Those were the first words that were spoken over me as I came into the world. Those were the words of my delivery room doctor as he held my armless and lifeless body in his arms. As he assessed me and my situation all he could tell my parents is that I was “not viable.” His best-case scenario would be that even if I could somehow survive I would “never lead a full life.”
It has now been almost 35 years since those words were spoken over me and a lot has happened since then. By God’s grace, I was revived in the delivery room that day and started to walk a path that looks a lot like a “full life.” I learned to feed myself, dress myself, write, type and drive – all with my feet. I graduated from high school with honors and double majored in college. I met the girl of my dreams, got married 13 years ago and we have two beautiful kids. Now I am a sought after speaker who shares his story at conferences, churches, schools, colleges and with corporations across the country.
Not bad for a kid that wasn’t supposed to lead a full life.
But the thought of those words spoken by my doctor haunt me still today. Those same words were eerily familiar to the words spoken by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in a radio interview last week. In that interview, Gov. Northam describes a third-trimester abortion where a viable baby was delivered. In Northam’s words, “An infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, then the infant would be resuscitated -- if that’s what the mother and the family desired -- and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
A discussion that would sound a lot like “Do you want us to let him go?” A discussion that would certainly center around the viability and future of the child. The sad reality is that many third trimester abortions are performed on babies like me. A baby that would be labeled as a “severe deformity” or “abnormality.”
It is those deformities and abnormalities that many doctors can incorrectly choose to define the value of a baby’s life. It was my armlessness that defined my future and my chance at life in my doctor’s eyes. A future that he thought was going to be worthless because of my disability. That professional prognosis was one that was completely wrong and I am thankful my parents saw through that prognosis and chose life.
Yet, how many other mothers are left unsure of what to do as their child’s life hangs in balance? Viability and independence are terrible indicators of the value and worth of a child. I am more than just the sum of two vacant sleeves. As John Franklin Stephens, a man with Down Syndrome, said in front of the United Nations last year, “I am a man. See me as a human being, not a birth defect.”
Though my life was certainly not easy, my parents would never say that I was a mistake. In fact, in my travels in the past two years, I have met countless parents of children with disabilities. Parents of kids with blindness, paraplegia, varying degrees of amputation, neurological disorders and Down Syndrome. As I talk to each parent, they talk about the added value the child has brought to the family. They talk about their child’s victories, personality and passion.
Nowhere in those conversations do we mention terms like “viability” or “functional independence.” We speak of their heart. We see their love. We take note of their clear place in this world.
Viability and independence are terrible indicators of the value and worth of a child. I am more than just the sum of two vacant sleeves. As John Franklin Stephens, a man with Down Syndrome, said in front of the United Nations last year, “I am a man. See me as a human being, not a birth defect.”
Language that demeans or devalues a human on the basis of what they have or do not have is downright evil. I am no less of a man because of my two vacant sleeves. I am a perfect creation crafted by the hands of a careful Creator. I am not the sum of my missing parts. I am a man that God has made with talents, gifts and abilities. Just like any person who is born blind, deaf or paralyzed has the same sort of giftings.
To degrade human value on the basis of disability and to consider disabled lives as disposable is a desperate mistake. No human has more or less value based on any characteristic. No ability, disability, skin tone, nationality or socio-economic background can ever define the worth of a human.
We are all made in God’s image. We are all given talents and abilities. We are all worth being given a chance at life, no matter how small the chance may be and I am the living example of that.
My armless life is worth living and I am beyond thankful my parents saw that on Day One.