69-year-old Gillian Relf now reflects back on the years with her 47-year-old son, Stephen, and wishes she could have aborted him when she had the chance. Yes, that’s quite a harsh, damning statement. But Gillian says she has her reasons.
Stephen was born with Down Syndrome. She recalls once when she and her husband, Roy, were waiting patiently on the tarmac with other passengers at Heathrow Airport when Stephen suddenly dropped to the aisle and threw a fit. The family was quickly escorted off the plane. They could have explained it away by convincing others that it was the normal behavior of a 5-year-old spoiled brat. Only there was one problem. Stephen was not 5 years old. He was 45. And he was throwing a tantrum that had followed him for all those years when he was scared or not getting his way.
While walking away from the plane, Gillian and Roy were humiliated. They had felt that feeling, though, many times before. It was just one more episode to add to their long list. And, yes, it’s been so difficult for them that they wish Stephen had never been born.
Says Gillian: “I know this will shock many: this is my son, whom I’ve loved, nurtured and defended for nearly half a century, but if I could go back in time, I would abort him in an instant. I’m now 69 and Roy is 70, and we’ll celebrate our golden wedding anniversary next month.”
A year after the two were married, they had a son, and named him Andrew. Two years after that, Gillian gave birth to Stephen. Back then, she said, there were no tests to determine any abnormalities with the baby.
Gillian was a very healthy 22-year-old, and expected her second-born to be just as healthy and thriving as her first. A baby with Down Syndrome never crossed their minds, even though Gillian had this strange sense that something wasn’t quite right. Then, he was born, and she could see it right away. She told the doctor’s staff that the child was a “mongol,” because that’s what people called Down Syndrome babies back then. But nobody would agree with her, and they acted as though everything was perfectly fine.
After a while, Gillian and Roy convinced themselves that everything WAS perfectly fine; that there was nothing wrong at all with their little boy. Then, after a few months, Stephen became ill, and Gillian took him to the pediatrician, and he referred to him as a “mongol” baby. Time stopped. And Gillian kept repeating it in her head. She had been right all along, and her world came crashing down around her.
That was the day that normal life ended for Gillian, Roy and their other son. Many people might think that at the age of 69 now Gillian would look back and think of all those precious moments, and how her life would have been empty without Stephen. But those people would be wrong. Very wrong.
Says Gillian: while I do love my son, and am fiercely protective of him, I know our lives would have been happier and far less complicated if he had never been born. I do wish I’d had an abortion. I wish it every day. If he had not been born, I’d have probably gone on to have another baby, we would have had a normal family life and Andrew would have the comfort, rather than the responsibility, of a sibling, after we’re gone.”
Stephen struggles to speak and function normally in the world today, and all the many years of that has brought a great deal of stress and heartache to the family. Gillian now speaks in support of the 92 percent of women who choose to abort Down Syndrome babies. With that, as you can imagine, comes unrelenting criticism.
“But,” insists Gillian, “I’d challenge any one of them to walk a mile in the shoes of mothers like me, saddled for life as I am, with a needy, difficult, exasperating child who will never grow up, before they judge us. They should experience how it feels to parent a grown man, who is no more able to care for himself than a toddler – and at a time of life when your children should, all things being equal, be taking care of you. They should know how it feels to live every single day under a crushing weight of guilt. They should know how it feels to watch Stephen’s constant suffering and witness the almost daily destruction wreaked on all our lives.”
Though Gillian has no problem telling what’s on her mind, Roy is a quiet man who tends to not show much emotion. He just doesn’t say much about it. Gillian has a great deal more to her story, which can be found here. She suggests that every mother-to-be who may bring a child like Stephen into the world read all of it, and decide what to do is right for them and their families.