When Ashley Engele and her husband learned over four years ago that their newborn baby girl Rilynn had Down syndrome, they were shocked and scared. An unknown future loomed before them and they mourned the life they imagined they would have. But as the years went by and they welcomed a second daughter, life was much more normal than they had expected.
Rilynn, 4 and 1/2 years old, attends preschool, loves Barbie dolls, plays and fights with her little sister, and argues with her mother over which outfit she will wear. Now, as Engele and her husband prepare to welcome their third daughter, they have learned that she also has Down syndrome like her big sister.
“There it was, right next to the words T21, in bright red: positive. Our youngest daughter would also have Down syndrome,” wrote Engele for ABC. “Our hearts sank. This wasn’t the result we were expecting. Similar to our first birth diagnosis, there were tears, guilt, anger, and lots of unknowns. You see, this isn’t the life we had envisioned. We didn’t plan to be raising two kids with special needs. It’s OK to grieve the life you had planned, which did not include two children with Down syndrome. The one positive thought is that we know we can handle this. You see, we already know the beauty of Down syndrome and the sense of ‘family’ that exists in the Down syndrome community.”
Engele has a benefit that many parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome don’t: experience. She doesn’t need to listen if doctors tell her she should consider abortion. She doesn’t need to worry about any misinformation doctors might give her about Down syndrome. She knows what it’s like to raise a child with the condition, and she is willing to do it a second time because it’s just that good. She writes:
We know how when we’re having a bad day, one smile from Rilynn can completely turn it around.
We know the extra-squishy hugs that turn our hearts into mush.
We know that when her cute little hands reach out and touch your cheek, you instantly feel better.
We know how she is changing the perception of those with Down syndrome, one person at a time.
If you’ve ever met our daughter, you know she doesn’t lack personality. She can make even the grumpiest or angriest people smile and win their hearts over in an instant.
You see, Down syndrome has shown us a whole new world, a whole new deeper level of love, compassion, and patience.
Engele knows. She knows what doctors and abortionists don’t. She knows what parents of newly diagnosed children don’t. She knows what people who have only hands-off experience with Down syndrome don’t. And we should all listen to her. We should hear these words and believe them.
“Down syndrome is a beautiful journey we had never planned on, but would never dream of leaving because we know what it’s like,” she explained. “We treasure our experiences at face value, we slow down and enjoy the little moments in life, we celebrate every single milestone (big or small), and most of all, we celebrate life, because our lives are better with Down syndrome in it.”
In a society in which the extermination of all preborn lives with Down syndrome is celebrated, and people still believe that living with a disability is a fate worse than death, it’s important that we hear and share the words of people with Down syndrome and those who love them. Life with Down syndrome is beautiful and valuable. Rilynn and Roux -her soon-to-be-born sister – prove it.