JD Flynn is the father of two children with Down syndrome who says The Atlantic’s recent, much-discussed piece on Down Syndrome and abortion deeply affected him. For Flynn, who is also the editor in chief of Catholic News Agency, the story felt personal. His children, Max, 8, and Pia, 7, both have Down syndrome. In an article for America magazine, Flynn shared what he wishes parents knew when considering abortion after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
Flynn, who adopted both Max and Pia, said, “[M]y children’s birth mothers faced some of the difficult economic and social forces that compel women to choose adoption. And at the same time, they faced the challenges that come from a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. They faced, no doubt, pressure to have abortions.” An estimated 67% of women and couples who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome do choose abortion.
Flynn believes that much of the fear and stigma surrounding parenting children with Down syndrome comes down to lack of exposure. “Few of us have had meaningful personal relationships with someone who has Down syndrome,” he said. “I think that is part of why they are aborted in such alarming numbers: Their lives are unfamiliar to us and sometimes defined by limitations and impairments. We are afraid of what we do not know. And we are afraid of suffering: ours and theirs.”
He dispels any misconceptions that he or his wife are wearing rose-colored glasses where their children are concerned, noting that parenting children with special needs can be challenging in various ways. “They do suffer. Pia has had cancer twice and has come very close to death. Max has sensory issues that make textures and tastes and sounds sometimes a near insurmountable burden. Speech is a struggle for them. Reading and math take focused efforts. They want to be with and befriend their peers, and gradually, I fear, they are becoming aware of their limitations and aware that they are different.” Yet, beauty has come from those same difficulties, struggles, and heartbreak.
“[M]y children do not exist to teach me lessons, but they have,” he explained. “They have taught me that it is a gift to spend time in the company of someone, with no thought given to the passage of time or the tasks to be completed. They have taught me that independence is a myth and interdependence a strength. They have taught me that love comes from seeing a person as they are and not from technocratic assessments of what they can do. They have taught me that our lives are made meaningful in love.”
Max and Pia need the same things that other children do, especially love. “They need Love I do not possess naturally, virtue that exceeds my good will. To love them as a father, I turn to our Father in heaven, for grace, patience and good cheer,” said Flynn. “My children require of me a conversion.” These words will resonate with every parent who answers the call of duty beyond their limited reserve of patience and goodwill.
That’s not a bad thing, as Flynn explains. “Perhaps that is the most important lesson of loving someone with disabilities—none of us is really strong enough, smart enough or good enough to go through life on our own. We are in real and enduring need of one another, and we are, each of us, completely dependent on a merciful and generous God.”
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