Embracing Life Victorious: A Mother’s Thoughts on Down Syndrome
By Julie Klose, Radiance Foundation Board Chair
I wasn’t shocked.
The article tagline by CBS News kept popping up on my Twitter newsfeed. It read: “Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion.”
The best response was by actress and prolife advocate Patricia Heaton:
— Patricia Heaton (@PatriciaHeaton) August 15, 2017
She is correct. The headline just confirmed the horrific statistics of what many of us in the pro-life community already know regarding the rates of abortion especially concerning a T21 (Down syndrome) diagnosis.
It’s not just Iceland. Research has shown that France has a 96% abortion rate for babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb. The UK reports rates as high as 92% to 100%. Then there’s the United States where a 2012 study found that 61% to 93% of babies diagnosed with T21 in the womb have resulted in abortions.
The news from Iceland and the abortion rates immediately made me think of my friend Kelly and her beautiful daughter Eva. Kelly and her husband Eric are proud parents of two children, Ian and Eva. When Kelly was pregnant with Eva, she was diagnosed with T21 early in her pregnancy. I remember her posts on Facebook about the experience she went through when Kelly and Eric were first given the results.
I wanted to interview her about the recent Iceland headlines and get her thoughts on the country’s results of “eradicating” Down syndrome births through abortion. Instead, she wrote to me a beautiful testimony of life, redemption from shame, and about being a society that embraces the beauty of God-given life in all circumstances.
The title of the CBS News article posed the question, “What kind of society do you want to live in?” I ask that you read Kelly’s heartfelt words in their entirety, and ask yourself that same question. Words are never more powerful than when they come from the courage to speak the truth in love and from a personal experience that guides others toward freedom.
When I think about Iceland and the abortion rates there, here, etc., I think of worth. Specifically, who is worthy of life?
Honestly, I don’t often feel that I am worthy. I have been given this gift, this life, and I often fall short of living a life without fear. A life of freedom, a life I am meant to live. I stay wrapped in fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of standing out when I’m supposed to fit in, and fear of fitting in when I’m supposed to stand out. I let the outside ugly clamor of the masses dictate who I am some days and I despise myself for allowing it. I get worked up about money, friends, family, appearance, my house… But I’m learning that my worth has nothing to do with that. My worth lies within something bigger than myself. It’s in the very thing that ties us all together. We are all the same no matter where our IQ ranks, what salary we rake in, our skin color, or what size we wear. It’s in our common humanity.
The fact is, we all struggle through this world and we all play a part. We are not a society of individuals. We are a family. We are children of God.
So why does anyone feel they have the right to decide who gets to live and who doesn’t? For those who think this boils down to pro-choice or pro-life, I disagree. It’s beyond that. From what I know, people who have abortions do so because they don’t feel prepared or able to care for a child. Perhaps they’re shamed into hiding an unintended pregnancy in the first place. Or they have no help, no support and are afraid. I would know. I was there once. And because of it, I don’t agree with abortion. It robs you of peace and fills you with shame. At least it has me. So when I was faced with a choice to abort at 12 weeks in a PLANNED pregnancy with my second child, I was appalled.
My husband, Eric, and I were told that there was something wrong at my 12th week. I was given a 1 in 4 chance that my baby had a chromosomal disorder, BUT most likely something terminal and not T21 (Down syndrome or DS). We opted to do a CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling) to test part of the placenta. Before the procedure, Eric and I talked about a diagnosis of T21 as a relief and not a worry. So when we received the results of T21, we were hopeful.
When I began to read of the high abortion rates of diagnosed pregnancies with DS, I started to fear for my unborn child. Would she be rejected? Would people make fun of her? Why did so many people abort at the same time of pregnancy and diagnosis that we found ourselves in? And why did a genetic counselor HAVE to tell me how they would abort the baby should I decide later to have an abortion. Later? I thought I was at the cut-off deadline where even the “pro-choicers” agreed that the tiny baby in my womb was, in fact, a baby? But despite my request that she stop with the abortion details, she continued to describe that my baby’s heartbeat would be stopped somehow and then medicine would induce labor, etc. The counselor told me I had several weeks to decide, and if I changed my mind- past Virginia’s abortion time frame- she could inform me of which state to go to for a late term abortion.
