How a father came to love the daughter with Down syndrome he wanted to abort (+video)
As a natural athlete and academic scholar, Heath White always sought after perfection. He played most sports, maintained a 4.0 grade point average in college and finished his Air Force flight training program at the top of his class.
But regardless of his other achievements, White's story of repentance and love is what has drawn attention, recently circulating on social media. Tom Rinaldi spoke with White and his wife during an ESPN special "E:60" in 2012 to tell the story of how White's life has changed because of his daughter Paisley.
In the video, White describes a letter that he decided to write to Paisley, telling his own story of how he initially felt when he found out that his second child would be born with Down syndrome.
"I did everything I could to try and force (my wife) into having an abortion," White said in the video. "My main concern was what people would think about me."
His wife, Jennifer White, expressed that while her husband wasn't rude or abusive during this time, he simply wasn't there emotionally. Although Jennifer White had strong feelings about abortion, after witnessing her husband's reaction, she found herself considering the option — but that only lasted for about an hour.
"I had to think, 'What if? What if I aborted her? What if I got rid of her?' " Jennifer White said in the video. "I remember a little voice in my head saying, 'No way. It's not happening.' "
On March 16, 2007, Paisley White was born, but it still took Heath White several months before he was able to connect with his new baby.
"The turning point — I had her down and I tickled her and she laughed and giggled at me and tried to push me away. Her laughing and smiling and reacting with me, that's when I realized she's just like any other kid — she's my kid," White said.
As White's heart changed, he also decided he wanted to show the world his daughter, of whom he was extremely proud. Before Paisley's birth, White had participated in many races competitively but stopped. With a new feeling in his heart, White decided to get back into running, this time pushing his baby girl.
When asked why he chose to run with Paisley, White said it was "to let everybody know I was proud of her."
The first race took place just before Paisley's first birthday, and over the next five years, White completed numerous races, including 5Ks, 10Ks and nine marathons.
"It was just me and her, nothing between us," White said. "Looking back on the pictures of running with her, that's a good memory."
Three years after Paisley's birth, Heath and Jennifer White had another daughter, and at the time the video was created, they were expecting their fourth girl. Although by sharing his story White knows he will cause his daughter some pain in the future, he trusts that by spreading his message others who may be in his situation can also change.
"Nobody knew the way I felt before she was born, and if I can keep one family, one person from having to live with the guilt and almost making the mistake that I almost made, it's going to be worth the pain that Paisley will feel later in life knowing the way that I felt," White said.
White first began to write a letter to his daughter expressing his internal struggle when she was 18 months old. Although he has never read it to Paisley, he knows that one day he will.
"It was just my way of repenting," White said. "Chances are that she never would have known the way I felt before she was born. That could have been my dirty secret that I kept with me forever. But I didn't want it to be a secret, I wanted her to know that she was everything to me."
On March 4, 2012, White pushed Paisley for the last time. Although that time together has meant the world to him, he now knows that his daughter doesn't need him to push her anymore.
"It's bigger than Paisley. Paisley can play, Paisley can go, Paisley doesn't need me to push her," White said. "It was pretty emotional knowing that it was the last time. Over the couple of years we'd become a team."
Jennifer White also expressed the change that she has seen in her husband.
"Initially Heath had said, 'I don't want to take care of somebody for the rest of my life,'" Jennifer White said in the video. "I think now he looks at it and says, 'Oh my goodness, I may not get to take care of her the rest of her life.' "
In the end, White said that after looking within himself and really looking within his daughter, he's finally recognized what "perfect" actually means.
"Everything I've done, everything I've tried to accomplish, it was never going to be perfect," he said. "But my love for Paisley is perfect. I'm always going to be there to make sure she gets to the finish line."
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