Pro-Life Advocate With Down Syndrome: ‘Being Loved Is What Makes People Happy’
Christi Hockel Davenport, who enjoys being a teaching assistant at a Catholic school, will speak at the Walk for Life West Coast Jan. 22.
“You don’t have to take this baby home if you don’t want,” Judie Hockel’s obstetrician and gynecologist told her shortly after the birth of her daughter. “She can be put into an institution,” he said.
It was Christmas Day 1978 in a northern California hospital, and her daughter, Christi, had been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“I just laughed, Hockel said. “It was a ridiculous suggestion. Of course, I was going to take my daughter home.”
At the 18th-annual Walk for Life West Coast on Jan. 22, Christi Hockel Davenport will be a featured speaker. She will talk about her joy-filled life despite the loss of her beloved husband, Austin Davenport, due to a seizure last May — and how her life and all lives have precious value.
Christi and Judie spoke together with the Register this week about the preciousness of all life and the tragedy of abortion.
Judie, did you know Christi had Down syndrome ahead of time?
A prenatal diagnosis was not widely available back then, but being a convicted Catholic, I would not have tested anyways. I knew there was no other option.
I was a Billings NFP [Natural Family Planning] instructor; and at 39 years old, I knew I had an increased chance of having a Down syndrome baby.
Christi, tell me about yourself.
I have lived in Dallas, Texas, almost 10 years. I had a job helping bag groceries until COVID. I’m still a teacher’s assistant at the school [St. Thomas Aquinas School, grades Pre-K to 2 ]. Austin was from Dallas.
Judie: Austin and Christi Davenport were first attracted to one another in 2004, at a National Down Syndrome Congress youth and adult convention. By 2008, it was apparent that this pair wanted to be together.
What do you do at work?
I help the kids and teachers. I started in 2010. I love it there. They keep me going on my feet all day long. I go back and forth, helping teachers and kids. I like that the kids are kind and sweet and always call me Miss Christi.
Sometimes they get into trouble, and I will help them out. I listen to them to see what the problem is. I can solve it. Sometimes they are kind of noisy and loud, and I need to keep them quiet. I simply go around the corner and see them talking very loud and will tell them to be quiet and listen to the teacher. They always listen to me.
Did you want to grow up to be a teacher when you were a little girl?
I always dreamt of being a wife and a mother of kids. It [having children] didn’t happen, but I have a lot of nephews and nieces. My husband, Austin, died on May 12. I loved being a wife. I cooked for him; I did everything for him.
Judie: If Christi would have had kids, her older brother and his wife had arranged that they would help. They already had seven kids of their own. We were totally in line with our Catholic faith, with the magisterium and Humanae Vitae. But it was not God’s will for them to have children.
On her level, Christi understands that we live according to God’s plan for our lives.
The contraceptive mentality thinks, “I don’t need to get pregnant, and if I do, it’s a problem.”
Christi, what was your marriage like?
We had arguments but worked things out together as a husband and wife. My mom helped me with marriage-preparation classes. Austin was a very compassionate and loving and caring man.
Judie: It was strictly a church wedding. … They had a religious ceremony because we believe it’s a sacrament.
Christi, what are you going to say at the Walk for Life?
I feel terrible about aborting babies [happening] in the world. When I think about the families, I think, “Why is this baby being aborted?” Seeing this child being hurt and seeing these babies getting pulled out by their feet, it’s not an okay thing.
Are you happy?
I am happy. I love my life.
I had some sadness because I lost my husband. It was very tough on me. I have friends who are supporting me and family in California and Dallas keeping me company, so I don’t have to feel sad. I feel happy; I feel blessed to have friends and family to care for me. Sometimes, I feel like crying. Today I was crying at Mass, missing Austin. [The Gospel reading was about the Wedding at Cana.]
Judie: The top of their wedding cake had a statue of the Wedding at Cana. Every Sunday, they went to each other’s services. Austin belonged to the Highland Park United Methodist Church. I may not agree with their theology, but they sure know how to treat people with disabilities. Christi and Austin were in the church’s acting troop, Spotlight Academy. They have a service similar to the Catholic Mass and then they have a Bible study.
Christi is still going to the Methodist service for people with disabilities and then to the Catholic Mass afterwards.
After Austin died, Christi wanted to continue living in Dallas. His family is helping out with finances for their duplex, with Austin gone, and there is family and community support for things like grocery shopping.
What are some of your happiest memories of Austin?
Austin would always make me smile and laugh. Every time I would see him coming home, I would ask, “Oh Austin, hi. How was your day?” He always liked to hug me. He always made me happy when he gave me hugs. I loved that. I miss his affectionate love.
Did you feel different from other kids in school?
Judie: Christi was in inclusive education all her life, thanks to an incredible teacher, Jan Wright, who believed Down syndrome people could learn to read and write. This teacher believed they were capable when no one believed that in 1983. Later, in high school, even though Jan was retired, we took Christi and her best friend out of school for three periods a day to adapt what they were doing from school. Christi earned a diploma.
What is difficult for you?
Christi: There’s nothing hard for me. It’s very easy for me.
Judie: Have you ever wished you didn’t have Down syndrome?
Christie: Don’t ever say that to me, Mom. I do have Down syndrome and don’t forget I have that extra 21 chromosome.
Judie: Well, that answers my question.
Christi actually met Mother Teresa in San Francisco when she was young. She took Christi’s face in her hands and said [to me], “Don’t worry, Mother, Our Lady is watching over her.” And that has been my go-to thing ever since.
What do you want people to know about Down syndrome, Christi?
I want them to be more supportive; that’s why I’m giving this talk. People who have Down syndrome can change the world. Being smart is not always what makes people happy. Love and being loved is what makes people happy.
I want people to see me as an exception: I was allowed to live. How many times do you hear people say they are against abortion “except” — and then they give exceptions? I want people to know who I am: a person with Down syndrome who is loving and being loved.
This interview was updated after posting.
- down syndrome
- people with disabilities
- children with disabilities
- west coast walk for life
- Christi Hockel Davenport