A Special Mother is Born: Parents share How God Called Them to the Extraordinary Vocation of Parenting a Special Needs Child. Leticia Velasquez. Westbow Press. 2011. 256 pp.
Leticia Velasquez, mother of a cherished daughter with Down’s syndrome and co-founder of KIDS – Keep Infants with Down Syndrome – had a brainwave when she thought of this book: instead of concentrating on children born with special needs she decided to focus instead on their mothers, whose lives have been indelibly altered by the birth of their special children. By describing them as “special mothers”, Velasquez wants to emphasize the faith that is required in these circumstances: the belief that God has chosen a particular mother and a particular family for a particular child, despite all the demands and challenges that this child will bring.
So it is a book, first and foremost, of faith – in the teachings of the Church, and of trust, love and hope. That said, the stories related in its pages do not try to minimize the problems of giving birth to children with often multiple impairments, both physical and intellectual. The message is that if you accept the baby that you certainly did not plan and initially were afraid to welcome, you will receive unasked for gifts that you could never have anticipated.
Velasquez asked many women to relate their own experiences; their stories are most moving to read. They speak of struggles, confusion, fear, a sense of helplessness at the tasks ahead of them – but also of miracles, conversions, marriages healed, the love of siblings and of families made stronger and more united. She writes, “Every day hundreds of women are presented with an unexpected invitation to maternity and in order to give life to their child, must make nothing less than a heroic choice.”
As she points out to these women, “God has called you to abandon the comfort of what parenthood means to you and tread the road less travelled.” One of the contributors, Lisa Barker, who was alone with her daughter when the doctors told her bluntly that the baby’s “cerebellum was atrophied”, states firmly “I knowsuffering and I know it isn’t the end.” Another mother, Eileen Haupt, recalls that her child’s birth was “the moment I awakened to the tragedy of abortion”: over 90% of children born with Down’s are routinely aborted.
What is unusual in these personal accounts is that many of the women chose to have pre-natal testing, such as amniocentesis, not in order to abort but to be better prepared for what lay ahead. Sometimes they were supported by pro-life medical staff; in other cases they had to resist strong pressure from doctors who assumed they would want a termination as a matter of course.
Many of the stories are about determined parents who chose to have large families or to home-school. These characteristics often seem to go hand in hand with an acceptance that life is about crosses to be borne cheerfully and resolutely. Rick Santorum, former Republican presidential candidate (he pulled out of the race because of his disabled daughter’s needs) writes about how Isabella, who has Trisomy 18, has been “worth every tear.” The Rizzo family was initially “shocked, scared, overwhelmed, fearful, ill-equipped and sad that our dreams for this baby were not going to unfold as we had planned” – but then they started the practice of praying the Rosary as a family and to realize their own part in the sorrowful mysteries of Christ’s own life.
The author has helped to found the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, with the support of the late doctor’s own family. It can be found at www.LejeuneUSA.org Velasquez herself can be contacted at: aspecialmotherisborn.blogspot.com and her book is distributed by Lighting Source in the UK.
Francis Phillips writes for the Catholic Herald, from where this article is adapted with permission of the author.