Palin's Medical Records II


According to the NYT today, the Palin campaign has refused to give any interviews or provide any documents with respect to Sarah Palin's health records. Like her refusal to hold a press conference in the campaign, this makes Palin uniquely shielded from accountability in modern times. But there is a public record of what Larry Altman called in the NYT today "the much-discussed circumstances surrounding the birth of her fifth child last April."

So here goes. What follows is all from the public record - from the Anchorage Daily News and the New York Times in three articles here, here, and here. I recommend the originals rather than this summary. I've added some context by talking to leading obstetricians about medical questions I am not competent to answer. It's a remarkable story, whatever your take on it. Since this person could well be the president in the next four years, it may be worth your time to ponder the narrative she has laid out.

We do not know when exactly Sarah Palin discovered she was pregnant at age 43.

We do know that she says she had an amniocentesis to determine for genetic abnormalities. That test, routinely used to determine if an unborn child will be aborted, discovered that Trig had Down Syndrome. Around 90 percent of such babies are indeed aborted. But Palin, admirably to my mind, chose life. The test, however, is also a serious if small risk to the life of the unborn child. The risk is calculated between a 1 in 200 and 1 in 1500 chance of precipitating a miscarriage. Very, very few pro-life activist women agree to an amniocentesis because it can endanger the life of the unborn child with no tangible benefits for the child. Other risk-free methods of predicting the chance of Down Syndrome exist - but would occur later in pregnancy or would not be as accurate. Palin says she decided to take the risk to the life of her unborn child to help prepare her mentally for the task of raising a child with special needs. And, at 43, with Down Syndrome much more common among the offspring of women in their forties, such a test would be routinely offered.

Palin told very few people about the pregnancy. We are even told she kept the news from her husband for three days, who was away at the time. She finally announced the news at 7 months pregnant. She did so, according to the Anchorage Daily News, to

a handful of reporters as she was leaving work ... then headed to a reception at the Baranof Hotel to feast on king crab.

Here is the New York Times' account of breaking the news:

“We’re expanding,” the governor said brightly, said the deputy press secretary, Sharon Leighow. “You’re expanding state government?” one of the reporters asked. “No, my family’s expanding,” she said. “I’m pregnant.” The trio fell silent, dropping their eyes from the governor’s face to her belly.

“You’re kidding,” one finally mustered.

The news was greeted in Alaska with universal shock, even among her closest staff:

People just couldn't believe the news. "Really? No!" said Bethel state Rep. Mary Nelson, who is close to giving birth herself.     "It's wonderful. She's very well-disguised," said Senate President Lyda Green, a mother of three who has sometimes sparred with Palin politically. "When I was five months pregnant, there was absolutely no question that I was with child."

At the time she was seven months' pregnant. According to the Anchorage Daily News last March:    

She's known as a fashion plate, but said she hasn't been dressing differently to cover her barely perceptible bulge.

According to the New York Times last month:

The governor, thin to begin with, began an elaborate game of fashion-assisted camouflage. When Vogue photographed her, five months pregnant, for a profile in January, she hid in a big green parka. At work, she wore long, loose blazers and artfully draped accessories.     “All of a sudden she had this penchant for really beautiful scarves,” recalled Angelina Burney, who works across the hallway from the governor in Anchorage.

Whatever her fashion strategy, Palin says she was keen to show that a pregnant woman could be a full-time governor of Alaska. Even the much greater complications of a 43 year old with a Down Syndrome child would not deter her from proving her feminist mettle.

And so at a little more than eight months' pregnant, 43 years' old, with a Down Syndrome unborn child, Sarah Palin made an extraordinary decision. She was going to fly from Alaska to Texas and back in the last month of pregnancy. This is usually prohibited by airlines and strongly advised against by doctors. Palin's own doctor, Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, insisted (when she was prepared to talk to the press) that Palin did not ask her whether it was OK to fly. Many airlines bar pregnant women from flying in their final month of pregnancy because of the obvious risk of labor beginning mid-flight. But at eight months' pregnant with a special needs child, a child who would need special attention during any delivery, Palin flew a total of over 8,000 miles on commercial planes, risking a delivery in mid-air without a doctor or nurse, which could have been very dangerous and even fatal to her child.

But the risk of flying to Texas from Alaska in such an advanced stage was nothing compared to what came next. According to the Anchorage Daily News:

Early Thursday [April 17] -- she thinks it was around 4 a.m. Texas time -- she consulted with her doctor, family physician Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who is based in the Valley and has delivered lots of babies, including Piper, Palin's 7-year-old. Palin said she felt fine but had leaked amniotic fluid and also felt some contractions that seemed different from the false labor she had been having for months.

According to the New York Times:    

Around 4 a.m. on the day of her presentation, Ms. Palin stirred in her hotel room to an unusual sensation. According to The Anchorage Daily News, she was leaking amniotic fluid. She woke her husband and called her doctor back home. Go ahead and give the speech, said the doctor, Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who declined to comment for this article.

To confirm what an extraordinary decision this was, the Dish asked several distinguished OB-GYN specialists from some of the top hospitals and medical schools in the country what they would advise any woman in such a position to do. As you might expect, every doctor urged that any woman whose water has broken or whose amniotic fluid may be leaking in the eighth month of pregnancy should immediately seek medical attention. If your water breaks at 4 am, with a special needs child, you call for an ambulance. Period. This isn't a judgment call. It's an emergency. The least you should do is get the fluid tested and your potential labor checked out.

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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