Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Life happens. I am a big proponent of that saying whether to describe an unusual or otherwise unwanted event, but also to describe the unborn.

Recently, over at FFL, there was a post regarding Sarah Palin's "pro-life hesitation." The thrust of Danielle's post was that we who profess to be pro-life should understand that life is not always the easiest choice. That it can be an uncertain and terrifying choice and when someone chooses life, we need to support them in their undertaking.

My response to the post as the mother of a "special needs child" and a woman who was told in her current pregnancy that my son had the possibility of birth defects generated some very supportive comments. I was touched to have reached a few women in that way.

The post addressed that Sarah Palin had, because of her age, an amniocentesis performed which revealed that Trig, her son, had Downs Syndrome. Amniocentesis is just one of a battery of tests that can now be performed to diagnose in utero any variety of genetic conditions. With each pregnancy, I am required to sign a clipboard full of paperwork explaining what I am rejecting by not opting for any prenatal testing. I am not against testing per se, but often times the way in which it is carried out.

Testing, for my sister-in-law, who had her first and only child in her forties, was a scare tactic. She was inundated with the likelihoods of all the genetic defects and barely a word was mentioned to her about the false positives these tests could reveal or that these tests were never a guarantee that "everything is alright." Being an only child herself and not understanding all of the medical terminology or consequences (she said she found out only afterward the risk of miscarriage with the amnio) she succumbed to all testing. She and my brother-in-law had planned on having two children, but after my nephew's birth, she decided the risk was too great based upon her experience with this one pregnancy.

Testing, for Will's Godmother, Gina, left more questions that answers. She decided to undergo the testing because her mother had lost both a brother and sister as small children to cystic fibrosis. The likelihood of a caucasian having the CF carrier trait (meaning not the disease) is 25%. Gina's husband was African American and had a significantly reduced rate of being a carrier. Gina turned out not to be a carrier but the test results which her ob touted as an "insurance policy" came with the disclaimer that there was not a guarantee the child could still have a genetic abnormality. Her husband was floored. All they had heard was the positives of the testing.

I also read more and more about false positives in testing, especially for Downs Syndrome. One story I recently read in a magazine at the OB's office described a woman who had undergone the AFP (triple scan) test which is touted as diagnosing 80-90% of Downs Syndrome children and the test showing the anomaly. She also underwent the newer nuchal fold testing which showed a slightly enlarged nuchal fold (the flap of skin on the back of the neck) also a sign of Downs. She was told that there was "no judgment" in her decision one way or another. She chose to have the baby who was born without Downs. She was speaking out to tell others that even with positive tests, false positives are a possibility and she questioned how many babies were being aborted at 16-18 weeks because of one AFP test.

Pregnancy is "supposed to be" a joyous time of preparation and expectation. Much of the mystery is now gone. We no longer have to wait until birth to know the sex of the baby. We don't have the innocence left to accept whatever child God has waiting for us. I faced the unusual ire of many when I did not find out the sex of my first child. These were mostly people who wanted to buy the baby clothes and didn't have the patience to wait until after the baby was born.

Unfortunately, for all too many women, pregnancy is a time of worry and concern. Whether due to their age, or genetic results, or the nature of how their pregnancy occurred, many women feel abortion is their only alternative. The post on FFL showed clearly that there are problems even within the pro-life movement of how to best support a woman who has a "troubled" pregnancy for one reason or another. A lot of women focused on why adoption was not more readily offered to some of these women which reminded me of a girl I knew in college. Her older sister had become pregnant while still in high school and when she went to a Catholic crisis pregnancy center, she was told by workers there that only a selfish "child" would keep her baby and deprive it of a two-parent household. I am a proponent of adoption, but this outraged me. A woman in the FFL combox actually addressed this happening to her as well. And someone also addressed how women in crisis pregnancies are treated as immoral pariahs vs someone who needs help.

Here is the thing, when we identify ourselves as being pro-life, we often fail to think about all that entails. I can say from first hand experience that until you are sitting across from a doctor being told that your child potentially has major birth defects, you do not know what will go through your head. I can't imagine being very young with no insurance and no parental support finding out you were pregnant. The friends I had in high school who became pregnant chose to have their babies, some with parental support, others without, including one who crashed on the couch of whatever friends' parents supported her decision when her parents did not up until her sixth month, when her parents had a change of heart. Knowing now how difficult it can be to parent a child as an adult with resources and a spouse, I have a whole new respect for how these girls did it back then. The reactions some of them received after choosing to have their babies as "jezebels" hardly spoke well of some of the pro-lifers labeling them as that. The truth was, they were kids who through their own decisions, some they realized only in hindsight were not the right ones, were very quickly becoming adults.

When I identify myself as being pro-life, that means that I am not simply against abortion (I am) in all circumstances, but that I am willing to help those who reach their hands out because they have chosen to have their child and need help figuring out how they are going to make ends meet or know they want a different life for their child and need to know how to make that happen or are thrust into the situation of accepting that the child they are expecting may come with health conditions they did not bargain for and finally, if they have already gone through the pain and horror of an abortion helping them to find a way to heal. It is not my place to judge any of these women whose pregnancies occurred under less than ideal situations and are now struggling. It is not me who doles out the penance they must serve. That is up to God. It is my job to realize that God brought them into my life so that I may help them in the best way for them. And if by my own testimony to women facing uncertainties about the health of their unborn babies saves just one baby or helps one mother feel there is hope, maybe, just maybe I'll be able to stand in front of God and say, "Yes Lord, I did something good for the least among us."

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