A United Kingdom woman is telling the world about the terrible advice she received after giving birth to a daughter with Down syndrome. In an article written for the Daily Mail, she outlined how staff reacted to the surprise diagnosis, and how little compassion was shown for her baby — or for her.
Nicky Laitner, 53, was just 29 when she gave birth to her oldest daughter, Charlotte. Through the pregnancy, she chose not to undergo any testing. “I wouldn’t have had a termination so I didn’t see the point; and because of my age I’d no reason to think I was having anything but a ‘normal’ pregnancy,” she said.
Yet she could tell the moment she saw Charlotte that something was different about her, and the reaction of medical staff confirmed her suspicions right away.
“[T]he midwife ran out of the room in tears,” she recalled. “I turned to Steve in confusion, and he told me he thought our daughter had Down’s syndrome. In that moment, I felt like my whole world had come crashing down.”
Things only got worse from there. “Charlotte was just a few hours old when a maternity nurse suggested to me I could leave her at the hospital and return home to carry on my life without my baby,” Laitner said. “It was the first but not the last time I felt pitied to have a child with Down’s syndrome.”
Yet her advice had the opposite reaction. “Her words roused me from the fog of shock and worry I’d been in since giving birth ‒ when it was immediately obvious Charlotte wasn’t the baby I thought I was having ‒ and fired up in me a fierce sense of protectiveness that has never left me,” she said.
Laitner already felt deep love for her daughter, but was still scared. Then, a meeting with a pediatrician the next day began to allay some of those fears:
The next day we took her home with the words of a wise paediatrician ringing in our ears. ‘Charlotte is healthy and will do what Charlotte will do,’ he’d told me when I naively asked how ‘bad’ her Down’s syndrome was. He encouraged me to take each day as it came, never put limits on her and simply enjoy my baby. As any mother of a child with this syndrome will tell you, no matter how much you cherish them, it’s hard to block out the negativity of the world around you.
After going home, friends expressed sympathy or avoided interacting with her. Others blamed her for not undergoing testing during the pregnancy so she could have had an abortion. She often felt that people pitied her, but it led her to feel even more determined to do the best she could for Charlotte. “I knew she was as valuable as any other child, and hoped in time other people would see that too,” Laitner said.
Last month, a Telegraph investigation exposed how “do-not-resuscitate” orders were being given to teens with autism and learning disabilities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, during routine medical appointments. A report released early in 2021 found the same results, as did previous investigations before the pandemic. The discriminatory mindset against those with disabilities appears to be deeply embedded into UK culture.
Charlotte, now 22, has graduated from high school and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in inclusive performance. “I cried tears of immense pride at her graduation,” she said. “Beautiful, confident and happy, it’s hard to believe expectations of her were so low it was suggested I abandon her or, even worse, that I should have ended her life before she was born.”
Charlotte works at a movie theater, and wrote that one of her favorite things is to take her mom out to lunch, and pay the bill herself. “It’s just a small thing, but it matters a lot to me,” Charlotte wrote. “To work, to earn my own money, to treat Mum – it all reminds me I’m a grown woman, making my own way in life, no different to anyone else my age. I have Mum to thank for fostering that attitude, and my reluctance to live up to some people’s very low expectations of me. She’s never pushed me further than I’m capable of going, but she’s always known what I’m capable of, and helped me reach that point.”
Laitner said she wouldn’t change a thing about who Charlotte is now. “She’s funny, compassionate and driven. Her emotions and outlook are completely unclouded by self-consciousness, which is so refreshing,” she explained. “She is who she is, and she made me the mother I was meant to be.”
Charlotte added that living her life, which would be considered normal for most people, is often a shock to outsiders. And she notices the reactions around her. “I see the surprised faces when I go out jogging, or serve people at the cinema,” she said. “My hope is that by being visible, and proud of who I am, the next time that person won’t be so stunned to see a woman with Down’s syndrome living a normal life. I’ve been bullied in the past at school, and mocked for how I speak and look.”
Still, despite the ableist attitudes around her, Charlotte loves herself and her life. “When I look in the mirror, I see Charlotte,” she concluded. “I happen to have Down’s syndrome but it doesn’t define me – it’s a small part of who I am. Mum taught me to embrace it, while never letting it stand in my way.”
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