Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Nurturing Your Vocation to Special Motherhood

Refresh your soul and renew your vocation as a special mother!
Come away for two days and be transformed though prayer, the sacraments, inspiring talks, and fellowship with other mothers raising children with special needs. Learn how God has called you to the vocation of special motherhood.

Leticia Velasquez is the editor of A Special Mother is Born; 33 stories from Catholic parents of special needs children. She is a public speaker who has appeared on EWTN and co-founded KIDS Keep Infants with Down syndrome.

Location: St. Edmund’s Retreat Center, Ender’s Island, Mystic, CT
Cost: $120 shared, $150 private room
Contact Tracie Georgetti for more details
Phone: (860) 536-0565 ext. 167

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Born to be Stars; The Charm of "Born This Way"

My family and I watched the first episode of "Born This Way" today. Its the new A&E reality show about a social group of young adults with Down syndrome in Los Angeles. These young people bowl together, eat out, hang out, and listen to music together as they go through the typical self-discovery process of anyone their ages. They compare the celebrities they have met in nearby Hollywood and fawn over the new girl in town.They skype their boyfriends and roll their eyes over protective parents, dreaming of a place of their own.

As the mom of a 13 year old girl with Down syndrome, I was very likely to appreciate seeing independent and happy young adults with Down syndrome do almost anything on TV. Yet, I found that the program was satisfying in more ways than that. It was a truly groundbreaking event of community education and,  hopefully, involvement. 

I think acknowledging that those with intellectual disabilities have hopes, dreams and, even, gasp, love lives. is enlightening to many viewers who tend to see our kids as mascots or worse, objects of ridicule. Even when the dreams seem as unrealistic as Megan's dream of being a film star (why not, she's already featured in a TV show?) the young people in this show quickly capture the viewers' hearts with their bone-crushing hugs, good-natured swagger, and efusivness. The open emotions of the stars of "Born This Way" provide the warmth, comedy and drama that make every good reality show capture the large audiences.
I love the affectionate teasing between the stars, and how quickly it turns to hugs and compassion when feelings are hurt. I love how open they are,  allowing the viewers to watch them feel the pain of not being wanted for who they are. How many of us will hear our mothers say we wished we were never born? How many of us are aware that most expectant mothers finding themselves pregnant with a child with our characteristics, would abort?  The underlying darkness which breaks to the surface in emotional storms which overpower Elena, was very moving and provided the inspiration which gives this show its power.
The fact that these young adults can get up in the morning and smile at themselves in the mirror is an act of unrivaled courage. I hope that the viewers learn to see their neighbors and friends with Down syndrome as people, not merely diagnoses and this leads to greater acceptance of those who are truly born this way. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review of Chapter Three of True Radiance; Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life

True Radiance; Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life
by Lisa Mlandinich

Chapter 3 Fog Bound: Hope and Help for Your Aging Brain 

Chapter Three is an earthy and intensely personal look into the fears we women face as we age. The passionate detail with which Lisa describes her reaction to viewing her aging body in the mirror during what was supposed to be an affirming experience, resonated with me. Our attacks of poor self-esteem seem to hit us at the most inopportune times! Lisa was on the verge of a triumphant moment, in a hotel halfway across the country preparing to speak to a group of catechists in St. Louis about her books and website, and all she could think about was her aging body. I can’t help but wonder if there’s someone sinister trying to undermine our confidence as we strive to give God our best.
God did not abandon Lisa in her moment of crisis. God cares for us, body and soul, in every detail of our lives, not just the sweeping overview. Nothing is more embarrassing to an articulate woman than a sudden memory lapse. She can laugh and call it a senior moment, but it hurts to ask others for their names once again, or endlessly hunt for one’s reading glasses. Who hasn’t been there?! The great part of this most personal and practical chapter, is that God led Lisa to a solution for her memory loss and it’s not a drug. She initiated simple but sacrificial diet modifications and found her old spark come roaring back into a bonfire! Without this we might never have seen this wonderful book.
 It seems that women taking charge of their own health problems as they age is an important part of growing older with grace. We can’t just rely on conventional wisdom. We have to remember the confidence we gained by reading up on pregnancy and childbirth in the childbearing phase of our life. We didn’t just do as we were told, we asked intelligent questions of our obstetricians (mine jokingly nicknamed me “the Professor”!) And our babies benefited as a result. Now it’s time to take care of Momma and hopefully, Grandma. We have a lot to offer our families and the larger society, and Lisa gently reminds us to care for ourselves, even if it means changing some long standing habits and saying “No” to emotional eating and pleasing others who offer us foods we shouldn't be eating. You will find her suggestions practical and helpful, particularly the authentic examples of spiritual practices Lisa uses and describes at the end of the chapter.
Nothing in our lives is out of the realm of God's loving care for us, and this book constantly reminds us to love ourselves into more loving, healthier women who listen at the feet of God on a daily basis.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Traditional Catholics Can Learn Much from Pope Francis' Visit. If Our Hearts are Open

