When A Down Syndrome Couple Spoke Out About Having Kids, Even Their Families Fought Them On It

Like many other couples, Michael Cox and Taylor Anderton dreamed of living happily ever after together. They wanted to get married, move in together and have children. However, this latter goal sparked a debate across Australia, and even within their own families – as both Cox and Anderton had Down syndrome.

Each of the cells that make up the human body contain genetic information which dictates the characteristics a person will have. These genes reside inside of chromosomes. The typical cell houses 23 pairs of chromosomes – 50 percent from a person’s father, the other half from their mother.

In some cases, though, a person’s cells contain an extra piece of genetic code. And a partial or full copy of chromosome 21 within each cell causes Down syndrome. It is unclear why this phenomenon occurs, but scientists have found some links to the mother’s age. It is thought that older women are more likely to give birth to a child with Down syndrome.

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Down syndrome causes a handful of physical attributes. These might include a person having a shorter stature, decreased muscular tone and eyes that angle upward. Those with Down syndrome follow a different developmental course than those born without the extra genetic material.

For many with Down syndrome, however, the diagnosis doesn’t hinder their ability to live fulfilling lives. Some adults do require daily care, but still have part-time work and enlist in social endeavors. Others live nearly autonomously in their own housing, driving themselves around and holding jobs.

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And the stories of Taylor Anderton and Michael Cox further prove life is there for the taking, regardless of a Down syndrome diagnosis. Catherine Musk, Anderton’s mother, told 10 Daily that her daughter came into the world prematurely, by some six weeks. For this reason, she didn’t realize right away that she was different.

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When Anderton took her baby home, she underwent all the appropriate steps necessary to ensure a child’s healthy development. Still though, her daughter was unable to lift her head on her own at four months of age. This is typically around the time when most babies would be strong enough to do so.

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So, some of Musk’s family members suggested physical therapy. Once there, “somebody looked at [Anderton] and thought there may be Down syndrome,” Musk recalled. Her diagnosis, however, did little to change her home life.

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“Taylor is part of the family,” Anderton’s father, Gavin, stated. “Her brothers and sisters treated her like anybody else.” And the same went for Michael Cox’s family. His father, Simon, said of their son’s diagnosis, “It was a shock, but really easy to adapt to very quickly.”

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Both Cox and Anderton’s families adjusted to having children with Down syndrome. And fittingly, Cox and Anderton themselves took on life with zeal. Indeed, this is perfectly illustrated in how the couple first met – while swimming competitively in Queensland, Australia.

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A couple of years ago, Cox told QUT News that he attended ten practice sessions each week. “I do three on land and eight in the water,” he said. All of his hard work was to prepare him for the 2016 Down Syndrome World Championships in Italy.

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Swimming had given Cox more than just a competitive edge. But it was also through the sport that he had met Anderton. And by the spring of 2016 the pair was engaged.

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His relationship with Anderton meant more to Cox than even his chosen sport. “I’d give up everything for her, including my swimming,” he said. Cox also told 10 Daily, “She’s amazing in every single way.”

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One way Cox showed his support for his bride-to-be was by serving as her escort for a debutante ball. The event – held since the 1980s – celebrated women with disabilities. Anna-Louise Kassulke, who organized the ball, told the ABC, “This opportunity is about our younger people… having that opportunity to be part of a broader community.”

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According to Cox’s mother, Nikki, her son was, “very excited and honored to be taking Taylor along to the Deb Ball.” And he came to many of the event rehearsals to prepare, too. “It’s a very big thing for her and he’s proud of her,” Nikki added.

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Of course, all of this sounds innocent enough – and at first it was. The ABC filmed Anderton’s evening as a debutante. And the footage struck a chord with the millions of people who watched it.

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But the couple’s second appearance on television had less of an easy-going slant. In fact, it ended up sparking a national debate on a shocking topic – the sterilization of those with Down syndrome. And it all started because Cox and Anderton dreamed of their marriage and the children they’d have together.

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At first, according to 10 Daily, both Anderton and Cox’s parents felt relieved that their children had found one another. After all, they were getting to take part in a committed relationship. They were going through an experience just like many others their age.

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But the couple’s decision to get married changed their parents’ tune. Cox’s father, Simon, told The ABC that his son and Alderton “needed support.” And he added, “We’re very happy and very supportive of [the relationship], but it’s uncharted waters for us.”

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The situation got even murkier when Cox and Alderton expressed their desire to have children together. On an episode of Australian Story, Cox spoke about the couple’s aspirations. “We want to have four kids,” he said. “We’re going to have three daughters and one son.”

