Many couples make the gut-wrenching decision to terminate their pregnancies for reasons that are nearly impossible for the average person to comprehend. My heart breaks for the families that can’t bear to deliver a baby who will die immediately after birth; for the young girls who can’t wrap their heads around the act that created the baby, much less the outcome; for the countless individuals who learn their baby will be born with special needs, but who lack the resources, not the love, to care for their special child.
The following points are rebuttals to the arguments presented to us by our genetic “counselor,” who has somehow withstood multiple formal complaints concerning her pressuring couples to terminate their pregnancies based solely on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
We were not certain that this wouldn’t be our only pregnancy. This was especially true given the fact that Hope was our rainbow baby, a term bestowed on the baby created directly following a miscarriage. When I miscarried, I had known I was pregnant for just one week, but in that week my husband and I dreamed big, imagining how our baby girl or boy would fit into our lives, creating virtual wish lists for items we would need to care for him or her, and even turning down an interview at my dream publishing house. The life we fantasized for this little soul was rich and beautiful, until the pink line on my home pregnancy tests got fainter and the cramps and bleeding began. The shattered dreams and the physical pain changed me—creating Hope was my only effective coping mechanism, and here she was, a miracle, surviving, strong, ready to be our daughter, and a stranger tasked with helping us understand her Down syndrome was encouraging us to terminate the pregnancy. She assumed we had no fertility issues. She assumed that was our greatest concern.
We did not believe our firstborn child would be a burden on her younger siblings. As if going to term with our first baby wouldn’t be stressful enough, we now had to fast forward to a random day in the future, where we know our unborn baby’s personality, interests, and life goals; where we know how many other children we will have as well as their personalities, interests, and life goals; and then try to mash everyone together to understand the dynamic and how they affect each other, not to mention my and my husband’s mortalities. That was an impossible exercise. What wasn’t impossible to know, however, was that if our younger children ever feel burdened by their sister and cannot move past that resentment, we’ve failed as parents. We’ve failed our entire family.
We never believed we “deserved” anyone other than who God gave us, healthy or otherwise. The word “deserve” cranks on my last nerve. Hearing sentiments such as “You deserve a bigger house” or “You deserve those new shoes” make me feel sick inside. I believe all people deserve shelter, food, water, safety, and love and that we are fortunate and blessed to have anything more. To say we “deserved” a healthy baby implied two things: (1) our baby wasn’t healthy simply because she has Down syndrome, and (2) we should have someone “better” than our baby girl, because she was never going to be good enough. So far, Hope’s sole health complication associated with her DS is her now repaired heart defect. Are all parents whose unborn babies have heart defects encouraged to terminate? By this mindset, does any child or adult with a heart defect deserve to live?
More happened during that meeting, including the counselor telling us that God allowed doctors to develop abortion techniques so that we could solve problems like this; assumptions made about my husband’s outlook on life after beating stage IV lymphoma; and more. We were stunned. And when we tried to have an open, two-sided conversation, our words were used as weapons against the unborn baby growing inside me and we were steamrolled at every turn.
I can recall seven times over a 12-week period where we were asked whether we wanted to terminate the pregnancy; not part of that count was when one of the ultrasound technicians offered her condolences after learning our baby would likely have Down syndrome.
Shame on anyone who attempts to make my child ever feel badly for living, surviving, and thriving in this harsh and judgmental world. Shame on anyone who can’t understand how delicate and precious life can be. There are many people whose right to terminate their pregnancies must be protected, and we respect them and their needs. But we can’t imagine our family without this perfect little girl, and we never wanted to.