating terminating a pregnancy because they have a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome reads this…Your life is going to different from what you may have planned but it’s going to be a magical different. .Don’t give up this chance of experiencing the incredible love that awaits you..My brother with Downs Syndrome is our world..Don’t give away yours PS..Forgot mention my brother is a paid actor, travels the world and has been in TV shows. He is off again to Brazil in 2 weeks. My sister and I who both have the suggested amount of chromosomes just stand there and wave goodbye as he smiles and heads off to get another stamp on his passport,,We just look at our mum and say” it wasn’t meant to be like this, I thought he wasn’t meant to be able do anything” then we all hop in our cars, go pick up the milk and bread and head home…Who knew..lol !”
Editor’s note. This appeared at liveactionnews.org and is reprinted with permission.