All week my enjoyment of the exuberant visit of Pope Francis was marred by arguments from faithful Catholics close to me who were angry at what he did or did not say or do.
Accusations of socialism, moral weakness and just plain wanting to be liked were flying. I begged them to wait and see what transpired after the visit. I  reminded them of the Feast of St. Matthew, which happened earlier that week. Matthew was the sinful, hated tax collector who became a saint and evangelist. In the BBC TV series, "Jesus of Nazareth" his conversion is very instructive to us.
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Notice how the Parable of the Prodigal Son is told by Jesus in Matthew's house, full of sinners while Peter broods in the doorway after railing against Jesus eating in the house of his "Blood sucking enemy!"(earlier scene, Matthew was after him for taxes after Jesus prayed for a miraculous catch). Note how Jesus uses the parable to bring Peter, AND Matthew to repentance and reconciliation. We who love the Church and fight the good fight get angry in our isolation and that does not win hearts to the Kingdom of God. Mother Teresa said, "Joy is the net by which you catch souls." Her ministry of charity was the means of salvation for millions, most of whom were not practicing Catholics.
We "Older Brothers" who are largely obedient to the laws of God and give Him His due worship each week have to work on being charitable when our errant brethren join us at the Lord's supper.

Just because Pope Francis seemed to be more in agreement with non-practicing Catholics and those who are involved in seriously sinful practices such as abortion and homosexual unions, doesn't mean that he approves of their sin. A good teacher, like Jesus, trying to "catch them being good" finding points of agreement on which to build bridges to make sure they listened to him. Jesus used parables to teach so that the listeners could discover the teaching for themselves without raising their defenses. I recall my contentious relationship with a relative over social issues. All the great points I think I scored in our debates did not move her as much as a single kindness I did for her when her worldly friends rejected her over a good life choice she made. Pope Francis has had his share of spirited debates, but he knows how kindness builds bridges.

Some of them will need more prayers and fasting to allow the teaching to take root. When  President Obama referred to "The least of these" he forgot that the Holy Father meant the unborn. Rep Chris Smith takes him to task on that here.

Last week Pope Francis admonished a joint session of Congress to follow the Golden Rule—to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—and said that the Golden Rule compels us to “protect and defend human life at every stage of development,” and that “it is wrong to remain silent and look the other way.” Yet, every day, Planned Parenthood dismembers or chemically poisons to death approximately 900 unborn babies—the “least of these”— and hurts many women in the process."

The task of engaging those sheep outside the flock is very sensitive. We need to be patient and learn from our Shepherd. But in the meantime, it is essential that we stop brooding like St. Peter on how our virtue and fidelity were not being rewarded during the Holy Father's visit. First of all, his texts are full of references to the family, and the rights of the frail, disabled and the unborn. He made it clear that with frequent stops to visit them on the side of the road that they are close to his heart. He visited the Little Sisters of the Poor right after his White House visit. Wasn't that a huge move on his part?

Our most direct reward came after Pope Francis was safely out of US airspace. The Vatican revealed that the Pope met privately with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue same sex 'marriage' certificates. He encouraged her to "stay strong". she reflects on it here.

