When my youngest daughter was born nearly 13 years ago it was only a matter of hours before they told me she likely had Down syndrome. I distinctly remember lying in the hospital bed—that tiny, almond-eyed babe in my arms—worrying about the future. I didn’t know enough then to worry about the things that mattered: potential heart defects, behavioral issues and increased risk of countless health conditions. My focus, instead, was centered on fears of how Down syndrome would color the lives of my two older girls. My heart broke as I imagined the teasing they would face—the hardships that might come hand-in-hand with having a sister with an intellectual disability.
In those first days and weeks after she was finally released from the NICU, I would carry her close to my chest in a sling. When well-meaning strangers asked to peek I was hesitant, always feeling the need to explain my daughter’s physical characteristics. “She has Down syndrome,” I’d say, the words effectively curtailing any gushing over her sweet little pursed lips or her tiny, wrinkly fingers. People didn’t know what to say. I can’t blame them; her arrival left me speechless as well.
It would take some time for me to get comfortable with the reality of her chromosome count. But like both of my previous babies, she would work her magic on me. So much so that Down syndrome would turn from a definition, into but a tiny piece of a grander mosaic. As my daughter grew, we quickly learned that—when given the opportunity—she would almost always rise to our expectations. For that reason, we set the bar high and chose not to let her extra chromosome define who she was, what she could do or where she was going.
You can imagine, then, how disheartening it can be when people who have never walked in our shoes use derogatory words to categorize an entire population of people who struggle every day to overcome challenges that most of us don’t ever have to face. Ann Coulter, an outspoken political commentator, recently made headlines for doing just that, choosing to sling around the word “retard” as an insult. Based on the backlash she’s faced in the national media, it’s fairly safe to say that she is aware of the inappropriateness of her comments, but that she chooses to go on making them. What she may not know is that people just like her are the kind of people I worried about that first night in the hospital all those years ago. Clearly her sharp tongue has garnered Ann Coulter extended time in the spotlight. I can’t help but wonder, though, how she sleeps at night.
As the mother of a child with an intellectual disability, I’d like to paint for you a different picture than the one Ann Coulter would have you believe. I want you to know that—from the time she was just six weeks old—my daughter endured hundreds of hours of physical therapy, just to master basic mobility skills like sitting upright or taking a few steps. She has been poked, prodded and x-rayed more times than the rest of my entire family combined. She has been subject to derogatory terms and people who would limit her without ever giving her a chance. She struggles to find a place in every new setting. And yet, still she perseveres. She is energetic and hopeful. She befriends the overlooked. She forgives wholly. She loves unconditionally.
It’s hard not to be personally offended by Ann Coulter’s hate language. Moreover, though, I feel sorry for her. Sorry that her life has yet to be touched by someone like my daughter. Someone worthy of so much more than Ann Coulter is able to see.