I’ve worked in news/talk radio for 25 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been compelled to call in, to be on the other side of the microphone, the other side of the KSL experience.
“KSL. What is your comment or question?”
“Hi. It’s Amanda. I don’t know if you want to put me on or not but . . .”
I remember calling in from Ground Zero two weeks after 9/11 when I just happened to be in New York City. I remember calling in from New Orleans on the morning of the vote when David Duke was on the ballot. I remember calling in when the topic was whether organ donors should be allowed to remain anonymous in death if they chose to. (My mother was the beneficiary of such an organ donation, and it gave me 20 years with her I would not otherwise have enjoyed.)
And one was this week.
Doug Wright was talking about a new test, a simple blood test, which would allow a pregnant woman to know at 10 weeks whether or not the baby she is carrying has Down syndrome. The test is highly accurate and would in some cases remove the need for the more dangerous amniocentesis. And it would, as Wright explained, lead many pregnant women to make the decision to end their pregnancies. Wright posed the question, “What will this test do to the Down syndrome population?”
I felt the heat rise up in my chest as I reached for the phone. I didn’t know if it was appropriate or not to call in, but I would let Wright's producer make that decision. I had to call. My oldest daughter is Laurel. She has Down syndrome.
She has prompted me to think of disability differently. Which child is disabled: the one who cannot love or the one who cannot perform calculus? Which child? The one who cannot forgive or the one who cannot communicate at high levels? What if there were a test you could perform at ten weeks that showed this child is going to grow up to manipulate people, to hurt them tremendously and feel nothing, to lie and cause extreme harm and be incapable of compassion? What about that child? Is that child disabled?
“They’re human beings,” Julie DeAzevedo Hanks, owner and clinical director of Wasatch Family Therapy, said on “A Woman’s View.” “We can’t predict their potential. They have a say in what they do with their genetic material.”
“So many of these kids are very high functioning,” Chris Redgrave, senior vice president of communications for Zions Bank, said. “I was at a function recently where the spokesperson for Utah Special Olympics got up and asked us not to use the ‘r’ word any more. What a contributing citizen! He was remarkable.”
“I have a niece with disabilities,” Julie continued. “The doctors told my sister to abort. I weep at the thought if she had. I mean, What is life about? What is family about? Life is about growth. If you eliminate all flaws, you eliminate all growth. The idea of 'I only want a flawless child' — it’s frightening.”
What is a flawless child anyway? The pretty one who grows up and can’t feel? I have five children, three steps and two of my own. Two of the five would be labeled as having “disabilities,” and those diagnoses scared me to my core. I remember thinking to myself, “Would I be mother enough? How would I handle it? Would I be able to provide for them? What if the world is unkind to them?”
And believe me, sometimes the world is unkind.
Laurel somehow figured out how to send a tweet from my Twitter account a couple weeks ago. I didn’t notice it until days later. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed it and wondered what was going on. It read, “Amanda. Dixon. We. Hope. You. Have. A. Grate. Time. At. Barns a Noble. And. Just. Before. I. Say good night I. Love you.”
It’s ten weeks. You just found out. Could you possibly wish her away?