The pregnant wife was approaching the age when she knew birth defects became more common. It was impossible to ignore the information that babies born to older mothers are slightly more likely to have Down Syndrome with consequent genetic abnormalities.
Down syndrome is characterized by a combination of birth defects, including some degree of mental retardation, characteristic facial features and, often, heart defects, visual and hearing impairment, and other health problems. One of the first signs of Down Syndrome is a single crease across the palm of a baby's hand, rather than the child's palm having the typical three creases.
Downs' Syndrome children are usually the most loving and joyful children parents will have, as The Catholic Down Syndrome Society and others will confirm. I remember a woman introducing her daughter who told us a little about herself--what she liked and how much she loved everything! What came across so forcefully for me was how happy the daughter was to be alive. The mother was an extremely bright career woman who admitted she had never really grown a "sensitive heart" until her Down Syndrome daughter came into her life.
Yet every family wants healthy children, and this particular family of my story prayed diligently for a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby. The father was especially worried about his wife and their child in her womb and so prayed the rosary every day on his way to and from work.
When the baby was born, both mother and father were quite apprehensive when the infant girl had a single crease in her palm. Their worries heightened when the doctor expressed his concern that the baby's heart had a hole that had not closed properly. Even though the baby appeared outwardly normal, everyone was concerned that the little girl had Down Syndrome.
The little baby grew and is now a talkative, energetic, and bright cherub who is the delight of her parents and siblings. Her heart closed properly without medical intervention within three months of her birth. The single crease in the palm--well, it's still there but there appears to be no impairments to the child's health or intelligence.
I tell this true story to show that small miracles happen quite often to people who pray regularly and who are generous with God. They learn that God's generosity will never be outdone by their own. "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened..."
Not every story is like the above one. For another story about a Down Syndrome baby born recently to Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, see here. I was especially impressed by her husband's comments: "We shouldn't be asking, 'Why us?' We should be saying, 'Well, why not us?'" I guess God had other plans for Gov. Palin.
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