These devastating words coming from the voice on the other end of the telephone didn’t settle well with me. They followed positive results from a blood test given to pregnant women age 35 and over, to detect fetal abnormalities. I was a candidate for such testing, which can be administered through blood screening, ultrasound, amniocentesis, or chorionic villus sampling.
My first pregnancy went smoothly, and although I was now three years older, I didn’t expect any complications. What pregnant woman does? Immediate denial consumed my mind as I entertained unwelcoming thoughts of giving birth to an unhealthy baby. Positive test results indicate the possibility of Down syndrome, which occurs in as many as one in 800 babies. This syndrome can cause intellectual disabilities and certain distinctive physical features, as well as heart defects and other problems.
Then the phone calls from my obstetrician’s office began. The staff made it quite clear that this was an urgent matter. At the time, I was serving in the United States Navy and away from home on military assignment, but this didn’t stop the phone calls. I explained I needed to focus on my training, but their focus was on me finding a doctor immediately. What more could a doctor tell me? I already knew my test results, so what else did I need to know?
Rejecting the unthinkable
I eventually grew weary of the persistent, aggravating phone calls and boldly asked what my doctor’s office expected of me. Once again, a strange voice on the other end of the telephone offered devastating words: “Have an abortion.” I was shocked. In disbelief at what my ears heard, I strongly expressed my personal views on abortion to the caller. Having an abortion was completely out of the question for me. There was no way I would even consider terminating my pregnancy, and positive test results weren’t going to change my mind. There was no need to continue this conversation, so I hung up the phone.
I sat in my room alone, with those three words echoing over and over in my mind: “Have an abortion. Have an abortion. Have an abortion.” Was I dreaming? The words weren’t being processed correctly, but they continued to be replayed in my head. After completing my military training, I returned home to my husband and our firstborn son. And the phone calls began again.
I reluctantly made an appointment with my doctor, and she angrily expressed her dissatisfaction with my apparent lack of concern about the test results. But what she thought was a lack of concern was actually confusion regarding the reaction to my test results. She explained in great detail what my baby might look like if I continued with the pregnancy. She even mentioned that he could be born with half of his brain outside his head. I remember this as if it happened yesterday. Needless to say, her lame scare tactics failed. I wanted my baby—with or without birth defects!
I left the doctor’s office feeling upset, yet with peace of mind. I would not abort my baby. I would carry my baby to term and give birth, regardless of any test results and in spite of what anyone said. From the first disturbing phone call I received regarding the test results, there was never a doubt in my mind that I would deliver my baby—birth defects or not. This was my baby. I conceived my baby. I bonded with my baby. I loved my baby. How could I not meet my baby—with or without birth defects?
What I would have missed
On April 3, 1998, at 9:36 in the morning, Jaylan Shedrick Williams was born by Caesarean section. It seemed like an eternity before they allowed me to hold my newborn son. Of course, I wondered if he was okay, but I was even more anxious to meet him. Finally, a nurse brought him over, and I held my chubby baby boy in my arms for the first time. I looked down at his sweet, innocent face and simply basked in my joyous moment.
When the nurse came back, I asked, “Is he okay?” I don’t remember her exact words, but I remember hearing I had a healthy baby boy. I thought it was quite rude that, after the countless phone calls and all the pressure to abort my baby, no one came to speak to me regarding his health. No one said a single word. Two days later, after he came home from the hospital, Jaylan started smiling back at me, and he hasn’t stopped smiling.
Jaylan has grown up to be a compassionate, giving young man. At a very young age, he showed an avid willingness to help and serve others, and would often ask if he could make lunches to feed the homeless. He enjoyed helping me make deliveries for Meals on Wheels and has always had an unusual level of determination to succeed. At age 15, he received the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (Pensacola Alumni Chapter) for the cookie business he started at age 13.
I’ve always told Jaylan how special he is, and one day, I decided to share my story of being pressured to terminate what has turned out to be his amazing life. Jaylan listened with disbelief, yet with a heart full of gratefulness for me fighting for his life. He had no idea that his gratefulness was already being displayed through his selfless acts of giving. “Thank you, Mama, for not aborting me!” is what my dear son tells me often. I can’t imagine our life without him—with or without birth defects.
The pluses and minuses of prenatal testing
By Susan Ciancio and Stephanie Hopping, copy editor and editor of Celebrate Life Magazine
All couples have a slight risk of giving birth to a baby who has a disability. These risks vary, depending on the parents’ medical and family history. Even though prenatal testing for fetal anomalies is optional, it has caused quite a bit of controversy, since it has led many expectant parents to have their baby aborted—in some cases, for superficial reasons, and in others, due to extreme pressure and fear induced by unethical medical personnel, as LaVender Williams experienced. Currently, in the United States, over 90 percent of children with Down syndrome are aborted.
Noninvasive blood tests screen for certain disorders, such as Down syndrome, Trisomy 18, and neural tube defects. If the screening determines the presence of risk factors, further testing is advised. This testing can include ultrasound, or invasive procedures such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, both of which entail some risk for the baby.
The results of the initial blood screening are not considered definitive, and according to the American Pregnancy Association, it “is known to have a high percentage of false positive results” (“Triple Screen Test,” www.AmericanPregnancy.org). However, as technology improves, so does the efficacy of the tests. One company, Verinata Health, claims that its new blood test for screening chromosomal abnormalities in twins has “the industry’s lowest test failure [false positive] rate”: 0.07 percent (investor.illumina.com). This contrasts with a “five-percent false positive rate overall” for standard prenatal blood screening , which also results in “more false positives with increasing maternal age” (“The Facts on Prenatal Testing,” HaugenObGyn.com).
Test results indicating that a preborn baby has a disability or an anomaly can be used for life-affirming purposes, if directed toward obtaining medical intervention for the baby, and/or assisting the parents in gaining knowledge and support that will reduce their anxiety about raising a special-needs child.
The value of a human being’s life is not determined by a test result, and an adverse prenatal diagnosis should never be used as an excuse for abortion or as a weapon for pressuring parents to have an abortion. And it should always be kept in mind that prenatal test results can be inaccurate, as LaVender’s story reveals.
Life-affirming education and support are available for parents who receive an adverse prenatal diagnosis. ContactBeNotAfraid.net, ElizabethMinistry.com (920-766-9380) or PrenatalPartnersforLife.org (763-772-3868).