In his Wednesday Audience, Pope Francis gave faithful American Catholics another pat on the back.

"It was on a religious and moral foundation that the US was born and grew, and on this base it continues to be a land of freedom and welcome. It is not a coincidence that the most advanced economy of the last century has such strong religious roots. Instead, its proof that religion and progress are compatible.
It is not accidental but providential that the message and testimony from the World Meeting of Families was given in the USA. It is the country that has developed the most economically and technologically in the last century without compromising its religious roots. Now they look to the same roots again from the family, to rethink and recharge the development model for the good of the entire human family.
In the family, the individual and society reach a balance. The family will be a basis on which progress in the 21st century continues. "

source; Wednesday Audience translation Sept 30, 2015 Rome Reports

So, fellow elder brothers, lets stop licking our wounds and get going on Pope Francis' charge to set America's future trajectory,  rooted in Gospel values which includes the traditional family, in a way which serves the good of the entire human family.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Having a Daughter with Down Syndrome Changed Our Lives for the Better

This article is my response to Halle Levine's piece at Yahoo news. If I knew my daughter had Down syndrome I would have aborted her; all women should have that right.

Chrstina's sisters love to spend time with her.

During the trying days after September 11, 2001, my sense of hope was buoyed by a hidden secret; I was after two births and three miscarriages, at age 39 I was successfully carrying a baby. I was not about to have a pre-natal test shatter my joy, so I told my OB that diagnostic tests were out of the question. I would take whatever baby I was expecting and love him or her with all my heart. In those days, when thousands of people died unexpectedly, we all experienced a renewed reverence for life.
So, when after an emergency C-section was done at eight months due to an inadequate placenta, those in the OR were surprised to find my daughter Christina had Down syndrome. At only five pounds, she was tiny but feisty, scoring a 9.9 on the Apgar scale. No other disabilities were found besides a tiny 2mm hole in her heart, which by age six months, healed itself. So Christina was ready to come home from the hospital before I was, suffering from a C-section scar.
Coming home was a challenge, we had not finished our kitchen renovations due to her early arrival, so I stuffed towels under my bedroom door, plugged in a small fridge in my room and lived off cheese baskets and home cooked meals from friends for two months while I figured out how to nurse a baby with Down syndrome. A bigger challenge, I discovered, was helping my family members adjust to Christina’s diagnosis. From denial to fleeing in outright fear, family members failed to support me. Fortunately I found support in my friends, my parish, and the Early Intervention professionals who frequented my home. Christina soon became the heart of our home. Family members who saw her as something to pity or fear were won over by her toothless grin when she saw them; she became a daddy’s girl, and her grandfather held her hands as she practiced walking across the living room.
School was another matter. Long Island schools do not accept lower functioning children with Down syndrome and Christina’s toileting skills were not advanced enough to be admitted in the local elementary school.  I was not pleased with the inferior facilities offered for those children with special needs, so we picked up and moved to Connecticut where there is full inclusion by law. Soon Christina was taking the morning bus to Kindergarten in rural Eastern CT. She became famous with her peers; everyone in the school knew Christina’s name and she gleefully waved back as they greeted her in school.  I couldn’t be happier, she was reading simple sentences and had wonderful teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals who motivated her, enjoyed her personality and even missed her during vacations.
Homeschooling Christina was easier than I expected.
When I learned about the high rate of abortion following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, I was devastated and wanted to encourage other parents that raising a child with Down syndrome was not overwhelming.   My daughter and I completed a video about her life, and I blogged about everyday life with Christina. In 2011, I published a book of stories from parents who, like me, never expected a child with special needs; yet found them to be their greatest blessing. I met with scientists, the media and members of Congress, while touring the country giving talks about life with Christina and Down syndrome in general. Accustomed to being a classroom teacher, I had vastly expanded my audience. My lesson was simple; if you abandon your previous expectations and allow your child with special needs to transform you, you will be amazed at the result. In 2011 a survey published by Dr. Brian Skotko in the American Journal of Medical Genetics found .. . that among siblings ages 12 and older, 97 percent expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome. A third study evaluating how adults with Down syndrome felt about themselves reports 99 percent responded they were happy with their lives, 97 percent liked who they are, and 96 percent liked how they looked.

