Someone recently asked me what having a child with Down syndrome was really like. She freely admitted that when they were considering having kids, they stated they would terminate if found to be carrying a baby with Ds. She did clarify that, after having kids, she is appalled at having had that thought.
When people ask me about Eon, I often don't know how to describe my feelings toward him. I certainly don't want to present the idea that I love him more than the other kids. I don't. Yet, there is something special/different about my feelings toward him. My friend, Mary Grace, sums it up perfectly in describing her relationship with her own child with special needs. "He has my heart in a way the others don't need to," she says.
I'm sad that the world is sold a bill of goods when it comes to special kids. I've heard women say that they couldn't handle parenting a child with special needs because of finances, lack of support, or because their life was already too complicated.
These poor women will never know what they are made of. They will always see themselves as weak or as victims. They will never experience the joy of plunging in and learning the water is neither as deep nor as scary as they once thought. They will never come to the realization that, while sometimes the water is murky, there are moments of great clarity and supreme beauty. They will only know that they ran from fear. And a small piece of them will die, too.
It makes me sad.
Currently, Down syndrome is diagnosed during pregnancy one of two ways: CVS or amniocentesis. Both tests are invasive and both carry a significant risk of miscarriage. There are screenings that are done through a blood test, but they only convey odds of T21 and are incredibly unreliable. The only way to know for sure is to have the invasive testing or wait until birth.
All of my friends in the Ds community already know about this, but a new prenatal test for Down syndrome has been introduced in Great Britain. It is a simple blood test given around the 12th week of pregnancy. It is reported to be about 99% accurate in predicting Down syndrome in utero. It should be available in the US by April of next year.
I find this terrifying.
Currently, there is a 90% termination rate for confirmed Down syndrome pregnancies. Keeping in mind there are many women like me who know they have increased odds, but refuse the testing, this number is still unbelievably high. Many, many women are simply surprised at birth to discover their new baby has Ds. They either declined the screenings, or the screenings showed they were at low risk.
What will happen when testing for Down syndrome becomes routine and women discover, perhaps before they've even announced their pregnancies, that they are carrying a baby with Down syndrome? I'll tell you. They will abort in ever increasing numbers. The number of babies with Down syndrome born each year will drop dramatically.
It breaks my heart.
These babies are being targeted for termination. Don't let anyone tell you that this testing is to help expectant parents to prepare. That is a wonderful side benefit for those who choose to carry to term. But that is not the intent of this test. It's just not.
I've heard too many stories of my friends with a prenatal diagnosis (and many with just increased odds) being pressured to terminate. I've read too many comments on articles about this, denouncing the "cost to society" those with Down syndrome represent. (Lest you think I'm being dramatic, I calculated the ratio of positive to negative comments about Ds on a mainstream article. It was around 1:8...for every one positive comment, there were eight negative ones, usually focused on "suffering" and "burden".
(To be continued...)