I was never asked if I wanted to meet a family with a child with Down syndrome. I didn’t learn about any websites or resources. All I was given was a little pamphlet about T21. I remember there was this beautiful little girl on the cover of the brochure. She had blonde hair and the sweetest face. I carried that pamphlet with me for months during my pregnancy. And I wasn’t concerned about what was in it. No, I was busy praying that my daughter would be as cute as that little girl. Not because it mattered to me, but I thought that if she had light hair and light eyes that she would be more easily accepted. That people would overlook her “different” features which today mesmerize me. I prayed for her not to look too different so people would like her. Awful. I know. Prior to this, I had no thoughts about anyone with special needs being subjected to judgment or whether they were worthy of life.
Let me refer back to my abortion again. I believe abortion is selfish. But I never considered it to be about whether a life was worthy to be born. It was about my failure, my inabilities, and my sins. I can point to where those lies were learned…. but it won’t erase history to dwell on those lies. No. Abortion is wrapped up in self. This thing, this choice about aborting a child with T21- it’s about worth. It’s judgment. It’s putting one’s self above another. It’s not about feeling inadequate or ashamed but superior. Maybe those who’ve made that choice would disagree. But I stand on it. If you tried and wanted a child and then received a diagnosis-that’s judgment. That baby is a baby as it’s almost the end of the first trimester. Most agree on that one fact.
I watched on that sonogram as a stranger stuck a needle close to the sack in my womb. I watched my Eva kick away from that needle, she knew something was a danger to her. She was trying to get away. She was thinking, her heart was beating, and she was worthy back then as much as she is today. Even Eric cried watching during the procedure, and that is a rarity. There was this tiny, vulnerable child. This procedure was done two days after my screening. How many people ever actually test to confirm the screenings but go ahead with the abortion anyway? They can and have been so wrong.
I’m rambling, but I have so many thoughts and feelings about this. I hid an abortion out of shame, but I feel it is so relevant to my story. To Eva’s story. I am not proud of it. When people ask me how many kids I have, I say 2 but in my heart, I say 3. I long to meet that child. But I can’t erase time. Tears and prayers help. But the idea of aborting based on T21….horrible. I get so tired of people making excuses that some couldn’t handle it….not everyone is as strong as me…ha! Strong? I failed my first child. I am a murderer. That will cling to me forever as I seek forgiveness. God has forgiven, but I haven’t.
So how do these other women abort at 11, 12 + weeks and not hate themselves? Their baby was perfectly HEALTHY. They only knew they had an extra chromosome. So what? It isn’t a death sentence.
I want to tell you about my children’s names. Ian was born out of wedlock, and he was a difficult guilt-ridden pregnancy full of depression and anxiety. As I struggled with my previous abortion I chose his name as Ian. It is the Celtic version of John. My favorite book of the Bible. John… God is forgiving….God is gracious. I needed a reminder of that, and I have it every day in my son. Then when I was pregnant with Eva, she was the next punch in the gut regarding abortion and painful memories. I chose a name she could hopefully say with ease. It’s a name that means LIFE.
Her middle name Victoria was on purpose as well. She will have a LIFE VICTORIOUS. And she will. She has brought our entire family more joy than we could ever imagine. She is amazing. And she is worthy. And all that superficial fear that makes us feel unworthy…she doesn’t have that. She embraces life abundantly and teaches me each day how to do so. How to heal from my past and allow myself to walk in the sunshine and to run with abandon. I wish the world would catch up to us. It would be a much better place. Eva has a role in this family and in this world, and I am honored to be her mother.
If anyone is seeking firsthand experience and would like to reach out to Kelly for support, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.