My own older daughters agree with that, both of them chose careers in nursing after being inspired by watching such professionals help their sister.
Just as I became known as a voice of encouragement for those raising a child with Down syndrome, a major challenge emerged in our journey. In 2012, Christina’s speech development began to stall. Her physician recommended that she receive more intensive instruction and the Special Ed Director suggested that she leave inclusion for a full day in a self-contained classroom. It was a tragic mistake; Chrissy hated the restrictive environment and missed her friends. Her overtures to the children in the program, which was designed for children with autism, were largely rebuffed, and she was constantly being trained to reign in her attempts to gain attention by touching others and their belongings. This began two years of conflict between us as I spent hours every day, often with professional help in my home, convincing her to attend school.  I had a dozen professional evaluations done to prove that she needed to be placed in another program outside the school, and retained an attorney to convince the school, but they would not consider it.
 The three psychologists who evaluated her were divided about whether she had a secondary diagnosis of autism, yet the Applied Behavioral Analysis program at her school, which is often recommended for such children, was not meeting her needs. Child Protective Services was called by the district twice because of her spotty attendance, and in both cases, the CPS worker was outraged that she was being denied a proper school placement, and tried to help us advocate for her. In December of 2013, I withdrew Christina to homeschool her.
Being at home with Christina without fighting with her over attending school was a huge relief. We enjoyed one another’s company again. We took trips to local parks, met with homeschooling groups, counted math manipulatives, enjoyed Montessori activities, practiced her writing, did aqua therapy in a local pool, and frequented the library to read stories together. We found a speech therapist who believed in her ability to speak and she made slow but steady progress (the Special Ed Director said, at age ten, that Christina would never speak).  We found an Occupational Therapist who helped her start to overcome her sensory integration disorder which was the cause of much of her attention-seeking behaviors. We are currently working with a behaviorist who helps us help Christina improve her social skills. A state grant provides us with in home support for us so I can have a day off, attend and out of town conference or just catch up with my writing. I am working on a novel whose main character has Down syndrome.
Homeschooling was not new to me, I had schooled Christina’s sisters, but writing, speaking, and advocacy were new fields of endeavor. I have learned more about the exciting research like this new breakthrough
and I have scores of new friends who, like me, never anticipated how our children would turn our lives upside down; for the better.
I hope that there comes a day in which all parents will be able to overcome the anxiety which often accompanies a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, and they are free to welcome their child with open arms, but until then, I support a banning discriminating against an unborn child with Down syndrome. Aborting because of a baby’s physical characteristics is equivalent to aborting a baby girl because she is not a boy. We can help parents who are feeling overwhelmed with a baby with Down syndrome find support, resources, or in truly difficult cases, an adoptive family. What we can’t do is undo the tragic decision to end a life ended because of fear of the unknown and bring back the wonderful potential hidden behind an extra chromosome.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sadness-Tinged Joy about the Special Olympics

Christina participating in swimming at our local pool. 
The closing ceremonies of the Special Olympics in Los Angeles was marked by joyful celebration. There is certainly a lot to celebrate since President George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law twenty five years  ago. In the years before the law was passed, many Americans with disabilities were left to languish in institutions without proper educational, social, health care or athletic opportunities. So much ground has been covered, its as if society has been transformed. But an important piece has been overlooked, and that's why I can't find joy in my heart for the 25th Anniversary of the ADA.

