It takes a brave woman to embrace a baby with disabilities, and I was touched when I read Sarah Palin's quote wondering whether she could fully do so when she learned that her baby, Trig, had Down Syndrome, before he was born.
It takes a woman ambitious beyond reckoning to use the fact that she chose to bear instead of abort that potential life as political fodder.
Many a woman over 35 who's had a child has waited for the results of that test, and I'm one. I don't think I would have chosen to bring that baby into the world not despite the fact that he would have six siblings to care for him when I am gone but because he would. Governor Palin, the Republican nominee for Vice-President, did not tell her children that their baby sibling was going to be born with a lifelong genetic impairment that might render him unable to live indepedently. Realistically, few children with Down Syndrome grow up to do so -- though some very high-functioning adults with Down Syndrome drive and hold jobs. They also are at much greater risk for heart disease, Alzheimer's and other debilitating illnesses in later life.
Having a young Down Syndrome child may teach parents and siblings lessons of compassion and tolerance that outweigh the lessons learned simply by sharing in the raising of a younger sibling with ordinary inellectual abilities (although the older three of my seven children, four born to us through adoption, have grown up rigorous about planned pregnancy and family size because they have seen the realities of life in a home that's a small city).
But when sweet childhood ends and the bitter realities of adulthood take over, the loving parent who would never consider terminating such a pregnancy leaves a legacy to her other children children that's bittersweet to say the least. They who may truly love an impaired sibling but be unable to cope with taking over the parental role. In the case of the four older Palin children, their role was not even discussed. Their brother's disability was revealed to them in the delivery room.
Sarah Palin's proved that she can cope with it all -- from countenancing and even celebrating her 17-year-old's pregnancy (A relative says, "What's another Palin running around?") and early marriage, which I guess is family values of a sort, to proudly pointing out that she would never have considered, despite her initial devastation, terminating what some would consider a life destined to be half-lived as an adult.
She brings home the moose and runs marathons. She seems to be a devoted mother. I would never mock her choices. "Choice," after all, actually means "choice," not the death of the innocents. "It's not a choice; it's a child" is another deeply cynical slogan seized upon by the radical right. The choice to bear a child with Down Syndrome is, perhaps, harder for a poor and ill-served mother(perhaps one whose health insurance doesn't cover early intervention that can lead to higher function as an adult or who has no health insurance at all) than a well-connected and well-heeled mother. But in her speech, Palin (nor her presumptive boss) did not call for greater health-care symptoms to be readily available to the young and disadvantaged.
They promised to "fight" for what they believe -- among those beliefs a culture of life (I just love the presumed opposite of that phrase) for every unborn child with a costly and debilitating impairment and a culture of "do your darned best" for those already born.
Palin has not yet overtly used her son Trig's disability as a political tool, and that's a pocket or respect and identifcation I feel for her on the wacky wheel of all her other Ma'am-bo positions. If she does, I'm going to have to ask where family life ends and political ambition begins -- but I guess I already know that answer, having witnessed dynasties from the Kennedys to the Buchanans.
I guess we must all be judged by our deeds and not our words, but the more I know of Sarah Palin's deeds - and her absolute conviction of the rectitude of each -- the more I hope that should John McCain win, he live a long, long, really long and healthy life.
Causes Jacquelyn Mitchard Supports
National MS Society, Women Against MS, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, One Writer's Place