Written by Shelley Bedford
Almost 60 years ago, a baby was born on this, our nation's Independence Day. What an exciting moment to hear "It's a girl!" for parents who had a house full of boys. The rejoicing soon turned to something very different when the parents were told that something was very wrong. This day of celebration turned in to a day of sadness and confusion as the young parents were introduced to words like "mongoloid" and "retarded".
On this, the day that our country was celebrating our freedom and The Declaration that says:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." these parents were being told not to even hold their new born daughter.....to sign the paper work and lock her up in an institution.....to forget that she was ever born. They were told that holding her...that loving her....that including her as a member of their family would ruin their lives. They were told that her birth was a mistake....that her life was a mistake. They were told that she'd never do anything, never be anything. They were told that the best thing for them to do was to walk away and consider her dead. Some 40+ years later, that couple had tears in their eyes when they sat at their kitchen table and shared the happenings of that Independence Day with their teenaged grand daughter.
Thankfully, that couple did not take the advice of the doctors. They held their newborn daughter...they loved her....they took her home, to be a part of their family. 60 years ago the medical advances were not what they are today. The couple's baby girl had a heart condition that could not be repaired and they knew that their daughter's time on earth would most likely be very short. Still, they loved her dearly.
40+ years later, their granddaughter sat at their kitchen table and listened as their story from Independence Day turned from sadness to smiles as the couple talked about how very wrong those doctors were. They talked about their baby girl, who, though weak from her heart condition, learned to sit up, to follow directions, to communicate her wants and needs. They talked about how she "worked her magic" to get what she wanted. They talked about how much she gave to their family....how much happiness and laughter she brought into their lives. They shared stories about how no one but her mama could feed this little girl....and how later, they realized it was because mama was left handed and that if anyone else who wanted to feed her would hold the spoon in their left hand, then the little girl would happily let them feed her too. They talked about the time a traveling salesman stopped by selling a big toy that children could sit in and play with all the little toys that were attached to it. The little girl's daddy smiled when he talked about how he told that salesman that there was no way his little girl would sit in that thing without screaming......and how he ended up buying the crazy thing when the little girl sat in it and squealed in delight because she loved it. From the stories, it was very clear that she was a daddy's girl.
Though the couple's granddaughter knew what was coming next, she was not prepared for the level of sadness that gripped her heart as her grandparents story again came to a point for tears. Her grandmother spoke of when the days starting getting bad....when the little girl's heart began to fail. She talked about knowing that their time with their little girl was getting short and knowing that there was nothing that they could do. She told her granddaughter about realizing that it was just a matter of days...that somehow, God was preparing her for what was to come. She told the final story....of kissing her daughter good night one night and going to her bed the next morning to find that their little girl had went home to be with Jesus at the age of 5.
Those stories....shared with love about a daughter whoblessed their lives....made a profound impact on the heart of their granddaughter. She'd been told, many times in her young life, that she too had a special place in her granddaddy's heart.....because she was the first girl that had been born in this family (after more sons and grandsons) since the birth and death of her aunt.
A few years later, the granddaughter asked her grandmother if she could have a very special item out of her grandmother's hope chest. The stories from that kitchen table conversation several years back had been running through the granddaughter's mind. Though she didn't know why, at the time, she felt an overwhelming desire to have this item so that she always remembered the stories of that little girl. Her grandmother was surprised at the request, but agreed to give the granddaughter what she asked for....with a promise from the granddaughter that the item would always be well taken care of and that the memories behind it would be cherished and shared.
What the grandmother didn't know then, was how very profound of an impact that gift and memories behind it would have.... and how many lives would be touched because of the birth of her daughter on that Independence Day. Here is the item from the hope chest:
Because of you, I heard the stories of your birth, the prejudices of the doctors & how their words...their ignorance....hurt your parents that day.
Because of you, I looked into the eyes of parents who went against everything their society believed and took their daughter home.....and I saw the overwhelming love and heard how thankful that they were that they made that choice.
Because of you, when I learned that what your parents faced 60 years ago is STILL going on in this world, it broke my heart and radically changed my life.
Because of you, I was motivated to do more.....because you could have easily lived and died alone in an institution had your parents made society's choice.
You proved those doctors wrong.
You were loved, you were cherished.....and your life made an impact that reaches far beyond what those doctors, on that Independence Day many years ago, would have ever guessed in their wildest dreams.
Because of you, when asked to make the choice
to have a child with Down syndrome in our family,
I remembered the joy that you brought to my grandparents
and their words when they said that
they would make the same choice all over again if they could.
Because of you,
your great-nephews now live a life outside of an institution.