“When you have a baby with Down syndrome, people don’t say ‘congratulations.’ Instead, they say, ‘I’m sorry.’” Carissa and Chris Carroll of Minnesota experienced this firsthand after the abrupt birth of their second child — their second son, Jack, in March of 2013.
After an uneventful pregnancy that felt largely similar to her first, Carissa was told late in the third trimester that baby Jack was measuring a few weeks behind. She’d had multiple normal ultrasounds, and was told that he would likely just be a smaller baby. She went into labor close to her due date and Jack was born via emergency C-section after fetal monitoring equipment detected a sudden drop in his heart rate. Chris wasn’t allowed back in the operating room with her, so he waited for news as Carissa gave birth.
Chris was completely unprepared for the words a nurse practitioner spoke when she and a nurse brought Jack to him while Carissa recovered in the operating room after the delivery. The nurse practitioner asked, “Are you aware of Trisomy 21?” Seeing Chris’s confused look, she went on, “Were you aware that he could have Down syndrome? We think he does, but we’re still running tests.” With that, she left Chris to his surprise, confusion, and grief. Carissa was similarly devastated when she returned to the room and Chris told her the news.
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But in the days that followed, the Carrolls would learn the difference between the worst-case-scenario fears that followed from the grim, cold delivery of Jack’s diagnosis and the hope-filled truth of their reality: they had been gifted by God with their son Jack, and his life was good. Chris came to see “I get to raise Jack. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, and I get to raise him.”
Carissa said similarly, “When we met Jack, I realized how much my own plans were limiting what God can do, because I was so stuck on what I wanted. And when we finally just surrendered, like, ‘this is God’s plan for us,’ we were truly able to live in what He planned for our family.”
The Carrolls wish everyone understood that “[e]very child should be celebrated. Every family should be congratulated.” To that end, on Jack’s first birthday, they hand-delivered two baskets to the hospital where he was born, asking staff to present them to other moms who welcomed children with Down syndrome. The baskets contained a letter from Carissa sharing things she’d learned in Jack’s first year of life.
Carissa told American Life League’s “Celebrate Life!” magazine that she was personally contacted by one of the mothers who received a basket, who told her “The basket meant the world to us. It was the only congratulations we got while in the hospital.”
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Not long after, the Carrolls launched a nonprofit, Jack’s Basket, which “strive[s] to ensure that every new and expectant parent is provided resources and avenues of support within the community” and “aim[s] to equip medical providers with tools to discuss the diagnosis in an unbiased way in hopes that having a baby with Down syndrome is celebrated like any other.”
Each basket contains handwritten letters, resources, and goodies intended to encourage parents who feel unsure and afraid after receiving a diagnosis, reassuring them that it’s good to celebrate their child’s life and to expectantly hope for the good that’s to come. The families themselves, friends, or healthcare providers can request a basket any time during the first year of life. When possible, the baskets are hand-delivered by a parent of a child with Down syndrome, based on the Carrolls’ lived experience that other parents of children with Down syndrome are the greatest consolation to a parent or parents coming to terms with a new diagnosis, whether prenatally or at birth.
According to the Jack’s Basket website, the nonprofit has hand-delivered or mailed 6,000 baskets to all 50 states and 40 countries internationally since 2014. Carissa commented, “We want to send love to a family through the basket. We want to connect them to resources and remind them that they aren’t alone. We want them to see their baby as a gift.”