child with down syndrome going down slide
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 7, 2024 ·  6 min read

Mother Who Spent 47 Years Caring For Her Son Wished He Wasn’t Born.

If you were pregnant and knew that your baby will be born with a severe physical and mental disability, what would you do? This mom, who has spent the last 47 years caring for her son with down syndrome, says that if she could go back in time, she would have an abortion. It may sound harsh, but before you judge her, perhaps you should listen to her story. (1)

After Caring For Her Son for 47 Years, Mom Says She Wishes Her Son With Down Syndrome Had Never Been Born

Already parents to their older son, Andrew, Gillian, and Roy Relf were delighted to have another child. Gillian was a healthy 22-year-old at the time. The pregnancy moved along seemingly fine. However, Gillian says she recalls feeling like there was something wrong with her baby. (1)

When their son was born, Gillian and Roy thought again that there was something wrong with their baby boy, named Stephen. The doctors, however, said that there was nothing wrong. It wasn’t until Stephen got sick seven months later when a pediatrician referred to Stephen as a “mongol” child (what they used to call babies with down syndrome) that she finally confirmed her fears: She would be caring for her son for the rest of her life. (1)

Wracked With Guilt

Immediately, Gillian began questioning herself. What had she done wrong? Had she done something to cause his disability? From there, she thought of their future. Marriages that have children with severe disabilities have a much higher likelihood of falling apart. What would Stephen’s life be like? What about her older son, Andrew? He would be saddled with taking care of his brother after Gillian and Roy would be gone. (1)

Back then, there were no medical tests that you can do to see if your unborn child has down syndrome. Today, among women in the US who have that test done (only about 2%), 75% choose to abort their child upon learning they have down syndrome. (2)

Though she knows it sounds terrible to say, Gillian says that she wishes detection and abortion had been an option for her. (1)

“while I do love my son, and am fiercely protective of him, I know our lives would have been happier and far less complicated if he had never been born. I do wish I’d had an abortion,” she explains. “If he had not been born, I’d have probably gone on to have another baby, we would have had a normal family life and Andrew would have the comfort, rather than the responsibility, of a sibling, after we’re gone.” (1)

A Long, Difficult, Complicated Life

It was hard for Gillian and Roy to watch their son grow and yet not achieve things others can. He didn’t walk until age five. To this day, he can only say a few words. Her life quickly became load after load of laundry because of Stephen’s incontinence. Now a full-grown man, he still has tantrums in public just like a young child would. (1)

Her husband doesn’t show much emotion and doesn’t spend too much time thinking about “what ifs.” He, however, was also working outside of the house, meaning that the majority of Stephen’s care fell on her shoulders. One week when Stephen was three, he became sick and cried for three straight days and nights. (1)

Roy was working late nights as a driver, so she was alone. Finally, on the third night, she cracked and nearly threw Stephen down the stairs before she snapped out of her sleep-deprived rage. A couple of days later, she went into a psychiatric hospital with a nervous breakdown. (1)

After that, their doctor realized that Gillian could no longer cope. They arranged for Stephen to live in a residential place at the hospital. For the majority of the nearly five decades, Stephen has lived in various assisted living homes. (1)

More Guilt

As a mother, Gillian was yet again wracked with guilt. At the same time, she knew she could not properly care for her son. More than anything else, she felt relief. (1)

Though she and Roy have managed to come through this together thus far, it has not been easy. They have both been deeply unhappy because of this struggle. Stephen comes to live with them on some weekends and holidays, but some days he doesn’t want to go. They have been removed from planes and had trips canceled because Stephen is having a temper tantrum. (1)

His weekends home were hard. He made it nearly impossible for Gillian to go anywhere. She didn’t drive, and often when she took him on the bus, he would sit in the aisle and refuse to move. They would have to ride the entire route until they arrived back at their house, where Andrew could come out and help her get Stephen off the bus. (1)

She Doesn’t Believe Stephen Lives A Happy Life

Not only has Stephen made hers, her husband’s, and her other son’s life inexplicably more difficult, she doesn’t believe that Stephen lives a good life, either. (1)

“He only seems happy when sitting alone in his room watching the same old DVDs of the Muppets, Worzel Gummidge and Benny Hill. And what life is that for a grown man?” she says. (1)

Have they had some lovely moments with Stephen? Of course. But for Gillian, this doesn’t outweigh all of the things in life Stephen will never experience. She also worries how he will cope when she and Roy pass away, which will likely be before him. How will Stephen understand why she and Roy just stop showing up? How will he handle that stress? On top of that, she knows that it will be up to her other son Andrew to take care of Stephen when they are gone, and she feels very guilty about that. (1)

Don’t Shame Women Who Decide To Abort Babies With Disabilities

Gillian is acutely aware of the shame that some women receive when they are honest about their decision to abort their child when they discover that they have down syndrome or another similar disability. (1)

“I’d challenge any one of them to walk a mile in the shoes of mothers like me, saddled for life as I am, with a needy, difficult, exasperating child who will never grow up, before they judge us,” she says. “They should experience how it feels to parent a grown man, who is no more able to care for himself than a toddler – and at a time of life when your children should, all things being equal, be taking care of you.” (1)

She says that until they understand the crushing guilt and watching their child suffer daily as she has with Stephen, then they have no place to judge. (1)

Despite loving, defending, and caring for her son for nearly half a century, Gilian wishes that she could have terminated the pregnancy. What do you think you would do in that situation?

Keep Reading: Single Mom Discovers Her Foster Baby Is Actually The Biological Sister Of Her Adopted Son


  1. ‘I wish I’d aborted the son I’ve spent 47 years caring for’: It’s a shocking admission – but read on before you judge.” Daily Mail. Gillian Relf. October 23, 2014.
  2. Debunking the Termination Myth.” KCDSG