Trivia question: Can you name the only Republican member of Congress ever to give birth to a son with Down syndrome? Sarah Palin, right? Think again: Palin was never in Congress.
The answer: “It was a shock at first and wasn’t what I had expected and dreamed,” said 39-year-old Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) in a telephone interview about her son. “I was recently married and Cole was our first child. When first receiving the diagnosis, we were overwhelmed to a certain degree because the doctors dumped everything on us that could go wrong. Many children with Down syndrome face issues with their heart, vision, hearing, thyroid, and increased risk of leukemia.”
Down syndrome is caused by a defective embryo cell division creating an extra No. 21 chromosome. It affects 350,000 Americans and is the leading cause of intellectual disability.
Said McMorris Rodgers, “As word spread (about Cole’s birth in 2007), I was overwhelmed with letters and email from people all over the country wanting to share their story with me. They wanted me to know I wasn’t alone and that my baby was going to have a very positive and unique impact on my life. I received hundreds, perhaps over a thousand of those stories. To this day, I have (all the stories) kept in a binder, and they are a special source of encouragement.”
She said Cole has a “special spirit,” who, when out in public, brings a smile to the faces of nearly everyone. He loves smiling, and laughing, and being happy. People are drawn to him.
“Brian (her husband) and I feel like we have been introduced through Cole to this amazing network of people,” she said. “We now see people affected by disability differently. We are more aware and thoughtful. We’ve learned firsthand in a new way that everyone has value and something special to offer.”
She advised parents of newborn children with Down syndrome: “Every child is special. Any baby unleashes a whole new love you never imagined before. But Cole has special needs and only unleashes (in me) a more special love for him. I think he has opened my eyes to really what is most important in life, to see what is the source of true happiness, success, and fulfillment. I see that more clearly now.”
Next week: Learn how Cole further enhanced his mother’s work in