Will his life be happy or unhappy? It does not depend on the severity of the handicap. It does not depend on the number of cells in his brain. But it depends on his surroundings, because for him, as for each one of us, happiness is mainly to love and be loved.
The child is there. He does not understand the fuss around him, but he can feel with all of his body. By the tone of voice, by the gentleness or indifference of our movements, by the peaceful or stressful time we may give him, he knows if he is welcome or rejected. Even in the case of a child whose handicap has taken over his whole body and mind, we believe he is a person. How many parents, like the philosopher Emmanuel Mounier, with his daughter Frances, whose intelligence seemed to be extinguished, have been touched by a presence leading them to increased love, hope and gentleness.
Left in their loneliness, many parents are almost incapable of showing this unconditional love. They need to be supported by a network of friends. Each one of us can become one of these friends.
At 33 years of age, I gave birth to our third child, a little girl whom we chose to call Marie. A quarter of an hour after her birth, the pediatrician came to tell us that our baby had Down’s Syndrome. Nothing could have warned us about this handicap. At my age, I didn’t think it was necessary to have a blood test. In any case, my husband and I had decided that whatever handicap our children may have, we would refuse to abort. Looking back, I am glad that nothing was detected at the beginning of the pregancy: at least I had a peaceful nine months.
At first I wasn’t too upset – this was undoubtedly a special grace given to me. I had already looked after mongoloid children. I knew that this handicap could be a mild one, that they were affectionate children and that they can be integrated into a normal life. But my husband was devastated. He was not able to accept Marie and wanted us to part with her in a legal way as quickly as possible. Our families shared the same desire. And a feeling of panic started to affect me as well. Why this child? Why did it have to happen to us? At my age, there is one chance in 750 that a baby be born with Down’s Syndrome and it happened to me… What could we do? How were our first two children going to react? And what about our relatives? What would the future be like?
If You Have the Courage, So Do I…
Fortunately, my mother gave me the address of a Christian Office for Handicapped People. I phoned right away and told them about the situation. The following day, someone from the office visited me at the hospital and I asked her many questions. She explained that even though mongoloid children develop slower than normal children, they could, however, start walking at two years of age, be toilet-trained at two and a half and go to nursery school with other children. They are very sociable, usually they like music very much (a very important detail as my husband is a musician) and even though their mental age doesn’t exceed eight years of age, they can, however, enter a specialized class in primary school or a specialized institution.
This lady visited us every day. By the end of the week, I told my husband that I thought I had the strength to keep Marie. “If you have the courage”, he answered, “then so do I…”. He realized that if we were to abandon Marie, I would never be the same again. So we returned home with Marie. She was a very quiet baby even during the night. Our families were totally dismayed by our choice, but when they saw Marie for the first time they were conquered by her pretty little face and her smiles.
Support for the Future
Our little girl is now a year old and I must say that life is not more difficult than before her birth. On the contrary, we are touched by the attention and the tenderness of our neighbours and relatives towards her: everyone is concerned about and shares her progress. How do we see for the future? We’re not apprehensive because we have the support of nurses and our friends. There is now more research to find ways of stimulating mongoloid children. For example, Marie gets physiotherapy sessions at home to strengthen her muscles.
We want to join the Christian movement, Faith and Light, especially founded for handicapped children and their families, so that we can find the help we need to face any difficulties in the years to come.
Although it may seem paradoxical we have discovered that, with God’s help, happiness can be born through hardship. And we really are happy. Marie teaches us that each one of us is of value and that goes for beyond any intellectual or social success. Annie