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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
Rogue August 7, 2009, 12:12 PM

I guess I have difficulty considering this a “brave” choice, since it’s the same choice I would have made and I don’t consider myself all that brave. In fact, I even made the choice to forego amniocentesis since it does have the potential to harm the baby, which I knew I would have regardless of the results. I did opt for the blood testing so that I could prepare myself for a special needs child, including researching the best therapies and treatments.

What I do find questionable is Palin’s choice to not research the issues related to Down Syndrome after hearing the results. I also question her choice in not informing her family about what to expect. I question when Trig was able to receive his much needed therapy while flying all over the country and attending noisy rallies. I wonder why he hardly ever seems to wear the glasses Palin found so cute. And lastly, I question why she put him at risk by flying all over the country in her last trimester, even after she begain leaking amniotic fluid.

Marylin Pitz August 7, 2009, 12:22 PM

Great article. Many women jealous of Palin—-who seems to have everything, and is unapologetic. Let’s face it——the media has savaged her, and sends out a powerful message: she is worth hating. How absurd is that? This piece should be printed in every paper in tv USA.

C August 7, 2009, 1:24 PM

I don’t think she’s at all brave. I think she was conflicted about having a baby with Down Syndrome, evidenced by her risk-taking and keeping her pregnancy and the diagnosis secret until the end.

ame i. August 7, 2009, 5:23 PM

I don’t think you should feel shame at all. To continue a pregnancy or not is a horrible, painful choice to have to make.
I’m blessed to have 2 healthy daughters. I should be ashamed to say that if I became pregnant again and something was wrong with the baby, I would probably terminate. It would be especially heart-breaking because I was widowed 6 years ago and have been married again for almost 2 years. This is my husband’s first marriage and he has no biological children but I can’t imagine putting him, myself,and my daughters through the life-long stress if I didn’t.

Karen S August 7, 2009, 6:31 PM

I admire Sarah Palin for a lot she did with her family life. Keeping Trig; not forcing her daughter to marry the guy who knocked her up just to make political hay; even trying to get her sister’s (allegedly) abusive ex-husband fired made sense to me. She does a lot right as a mother, and if I ever meet her, that’s the kind of stuff I’ll talk to her about.

However, she doesn’t have it all — she consistently fails in her professional life. She is unable to form a grammatical, or even logical, sentence in public speaking situations unless she has a piece of paper in her hands. She blames other people and vague dark forces for keeping her down. Her role as VP candidate was to foment hatred and spread mistruths and lies. The rabble-rousing she did is a main factor for the poor reputation the GOP has now. And winners never quit — quitters never win. She’s a role model as a mother, but not as a politician.

Pamala August 7, 2009, 7:34 PM

I don’t know, as a mother of a special needs child, I just don’t see what she’s doing as all that special. All of us with Special Needs children work hard, and she’s no more special because she chose to still have her baby.

And the reason her parenting skills or judgment came into question was because she went along with the conservative talking point of having great family values and wanting to use that to win herself the election.

Frankly to some she’s seriously lacking in family values. Her daughter was pregnant, proof that abstinence only doesn’t work, and she was far away from her family so soon after the birth of her child.

Now I find the daughter being pregnant thing something that was more than appropriate to talk about. The baby, I could care less. If you want to leave your special needs child so soon after birth, so be it. I couldn’t do it.

But I didn’t vote for that ticket for one reason, they are so anti-woman it’s not even funny.

Plus anyone who can pull crap like implying that someone is a terrorist just to win an election is smut to me. It’s why there is a divide, that sort of stuff. Claiming those that don’t believe as you as Anti-America, is divisive and not what we need running this government.