What is it?
If you watched any of the scant news  coverage of the four undercover Planned Parenthood videos, you will understand my pain. Over 54 million Americans lost their lives in abortion since its legalization and too many of those were aborted specifically because they had disabilities.
Listen to the heartbreaking reasons why parents aborted their child after a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
  • I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t be that kind of mother who accepts everything, loves her kid no matter what. What about me? Maybe it’s selfish, I don’t know. But I just didn’t want all those problems in my life. (138)
  • It’s devastating, it’s a waste, all the love that goes into kids like that. (134)

Instead of focusing on research to improve the lives of people with disabilities by helping them overcome memory loss or difficulties in communicating, most of the research money was spent in developing earlier, less invasive methods of prenatal testing.(as many as 90% of parents will abort their child with Down syndrome after receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome.)
Introduced in 2011, new NIPT Non Invasive Prenatal Screening methods gave parents a very reliable result at only 10-12 weeks of pregnancy using only a maternal blood sample. Further testing such as amnio is needed to make the diagnosis of Down syndrome, yet its feared that the abortion rate for babies with Down syndrome climbed as much as 34%. as a result of this new technology.

Talk about a step backward!

In a cruel irony, life has never been better for those with Down syndrome around the world, Opportunities and achievements are breaking all barriers, people with Down syndrome grace our TV and movie screens, college campuses and fashion magazines. Yet we still don't see a significant downward trend in abortion for such babies.

Why hasn't the abortion rate for Down syndrome gone down?
 Is it that we as parents haven't reached out enough?
Since 2002 when my daughter Christina was born, opportunities for sharing our daily life as famlies with members with Down syndrome have blossomed online and in print media. Gone are the days when Googling Down syndrome led to only dreadful results. But we have a long long way to go until babies with Down syndrome are welcomed as joyfully as their typical counterparts. The late term abortions discussed in the Planned Parenthood videos are too often those babies whose disability turned eager anticipation to a challenge which parents are rejecting after prenatal testing.

Is that all?
But the threat doesn't; end once our precious children are born. They are overwhelmingly happy wiht their lives and most families agree that they are great assets to their families and the community. But the power brokers do not agree. They want to deny them full access to health care.

As Betsy McCaughey said in her Op Ed in the New York Post. 
Take heed, ObamaCare architect Ezekiel Emanuel. He’s argued that organ transplants and other scarce resources shouldn’t go to the mentally disabled, who are “irreversiblly prevented” from contributing fully to society. Fortunately, 87 percent of Americans disagree with that cold calculation, according to the new national poll, and want the intellectually disabled to have accessto organ transplants.
It’s a sign that Americans are becoming ready to embrace the humanity of the intellectually disabled. 
Let us work and pray for the day when we can say without irony that people are fully included in our society no matter what their score on an IQ test.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Coming Battle: We will reclaim marriage

Half a million attend the March for Life  each year.
If you are like me, you are in mourning. Not merely for a battle lost, but for the thousands of misguided souls who may be lost due to the Supreme Court's misguided attempts at fairness.

The legalization of same sex marriage is not a sudden event, however, judging by the reactions on both sides, it is certainly a seismic cultural shift, akin to Roe v Wade or the Plessy v Ferguson decision (legalized segregation).  But it should not come as a shock to observant people of faith.  Society has been sliding downwards into the abyss for five decades, and the shudder you felt at the decision is society's morality hitting bottom. Or so we hope.

The legal recognition of homosexual marriage is the fruit of a degradation of marriage which began in the 1960's when the contraceptive pill drove a sword into the heart of marriage. Codified in Griswold v Connecticut, which legalized contraception use in marriage (yes, it was once unthinkable and banned by all major religious groups) the pill slowly sucked the life out of traditional marriage. Rather than assuming that children were at the heart of marriage, they are an option for couples pursuing careers, travel and the home of their dreams. My next door neighbors on Long Island told me that they were getting a dog instead of a second child, to enable the husband to buy the boat of his dreams. The grandparents actually threw a baby shower for the puppy! Their lonely little guy used to gaze through the picket fence at my two girls playing in our yard. His father put up a six foot stockade  fence to stop him. When I sold purebred Labrador Retrievers, I quickly understood that I was cooperating in this childless culture. Many young couples would come to buy a dog to "practic being parents" and hold off the urge to procreate. I could see the seething resentment in the women's eyes. I stopped breeding dogs and had another baby.

