A few months ago, I came across an article titled “Parents of Kids with Down Syndrome Are Getting This Tattoo“. The article told the tale of a group of 20 moms that had children with Down syndrome spending a weekend together bonding over their shared experiences and ultimately deciding to get a tattoo of three arrows to symbolize the three copies of the 21st chromosome and how like arrows, “…we rise up and move forward…we fly the highest after we have been pulled back and stretched, sometimes more than we think we can bear.” Those 20 women have since inspired hundreds of parents and family members to get the tattoo in support of Down syndrome and one another.
Within a couple of weeks, I had received multiple texts and messages sharing the article with me. Yes, I had already considered getting the tattoo after reading the article the first time but knowing that tattoos are permanent and still carry stigmas and stereotypes in the eyes of some, I didn’t know if it was really a bandwagon I wanted to jump on. Then I was tagged in a post on the Facebook by another mom asking if I was in. I could blame my public answer of “Yes!” on the couple glasses of wine I had enjoyed that afternoon, but the fact is, I knew I really wanted that tattoo.
The term “advocate” really didn’t enter my vocabulary until I was getting my Masters to be a school counselor. That’s when I learned that part of my role was to advocate for myself and the school counseling program because there is still some confusion and misunderstanding about what a school counselor is and should be (hint: a school counselor is not an administrator nor a secretary/administrative assistant…but that’s another post).
When I learned I would be most likely be having a baby with Down syndrome, that word started popping up again but I really didn’t see myself as needing to be a very vocal advocate for Down syndrome because hadn’t so many people long before me already done a great job of it? I mean, my mom told me that when she was growing up, kids with Down syndrome were shipped off to institutions because it was believed that there was no need for them to go to school. From my experience working in a public elementary school, I knew that was definitely no longer the case. Mongoloid is no longer a term used for a person with Down syndrome, and I don’t hear the “R-word” like I did when I was younger. Nope, all I was going to need to concern myself with was loving and taking care of my baby the best I could no matter if he or she had Down syndrome or not.
HAHAHA!!!! The joke is most definitely on me! Not only have I advocated for Moses since the day he was born, but I’ve also learned how important advocacy still is in the Down syndrome world. Just like there are negative stigmas and stereotypes that surround people with tattoos, there are still negative stigmas and stereotypes that surround people with Down syndrome. While there has been a tremendous amount of work that taken place to get society to view individuals with Down syndrome as people whose lives are worthwhile (because they are), there is still a sense of sadness, anger and fear that ripples through parents of children with Down syndrome when we are reminded that there are people like Ruth Marcus who would publish a column just five days before World Down Syndrome Day in support of aborting babies with Down syndrome. And that there are countries allegedly trying to eliminate Down syndrome from their entire population. When there are doctors and genetic counselors in our own country that paint a picture of despair upon delivering the news that prenatal screening indicates Down syndrome and gently remind the expectant mother that there are “options”.
So yes, I got the tattoo. I love it. I am proud of it. I am proud to get to explain it to others what it means. I’m excited at the thought of one day seeing it on someone else that I have never met in my life and know that we’ll be able to proudly smile at each other knowing we’re in the same club. I am proud to know that I am doing everything I can to further remove the negative stigmas and stereotypes that surround Down syndrome. And who knows? Maybe I’ll even be and unknowing advocate for the tattoos, too.