The Trig Palin Effect :An interview with Ann Robertson in the Washington Times

Sunday, October 12, 2008
ALLOTT: The Trig Palin effect
Daniel Allott

Sarah Palin is not the only one. Right now 400,000 mothers are going
through the same experiences every day - the simple joys, the
profound challenges, the unexpected blessings. Ann Robertson is one
of them. Like Mrs. Palin, Mrs. Robertson recently gave birth to a
child with Down syndrome.

When Mrs. Robertson heard Mrs. Palin was selected as the Republican
Party's nominee for vice president, her emotions jumped quickly,
from surprise, to joy, to tears. "Whether or not people are going to
vote for her, we [mothers of children with DS] all were excited,"
she said.

October is National Down Syndrome Awareness month. But nothing has
done as much recently to raise the public's awareness of Down
syndrome as events a month earlier. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's
political rise has placed the glaring spotlight of the media on the
entire Palin family, and not least on its youngest member, 6-month-
old Trig, who was born with Down syndrome.

Mrs. Palin's emergence has also cast a soft, revealing light on a
hitherto neglected issue: Down syndrome abortions. America's
epidemic of Down syndrome abortions disregards not only the sanctity
of human life but also the profound contributions that persons with
Down syndrome offer to the lives of those they touch.

Increasingly sophisticated prenatal genetic screening (involving
sonograms and blood tests) can detect Down syndrome as early as the
first trimester of pregnancy. These tests - what George F. Will has
called "search and destroy mission*" - have helped produce an up to
90 percent abortion rate for children with Down syndrome.

This horrendously high abortion rate is due in part to a medical
establishment with a decidedly pro-abortion prejudice against babies
with disabilities. Parents informed their child will be born with a
disability are often shown pitiful videos of the challenges of
rearing disabled children after they hear the "bad news" from

When I sat down with Ms. Robertson, she told me her experiences with
the medical community were "mixed." Eschewing invasive pre-natal
tests for Down syndrome, Ann first learned her daughter, Bonnie, had
the condition immediately after giving birth in a Fairfax County,
Va., hospital. The first words of a member of the delivering staff
were, "Did you get a blood test?"

Mrs. Robertson said her nurses were very supportive. Many told her
what a blessing Bonnie was, and some even visited her on their free
time to offer encouragement. But the neonatal pediatrician and
genetic counselor gave her the feeling that it was, in Ann's
words, "all my fault. The attitude was, 'you didn't deal with it
when you could have, so you have to deal with it now.' "

Such negativity is hardly unique. Numerous academic studies have
shown physicians are overwhelmingly negative in communicating
prenatal and post-natal diagnoses of Down syndrome. As Brian Skotko,
a physician at Children's hospital Boston, Boston Medical, wrote in
a study published in Pediatrics, "Doctors have gotten better over
time, but it's been a very slow change, and they've really gone from
terrible to just bad."

When she heard about Bonnie's condition, Ann felt "pretty scared at
first." But her fears were rooted in not knowing what to expect. "I
couldn't tell you the last time I had seen a child with Down
syndrome before Bonnie was born," Mrs. Robertson recalled. "The
sadness came from the unknown."

Fear of the unknown is precisely what legislators are attempting to
alleviate with a new federal law. The Prenatally and Postnatally
Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act would require that families who
receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome or other genetic condition be
provided with up-to-date information about the nature of the
condition - including the positive aspects of raising a child with a
disability and connection with support services and networks that
could offer help.

Co-sponsored by Sens. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, and Edward
Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, the legislation would also create
of a national registry of families willing to adopt children with
genetic conditions. In late September, Congress passed the
Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act. It
now heads to the president's desk to become law.

In Ann's case, after a few weeks of trepidation following Bonnie's
birth, she decided in a single moment "That's it! No more tears, no
more grieving." Reassured by a pro-life doctor, who told her that "a
child is a child no matter what condition they come out in," her
supportive husband, Brian, and her Catholic faith, Ann chose to
accept Bonnie unconditionally, to love her the way she is and to
embrace the challenges.

Many women choose to abort unborn children with developmental
disabilities. But for Ann, the only choice was whether she would
accept and love the child she had been given by God. "Life was
already chosen," Ann told me. "My choice was love and acceptance. I
wasted time grieving for the child I didn't have instead of
accepting the child God gave me."

Ann and Brian have been transformed since Bonnie came into their
lives. "We don't take anything for granted. Every little thing
becomes great and joyful." They have learned not to focus on the
world's idea of accomplishment. "What's important," said Ann, "is
that this is a child with dignity whose every single accomplishment,
from the small things to the large things, is celebrated because we
know what it took for our child to do it."

Bonnie has helped Ann understand "what human dignity is all about"
and taught her that "being vulnerable is not a bad thing. That being
dependent is not a bad thing." In a world that hates dependency and
shuns vulnerability, people with Down syndrome, Ann believes, are "a
wake-up call to our consciences."

As our conversation returned to the Palins, Mrs. Robertson
recalled, "When [Sarah Palin] mentioned special needs families in
her [Republican Convention] speech, I knew she was looking at me,
and was talking to us personally. It was like a sigh of relief mixed
with gratitude that finally someone recognizes we exist."

Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values, a Washington,
D.C., area public policy organization. He is a former community
support provider for persons with developmental disabilities.


~Jules~ said...

Awesome article. Thank you Ann for doing this interview.

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