To the people of the Today Show,
In life, we all make mistakes. Some are bigger than others.
I felt I should let you know of a few you made when airing an “uplifting” story this past week.
And that by sharing the story of one couple’s joy you also succeeded in shattering hearts and striking fear into so many more.
You see, when you aired the story of gymnast and former U.S. Olympian, Shawn Johnson-East and her husband, Andrew and their “pregnancy scare,” you probably thought you were illuminating a bright spot in an otherwise stormy saga of their journey to become parents. You probably thought that others around the country would rejoice alongside them as this “scare” was put to rest through genetic testing that was done.
That was your first mistake.
Because the “scare” of which your segment spoke of was Down syndrome. And the “hugs of joy and relief” that were shared by the couple were because their genetic testing came back negative. And forgive me for being blunt, but it’s hard to rejoice alongside someone who is actively celebrating the fact that their child will not be like yours. And not just my child, but roughly 200,000 other people living with Down syndrome in just the United States alone.
Think about that for a minute.
Now let me assure you that I understand where Shawn and her husband are coming from. As Shawn said, every parent wishes that their child will be healthy, and obviously, none of us want to see our children struggle. And I do not fault them for their reactions because I, too, was in their shoes not that long ago. At that time, there was SO much I still didn’t know.
I had an anomaly during my 16 -week ultrasound (a “bright spot” on my daughter’s heart). My husband and I were told to get another, more thorough ultrasound to determine if any other “markers” for Down syndrome were present. There weren’t, and we were told everything was “fine,” and yet when she was born, she indeed had Down syndrome. Trust me when I say that I know what it’s like to be scared to death.
And I get it. It WAS scary. But that’s because it was an unknown to us…something we’d never experienced or expected. We’re all scared of things we don’t know or fully understand. And fear is a very powerful thing. Fear is what drives most misunderstanding—and misunderstanding leads to ignorance, and ignorance leads to isolation.
And that was your second mistake.
Instead of leaving the segment with the sentiment that Down syndrome is “scary” and not only this, but that children are only “healthy” if they do NOT have Down syndrome, you could have done SO MUCH MORE. You had an opportunity. An opportunity to use your far-reaching influence to inform the entire country that people with Down syndrome CAN and DO live meaningful, healthy, and productive lives. An opportunity to offer hope and encouragement to mothers who may be grappling with a pre-natal diagnosis and wondering what to do. An opportunity to break down the stereotypes, false assumptions, and misinformation about Down syndrome that exist in this country and the world.
And so, I encourage you today to please help be a part of the change that needs to take place. Educate yourself. Take the time to get to know someone with Down syndrome….or even just someone who is different from yourself. Trust me—you won’t regret it, and your life (and theirs) will be better for it. Take a chance and open your heart (despite the fear that is so pervasive) and you will be witness to something that I believe, is nothing short of a miracle. In knowing, loving, and shouting the worth of my daughter, I have had the privilege of experiencing a glimpse of heaven—a world where we don’t let fear win and instead, open our hearts and minds to seeing people as God does—“Fearfully and wonderfully made…” Psalm 139:14
A proud and hopeful parent of a child with Down syndrome