A Bone Graft, Iceland and Miss USA

Ariel, my 27-year old son with Down syndrome, unexpectedly had bone graft surgery on his left hand; it was in a cast for over four months.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about:

Ariel’s adjustment to being “one-handed”

Iceland, the State of Ohio, and Mikayla Holmgren in the Miss USA pageant

And joy

Ariel needed assistance with so many tasks requiring two hands.

And he needed encouragement to accept his physical limitation.

Following the time when he was a hypotonic toddler I don’t believe Ariel has ever been physically limited. He has won gold medals for bicycling in the Israel Special Olympics. He is a double-digit scorer on his school’s inter-mural basketball team. At work, he wields a twelve-pound hammer to break up rocks which he then uses to build stone terraces and walkways. His neck and shoulder massages can leave you begging for mercy.

Needing help to tie his shoes was hard for him to accept.

His four-month ordeal in a cast helped me to appreciate that Ariel has a self-image as a strongman, hard worker and star athlete.

And like anybody else whose self-image is challenged he, too, needed help to appreciate how much more he is than his image.

My wife and I pointed out to him how patient he is with his toddler nephews. What a thoughtful son he is that he calls home every night to ask how we are. How at meals when he’s home he is respectful of his parents by waiting for us to take a bite before he eats.

We let him know in as many ways as we could that he’s got a lot more going for him than just his muscles.

As he has done so often throughout his life, Ariel in his cast reminded me to go beyond physical appearances to see who he truly is: a caring, loving soul who gives to others in so many ways.

Did you know that Iceland is “eradicating” Down syndrome births from its society? Since prenatal screening was introduced in the early 2000s, close to 100 percent of women in Iceland who tested positive for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.

Iceland is not alone. Between 1995-2011 in the USA there was a 67 percent termination rate for Down syndrome (likely higher today); in 2015, the rate was 77 percent in France, and 98 percent in Denmark.

This coming March, in the State of Ohio, it will become a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine for a medical practitioner to terminate a pregnancy solely on the basis of prenatal screening indicating Down syndrome. (Indiana passed a similar law which was struck down in the courts when challenged by a pro-abortion group. Other states are formulating similar laws.)

Mikayla Holmgren is a 22-year old dancer/gymnast university freshman who competed in this year’s Miss USA pageant from the state of Minnesota. She wasn’t named Miss Minnesota but she was named the Spirit of Miss USA and given the Director’s Award. Mikayla has Down syndrome.

The wholesale elimination of an entire class of people based on their genetic makeup is justified on the premise that it will strengthen the species. The concept is termed eugenics. In ancient Greece the Spartans practiced eugenics by leaving “defective” newborns on mountain tops to die. The Nazis promoted an Aryan “master race”. Margaret Sanger, the leader in America of women’s birth control, used the language of eugenics to promote her cause.

I wholeheartedly support the efforts of lawmakers in Ohio (and elsewhere) to prevent the termination of pregnancies solely because the child will have Down syndrome. Without the efforts of these lawmakers who knows where this trend could lead: one day prenatal screening may be so accurate that pro-abortionists will counsel termination of fetuses who will have poor eyesight. What an expense and a burden to their parents when children lose their glasses….

As a counselor in Iceland told a reporter: “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication…preventing suffering for the child and the family.”

Or may have been the Spirit of Miss USA.

Which brings me to joy.

No one ever promised that life would be or even should be easy.

No pain. No gain.

Adversity can bring out the best in a person.

Challenges are just that: opportunities for growth.

At the same time, no where along the way does it mean that you cannot experience joy.

When I spoke to parents in England this last March, a mother challenged me. “What joy is there seeing your teenage daughter confined to bed, in diapers and unable to talk. There is no joy in that.”

I responded: “your pain is real and it is deep.” I suggested that the mother reframe how she sees her daughter. See her as a “giver” not just a “taker”. She is giving to you the opportunity to find in yourself levels of strength and faith and love that would have gone untapped if she did not require so much of your care. As a “giver” she is helping you become the person you are meant to be. What a magnificent gift your daughter is giving you.

Take joy in the fact that you have a child who can build you.

Then look for the ways you are being built.

And then, say “thank you.”

Eliya Stromberg, PhD, is a former public school and Jewish day school principal.

He is the author of Chosen Fathers: Life Lessons Learned From Fathers Of Children With Disabilities. Meet Eliya Stromberg on Facebook or at www.fathersconnect.com.