The tragedy of viewing the birth of a child with Down Syndrome as something to be “safe” from
By Eileen Haupt
Just today, my daughter Sadie came up to me and gave be a big hug. Why? Because I happened to mention it was February 1st, a new month. This is not unusual for her; she greets each new month with the same enthusiasm. I remember one of such times, along with her hug, she cried, “Oh thank you, Mommy!” Like I had something to do with it! And don’t think this response is limited to the turn of the calendar. One day not so long ago I happen to mention to Sadie that she had a dental check-up the next day. Yes, believe it or not, I received a big hug and an “Oh, thank you!” Seriously.
Such is the life of a mother of a child with Down syndrome. The recipient of hugs and expressions of gratitude and joy for things most people take for granted.
But you would never know that from watching the Today Show. An expectant couple were guests on Monday’s show on a segment about a new prenatal maternal blood test called Maternity21 Plus. “Let’s get right to the good news,” says host Matt Lauer, inquiring about the results of the test they had taken a week ago. “We are safe that the baby does not have Down syndrome,” answers the mother.
It pains me to hear Down syndrome talked about in such a negative light, especially on a show that millions of people will watch and come away with the idea that Down syndrome is something they are fortunate to be “safe” from.
Coincidently, my entrance into the pro-life and advocacy world was marked by a Today Show episode 14 years ago when Sadie was an infant. I watched with trepidation, curious on how the segment “Who Should Have an Amnio” would be handled. (Amnio is, of course, short for amniocentesis.)
My fears were realized as the guest, a gynecologist–after talking about mothers receiving the results of the test–said something to the effect of, “….and then they can decide whether to continue the pregnancy or not.” I cried at the thought of babies like my precious infant daughter being treated as if they were disposable material.
I sat down and wrote the guest and then co-host Katie Couric a letter. I told them about the joy of having my daughter and suggested ways they could present the topic in a more positive—and realistic–light in future episodes.
Even if the couple did say they were “safe” from having a baby with Down syndrome, I commend them for declaring that they wanted the new test for information and wouldn’t have had an abortion had the received a different results. But the sad reality is that about 9 out of 10 babies WILL be aborted if they are diagnosed with Down syndrome while still in the womb. And those estimate comes from a time when you couldn’t know the diagnosis for sure until midway through the pregnancy.
It would be naïve to believe that an earlier diagnosis will do more to induce mothers to keep their babies with Down syndrome. In fact, it saddens me to think that the opposite will most likely occur.
I suspect that many of the babies, the “10 percent,” who are brought to birth after a diagnosis, will have been allowed to live simply because the mothers feel it is too late to abort. Perhaps they have already felt the baby kick. How much greater the temptation to abort early in the pregnancy when a woman can almost convince herself she isn’t “truly pregnant”?
Prenatal testing can tell a mother many things about her unborn baby. But even the most advanced test will never be able to convey the most important information—the unspeakable joy that her baby with Down syndrome will bring to the family.