31 for 21: why is October Down syndrome awareness month?

So this question entered my mind as I was talking about how busy the month of October is to my husband, whose birthday is in October as well as another couple family members. But October seems to be dominated by breast cancer, and while I love that we have a month commited to celebrate Down syndrome, I always wondered why. It seems like March was more fitting, with world Down syndrome day being 3/21 for 3 copies of the 21st chromosome, as well as the start of spring, one of my favorite seasons, especially after a harsh Chicago winter. 

So I googled it and came across this article (click to view), and was surprised to see that president Reagan proclaimed it to be back in 1984. What was even more surprising (and distressing) was his message, “This new age of enlightened understanding recognizes that developmentally disabled persons have a great potential for achieving and overcoming handicaps…Research has uncovered the genetic basis for the condition and points the way to its ultimate prevention.”  Points the way to its ultimate prevention?  You see, maybe I am naive and ignorant, but it still shocks me to find out that so many choose to abort their unborn babies who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome. 

For those who have read our story, you know where we are coming from and why we personally wouldn’t consider aborting our baby for being diagnosed with Down syndrome. I am also pretty sure I couldn’t abort my baby for any medical reason, no matter what the doctors say. Not necessarily for religious reasons, but I could never forgive myself for taking such a decision into my own hands. Because what if the doctors are wrong?  Just too many “what if’s” that I just wouldn’t be strong enough to go through with it unless it happened naturally. 

So if we had Luke decades ago, I probably would have faced some strong controversy with this view.  I wonder if society would change its viewpoint on people with disabilities if we grew up in a society where they were treated as equals instead of being treated differently and tucked away in institutions.  Would we become a society that didn’t have such a high percent of pregnancies with a Down syndrome diagnosis being aborted?  I have read that other countries who have more positive perceptions of people with disabilities also have lower rates of abortion for pregnancies with Down syndrome diagnoses. 

Can that happen here in the United States?  I certainly hope so. And like the writer whom I reference above, I too believe we have yet to see the true potential of people who happen to have Down syndrome. And I’m hoping with more awareness and acceptance, I’m hoping that one day we will see a greatly reduced percent of abortions of pregnancies with a Down syndrome diagnosis. Not because of any kind of legislation (besides sharing accurate and up to date information and contact info for support groups at prenatal diagnoses, which I think should be a given), but because people truly want their babies with Down syndrome because it won’t be seen as such a negative diagnosis anymore. 

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