Down Syndrome Births Are Down in U.S.

One Connecticut mother who terminated her pregnancy two years ago after a Down diagnosis said her doctor "didn't paint the brightest picture."

The news was devastating, said Laurie, a 37-year-old saleswoman who did not want her last named used. "We truly felt that we were falling apart."

She learned she was carrying a child with Down syndrome after having difficulty getting pregnant with her second child, and then a miscarriage. It was the right decision for her family, she said.

"After much soul-searching, we decided to terminate the pregnancy at 14 weeks," Laurie said. "We had a beautiful, healthy baby girl almost a year later. I think about our unborn baby girl quite a lot and only recently was able to get rid of the early ultrasound pictures of her."

And although she had never met a child with Down syndrome, she said, "I don't know if I was a strong enough person to raise a child like that."

Parents Need Support, Feedback

Still, Laurie's daughter, who is now in kindergarten, has met a boy with Down Syndrome in her class. "It's interesting, because she has taken him completely under her wing," she said.

"It's a hard thing to talk about," Laurie said of the abortion. "It's not one of my proudest moments."

With little information at the time and a "doom and gloom" attitude, she admitted, "I had to make a decision very quickly. Had I been able to talk to someone, it could have given me a better rounded perspective."

Like Laurie, Gail Udell of Eugene, Ore., said she, too, was swept up in fear when she learned her daughter had Down syndrome the same weekend as her first wedding anniversary.

At 38, she assumed she would have a healthy baby, but when an ultrasound and blood test revealed a high likelihood of both Down syndrome and a heart defect, "the day we looked forward to was crashing around us."

She and her husband were given scant support and left alone to make their decision about undergoing more conclusive testing.

"The atmosphere in the room that day was very grim, and [there was] a sense of urgency," she said.

The heart defect didn't scare them as much as the Down diagnosis.

"We had no experience with that outside of Corky from 'Life Goes On' and the bagger at the grocery store," she said of the first television series to have a major character with Down syndrome. "We were very terrified of Down syndrome."

But now at 6, daughter Teagan is thriving in first grade and loves songs, books and horse riding, despite a language delay.

"I am a better person and a better parent," she said. "We have a ways to go yet, but like everything else, she'll get there. She is determined, fearless and happy."

Still, Udell wishes she had been given more support and positive feedback in the beginning, the kind of parental support that helped Melanie McLaughlin.

"Parents are full of questions, fear of the unknown and feeling alone," said Sarah Cullen, family support director for First Call, which takes no position on whether to terminate pregnancies.

"The most important things you can provide are accurate, up-to-date information, and what it's like to parent a kid with Down syndrome, just to have someone who walks in those same steps to listen and share their own story," Cullen said.

Nina Fuller of Newburgh, Ind., knew nothing about parenting a child with Down syndrome when she received her diagnosis.

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