Receiving a prenatal diagnosis that your child has Down syndrome (Ds) can go one of two ways: you’re armed with knowledge and can spend time preparing, or you’re armed with overwhelming fear and waste time worrying. My husband had the first reaction -- I had the second.

Expectant mothers who know nothing about their unborn children have the freedom to dream without boundaries. Why, that little peanut could be the next Nobel Peace Prize winner. Learning my son had Ds felt unbearable because it meant my child would have challenges and obstacles I would be helpless to remove. I spent months mourning the loss of a child I truly never had to begin with.

But when you haven't yet held your flesh and blood in your arms and kissed his eyelids, you don't have the peace that comes with flooding, coursing unconditional love.

In one recurring nightmare, this tiny boy we'd named Charlie curled up beside me, shaking with sobs because someone had called him retarded.

"What does that mean, Mommy? Am I stupid?" I struggled to comfort him by hugging him harder and harder, but words escaped me. I opened my mouth to respond to his pleading, watery eyes and... nothing. In my head, I screamed, "You are not stupid, you are amazing! You are my most beautiful, incredible son!" In my nightmare, I kissed his forehead repeatedly, as if each kiss pushed bad thoughts farther away.

This isn't about freedom of speech. It's about accountability and compassion.

Then I'd wake up and creep into the bathroom, huddled on the cold tile and timing my pathetic, escaping sobs with my husband's snores. I begged God to explain why my child would have to suffer such obstacles. I held my belly and apologized to Charlie for a diagnosis I felt was my fault.

Why am I sharing this? If pouring out my guts and imperfections prompts one person to reconsider using the word "retard," then this is worthwhile.

Taking a stand about something trivial to many is not easy. But only you control your own social spine. No one will force you to interject, surrounded by colleagues, "Please don't use that word." If you do speak up, don't expect a ticker tape parade. Expect embarrassed glances and muttered apologies. Expect the encounter to burn on your cheeks for hours.

It sucks, confronting someone who may be genuinely good and kind -- even a mother herself or a father to a child with a stutter or an uncle to a nephew with glasses. Ironically, these are all reasons why we should pause and reconsider our word choices. This isn't about freedom of speech. It's about accountability and compassion.

Do you still believe this is overblown political correctness?

Then I ask you to answer my son's tears when inevitably he asks, "Mommy, why did they call me a retard?"

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Laura Willard August 27, 2012
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This is a wonderful article and a great reminder for all of us. Thank you so much for sharing, Maureen.