Nancy, from the BabyCenter message board, is one of those Down syndrome mommas that has been there, done that and always knows what to say and how to say it. I hope I can be the kind of wonderful advocate that she is! Anyway, Nancy shared this letter with her family and friends about the "R" word, and has given me permission to post it here. Her story could be my story--just insert "Miss Banana" instead of "Gabriella".
Dear Family and Friends:
I write to you about the "R"word--retarded. It is a word used in a clinical setting to describe intellectual disability. As you know, Gabby has Down syndrome, and although she is currently described as developmentally delayed, she may eventually be classified as "mentally retarded" or perhaps another phrasing slowly being used more, such as "intellectually disabled" or "cognitively impaired" or something else.
As you all know, the "R" word is also commonly used in slang by many, including myself at one time. I certainly never took its use seriously, never connected it with the people I knew with Down syndrome, never gave it a second thought, using it as commonly as "weird" or "rediculous". But when I was pregnant with Gabby, Vincent said, "We have got to stop using that word." I said, "I know." and we tried and succeeded. But I took it as being politically correct, working for "our team", towing the party line. I did not take the impact seriously.
I take it seriously now. Two years ago, I was at Samantha's softball game. The sun was shining, the birds were signing, all was right with the world. Gabby and I sat on a blanket with some toys. "What a beautiful baby!" a woman commented. "Thank you!" I said. I beamed. A few minutes later, this woman's daughter started to go back to the field. Her mom stopped her, adjusting her hat and said, "You can't go out like that. You look retarded!" With one word, I felt like someone had stabbed me in the stomach. She might as well have said, "You look so Gabriella!" I spent the rest of the game holding back tears. I also felt like a failure for not saying something, not sticking up for my child.
I've had some discussions with people about this. Some have been understanding. Other have thought of me as being picky, sensitive, PC, or misunderstanding their motivations. ("It's not meant to reference Gabriella!") I know it's hard to understand without being on this end of it--I know. It took me awhile to be fully impacted! But I thought today I'd share someone else's take on the "R" word. Please read it, and as you do, please understand that if you throw the "R" word around, your children will think it's OK. And they'll use it, without any awareness of its impact. These are the same kids Gabby (as well as Samantha, Maria, and Elena) (and I would add Miss Banana, T-Man, and Fearless) will see at parties and other events, and it will only be a matter of time before they hear your kids using that word. Please, please read below one's girls experience and know this could be Gabby (or Miss Banana) one day. And I hope you will agree to help eradicate that word, even if it's just in this circle of people.
Thanks a lot! Love you all, and I hope no one is upset by this--please understand a momma bear need to protect my little girl.Here's the link to the story:
That Word, This Girl