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Down Syndrome: Sarah Palin's Brave Choice

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When I saw the governor's beautiful baby, I felt ashamed for questioning what my choice would have been.

Sarah Palin and son Trig

Jennifer Ginsberg and Heather Robinson: When I was four months pregnant with my first baby, I went to my OB for a routine checkup and structural ultrasound. I remember feeling so excited to have the opportunity to see a 3-D image of the little baby, whom I was already completely in love with.

Once my doctor began performing the ultrasound, I knew something was wrong. She became very quiet and looked concerned, as the computer measured all of his little body parts. "There's a problem," she said slowly. "You see, the right side of his brain is measuring larger than the left."

"What does that mean?" I felt dread wash over me.

"Well, it could mean a lot of things. Or it could mean nothing. Sometimes there are simple anomalies which even out as the pregnancy progresses. But the difference is significant enough that I am going to have you meet with the genetic consultant and perinatologist."

Genetic consultant? Perinatologist? Are you kidding me? Up until five minutes before, I felt as happy and excited as I ever had in my life. I already felt a profound connection with my unborn baby and I had begun anticipating our life together.

I met with the specialists, and the news wasn't good. In addition to the brain anomalies, he was also retaining fluid in his urethra, and I had an extremely high level of amniotic fluid. I was told that these were all markers for carrying a baby with an extra chromosome 21, which meant he had a one in a hundred chance of having Down syndrome.

Further tests were recommended, and I was referred to a pediatric neonatologist. Overnight, I went from being ecstatic and excited to feeling wrought with fear and anxiety. Suddenly, my husband and I were faced with very difficult choices. Should we go ahead with the amnio, which would definitively determine if our child had Down syndrome, but would also pose the risk of miscarriage? If the test indicated that our baby had an extra chromosome 21, what would we do with that information? Would we make a decision to have the baby, or choose to terminate the pregnancy?

We had to do some serious soul-searching. After discussing all the possibilities, reading everything on the Internet that I could find, and meeting with my rabbi, I decided to defer my decision until I got the amnio test results back. I was so grateful when I received the definitive news that my baby did not carry the extra chromosome for Down syndrome.

Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, had a different outcome.

I'll never forget the first moment I saw her on TV. It was last September. The Republican National Convention. She was wearing black, her hair curling at her shoulders, her eyes bright. I remember my excitement and pride as I watched this strong, feminine woman take the stage and compete to occupy the second highest office in the free world.

Seeing Todd Palin, primary caregiver to the couple's five children, tenderly place the couple's youngest child, Trig, into his mother's arms following her big speech, what "feminist" or "liberal" could fail to be moved? Agree with her positions or not, this was surely a moment that embodied and sanctified many of the feminist movement's finest ideals. Since, as a pro-choice independent, I felt that way, I figured lots of other women across the political spectrum would, too. But within days, the blogosphere teemed with rage-filled, anti-Palin screeds, coming more often than not from other women.

But Sarah wouldn't be stopped. On the campaign trail, she traversed the country with several of her kids in tow. At a town meeting, we'd see Sarah or her devoted husband hoist newborn Trig, who has Down syndrome, high above the crowd. One thing seemed certain: whether or not they voted for her, women would appreciate Palin's efforts to take on so much while maintaining family closeness.

But increasingly, the attacks on Palin were intensely personal, and often focused on her as a mother. Feminists began attacking Palin for choosing to run for high office so soon after giving birth to a special needs child, or for bringing her children along on the campaign trail -- the same thing every other candidate for vice president of the U.S. in modern times has done.

As time went by, Governor Palin -- whatever her shortcomings and imperfections, a woman of undeniable accomplishment -- became a kind of national laughingstock. She was mocked -- not just a couple of times, but incessantly. Female entertainers railed against her, at times with language that could make a male chauvinist pig cringe.

Around that time, I began to feel uneasy whenever I saw her. It seemed like she was everywhere, flying off to fund-raising dinners, looking gorgeous on the set of "Saturday Night Live," wearing stunning clothes, and walking down the steps of private jets holding her baby.

One night, I reflected on why my admiration had turned into discomfort. While I did not agree with her absolutist position on abortion, I knew there had to be another reason. Other pro-life candidates did not fill me with the same feelings.

It was about Trig, her precious baby boy with the extra chromosome 21. I was shocked when I asked myself, "How does this woman do it all? Why isn't it enough for her to just be a mom and take care of her children? Doesn't that little baby deserve a full-time mother?" That is why I was so uncomfortable.

