By ELLY CARTER
It’s a conversation my husband and I have had three times, during each of my pregnancies. Those first 12 weeks are always such anxious ones because you haven’t told anyone you’re pregnant and you’re hoping the pregnancy will stick. All the while battling the worst of pregnancy symptoms – morning sickness and crippling fatigue – that makes hiding anything almost impossible.
But as the time for the 12 week ultrasound gets closer – the optional one where you have a bunch of crucial genetic tests including the nuchal test for Down syndrome, your thoughts turn away from whether the pregnancy will stick towards whether the baby will be healthy.
Every time, I’ve asked myself: what if my baby has Down syndrome?
And if it did, would I keep it?
It’s a conversation I play out with myself and my partner in the days leading up to the ultrasound, building in intensity to the day itself when it grows to a crescendo as I lie on the table with my belly in the air and the sonographer taking those neck fold measurements that determine the risk of Down syndrome.
In both pregnancies, we spoke about it at length, even in the car on the way to the scan.
The hypotheticals. The decisions.
And it seems like at the moment, everyone is having those same hypothetical conversations. Even if they’re not pregnant.
Since the news broke last Friday, I’ve heard so many people talking about this; what would I do if I found out at 12 weeks that my baby had Down syndrome?
For the fourth time in my life, I’ve been asking myself the same thing.
I believe there’s a difference between a child and 12-week old foetus. I believe in abortion. I don’t believe in abandonment. I believe mothers should be given the option to decide as to whether they want to be the carer of a special needs child (who will eventually become a special needs adult) but I think that decision can only be made once. I believe that decision can only be made in the first trimester. From that moment on, regardless of what the parents’ decision, there’s no turning back.
So, what if I had to make that decision? That fateful decision after a 12-week scan?
What would I decide?
I’d like to hope that I’d keep that baby. But my conviction wavered after I had each child.
During my first pregnancy, I was optimistic. I imagined I’d keep baby with Down syndrome.
During my second, I vaguely assured myself that I’d keep that baby. Could I care for an energetic toddler and a baby with special needs and potentially significant health complications? A baby that may have ongoing respiratory problems, acute learning difficulties, social struggles and health problems? Probably.
And during my third, I honestly had no idea.
Each time I was fortunate enough not to have to make that decision. I have two friends who never even had the chance to choose. They both gave birth unexpectedly to babies who had Down syndrome. Babies who have gone on to enrich their lives and their siblings’ lives immeasurably.
I’ve never asked them what they would have done if they’d known at 12 weeks. When the children are not hypothetical but real, it seems like an obscene question to ask.
As I watched little Gammy and his chubby little legs kicking around, I remembered all those questions and the conversations I had with myself and my partner.
I remembered as I watched his mother care for him.
A woman who’d decided Gammy was her son through-and-through. A woman who had loved this child no matter what.
And I thought again.
If I were pregnant and I found out my baby had Down Syndrome, would I keep it?
I’ll say what I say to anyone asks me, “would you?”