On her son’s 10th birthday last month, Erin Witkowski recalled the day that changed her life forever. At 21 weeks pregnant, she found out her son had Down syndrome, and her doctor encouraged her to have an abortion. She refused, and her son, Grady, is now 10 years old. And to celebrate that amazing milestone, she did a beautiful photo shoot, inspired by that conversation with her doctor, and the Japanese art of Kintsugi.
“I remember the large wooden desk the Dr. sat at and the Stained Glass that towered behind him,” Witkowski wrote in an emotional post on Facebook. “Grady’s tiny feet where kicking my belly as my husband grabbed my hand so we could sit down. His first words after we sat down … ‘I’m sorry your son has Down syndrome, you have two weeks to make a decision.'” Witkowski said that the only decision they made was to never see that doctor again, but his words stayed with her. Yet his callous outlook towards her son couldn’t have been more different than the love she felt for her child.
“I have relived those words and that moment over and over again in my mind, they burned deep into my motherly soul,” she wrote. “It was THAT very moment my son was named a ‘decision’ and ‘broken’ to the world was also the same day we named him a gift from God.”
For Grady’s 10th birthday, Witkowski, a photographer, did a photo shoot with him before a stained glass window, inspired by that heartbreaking conversation so many years ago. And every area that is typically identified as a marker for Down syndrome was filled in with gold, inspired by Kintsugi. This Japanese art fills broken objects with gold, as a way of treating breakage and repair as part of the history and beauty of an object, as opposed to something to be concealed or thrown away. And the gold marks in what was previously deemed as broken turns the flawed or imperfect into something even more beautiful.
“Oh my Grady, NO prenatal test could predict that you are filled with a heart of GOLD, you are JOY and LOVE rolled into the most perfect child,” Witkowski wrote. “Your challenges never ever outweigh your joy. You were sent here to help others fill in their broken pieces with drops of your gold made by the Creator himself.”
The photo shoot quickly went viral, with hundreds of comments, and thousands of likes and shares. It also caught the attention of Good Morning America, who did an interview with Witkowski. “His personality is huge. He loves to dance and sing and be the center of attention,” she told Good Morning America. “I truly found my voice and vision after having Grady. He allowed me to see beauty in a whole new way.”
Approximately 67 percent of babies who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome are aborted in the United States. The overwhelming majority of women also say their diagnosis experience was not a good one, and a survey found that 13 percent of doctors admitted to emphasizing the negative aspects of Down syndrome in an attempt to get mothers to choose abortion.
Yet more and more Down syndrome self-advocates, along with their families, are speaking out about their right to life, as well as the love and joy they experience. Hopefully, the more people use their voices to show that Down syndrome does not deserve to be a death sentence, the more the world will give them a chance to live.
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