When I was pregnant with my last baby, I was 42 years old and would be right on the cusp of 43 by the time she arrived. In the medical world, everything related to my pregnancy was marked with one important flag: AMA -- Advanced Maternal Age. Those three little letters carry some hefty baggage. They remind every doctor or technician that the mother-to-be in question is somewhat out of bounds and needs someone to scare some sense into her by telling her again and again that she is at very high risk of having a baby with problems, specifically a baby with Down syndrome.
No matter what your age, chances are that a pregnancy is going to spark a litany of prenatal testing options, unless you put a stop to it. Blood screenings with an incredibly high rate of false positives, risky amniocentesis, genetic counseling and more. My doctor and midwife quickly learned that telling me about my risks was a non-starter. I had refused any testing and made it clear that nothing they said would change that. Enter the ultrasound technician. I had to have an ultrasound because of a previous problem pregnancy (and because I loved seeing my little one moving around inside, flashing out a heartbeat to me from the screen).
Throughout the ultrasound, the technician reminded me that I had a 1 in 33 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome. And I just continued to adamantly refuse to be scared or influenced by it. Not that I didn't wonder if I would be up to the task should I have a child with Down syndrome, but I kept trying to trust that I would rise to the occasion if needed. I have met people who have been profoundly moved and inspired by their own children with Down syndrome, most specifically at Down Home Ranch in Austin, Texas, so I knew the reality behind the scare tactics. Unfortunately, many parents-to-be don't, and they easily fall prey to the statistics and scenarios presented to them.
A recent article on children with Down syndrome by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver stirred up all of these memories for me. In the article, the archbishop addresses the prevalence and persuasiveness of prenatal testing, the responsibility of Catholics in the medical profession and the mistaken notion that children with Down syndrome cannot grow into adults with happy and satisfying lives.
Archbishop Chaput writes:
"Parents of children with special needs, special education teachers and therapists, and pediatricians who have treated children with disabilities often have a hugely life-affirming perspective. Unlike prenatal caregivers, these professionals have direct knowledge of persons with special needs. They know their potential. They've seen their accomplishments. They can testify to the benefits -- often miraculous -- of parental love and faith. Expectant parents deserve to know that a child with Down syndrome can love, laugh, learn, work, feel hope and excitement, make friends, and create joy for others. These things are beautiful precisely because they transcend what we expect. They witness to the truth that every child with special needs has a value that matters eternally.At the end of the article Archbishop Chaput reminds Catholics working in the medical professions that they must put their Catholic beliefs first:
"Raising a child with Down syndrome can be hard. Parents grow up very fast. None of my friends who has a daughter or son with a serious disability is melodramatic, or self-conscious, or even especially pious about it. They speak about their special child with an unsentimental realism. It's a realism flowing out of love -- real love, the kind that courses its way through fear and suffering to a decision, finally, to surround the child with their heart and trust in the goodness of God. And that decision to trust, of course, demands not just real love, but also real courage.
"The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is never between some imaginary perfection or imperfection. None of us is perfect. No child is perfect. The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear. That's the choice we face when it happens in our personal experience. And that's the choice we face as a society in deciding which human lives we will treat as valuable, and which we will not."
"Pour your love for Jesus Christ into the healing you do for every person you serve. By your words and by your actions, be a witness to your colleagues. Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don't be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life.Read the full article by clicking HERE.
"Changing the course of American culture seems like such a huge task. But St. Paul felt exactly the same way. Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling you and me to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He's waiting, and now we need to answer him."