Today I was sitting behind a young college girl and I overheard she was going to school to be a geneticist. I so badly wished I was sitting next to her to chat. Here's the letter I wrote to her instead.
Dear future Geneticist,
Hi. My name is Sierra and I happened to be sitting behind you in the plane from Texas to Portland today. I have 3 wonderful children, Tanner (4), Paisley (2), and Dominic (2 months). You are probably wondering why I am telling you this.
Well, you see, I overheard you say you were going to school to be a geneticist. Congratulations on knowing your path! Here is the thing, Miss Paisley happens to rock an extra chromosome, # 21 to be exact. That's right she has Down Syndrome. Hearing your career path I wished I was sitting next to you, but since that is not the case I thought I could write you a little note.
When you become a geneticist (and I hope you do), there will come a time - probably many - that you will have to deliver a diagnosis of Down syndrome. When you do, can I ask that you remember one thing? Believe in them. That's it. That simple. Believe in that child.
Say congratulations rather than "I'm sorry." Say they can, rather than they can't. Say they will, rather than they won't. Say expect triumphs, rather than accept failures. It is fair to share facts but please don't share stereotypes or outdated information. Yes, it will come with hard times and it's OK to be honest about that, but tell those parents it can also come with more joy then they will ever know. Remember this is a child above anything else, this is a child first just as you and I once were. They are not a diagnosis.
I ask, as many parents are delivered this news with "I'm sorry, but there's a BIG problem with your baby." When they should be hearing, "Congratulations, your having a baby!!" Parents are too quickly turned to termination and many have been rather fiercely pressured or scared into it.
See, I am flying back from a Mom's Retreat. A retreat put on for Moms with young children with Down Syndrome. We are a family, and though there have been tears and struggles in this journey we all love our child and wouldn't change them. The joys this unexpected path bring, I could never have imagined 2 short years ago.
So again, when you become a geneticist and you deliver that first diagnosis (and the hundredth) I ask you to remember this note from the stranger on the plane. From the mom that loves someone who rocks that extra chromosome. Please believe in that child, and I promise you will change that families life from that moment on and never be forgotten in their new journey.