Letter To A Friend

Dear Friend—

The very first thing that I want to say to you is, please, do not be afraid.
I have a child with Down Syndrome and I would like to tell you my story if you would kindly take a few moments to read it. I wish I could speak to you in person, but I hope this is an helpful alternative. Know that I am praying for you and hoping you feel the power of that prayer.

My husband, who is 40 years old grew up with a brother who had Down Syndrome. His brother, Greg, was 7 years older than him and was the love of his life. He was the love of all of their lives. He was born in the 1950’s in a time when, unfortunately, there were not the resources nor the knowledge about Down Syndrome. Greg was the oldest of 6 children. He had a heart defect that at that time was not repairable, whereas today it would not even be a challenge. It would be a routine cardiac surgery. Greg died at the age of 18 years old because of his un-repaired heart defects. He touched the hearts of every single person he came in contact with. Years later, I still hear this from people that I meet.

Greg was the perfect example of how to love others unconditionally, and was loved by everyone with whom he met. His life and how he lived it had a profound impact on his family --and now on ours!
I heard for years, while dating my husband and through our 15 years of marriage, of the love of Greg.

While it has been many years since his death, I feel like I now know what this family meant about Greg. If his families love has anything at all to do with Greg, as I have been told so many times, than I surely want a piece of that. Just last summer, my husband suggested that we adopt a child with Down Syndrome. I was surprised when he recommended this because we had never talked about it. Already having 6 children, many would think that we were crazy. I have always heard that there was a waiting list to adopt children with Down Syndrome, so I checked into it. Indeed, there is. I thought we would never get a baby with Down Syndrome because of the many families waiting.. Amazingly, and which credit I give fully to God, we were chosen to be the family of our youngest child, Ricky, only 6 weeks later. (You can read the full story on www.prenatalpartnersforlife.org--click on “Stories”, “Down Syndrome” and then “Ricky’s story.”)

I can not say enough wonderful things about our decision to adopt Ricky. How frequently I hear people say what a blessing their child/brother/sister/neighbor with Down Syndrome is, but I could never fully understand it. Now, I wish I could tell you in a way that would touch you as deeply as those words touch me. Ricky is a blessing beyond words! While he is healthy, I thoroughly believe I would love him no less if he wasn’t doing as well. He had heart surgery last week and is incredible. He still smiles amidst his discomfort. The doctors and nurses couldn’t get enough of him—they adored him! We heard over and over, “Down Syndrome patients are my absolute favorite.” I loved hearing that.

One evening, a very kind nurse caring for Ricky said to me and my husband, “I learned the most about love from a young man with Down Syndrome.” She then told us about her experience years ago when she worked at a camp for the summer and worked in the kitchen with this young man. She was such a lovely-hearted woman---if he had anything to do with her learning about love, he must have been very special. I frequently hear similar stories.

There are certain virtues in life that we can try and try to teach our children. We read books, pray, watch heart-warming movies and we still can’t fully grasp these virtues, so how can we pass them on to our future generations? I feel like Ricky is teaching us these loving virtues that could take a lifetime to otherwise learn—and he is still so young. To see my teenage son “mushy” around Ricky and to see the acceptance that my children now have for all handicap people is amazing. Truly transforming. I didn’t realize that I had a slight prejudice within me until I see how I, too, have been transformed so deeply.
We look so forward to life with Ricky. We look forward to him trying everything that our other children try. He will do great and he has a lot of cheerleaders! How times have changed since the 50’s! Ricky has had Physical/Occupational Therapy coming to our home since he was born (this is offered through the school district at no charge!) They really love Ricky. They seem to delight in all his accomplishments almost as much as we do! It’s great to know that we aren’t the only ones wanting him to succeed!

When Ricky smiles, we all smile. When Ricky laughs, we all laugh. When Ricky cries, we all sadden. He melts our hearts. When Ricky buries his face into my shoulder with that full-body hug, nothing else matters except Ricky. We all feel the same way. I don’t even have to explain it to anyone in our family.

There are people in the world who will say that it is best to abort your baby because he or she has Down Syndrome. They will even try to insist that you are doing your child a favor! Those with Down Syndrome seem to have a love of life that we could only hope for. They don’t seem to clutter it with all of the non-sense of life. These people who suggest you have an abortion must have never had a person with Down Syndrome in their lives. I truly believe the world would be a better place if we all had the opportunity to have a person with Down Syndrome in our lives—the same could be said for all of those with special needs. Adopting Ricky was the best thing we ever did for our family. Those who have a child/brother/sister with DS know what I mean. A friend who has a child with DS said to me recently, “I love talking to you because you understand what I mean.” Doctors frequently try to scare patients. The information they have is frequently outdated, so please do not rely upon this. Find some good Down Syndrome Associations and please read the stories of love on www.prenatalpartnersforlife.org. Call and talk to someone who truly cares about YOU and cares about your child.

Are there any questions that you have? Is there anything that I can help you with? I wish I could do more to help you see the delight you will have with this child of yours.

God bless you and guide you. You will never regret the life you will have with your child. It will be full—full of love and virtues. You will delight in every single sweet accomplishment just as you do your other children. He or she is truly a gift. Remember first—this is your child. Secondly-- he or she happens to have Down Syndrome. I heard a father say on TV recently, “I never hoped for a child with Down Syndrome, but now I would never wish for anything else in the world.” I hear and read from other parents expecting a child with DS, that it is very common to be scared and confused at first, but later, they would never wish for anything different. He or she will be a teacher of your soul. Once you hold your baby in your arms, your view of life will be totally different. The world will be a better place for you and you will want the world for him or her! You will be empowered realizing that you can make that difference for your child.

Ricky is awesome! I am sure you will say the same for your baby. You have been given an opportunity to love and you will receive that love back multiplied.

Take care and God bless---Gretchen (dgthibault@comcast.net)

 

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The support, information and encouragement provided by the PPFL parents is not meant to take the place of medical advice by a medical professional. Any specific questions about care should be directed to a health care professional familiar with the situation.