Sarah Palin did something unforgivable. She succeeded at building the dream life -- the happy family and high-powered career -- that the feminist movement champions. In many ways, I saw her as a reflection of everything I hadn't yet accomplished. Her plate was certainly more full than mine, yet she was able to gracefully do it all. I, on the other hand, can hardly pump out a decent essay once a week with all of my family obligations. On top of it, she is beautiful. And most of all -- the most unforgivable slap in the face to modern women everywhere -- she had given birth to a child with Down syndrome.

She stared into the face of every modern, latte-drinking, yoga-practicing, glamour- and convenience-craving, high-powered modern woman's nightmare. She was told she was carrying a child with Down's. And she went ahead and had him. Not only had him, but brought him proudly center-stage, loved him, accepted his birth and his disability, viewed him as a blessing and not a liability. With the support of a loving and devoted husband, she even forged ahead with her high-powered career.

No one with compassion -- certainly not the writers of this piece -- would judge a woman for making a different decision in such a wrenching situation. But perhaps Sarah Palin's choice unsettled me, not because it was necessarily the only moral choice, but because it was the more courageous one. I can honestly say after nearly being in her shoes that I don't know what choice I would have made.

Is it possible that it was for this, above all, that Sarah Palin, one of our country's only female governors, got branded with an "S"-- for Stupid, for Silly, for Shallow? All because she held up a mirror to us?

When I saw her with her beautiful baby, I felt Shame for questioning what my choice would have been. Perhaps I should be branded as well.



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56 comments so far | Post a comment now
cyndi August 6, 2009, 7:40 AM

A conservative woman who has these ideals could never be admired by feminists. I wondered the whole way through the campaign where they were—the ones who said women could have it all….then I realized, you have to be a liberal to have it all. They should all be ashamed of themselves!

Sherrie August 6, 2009, 8:16 AM

Thank you for this article! Im so glad momlogic has decided to stop only allowing articles that bash Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, she’s a woman who’s raising her family and trying to have a career in the face of many obstacles. She’s an icon of strength for all mothers!

ashley August 6, 2009, 8:56 AM

I hope that Sarah Palin gets a chance to read this wonderful article about her. So she’ll know that some people really do admire her.

Tara August 6, 2009, 10:27 AM

What a wonderful and insightful article. I am so proud of you for asking yourself the hard questions. As a mother of a baby with Ds, I agree that Sarah’s choice was brave, but I assure you that she is reaping amazing and delightful rewards because of that choice!

Diane August 6, 2009, 11:02 AM

Wow! That was absolutely one of the best articles I have seen written, not just about Sarah Palin, but about the gut wrenching choice that women now have to make while they are pregnant. As the mother of a beautiful little girl, who just so happens to have Down syndrome, I am incredibly impressed with this authors understanding of the issue. My daughter is nothing short of darling, and I hurt so badly for the women who buy the lie that they can not do this! Rosa Parks sat on the bus when she should have got up, Susan B Anthony marched to get us the right to vote. Women through out history were pioneers. Strong and able. And today, we are told we should not be burdened by raising a child with a disablity? We are stronger than that. We can and we do! It is not impossible~ And in fact, it is an amazing journey, that only going through it you actually get to find that out. Women are not to weak to raise a child with a disablity, our society is lying to them. Thank you for your incredibly words. Absolutely beautiful!

Liddie August 6, 2009, 11:20 AM

I guess some of us mothers realize that what we do for and with our children is a full-time job, and we suspect that if we were also asked to fly around the country giving speeches, something would have to give, something would suffer. For Sarah Palin, the claim is that nothing suffers. I guess we’re envious of her ability to manage it all, or maybe just skeptical.

Sapwolf August 6, 2009, 11:22 AM


Check out Sarah’s wonderful ad she did for the Idaho Speical Olympics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ8fZSG0tO4

This woman will make a great President some day.

I’m proud that this country can produce such an extraordinary leader despite the evil attacks on her by the left and the MSM.

Nikki August 6, 2009, 11:31 AM

Ok, what is so damn brave about choosing to have a child with Down syndrome? Lot’s of us choose to continue our pregnancies and have our children with Down syndrome and we live very normal lives. Different, but still normal. I just don’t get what the big deal is. And with all this traveling, who is taking care of Trig, when we all know all to well that this child should be recieving early intervention services, instead of putting his fullest potential at risk along with his health from the cooties of society.

Give me a break. We women made a choice, we chose life, that doesn’t make us brave, it makes us mothers.

Anonymous August 6, 2009, 11:36 AM

I do not understand what is so special about the fact that Sarah Plain has a child with Down Syndrome and is still able to “have it all”. There are plenty of women who have done the same thing. But no one seems to want to acknowledge those that are not in the public eye. Write an article about your neighbor who has more than one child with a disablity and how it makes you ask the hard questions will have a more profound effect rather than Sarah Palin.

