Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the CBS report that appeared to be lauding Iceland’s high rate of abortion of babies with Down syndrome. Reading about it made me reflect on my own unique experiences with prenatal testing.
Years ago, I worked at an exclusive, boutique investment firm. I sometimes wondered why they had hired me, as nearly everyone that worked there looked like they had walked out of the pages of a magazine – beautiful, well-dressed and an attitude to match. The gorgeous receptionist complimented me on my nail polish one day, and when asking if I’d just had a manicure, was astonished and amused when I explained that I had painted them myself.
There was one woman in accounting who used go around the office, handing out the paychecks, who was a ray of light in an otherwise stuffy environment. She was also pretty, but had a down-to-earth attitude, greeting everyone with a smile and a joke. When she was expecting her first child, some prenatal testing her doctor administered revealed that her child was likely to be severely disabled. As a result, she was advised to terminate. However, she wanted to hold out hope that the doctors were wrong and things would turn out better than expected. So, her doctors went behind her back and convinced her husband that they were right. Then, they ganged up on her and told her it would be cruel to her child to continue the pregnancy; that she would just be causing the child suffering.
After the abortion, she was vastly changed. She walked around the office quietly, hair in her face, dark circles under her eyes. It looked like the joy had been sucked right out of her. I felt so sorry for her.
Years later, when I was expecting my third child, I remembered her story and determined to be cautious about what prenatal testing I would agree to. I was very young when my first two children were born, so I was considered low-risk at that time. My OB/GYN told me that because I would be over 35 at my son’s birth, that a test called a first trimester screen was not optional. Hearing that it wasn’t invasive, we agreed to it, but decided that if it was suggested that we have an amniocentesis done to confirm or deny a disability definitively, that we would reject it. We didn’t want to give the doctor any reason to pressure us into an abortion, since that wasn’t an option for us.
Luckily, the screen results came back normal and six months later, our healthy baby boy was born . . .his face gray, with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He started having seizures shortly after, and an MRI confirmed that he’d had a stroke. He has cerebral palsy as a result.
Sixteen months later, we discovered we were expecting another baby. Because our first trimester screen had gone fine before, we submitted to it again without concern. However, the next morning, I received a call from my doctor informing me that the results of my blood work looked bad – really bad. There was a 1 in 12 chance that my child would be born with Down syndrome.