Happy Mother's Day

tl-momhearttattoot-shirtSo Sunday was Mother's Day. I hope you all bought your mothers flowers and wrote her a nice poem or something. As is tradition in my family, I did pretty much nothing for my amazing mom other than call her. Mother's Day is not on the liturgical calendar of my church although I think it's probably marked more by most American religious institutions than Cantate, which is what Lutherans noted today. Since I'm all about story ideas recently, I'd like to suggest for future reference that reporters think about how depressing Mother's Day or Father's Day are for people who are unable to become a parent for one reason or another. Even though I am a mother, I sometimes get uncomfortable with all of the hoopla. We pray for pregnant women every week in our prayer of the church. This Sunday, our pastor prayed for mothers as well as women who had lost children due to stillbirth and miscarriage. We also prayed for women who couldn't have children due to infertility or other circumstances. As I prepare to give birth later today, it was good to be kept in mind of each of these groups.

And here's another interesting take for Mother's Day. Ninety percent of mothers who are told their children have Down Syndrome choose to abort. Who knows how many women abort after hearing a diagnosis for a genetic defect that's actually fatal? We don't hear much about them. And what about those who get the diagnosis but don't abort? We certainly don't know much about what motivates their thinking either. The Washington Times' Julia Duin had a thorough piece looking at one of those groups -- women who choose not to abort babies with disabilities. Their stories are fascinating:

Nancy Mayer-Whittington remembers it as though it were yesterday; the joy of learning she was pregnant followed by the news that her daughter's first day of life would be her last.

Nearly 15 years later, she still weeps at the memory of how on the afternoon of Nov. 17, 1994, her gray-eyed daughter Angela lived barely 10 minutes, the victim of Trisomy 18, a fatal genetic defect. Pictures of the dark-haired little girl, robed in a white christening gown, are still scattered about her suburban Maryland home.

She was the first woman her doctor knew who had decided to keep her pregnancy. All his other patients in similar situations had aborted.

"I was so happy I did what I did," she says of her decision to bring Angela to term. "You get to see your child's birth and death all collapsed in one time frame. What most people want for their kids is for them to go to heaven. You get to complete that journey with them. As a parent, that is unbelievable. Life is about relationship to God. You know that when you literally pass them from your hands to His."

Mrs. Mayer-Whittington is part of a growing network of mothers and medical professionals who are providing support groups, medical advice and Web sites for pregnant mothers of children with disabilities. She has written a book, "For the Love of Angela," about her experiences and co-founded a support group, Isaiah's Promise (www.isaiahs promise.net).

The strength of the article is in each of these stories, although one reader felt the women didn't demonstrate enough anguish over their decisions, making them come off like saints. We also learn about the perinatal hospice movement, which I first heard of from Neela Banerjee's fascinating look in The New York Times a couple of years ago. Here's more from yesterday's piece:

"The medical community has not been aware of alternatives," says Dr. Byron Calhoun, vice president of the obstetrics and gynecology department at West Virginia University in Charleston. "The only alternative parents are given is termination of pregnancy or they're told they are on their own."

He is involved with the perinatal hospice movement, which supports parents of stillborn babies or children expected to die soon after birth. It offers nurses, chaplains, neonatologists, social workers, bereavement counselors and even a photographer to capture brief moments. All the typical hospital needs, he explains, is a few extra rooms for these families.

"Time with the baby is extremely important to these moms," he says. "Families want a live birth, a baptism, a chance to hold the baby; to give as much love a child can have in their brief life."

bump-blackWhen I was pregnant with my first child, a friend who gave birth a few weeks after me had a difficult pregnancy in which her son was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. She received almost no support from her doctors and near-constant pressure to abort. That was not an option for her or her husband. The medical care was so bad that she ended up switching doctors. I've heard countless stories from women in similar situations -- stories that almost never appear in the mainstream media. I don't know what the problem is but it's bizarre. I ended up refusing genetic tests on my second child because of the horror stories I'd heard from friends and neighbors.

Duin tracks down some of the women who have continued difficult pregnancies and gives voice to the choices they made. Religious angles are, as you might expect, all over the piece and brought forward as appropriate: transferring to a Catholic hospital to avoid pressure to abort, baptisms of children who live for only a few minutes. One couple that became lay Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's group) talk about defending vulnerable life deemed "undesirable" in a culture that aborts children over sex or eye color. One reader, however, loved the article but described the religious references as "fugitive."

Another friend whose first pregnancy overlapped with mine was given a diagnosis of a genetic defect. She was strongly encouraged to undergo an amniocentesis, which she decided against not only because of the risk to the baby but because it wouldn't change anything about continuing her pregnancy even if the genetic defect diagnosis was confirmed. Her daughter was born without any problem of any kind. Duin looks at the issue of false diagnoses, speaking to Monica Rafie, who runs a site encouraging women to keep their children after dire in-utero diagnoses:

She says most women with problem pregnancies quickly become discouraged and overwhelmed. "People hear these callous, insensitive remarks, things like 'Why do you want to carry a baby like this?' or 'Are you religious or something?'" she says. "The genetics counselors uniformly will hand out support information that assumes you'll terminate."

There's just so much more in the story and it's really interesting to read. I love that it ran on Mother's Day, too. Normally we get puff pieces or stylistic features on greeting card holidays. But this story about women who are different than the predominant culture is so much more meaningful.

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