If people with Down syndrome are especially loveable, then why do so many mothers chose abortion when they discover it in their unborn baby? Fear. That is the main reason. Rather than trust God and open themselves up to a new world, they tragically miss out on the gift he had for them.
I know several families with children that have Down syndrome. Some were initially terrified but their pro-life values ruled out abortion. Without exception, every single family ended up feeling immensely blessed by their special children. One father told me that if God offered to heal his daughter from Downs, he would say, “No thanks. She’s perfect the way she is.”
The A&E Network’s new reality TV show, Born this Way, is removing the fear of Down Syndrome through documenting the lives of seven young adults with it. The program offers a glimpse into their everyday lives including perspectives from their families. After the first season’s 6 episodes in December and January, the show was nominated for three Emmys. It returns for a second season with a few new cast members, beginning on Tuesday, July 26 at 10 PM Eastern.
The show reveals what so many people have not considered: people with Downs syndrome have hopes and dreams and capabilities. They also have endearing personalities. Raw honesty seems to come naturally; often sharing hurts and fears that the rest of us like to keep hidden. They are affectionate and forgiving and in discussions with their family, they show respect while holding their own independence dear.
There is one line that captures what I love about this series. During the second season, Sean is moving away from home to room with Stephen with some independent living support. In one episode, while cleaning the kitchen together and discussing their new responsibilities, Stephen said to Shawn: “We aren’t in charge of the world; we are just in charge of this house.”
Sandra McElwee, the mother of Sean, one of the cast members, explained in an interview that her son had wanted to be an actor for many years. It was during his acting class at the local Downs Syndrome Association in Orange Count, Calif. that he learned of the auditions for the show. The original 7 were chosen out of 250 auditions. Shawn and Rachel already knew each other but the others are quickly becoming good friends, often calling and texting and getting together.
“It would have been tempting for us to fear the show,” Sandra said, “but I had a small voice of God in the back of my head, telling me it would be a good thing.”
Since the cast ages range from 20s to 30s, many of the situations presented are the very ones that parents fear when they learn their baby has a life-long disability. Dating and taking on responsibilities such as independent living, are examples of issues the show addresses. Sandra pointed out that those fears are often exaggerated since everyone fears the teenage years and peer pressure. “In our case, we’ve been very involved in Sean’s life so in many ways it was easier,” she said.
Initially, there had been a concern among parents that things might be twisted to appear more dramatic, but she said the young adults have been presented as they truly are. “That is the key to acceptance,” Sandra said.
“After Sean was born, I learned quickly that many women with that diagnosis choose to abort,” Sandra explained. “I set up a website to help parents understand that having a baby with Downs is not so different than having any other baby.” The show has already made strides in taking people’s discomfort for Downs away, according to her. “People approach Shawn now that would never have approached him in the past,” she said. “We just took a vacation out of the country to Grand Caymen and Sean was approached by people who came up to him and said, “I love your show.” It helped, Sandra explained, that the airline was showing Born This Way during the flight.
One of Sandra’s biggest hopes for Born This Way was that women who learn they are carrying a baby with Downs would decide not to abort. That hope is being realized.
“I’ve had mothers with prenatal diagnosis tell me that that they’ve had so much hope after the show and are more confident now,” she said. “One mother told me that she cancelled her amniocentesis test for Downs after a blood test indicated that possibility. Another had an abortion scheduled and cancelled it after watching the show.” If Sandra is already getting such feedback--just one mother of one of the actors--then it's an indication that this show is winning far greater rewards than mere Emmys.