Procreation hgas been cut out of the very essence of marriage, and what remained of marriage's God-given meaning and purpose was left to wither in public opinion until it became a loose association of two adults in love. Add five decades of the promiscuity of the sexual revolution, aided by no-fault divorce, and we arrive at a society with a 40% illegitimacy rate, where millions of confused, suffering children search amid the emotional ruins of the once-strong family structure for the love of a father and mother. I taught in an inner city high school while I was engaged to be married. Not one of my students had ever met a person in their social circles who was married. We heterosexuals seem to have no use for marriage, other than some nostalgic image on a Hallmark card. Marriage was up for grabs.

Times change, so why not marriage?

If  companionship and not babies was the sole aim of marriage, and babies could be made in a laboratory (via IVF and surrogacy) by any one with the money to do so, what made marriage so unique that it could only be shared by one man and one woman?

The question became; 
 Why not grant homosexuals the right to enjoy such companionship and economic security? 
We allowed the same sex marriage lobby to frame the argument in  terms of rights for adults, forsaking the needs of children. We wanted to be seen as fair, loving, tolerant people.That is how public opinion went from 80% opposed to same sex marriage to 50% in favor in a few short years. The institution of marriage was on shaky ground indeed.

So when the question is asked "who is responsible for the Supreme Court's approval of same sex marriage?" the only honest answer is; I am. I did not fight hard enough against contraception, no fault divorce and for a traditional understanding of marriage. I did not feel badly enough for the children who suffer from the lack of traditional family structure to be their advocate even when study after study confirmed this. I did not fast and pray enough for God to change the hearts of all Americans who stood idly by, consumed with their entertainment devices,  and allowed the family go on life support. It was too lonely a battle to defend traditional marriage amid the disdain and mockery of my family and associates. Hollywood, academia, many churches and politicians had given way, so I did as well. I was censored on Facebook for a few days for posting an article on same sex marriage so I stopped posting on it. There were other battles to be fought, I thought. I was wrong. Nothing is more important than retaining our right to not only worship freely but to live out our faith in the public square.
I attended a lecture. by a Little Sister of the Poor on the history of religious freedom in America. The right to worship as Catholics was not ensured in the Colonies, but thanks to fair minded James Madison the father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, we have it in our most fundamental document. But then the majority in the Obergefell v. Hodges decision found a right to homosexual marrige in the Fourteenth Amendment which did not exist. So much for the Constitutional protections!

But here's the good news. The battle is far from lost. Neither Roe v Wade or Plessy v Ferguson settled the matters they proposed to decide.  They created movements which caused disruption in society until the wrongs they caused were rectified (the abortion industry is losing steam at this time). It took commitment, courage and faith to overcome the degradation of segregation. It will take perhaps even more effort to help homosexuals find love and healing within the arms of God and to restore the true meaning and beauty of God's plan for marriage for heterosexuals who lost faith in it.
And thanks to many public declarations where Christians of all denominations and races have expressed solidarity with traditional marriage, we will find new friends at our side as we work to rebuild what has been torn down.

Good people of faith forged many alliances on the freedom rides, on the sidewalks of abortion mills and in the streets of our nation's capital. We expect to be joined by fellow believers who did not believe us when we warned that the family was in trouble, as our freedom of conscience is drastically eroded. It will take sacrifice and pain, real pain. Will it take the arrest of our local clergyman for refusing to perform a same sex wedding to wake us up? Perhaps.

But the awakening is coming. The darkness of our culture of relativism has become sufficiently dark for the light of Christ to stand in stark relief.
As Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, a  martyr for the truth in El Salvador said,

"The Church must suffer for speaking the truth. For pointing out sin, for uprooting sin. No one wants to have a sore spot touched, and  therefore a society with so many sores twitches when someone has the courage to touch it and say, 'You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that. Believe in Christ. Be converted."
Please join me in praying, fasting, and bearing joyful witness to the love of Christ expressed in your marriage. We will join the battle this time.