It was Barbara’s first child, and no one can tell the story better than she. “The pregnancy was a normal one. I was staying with my parents in New York while my husband, Sherm, was stationed in California in the Marine Corps. I woke up in the middle of the night. My parents took me to the hospital. Four hours later Eric Raymond Gardner entered this world.”
“I stayed in the hospital for five days. On my release day, a doctor told me that my baby had some problems and that I had to take him to a clinic in upstate New York for genetic testing. I asked if my child was a ‘mongoloid.’ I had never heard of Down Syndrome. (The ‘M’ word is not politically correct.) The doctor said yes and left me all alone in the meeting room where I was. I cried and cried. A nurse came in and put her arm around me and said, ‘you don’t have to take him home.’”
“Through the tears, I set myself free of her and said, ‘Lady, you bring me my baby right now, or I’ll breathe on every baby in that nursery!’ She brought Eric to me. Right then and there I made a vow: No one would ever harm my son with actions or words and get away with it. Sweet, funny little Barb had a new mission and God help us all. Will he walk? Talk? Use the rest room by himself? Will he be ugly? Will people make fun of him? How am I ever going to handle this? How do I tell Sherm? His parents? My family? Why did this happen to me? What in the world did I do to deserve this?”
“I read and cried; I fed and cried; I changed and cried. Finally, all my tears were cried out and they were replaced with the resolve that Eric would be the best DS kid that ever lived. I was fearless in every aspect of my life. I even drove from upstate New York into the city and to the airport (JFK) all by myself with Eric in his car seat. No fear!”
What a powerful example of a mother’s love and perfect application of Big Ocean Women’s tenet for April, “We live and promote a life-culture within the womb, the home, and our ecological environment.” Barbara vowed to help Eric lead a full and productive life, focusing on his strengths and potential.
Fast forward 48 years. This fearless mom and her delightful son checked off all those milestones: walking, talking, toileting, and beyond for this handsome son who is responsible, respectful, delightfully funny, and beloved by his family and everyone he meets. She religiously flipped his tongue until he learned to keep it in his mouth. She calmly educated friends and acquaintances with the scientific basis of Eric’s condition (a genetic condition resulting from a third copy of the 21st chromosome) and built a community of support including his siblings and everyone in the neighborhood who knew them.
Eric has had several jobs and logged countless hours of community service. Barbara had this to say on Facebook about one of his endeavors, “Eric and his buddy, Parker, spoke to two classes at Arizona State University yesterday. They spoke with students going into the medical field. They showed these students that people with Down Syndrome are cool and pleasant to work with. This is Eric’s new mantra… We’re just homies with extra chromies❣️”
Eric and Barbara team up to make sure other families who have just welcomed a new child with DS to their family are surrounded with the love and support so lacking at his birth. Eric prepares packets with information for the families and they visit these “extra-chromie” kids. Recently the Global Down Syndrome Foundation awarded a grant to Sharing Down Syndrome Arizona funding Eric’s efforts with newborns as a paid employee, prompting a feature on Fox10 News.
The world has lots of catching up to do in embracing the beauty and special gifts of people with Down Syndrome. Worldwide, 67% or more of children with DS are aborted with some rates as high as 98%. Some countries have callously set goals to eradicate those with Down Syndrome in the not-so-distant future. This philosophy is eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s regime, yet many find it progressive and practical. A group of 50 mothers of Down Syndrome kids put together this carpool/signing video to change this view. One mom observed, “We wouldn’t change our children for the world, but we would like to change the world for our children.” View it and learn how it came to be here.
Now Barbara is still wondering. She’s come from wondering what she did (so wrong) to deserve getting Eric as her son to wondering what she did (so amazing) to be thus blessed. This change of perspective embraces a less-scientific but abundant definition of Down Syndrome: “The innate ability to see the good and beauty in the world and radiate joy and happiness and to offer a unique perspective on life with the ability to change others’ perceptions.” Let’s conclude with her tender words:
“The days, months, and years ahead added siblings and some challenges. But mostly joy, happiness and the clear knowledge that my Heavenly Father had sent me a perfect compass in the form of a little wiggly body. If I follow Eric’s pure heart, I would be led to the arms of my Savior … Telling me … ‘job well done!’”
I have always felt that those with DS were special. It takes special wisdom and loving women to qualify for such an experience.
You are so right, Cari. Thank you for taking time to look at this article and share your insights.
Thank you Norma, Barbara, and Eric,
This is another affirmation of life, especially the life of one tiny baby who would grow to become a man…a man who gives with his heart and soul, who helps and supports others, and makes this world a more beautiful place to live in. Thank you to all of you who have been part of this story and brought it forward for others to hear! What great examples all of you are!
Thank you, Michele. Eric and his mom are truly wonders. Your support and appreciation means a great deal to us. What a waste it would have been for Eric to have missed the opportunity to share his gifts and love with so many.