The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Do you really want your child to be happy?

"I just want my child to grow up happy!"

How often have you heard this phrase from parents, or used it yourself?

In fact, a study done by banking giant HSBC showed the vast majority of people list happiness as the biggest thing they want for their children, above being successful in their career or being healthy (unless you are in China, where health was the number 1 desire, or in India where a successful career was most important).

I raise this point because recently I've been hearing different debates surrounding the issue of Down's Syndrome. October is, after all, Down's Syndrome Awareness Month, so it's not too surprising. On a programme on Radio 4 last week (Moral Maze) they were discussing the notion of a world without DS - something that could become a reality. A new non-invasive prenatel test for DS is now available with 99% accuracy results. In the UK, over 90% of people who are tested terminate the pregnancy, and in Iceland 100% of DS pregnancies are now aborted.

Listening to medical professionals who advocate this line of action, their rationale was, more often than not, to prevent suffering. There's no doubt that having DS increases the chances of a whole range of physical and mental conditions - although none of these are exclusive to DS. One person referred to DS as a disease that needs to be erradicated. Occasionally a drain on resources was mentioned, but for most it was a quality of life issue.

But then I look at my daughter, Meg, who was born with DS.

We did have a tough time in her first year when she had to have open heart surgery to patch up some holes in her heart, and in her teens we discovered she had thyroid problems (which are now balanced by a daily dose of thyroxine), and that she has coeliac disease, making her gluten intolerant. Fortunately these days there are plenty of gluten free foods, ingredients and alternatives that make it a perfectly manageable condition. Indeed, Meg's home made gluten free chocolate brownies are by far and away the best brownies on the planet - infinitely superior to those that use flour in the making.

But the main point I want to make is Meg is actually the happiest person I know - by a long way. She finished school this year and is now at college 2 days a week. Another 2 days a week she spends as a trainee at a cafe called The Usual Place. And whenever she gets home from college or work, I ask her if she had a good day. Without fail, she always answers, "I had a really, really good day today!"

And she means it.

Meg loves people. Meg loves helping people. Meg loves having a laugh with people. College and work both give her plenty of opportunity for these things.

That's not to say Meg is never grumpy, ill tempered or upset, but she rarely stays that way for long. Meg's default is to smile, laugh and be happy.

And it's infectious.

Feedback we've consistently had over the years from different groups she had belonged to, is Meg always raises the mood, and everything runs more smoothly and in better spirits when she's about.

I want you to pause for a moment and reflect on that point.

This isn't just some poor disabled kid who chuckles to herself but is a drain on society. Meg actually has a positive effect on those around her. She brings out the better side of most people's nature.

When we are constantly bombarded with news of wars, terrorism and psychopathic presidential candidates and global leaders, then what we need more than ever is a reminder of the better side of humanity.

We need more people who make us smile, laugh, and bring out our better nature.

I don't know how much Meg's DS contributes to her positive outlook on life, but it would seem she's not alone. There are many tales of people with DS who have an emotional intelligence way above average.

An alternative narrative that challenges the idea people with DS are "less than" is they are just a different form of human.

And I'm one who advocates not just tolerance of difference, but the whole-hearted embracing of it. Difference creates the richness of life and affects how we can learn and develop - as individuals and as a species.

So what is this blog post about? Basically I was just struck by the contradictory facts that the vast majority of parents want, more than anything else, for their child to be happy, and yet, the vast majority of would-be parents would terminate a pregnancy of a foetus with DS, despite the potential for hitting the jackpot in the happy child stakes.

Meg and I were out for a walk in the woods at the weekend and we had fun as I took photos of her swinging her hair back in a stream of sunlight


Martin Johnston said...

I am humbled, at your post, great insights and one that reverberates about humanity. You and your significant other have given your daughter every chance in life, when others may have given up.
Lovely blog
Respect MJ

Judith Sauberlich said...

What a lovely thoughtful piece & I agree with it all. There are too many bad-tempered, mean-spirited "normal" people in this world. I look forward to perhaps meeting Meg one day at The Usual Place, a wonderful place with a great ethos. Please give her a hug from me
Judith x

Jill Dian said...

How wonderful to have such a happy child... who actually spreads warmth and happiness to others.

I read your blog with interest and was astounded to hear how many people abort a DS foetus - shameful indeed.

Love sent to you and your family .... may much happiness continue x

kriss said...

I agree whole-heartedly. I have worked in various situations with all sorts of people with learning disabilities and those who gave me the most joy were invariably those with Downs Syndrome. They taught me a lot about perspective and what's really important in life and the world is so much richer with them in it.

TamraKi said...

Very beautiful writing. Really brings alot into check. Thank you!!

Pat said...

Neena got it right when she said just seeing Meg made her feel happy. I know just what she means. In Minehead we are lucky enough to have Fox's establishment We had my mother's 90th Birthday Party there and as always
there was such a happy atmosphere. The world is a better place thanks to special human beings like Meg.

hope said...

Just seeing that girl's infectious grin always makes me happy. I'm glad to hear she's spreading cheer wherever she goes. And that should be everyone's goal in life: to help others through love and caring.

Way to go Dad! (And Mom).

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Yes, she does make me happy. She is just so sweet and uncluttered. Everybody looooves to see photos of Meg because your pics tell positive stories, Kim.

I think the old myths, the old fears through ignorance about children with DS still linger, and parents-to-be are afraid.

I used to do a lot of tv programmes about children with DS, and one editor told me I should stop, or I will end up with a child with DS. Good grief!

Kim Ayres said...

Martin - thank you for your kind words :)

Judith - she works there Mondays and Fridays if you're passing :)

Jill - the statistics have always been shocking to me, and the direction they are heading is not an improvement.

Kriss - I know where you're coming from :)

TamaraKi - thank you :)

Pat - I'd not heard of Hotel Foxes - thanks for the heads up :)

Hope - If everyone focused on making others feel good the world would indeed be a much better place :)

Neena - the ignorance and even superstition that surrounds DS is quite astounding.

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