Thank you to Pauline Wolak for sharing her story.
Mother Teresa once said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” Every time I consider my stance on abortion, I think of these words. They state so perfectly the way I feel about the sanctity of life. My faith as a Catholic has much to do with it. So, too, does my oldest child. Becoming a parent changes your life. Becoming the parent of a child with special needs changes the way you view life.
Prior to having my first child, I was solidly “pro-choice.” Live and let live, I said! To each their own! I can vividly recall arguing with my future mother-in-law and her best friend about it: “I’d never get one but I shouldn’t be able to tell another woman what to do with her body!” Fifteen years later I wonder how those two kept their cool with a very naive 20-year-old me. To their credit, they never once called me stupid to my face.
It didn’t occur to me at the time how flawed my reasoning was: not just flawed, but completely asinine. I had the talking points down well before the “war on women.” The National Organization of Women had nothing on me—until I became pregnant, that is.
At my first appointment, the doctor found the baby’s heartbeat. I was overwhelmed because my pregnancy was unplanned and I wasn’t ready. We weren’t even married! The doctor was unimpressed: “Are you having this child?” he demanded. His reply to my shocked “yes” brought everything into focus: “Then you are a mother right now. You are a mother. Act like it.”
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. The heartbeat and the doctor that didn’t mince words told me the truth: I was a mother. My body was merely the vessel for a completely separate being. She truly needed me to survive, but she wasn’t simply “tissue.” She wasn’t a choice to be made; the choice was made several months beforehand.
The initial diagnosis came soon after I gave birth. Ten perfect fingers, ten perfect toes, and 47 chromosomes. Down syndrome: twelve letters that changed everything I thought I knew.
Every year roughly 1 in 700 children are born with Down syndrome. While it’s termed as “common” in most medical literature, that likely won’t be the case for long; advances in prenatal screening assure that. Where Down syndrome is detected prenatally, 95% of pregnancies end in abortion. This is clearly the “poverty” Mother Teresa referred to. How tragic that we’ve put our version of “perfect” ahead of God’s.
Abortion has become a political football. Call it what you want: reproductive rights, the war on women, pro-choice. Those terms are just a really nice way of saying we have the right to kill something that burdens us.
It’s ironic to me that my friends in the disability community are frequently Democrats or at least vote for them. How is that possible? Does a party really stand for your rights while simultaneously supporting the right for someone to abort you out of existence? President Obama once said he didn’t want either of his daughters “punished” with a baby. I wonder if he’d consider Down syndrome a punishment. Both my Catholic faith and my daughter will guide my conscience in November. I cannot be a faithful Catholic and vote for a pro-choice candidate. Nor can I look at my daughter and imagine a world without her in it.
The intervening years have been a whirlwind of doctors, specialists, therapy, IEPs, fights with school districts, and countless reminders not to hug everyone we see. It’s also been completely mundane: bedtime stories, vacations, field trips, swim lessons, and riding bikes. As I look at my 14-year-old girl, I realize what an utterly typical and yet completely amazing kid she is. My kid. Not a choice, not a right. A gift: one I thank God for every single day.