I’ve said almost everything I wanted to say on this topic.

(See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 if you haven’t been keeping up!)

An analogy struck me on the way to work this morning which puts things into a clearer perspective for me in terms of what I was trying to say about cultural norms causing too many women to opt for abortion on discovering that their child has special needs – especially when they do so not to prevent a life of suffering for the baby but because they themselves feel they could not cope with the demands of special needs parenting.

Imagine that a woman unexpectedly discovers she is carrying twins or even triplets. She is shocked. It is not at all what she expected. She has no idea how she will cope with the staggering extra responsibility of more than one baby. This is similar to the discovery, I think, that your one baby will have special needs. You are shocked and horrified, unable to imagine how you could possibly cope with the extra demands and pressures of such a child.

(The analogy is missing the important point that, with the discovery that your child is not going to be the perfect baby you assumed you would have, there comes a natural grieving process, but I think the analogy is good enough to illustrate my point.)

The two situations both involve shock, and a feeling that you will be unable to cope. But the reaction of other people in each case is very different.

The woman with a multiple pregnancy is expected to feel grateful for the extra blessing, and is immediately offered copious amounts of support and help and information about how she will manage to cope. There is not the expectation that, in the absence of additional medical problems, terminating one (or, perhaps, all but one) of the babies would be the normal thing to do. The supported course of action is to continue the pregnancy.

On the other hand, the woman whose baby has Down’s syndrome is given counselling and information about abortion, together with details about how disabling and problematic Down’s syndrome can be. Perhaps she is also given positive, supportive information about how babies with DS grow into happy, fulfillied adults who are as loved and as loving as anyone else. But abortion is seen as a – even as the – normal, supported response.

And I would not be in the least surprised if, in the interests of preventing mothers who do take that normal course of action from feeling guilty about it, the information provided is skewed away from the happy life that a person with Down’s syndrome can lead and towards the risks, dangers and problems inherent in the condition, and the normalcy of a decision to terminate.

This leaflet is one I just found on the NHS website. It gives an awful lot more information about antenatal screening than I was ever given, and on that score it is excellent. It does however tend to bear out my suggestion above that the choices between having the baby, giving the baby up for adoption, or terminating the pregnancy are to be presented as equal and rest only on the preferences of the parents. That’s kind of good, from a pro-choice and pro-empowerment angle. But it’s also kind of bad, in that it reinforces the idea that termination is just another normal thing to do when you find that your baby isn’t perfect.

Now, finally, I want to give really the last word to a woman called Sarahlynn. I discovered her blog Yeah, But Houdini Didn’t Have These Hips completely by accident today while browsing with nothing much in mind, and it dovetails so neatly with my recent topic of conversation, that I think anyone interested in this should read it!

She has written several eloquent and passionate posts about choice in these situations, and in particular her own choice to continue her pregnancy after discovering that her baby would have Down’s syndrome (Trisomy 21). So, similar topic, but with the advantage that she actually does know what she is talking about. Start here.

Advertisements