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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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