Lucas Warren and his parents are going to have bragging rights for a long time. This week, Gerber announced the the 18-month-old from Dalton, Georgia, is the 2018 “Gerber baby” and he really is special: Lucas is a big smiler and the first Gerber baby with Down Syndrome.
Lucas’ mom, Cortney Warren, told TODAY she entered the Gerber contest on a whim after a family member mentioned the company was seeking submissions for its annual contest. Cortney posted a photo of Lucas on Instagram using the right hashtag, and later Gerber informed her and her husband Jason they had chosen Lucas to be the 2018 spokesbaby out of 140,000 entries.
“This year, Lucas is the perfect fit,” Gerber CEO and President Bill Partyka told TODAY, noting they chose Lucas because of his charismatic smile.
In a puddle of tears over here. Today @gerber announced their Gerber baby. This title brings to mind the ideal baby: cute, squishy, all smiles and giggles. For the first time ever Gerber chose a baby with Down Syndrome. This little guy, Lucas, is beyond adorable and my mama heart is so so thankful. Like @etst said, when Bodie was born I believed a lie, that others would not value him as much as I do. But, today is a new day. It is such a beautiful, good day. Thank you @gerber and @thetodayshow for helping Change The Face of Beauty. . . . . @changingthefaceofbeauty #gerberbaby
The Fremont Canning Company — which later changed its name to Gerber — first started the Gerber contest in 1928 as a way to find a new baby face for its babyfood campaign. Folks sent in drawings, sketches and paintings, and a woman named Dorothy Hope West submitted the now famous simple sketch inspired by a baby named Ann Turner Cook, which became the face of Gerber on their products. Gerber launched its first annual baby photo contest in 2010 in honor of the charcoal sketch of Cook.
That brings us to Lucas, another adorable trendsetter.
Gerber’s choice this year is especially significant because Lucas has Down Syndrome, which occurs in 1 out of every 800 infants. About 6,000 babies with Down Syndrome are born each year. Gerber’s choice to make Lucas the face of their product is a bright spot during a time when many people are indignant about discrimination, but not when it comes to Down Syndrome babies. These folks often support decisions to abort unborn babies with Down Syndrome, something that can be identified as early as 10-13 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. For many, the whole point of the test is to either prepare for raising a baby with Down Synrome, or as is more often the case, to consider abortion as a viable alternative to raising a baby with Down Syndrome.
It’s nearly impossible to know exact numbers of unborn babies aborted because of Down Syndrome, because states are not required to collect or submit that data. But in 2015, the Charlotte Lozier Institute reviewed the impact on the Down Syndrome population overall following the ability of doctors to do a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. The institute found a 30 percent reduction in the Down Syndrome community following the ability to diagnose the genetic disorder.
Though some parents might have looked at a Down Syndrome diagnosis as a tragic situation, Lucas’ parents seem unfazed, and in fact, don’t pay it as much mind as everyone else has been. “He may have Down syndrome, but he’s always Lucas first,” his mother told TODAY. “He’s got an awesome personality and he goes through the milestones of every child … We’re hoping when he grows up and looks back on this, he’ll be proud of himself and not ashamed of his disability.”
Still, it’s nice to see a company value all life, not just the lives of babies who look like portraitures, even if the folks do sell baby products to parents. Who knows, maybe Gerber’s inclusion of Lucas might encourage family’s shocked, saddened, or disappointed at such a prenatal diagnosis, to press on, to love their baby, and to embrace the gift of life.
As Lucas’ dad told TODAY: “We’re hoping this will impact everyone — that it will shed a little bit of light on the special needs community and help more individuals with special needs be accepted and not limited. They have the potential to change the world, just like everybody else.”