Kathryn August 6, 2009, 11:45 AM

Every once in a while you read something that so says what you feel, you can’t believe it.

I remember feeling my first tinge of jealousy watching Todd Palin holding that baby…you could tell he had done that countless times. I have to ASK my husband to hold the baby, then he acts like I’ve asked him to move the fridge. Not only that, her husband was totally comfortable watching her in the spotlight. He was seriously, genuinely HAPPY for her. No ego issues there.

Then I started picking her apart…the way she talked, the way she was always
so up beat and the fact that she never looked tired. How could she never look tired? I would have looked like hell after a week on her schedule.

I think this article expresses why I started out liking her, then ended up not liking her at all. She reminds me of what is missing in my own life. The rewarding career. The positive, “can do” attitude. The courage to love & accept a special needs child. And a husband who is so damned supportive. Ugh.

So, thanks for writing this…if Palin held up a mirror, your article made me look into it.

ps: Every once in a while, life spares us from having to make impossible decisions. I’m so glad you were spared one with your pregnancy. Hope you’re all doing great!


Karol August 6, 2009, 12:26 PM

Great piece. Even those that hate her should respect her brave choices.

Ben J August 6, 2009, 1:38 PM

Interesting Perspective

michelle August 6, 2009, 1:48 PM

Ms Ginsberg and Ms Robinson are living in a completely different universe from me. What “feminists” were attacking Palin personally? Our authors don’t really say. Perhaps because these were the same imaginary “feminists” the right wing always trots out when they have no solid case to make. The MSM seemed to me extraordinarily careful to give Sarah Palin the benefit of the doubt — the MSM is terrified of seeming biased. Palin was judged on her merits and qualifications for higher office, and most of the resulting criticism of her was rightly and legitimately focused on whether or not she was qualified for the office of VP. It is NOT a personal attack on Sarah Palin to note (with ample evidence) that she has little mastery of or interest in policy matters, and that she has done a poor to mediocre job of governing her state. Furthermore, far from being unfairly judged because of her family/personal choices, she was the one who put those family/personal choices out there as a primary qualification for the job of vice president of the United States. Yes, these choices are admirable (and note that she has a very equal partner in her husband, who actually took care of the kids on the campaign trail — why is he any less brave?). But they don’t make her qualified. They should not insulate her from the tough questions, high expectations and scrutiny of one’s record that any candidate for national office would have to successfully deal with.

Rachel August 6, 2009, 2:42 PM

You’re probably right, Michelle. It seems as though you *are* in your own little universe. MSM giving Palin the benefit of the doubt? Seriously??

Erik B. August 6, 2009, 3:08 PM

A great new insight on how the media and many in the public perceive Sarah Palin and their obsession with her.

Palin lost the vice presidency over 8 months ago. Yet the media cannot get enough of her with dozens of articles and opinion pieces written about her daily.

Could it be something they see in Palin which they are uncomfortable with themselves and that few are willing to speak about?

Anonymous August 6, 2009, 4:46 PM

YOU ALL YOU PEOPLE GIVING SARAH PALIN
A HARD TIME WHEN WE HAVE SOMEONE LIKE NANCY POKY AS A HOUSE SPEAKER.THAT SNEAKY OLD HAG IS ONE DUMB WOMAN .

Barry August 6, 2009, 7:20 PM

No matter what you think of Sarah Palin, her choice with her Down Syndrome child should be off limits. Although she played it up during the election, her choice to have this child was hers to make.

I completely applaud and support Palin as a mother. As a politician, she leaves me cold.

Can we get on to important things?

MamaLost August 6, 2009, 11:28 PM

I really enjoyed and appreciated this article, as well as every comment I have read so far — even the ones I don’t agree with.

@Diane, thank you for your comments in particular. I see more and more everyday how we are fed emotional ‘opiates’ convincing people — esp women — that Narcissism and entitlement are the new “courage” and “empowerment.”

We are better than that. Back to Palin — she obviously touches a nerve or we still wouldn’t be dissecting her. Love her or hate her, she is one helluva woman.

ML

Tiffany August 7, 2009, 1:31 AM

My friends and I would laugh all the time at Sarah showing us up since we didn’t even have the house cleaned before our hubbies got home. But instead of hating her I stood in awe of a woman that was getting things done, having a wonderful helpful not to mention HOT husband, and they look so in love. If I was in a different part of my life she would be so easy to hate.

Your article brought tears to my eyes great job!

JessieM August 7, 2009, 1:38 AM

Sarah Palin used that baby becuase she thought he’d help her win. She’s a horrid woman for treating her daughter the way she did by making her put her pregnancy behind curtains just so her career couldn’t be hurt. She’s a “b word” and I’m glad she didn’t win!


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