British model Katie Price recently confessed during a television appearance that had she known about her son Harvey’s disabilities while she was pregnant—he was born with Prader-Willi syndrome and is blind and autistic—she would have aborted him.
Since that interview, Price has backtracked and tweaked her claims, but many took to the Internet to either trash or praise her. Both are unnecessary and wrong. Mothers facing pregnancies with disabled kids need to know the best choice for that child is life, and the best way through that child’s life is through guidance and grace.
Mothers in Solidarity
On the show, Price said, “I was young when I had Harvey, and I admit it: If I’d have known he was blind when I had him, as harsh as it sounds, I probably would have aborted him.” While some shamed Price for her decision to admit such a thing, other moms, like Leigh Edwards, agreed. Edwards wrote a passionate acknowledgement of Price’s situation, “Like Katie Price, I would have aborted my child if I’d known he was disabled.”
At 23, Edwards gave birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome. She writes, “There is no doubt I would have chosen a termination if I had been told about my son’s condition while I was pregnant. As an immature 23 year old, I would have asked myself – how on earth will I be able to cope with bringing up a child with disabilities? What quality of life would he have? Would it be fair on my parents who would have to help me?”
Price and Edwards both admit in hindsight, now that they’ve raised their children to adolescence, their views differ. “If I was given the same choice now, there’s no way that I would choose abortion, and it would seem that Price feels the same way,” Edwards wrote, quoting Price’s subsequent statements: “If I got pregnant again and they said they had disabilities I’d definitely keep it. I’d even adopt a child with disabilities. Until you’re in that situation you don’t know.”
While I’m glad both women seem to have become more pro-life, it’s disconcerting and quite revealing that it’s only in retrospect. I can’t say that I identify completely with either one of these mothers. After five pregnancies—four live births and one miscarriage—all four of my children were born healthy.
However, during my first and fourth pregnancies, I received foreboding phone calls about possible physical anomalies, or birth defects, while my babies were still in utero. Doctors thought my first child had a brain tumor; my fourth child showed possible signs of Down’s Syndrome. (I was told Down’s was nearly impossible to detect in utero without amniocentesis, which I refused, but there are markers doctors can see via ultrasound to formulate educated guesses.) I’m not holding myself as some kind of self-righteous Puritan, but not once did I consider terminating either one of those pregnancies.
Of course this is easier for me to say, since all my children are relatively healthy. But I’m not alone in a zealous pro-life stance, even when the baby growing in my tummy might not turn out to be 100 percent healthy or “normal.”
Disabilities Are Not All Suffering—There’s Also Joy
Lisa Leonard’s son David was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. He is severely retarded and needs constant care. On her blog, she described a recent experience at the store when a woman looked at her and David with pity. Lisa refused to give in and wallow.
“If value is measured in belly laughs that begin in your toes, and pure joy that radiates from your soul, then we are rich […] David’s body is broken–he has a disability. There are many things in life he will never accomplish. But those things don’t determine his worth or value. His heart is whole. His soul is strong and powerful. He freely gives and receives love.”
At CPAC last week during a panel on personhood, Gianna Jessen, a woman who survived an abortion and has cerebral palsy, drew cheers from the crowd when she described how her disability intersects — almost actualizes — her pro-life views.
“You can imagine how horrified I am, as someone who survived a saline abortion, that [people say] if the baby is disabled you have to terminate the pregnancy. Who does that sound like, Adolf Hitler? And you have no idea the amount of beauty and joy and happiness I have because I must lean on the strong arm of Jesus all the way to heaven.”
The Nazi Party regularly killed disabled children to preserve “racial hygiene:” Lebenunwertes leben, or “Life unworthy of life.” But, some will say, the Nazis did it to rid the Aryan gene pool of mental retardation and related genetic defects! And American women abort babies with Down’s Syndrome because—why?
Women Set the Pace for Culture
As much as it pains me to say it, because I want to support every mom in the arduous, wonderful, terrifying journey of motherhood, what this demonstrates is the alarming need for firm direction and reassuring grace. If adulthood, as my dad told me repeatedly growing up, is the process of becoming less selfish, than motherhood is the process of trying not to be selfish ever. From midnight feedings and leukemia, to stomach flu and Down’s Syndrome, motherhood is one bumpy endurance test.
While it has nothing to do with you—in the sense that it’s your job to raise your babies up right—it has everything to do with you, in that it will suck up every ounce of energy, patience, time, and resources you have, all while said children are watching your every move, hearing what you say, learning from how you behave. Thus as women we must promote a culture of life from the get-go, under any and all circumstances, because from our priorities our culture derives its sensibilities about what and who is valuable and for what and whom we will live once value is determined.
We as parents and society wade into dangerous and unethical territory when the life-giving among us promulgate the view that moms will birth, accept, and love their children only when it’s guaranteed he will be 100 percent healthy, or a “designer baby” with features she has chosen.
Whether due to pure selfishness, lack of patience, or fear of the unknown, when faced with these situations, it’s imperative the women of this society (and men too, of course) resolve to stand firm in their doubts about a future filled with doctor visits and lean on the grace of the Creator of life and the friends and family he placed there to offer aid and encouragement.
If women will remain steadfast in their devotion to choose life and mother their children with all the zealous passion, straightforward guidance, and unwavering faith they can, their children will call their mothers blessed and society will benefit from the little ones they raised—whether they cure cancer, win a Nobel Peace Prize, or laugh “belly laughs that begin in your toes.”