‘It makes me so mad’ - Mum hits out at Emmerdale Down’s syndrome storyline
- Credit: Archant
Soap opera Emmerdale has knocked the fight to change misconceptions about Down’s syndrome back, according to a Norfolk mum who has an eight-week-old baby with the condition.
Chloe Williams, from Little Snoring, said she was left frustrated and angry when she heard about a new storyline on the ITV show, in which a couple decide to abort their unborn baby after learning it had the condition.
Mrs Williams, 29, said: “They’re not a diagnosis, not a heart condition or a bowel problem, these are just children.
“It makes me so mad that people would rather have no baby than a baby like mine.”
Mrs Williams and 28-year-old husband Daniel found out their second child, Rosie, would be born with Down’s syndrome when she was 16 weeks pregnant.
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She said the medical professionals they dealt with showed a lack of positivity after the diagnosis - a world apart from the excitement around the birth of their son, Francis, who is now two.
Rather than being directed towards the Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA), they were given contact details for Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) - a charity which supports parents through antenatal screening and its consequences - instead.
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Mrs Williams said she was always against terminating the pregnancy.
She said: “I thought it was nothing that we couldn’t handle.
“My husband took a bit longer to come around, but once we sat down and spoke about it, and looked at all the paralympians, actors and models with Down’s syndrome, we saw there was nothing she wouldn’t be able to do.”
Mrs Williams said Rosie was an “absolutely brilliant” baby. She said: “Her labour was quick and easy, just nine minutes.
“She’s developing and smiling already. There’s no difference between her and another baby.”
Down’s syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in a baby’s cells.
Although it leads to learning disabilities of different degrees, it does not stop people leading happy and rewarding lives, or even becoming high achievers.
Just this month, 21-year-old Chris Nikic from Florida became the first person with Down’s syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon.
Mrs Williams said people might be shocked to learn unborn babies with Down’s syndrome could be aborted up to the 39th week of pregnancy, well beyond the normal limit of 24 weeks.
She said although she and other Down’s syndrome parents wanted this changed, spreading the message that the condition was nothing to be feared was also key.
She said: “We’re not an anti-abortion campaign - we understand that every woman has the right to decide.
“But we want to make sure women are given the correct information about what life with a child with Down’s syndrome is like.
“Emmerdale has stated they had only spoken with ARC, they didn’t even speak to a Down’s syndrome support group.”
Mrs Williams said there was still a lot of work to be done in changing perceptions around Down’s syndrome, and even the language used around the condition - for example, using the phrase ‘Down’s syndrome kids’ rather than ‘kids with Down’s syndrome’, was damaging.
In Emmerdale, the couple Laurel Thomas and Jai Sharma - played by Charlotte Bellamy and Chris Bisson - agonise over what to do after learning their unborn baby has Down’s syndrome, but ultimately opt for an abortion.
The show’s producer, Laura Shaw, was forced to defend the storyline after the backlash it created, and so far around 20,000 people have signed a petition on change.org called ‘Bin Emmerdale’s Prejudiced Storyline About Down’s Syndrome’.
Ms Shaw said: “We’re confident that what we’ve produced has been done in a really balanced and sensitive way. We haven’t gone into this blindly, we’ve spoken to as many people as we possibly can.
“I’m sure we’ll get some mixed reactions, I’m well aware that it’s a hugely emotive subject.”
The DSA said they had not been consulted about the script, but said in a statement: “The DSA can provide balanced and up to date information about Down’s syndrome for expectant parents and we would encourage anyone in this situation to contact our confidential helpline to talk with our trained staff for non-directive information and support.”
‘I wouldn’t change my child for the world’
Most talk about Down’s syndrome tends to focus on the negative side of the condition, according to Bowthorpe mum Chrystal Long.
Mrs Long, who runs a support group within the wider Down’s Syndrome Norfolk group, has a 10-year-old son, Kian, with the condition. She said she could understand the predicament the characters from Emmerdale were in, but said expectant parents should be better informed before making up their minds about the condition.
Mrs Long said: “I wouldn’t change my child for the world, but I’m a firm believer that everyone’s entitled to their own decision. Someone without the right information could easily make the decision and say ‘I can’t actually cope with this’.”
Mrs Long said there were support networks for parents
She said: “I have wonderful family that support me, and friends I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for our children. It’s about making sure parents have enough well-rounded information.”
Down’s Syndrome Norfolk can be reached on 07968 655703, downsyndrome-norfolk.org.uk or Facebook.