Chrissy August 9, 2009, 11:44 PM

Making the choice to have a down’s baby thirty years ago would have been brave when everyone would have recommended puttingt he baby in an institute and there were no support systems available. Now a days with all the specailists and being able to send your child to an actual school, its not brave.
As far as her personal choices - it’s not to be applauded that against standard medical advice that a women with a high risk pregnancy in her last month flies from Alsaka to Texas merely to attended the Governor’s meeting. She could have sent the Lt Governor as her suggorate. As far from “brave” and plainly stupid to fly back from Texas to Alsaka and THEN a 45 min car trip to her hometown AFTER her water broke. Was any of that really in the best interest of her baby? Yes, nothing happen to Trig buit that wasn’t because of the deision of his mother.

KeCo August 11, 2009, 7:21 AM

Just remember, this very same woman who made the CHOICE to keep her baby is the same woman who wants to take everyone else’s CHOICE away!

Carrie August 11, 2009, 1:37 PM

For the Record Jessica, Sarah Palin did not try to hide her daughter’s pregnancy. She was very upfront about it and wanted to put it out there before the press could mess it up.


ANON August 11, 2009, 4:32 PM

Sarah Palin is the worst mother that know. She pimps her children when it is convenient and whines when everybody doesn’t go along with the game. She should learn to be a wife, mother and grandmother and stop soaking up the camera for personal gain.

valmg August 11, 2009, 7:02 PM

As a mother of a son with Down Syndrome I appreciate you sharing your “afterthoughts”. I believe that we need someone like Sarah Palin in office to help us fight for the rights of our special needs citizens - children and adults alike.

Sherry Rodgers August 12, 2009, 10:28 PM

I agree with Michelle & Barry. Why is Sarah Palin a hero for making the tough choce to have her DS baby…hundreds of women do that every year, and most don’t have the support system that her Governor’s lifestyle affords her. Most don’t have drivers and hired help…or stay at home husbands.

And Diane: who told you “today, we are told we should not be burdened by raising a child with a disablity?” What?
If someone actually said that, why would anyone with a quarter of a functioning brain listen to something like that.

Erik B: Are you kidding, you are so off base that I had to laugh. “A great new insight on how the media and many in the public perceive Sarah Palin with dozens of articles 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?” Where to start…Sarah Palin PUT HERSELF in the media every time she misquoted someone, or something, she read…every time she talks about the “death panel for old people” which is a complete fabrication, and demostrates that she hasn’t
read the legislation. She
PUT HERSELF in the media when
she demonstrates over and
over that she doesn’t have
the basic understanding to
speak about the issues before

She represents me in no way…she isn’t “one of us”…she’s a Governor with drivers and staff. I have a
husband, two children, put
myself through college, earned a degree and have a
career. I’m not some liberal nut job with no clue here, just because I don’t agree with Palin’s politics. I just hope we don’t have to endure those politics much longer.

Kaycee August 23, 2009, 12:17 AM

Regarding my previous statement that individuals with DS are all incapable of feeling remorse: I was discussing my blog entries on with someone I consider a good friend who is also a criminal forensic psychologist. She pointed out that other things (that I had told only her about) were likely causes of Doris’ and Jem’s sociopathy. I regret that I hadn’t considered that. (“Jem” would be the guy who has MR who raped me.) I am acutely aware that I have REALLY hurt some people who also use this site, and for that I am sincerely sorry. I realize that my previous prejudice was an example of a personal stereotype that I was probably the only person who had, considering that I’m probably the only person who’s had the misfortune of being treated THAT poorly by a plurality of MR individuals. I am sticking to my guns, however, on the fact that Doris and Jem BOTH are sociopaths. Nevertheless, I am not wrong often, but on the occasions that I am, I am at least enough of a woman to admit my error and/or wrong-doing and apologize. To whatever degree you feel you and others were wronged, I do apologize. To be thorough, though, there IS a type of so-called “disease,” the afflicted with which also have an extra chromosome, and they ARE sociopaths. Many of these individuals are in penitentiaries, and their mothers undoubtedly love them, too, but does their love for their children help YOU out of your grief when one of these bastards kills your son? I really was hoping I wouldn’t end this entry on a negative note; I’m sorry I failed there, too.

just a guy April 15, 2010, 4:36 PM

thats not gona make me vote for you ,

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