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Cox went on to say, “It’s not that hard to have a kid. I know that some people say it’s all about hard work, but it’s not. It’s all about love and compassion that you have for your child.” To family members, this point of view was worrying.

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Catherine, Anderton’s mother, chimed in on the subject. “Taylor and Michael want to get married and have children and that makes me feel very worried, apprehensive and concerned,” she said. And Cox’s father, Simon, agreed.

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“I don’t see parenthood being something that they’re going to achieve or really that they probably should achieve,” Simon admitted. He corroborated the latter part of his claim by describing how tough life would be for Cox and Anderton’s son or daughter.

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“It would be very difficult being a child whose parents both had Down syndrome and couldn’t have a job and couldn’t drive a car and couldn’t understand math homework,” Simon said. Previously, both the Coxes and the Musks had taught their children that they should follow their dreams. But with regard to this subject, they felt they might have gone too far.

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Cox’s mom, Nikki, said, “For all his life, we’ve imposed no limits. But then it reaches a point where there are some things that he desperately wants to do – and believes that he can do – that are probably not going to happen.”

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Both Cox and Anderton, of course, disagreed with their parents’ opinions. They did compromise, though. The engaged pair decided to postpone their wedding at their elders’ behest.

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Still, Cox was adamant that he and his fiancé knew what they were doing. And he included family planning in that. “I know that me and Taylor have the skills to be married and start our own family,” he argued.

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On the subject of his protective parents, Cox said, “I know that their hearts [are] in the right place, but being overprotective is strictly not on with your child – even if they have Down syndrome.” And Anderton felt the same way. She believed that she was more prepared than her parents gave her credit for.

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“When my mom keeps talking about the rules and me and Michael’s relationship, it does treat me like a child a little bit,” Anderton said. “I didn’t understand love when I was little. But I do now, because I am an adult.”

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It wasn’t just Cox and Anderton’s families debating these topics, though. Once their story aired on television, there was a national conversation surrounding their plans. Viewers discussed everything from the couple’s right to autonomy, to whether or not people with disabilities should be sterilized.

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Take for example Claire Pullen, who wrote a column in The Sydney Morning Herald. After watching Cox and Anderton’s Australian Story, she recalled some of the questions posed by the pair’s parents. These included how they would drive the baby to the hospital, or how they would house their family.

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After hearing their enquiries, Pullen penned her response. “None of these are bad questions to ask of prospective parents,” she wrote. “But if this was the standard applied before everyone moved in together or got married or had children, there would be a lot more people forced to remain single and childless.”

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On the other hand, Pullen wrote that she sympathized for with Cox and Anderton’s parents. “It was clear they feel a high degree of obligation and responsibility for their adult children,” she said. “And the prospect of doing it all again for grandchildren is not appealing.”

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But Cox and Anderton’s parents had also taken steps to limit their children’s time with each other – and Pullen felt that was too restrictive. The Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, Matthew Bowden, agreed with her. “It is not about competency, it is a smokescreen for acting on the negative societal values and attitudes toward disability,” he said.

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Bowden went on to defend the couple’s right to do all they dreamed of. He said, “People with disability have sex, get married and have children and have the same rights and obligations as other parents. Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which clearly sets out the right ‘to marry and to found a family on the basis of free and full consent of the intending spouses.’”

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To that end, Queensland Advocacy Incorporated director, Michelle O’Flynn, voiced her opinion to Australian Story. And she believed that Cox and Anderton had the right to make their own decisions with regard their bodies. “People like Michael and Taylor are certainly entitled to the freedom to do with their bodies as they wish,” she said. “And that includes reproduction.”

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O’Flynn went on to say that Cox and Anderton’s parents could try and stop their children from having a baby through a sterilization order. However, she warned that such a move would be “abhorrent.” Plus, she said, “They would have no chance of winning that, because it’s quite likely that Michael and Taylor would be proven to have capacity.”

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However, another factor to consider was that couples with Down syndrome have a hard time getting pregnant in general. Geneticist Michael Gattas told Australian Story that he had, “never seen a case at his practice.” Moroever, according to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, some males with the genetic condition cannot have children.

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Furthermore, Cox and Anderton would have to consider the 50-50 odds that their child would be born with Down syndrome, too. Indeed, this was all that Cox and Anderton’s parents purported to want their children to do. They wanted them to think deeply about their decision before making it.

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In the end though, Cox and Anderton’s parents didn’t have to worry about their children having a baby. By 2018 the pair had broken off their engagement. Speaking to 10 Daily after the break-up, Cox said he still hoped to settle down “with the right person.” But in the meantime, he was working on becoming Australia’s first accredited swimming coach with Down syndrome.

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