Iceland is leading the world in the “eradication of Down syndrome births,” with other European countries not far behind, according to a recent episode of “CBSN: On Assignment.”
The report attributes the decline to an optional prenatal screening available to expectant mothers in Iceland—of which around 80-85 percent opt for—and for those that receive a positive Down syndrome diagnosis, nearly 100 percent elect to terminate the pregnancy.
While similar screenings are available in the U.S., the percentage of mothers that decide to end their pregnancy with a positive DS diagnosis is much lower, around 67 percent.
Springible contributor, Courtney Baker, said she was filled with anger and heartache when she first saw the report.
“I’m angry at the lies, misconceptions, and ignorance that lead medical professionals to bully mothers as a means of persuasion to abort their child,” Baker said.
A prenatal screen gave Baker a positive Down syndrome diagnosis when she was pregnant with her now two-year-old daughter, Emersyn. When the test results were positive for trisomy 21, she said that the diagnosis wasn’t so much of a concern to her or her husband, but rather the feedback they received from others.
“My husband and I both felt that we were bullied to terminate Emersyn based solely on her Down syndrome diagnosis,” she explained. “It wasn’t presented to us to terminate based on health conditions. Emmy’s health was perfect. We were pressured to abort based on what the doctor perceived would be a poor quality of life because Emersyn wouldn’t be a typical child.”
Mrs. Baker went on to say that she is not alone in receiving this type of pressure. “We continue to hear countless stories of mothers who face this same treatment due to the DS (Down syndrome) diagnosis,” she said.
Meagan Nash, mother of two-year-old Asher, had a different reaction to the CBS News report.
“I truthfully wasn't shocked when I saw the news report. Unfortunately, the Down syndrome community has known about this disgusting issue for a while,” Nash said. “I knew it was a matter of time before it made headline news.”
Nash confirmed that the prenatal screenings in Iceland are comparable to those offered to expectant mothers in the United States.
“We are offered testing such as the ‘Harmony Test’ that does limited screening for chromosomes 21, 13, and 18,” she explained. “I even went further and had a DNA blood test done that is 99 percent accurate and the amniocentesis. I had all of the testing offered because I wanted to be prepared. There was never a doubt in my mind of would we or would we not keep the baby.”
Neither Mrs. Nash nor her husband questioned going through with the pregnancy, nonetheless they were told they must see a genetic counselor to discuss the diagnosis further.
“One of the first questions they say they have to ask is: ‘Would you like to continue forward with the pregnancy?’,” she said. “They also told us any and every possible health complications a person with Down syndrome could have.”
Certainly all of this information can be overwhelming for an expecting mother, but Nash said she never wavered in her decision.
“Did this all scare me? Absolutely! But did it make me question whether we wanted to terminate? Not even for one second,” she said.
Both Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Nash expressed how incredible and life-changing it has been raising their respective children who have Down syndrome.
“Emmy has made us focus more on our blessings and less on selfish things,” said Baker, “ She has given us a different vantage point... Emmy has opened our lives to different experiences and has made us work at being our best.”
“Asher has taught me that it's okay to slow down and take our time, because eventually we will get where we need to be,” said Nash. “He has also taught me to see the true beauty in people.”
Both mothers admit raising a child with Down syndrome has challenges. Their children may not develop mentally or physically in the same manner as other children, but they hit milestones and accomplishments every day, just like every other child.
“At two years old, Emmy is using three-word sentences,” Mrs. Baker said. “Just last week she shocked me by having a conversation. It was unexpected and we cheered.”
“Every milestone is precious because we know that it is the stepping stone for the next milestone. It might take her longer than her typical peers to do something, but what’s more exciting to me is that sometimes she hits her milestones quicker. No two children are the same, diagnosis or not.”
Asher Nash’s milestones and accomplishments have been experienced not only in the quiet of their family home—but possibly in yours as well! Asher became the first person with a disability to appear in an Oshkosh and Carter’s, inc. clothing advertisement.
When Asher was 12-months-old, his mom submitted him for his first casting call as a model. After push-back from the modeling agency, Mrs. Nash connected with an organization called “Changing the Face of Beauty,” which aims to get people with disabilities in more advertisements.
Since his days doing print ads, Asher has also appeared in a PSA with the cast of “Born This Way” for World Down Syndrome Day.
“Raising a child with Down syndrome has its ups and downs just like raising any child does,” Nash said, “At the end of the day, Asher is a person. Simple as that. He is a person who has stolen all of our hearts and I will continue to share him with the world so they can see his true beauty.”
The love and compassion these women have for not only their own children, but other families going through the process of a Down syndrome diagnosis is undeniable. They want mothers to know that they are not alone in this journey, and terminating their pregnancy does not have to be their only option.
“I heard all the negative", said Baker, “I had to deal with the medical professionals wanting us to terminate her (Emersyn’s) life. It was a very dark and painful time.”
“But when I held her for the first time, I was given a secret treasure. Only a select few know this secret and as much as we want to share it with the world, it seems like an impossible task. But we have to keep trying. Don’t listen to people who don’t know the truth- listen to the hearts of the mamas who are living it. Of the thousands of moms I know through support groups and friendships, not one mother is sad or sorry to have their child in their lives. Not one regrets the life of their baby. You have the opportunity to join us on the most glorious journey. You are not alone. Your life is just beginning. One day you will be holding your baby and you’ll know the secret, too. You’ll look back on the time you were afraid and devastated. You’ll look back on the time when you mourned for what you thought you’d lost and you will wish you would have celebrated. Because your baby is worth celebrating,” said Mrs. Baker.
When asked if she could pass a message to mothers in Iceland and Europe about raising a child with Down syndrome, what would she say, Mrs. Nash responded: “No one can tell you the worth of your child.”
“Not your country, family, friends, or even complete strangers,” Nash said. “These are human beings we are talking about. These are our flesh and blood. We need to continue to spread awareness so that more people will become educated on all things Down syndrome and one day, the headlines will be filled with more news about our kids doing amazing things instead of how we will rid their total existence.”
Mrs. Baker urges parents of children with Down syndrome to check out the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network, a place where she found “comfort, healing, and forever friends.”