U.K. woman Gillian Relf penned a thought-provoking column in the Daily Mail this week. Relf, 69, admitted that she wishes “every day” that she’d aborted Stephen, her 47-year-old child with Down's syndrome. Before you judge her, as Relf knows many will, she asks that you put yourself in her shoes.
Relf didn’t learn that Stephen had Down’s syndrome until months after he was born. She was pregnant with Stephen in 1967, a time when many of the advanced prenatal screenings that women get today didn’t exist. She recalls how she felt the moment she was told Stephen had Down’s.
“In that instant, my world came crashing down around me,” she says. “Questions I couldn't answer raced through my mind: Had I caused his disability? How terrible would his life be? What impact would it have on his brother Andrew, then only two? How on earth would Roy and I cope? That was the day normal life ended for Roy, Andrew and me.”
What has transpired in the life of Relf and her family over the next 47 years has changed them forever – for the worse, Relf writes. Stephen’s relentless crying fits, of which she is powerless to stop, have pushed Relf to nervous breakdowns. He regularly holds sit-down strikes in public – at places like airplanes, buses, restaurants – and refuses to budge. He holds the protests at home too, often refusing to eat, sleep or bathe. Worst of all, Relf says, there is little she can ever do to break through to Stephen due to his mental incapabilities. Relf is crushed with guilt as she watches Stephen suffer on a daily basis. The labor of raising and caring for Stephen has allowed a deep-seated and chronic unhappiness to take root in Relf’s marriage with her husband, Roy.
She writes that anyone who hasn’t lived in her shoes has no right to judge her.
“But I'd challenge any one of them to walk a mile in the shoes of mothers like me, saddled for life as I am, with a needy, difficult, exasperating child who will never grow up, before they judge us,” she says. “They should experience how it feels to parent a grown man, who is no more able to care for himself than a toddler - and at a time of life when your children should, all things being equal, be taking care of you.
“They should know how it feels to live every single day under a crushing weight of guilt. They should know how it feels to watch Stephen's constant suffering and witness the almost daily destruction wreaked on all our lives.”
One day, Relf and her husband will pass away. When they do, she says, Stephen will devastated. Even worse, he’ll be near completely unable to process what’s happened. And after they’re gone, the responsibility of caring for Stephen will fall squarely on Relf’s other son, Andrew – a man with a wife, kids and life of his own. This reality breaks Relf’s heart.
Does Relf love her son? Deeply, she says. But knowing what she knows today, would she decide to do it all over again if given the option? No.
“That is why I want to speak in support of the 92 per cent of women who choose to abort their babies after discovering they have Down's Syndrome,” she says. “…And so I appeal to every mother-to-be out there, facing the knowledge that they may bring a child like Stephen into this world. Read my story and do what is right for you and your family.”
Click here to read Relf’s full story.
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