October 8th is dedicated to the unborn child, so to celebrate this date, CatholicMom.com columnist Flávia Ghelardi interviewed Leticia Velasquez, author of A Special Mother Is Born (Ha Nacido Una Madre Especial), a book full of wonderful stories about parents who bravely kept their child, despite the diagnosis of genetic mutation or other health problems.
This book also wants to aware about the extremely high abortion rates of children with special needs, that goes up to 92% in case of Down Syndrome. Leticia is the co-founder of KIDS (Keep Children with Down Syndrome) and here she tells us more about her book and her work.
Q. Leticia, please tell us something about you, your family and your current work.
I have been married to my husband Francisco for 23 years, we have three daughters, Gabriela who is in her senior year in the nursing program at Franciscan University, Bella, a senior in high school who wants to study Special Education at Franciscan, and Christina, age 12 with Down syndrome who is homeschooling with me. She has been in public school all her life, but they failed to meet her educational needs so last Christmas I decided to home educate her. It’s going very well.
Q. What do you think readers will discover in A Special Mother Is Born?
If they have a child with special needs, they will discover that their story has a lot in common with those in the book. If you don’t you are in for a great surprise: the child whom many fear would tear down their dreams becomes the very center of them!
Q. How did writing this book help you with your own special child?
I realized that I am among a very privileged class, special moms and dads, chosen by God for a unique vocation within a vocation. To be not only parents, but parents of children with special needs is an extraordinary means of grace and will bring out the best in parents if they have a relationship with God and the support of a good parish. One mother calls her child with autism her “elevator to Heaven”.
Q. Tell us how you got the idea of writing this book not only with your personal history, but with stories of so many other special parents.
When I started blogging in 2006, I wrote a shorter version of my story in the book for a Faith & Family magazine. The reader response was extraordinary, they published letter of parents who wanted to share their inspiring stories for months afterwards. I realized that many Catholic parents have amazing stories of grace and growth to share. I asked Fr Benedict Groeshel to write the foreword and he was very excited about the book, telling me we would sell many copies. His health failed him and he asked me to go to his good friend Mother Mary Agnes Donovan, Superior of the Sisters of Life who wrote an outstanding foreword.
Q. Since the book was published three years ago, what did you hear from the readers that you think it´s important to share with new ones?
That more and more of them are faced with a prenatal diagnosis, and they need the support that this book gives. It was no accident that the very same week my book came out, new blood tests arrived on the market which use the mother’s blood in the 10th week of pregnancy and give a 99% accurate reading of whether their child has Downs. I think God planned my book to be published in time to be resource for them. The Down syndrome community is working hard to reach genetic counselors, obstetricians with support pamphlets, books like mine, and trainings. As contributor Eileen Haupt likes to say, “A doctor can tell you the complications your child might have, but only a parent can tell you what joy your child will bring you!”
Q. What do you think you can say to convince a mother to keep her special child and avoid abortion?
God is with you, in fact He selected you for this gift of a child with special needs, and He will give you the grace to meet your child’s needs. Your child will fill your life with unimaginable joy, that is what every parent has told me, Catholic or not, these children have a spiritual gift of joy and the ability to give love like few others on earth. Your life is far from being over, it will be different than you imagined, but that is a good thing. Barbara Curtis, one of my contributing authors, was a dear friend who passed on. She had three sons with Down syndrome and had this quote as her email signature “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Q. Is there anything you see in common in all the stories you told at the book?
The great majority of parents undergo some of the stages of mourning when they learn of their child’s diagnosis, this is beautifully described by Emily Perl Kingsley’s meditation, Welcome to Holland. The story goes that pregnancy with a child with special needs is like a couple who take a trip to Italy, they expect a lot of wonderful things like their family and friends have experienced, and are full of anticipation of the sights of Italy. But by mistake the plane lands in Holland. At first, there is a let down. The parents feel cheated. Holland is not as flashy or as popular as Italy. No Leaning Tower, no canals of Venice, no Michelangelo. But soon the parents realize that Holland has tulip fields, and windmills and Rembrandt. They embrace the destination they didn’t want and once they revel in its beauty, they wonder why everyone wants to go to Italy!
Q. What do you think can be done to improve how society looks at people with special needs?
Get our kids out there in society, in the media, they sell themselves! Christina has many friends in our community. Notice how many teenagers with Down syndrome make Homecoming King and Queen? The more you know them, the more you love them. Look at the YouTube video “Dear Future Mom” where young people with Down syndrome talk to a mom who is worried about her unborn baby with special needs. It went viral worldwide, nearing 7 million hits. They have a lot of friends out there!
Q. Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
If God is calling you to parent a child with special needs whether by adoption or birth, don’t be afraid! He will equip you with more grace, day by day to transform you into a special parent from the day that baby is born. He has great plans for both of you!
Be sure to check out our Book Notes archive.
Copyright 2014, Flávia Ghelardi