It is remarkable to read and re-read the story of Sarah Palin. I've been reading as much as I can about her extraordinary story as I can these past few days. I can only say I increasingly agree with Rich Lowry and Tyler Cowen who wrote
There is one biographical fact about Palin's life that the critics (Drum, DeLong, Yglesias, Klein, Sullivan and Kleiman are among the ones I read) are hardly touching upon. I mean her decision to have a Downs child instead of an abortion. This is the fact about her life and it will be viewed as such from now through November and perhaps beyond.
I think, in retrospect, that this is right; and the centrality of the baby's story to Palin's own reputation of integrity and toughness and walking the walk of the pro-life movement is the central argument for her candidacy. The NYT was right to place all the facts of this story that they could responsibly report on their front page yesterday, as this is what this campaign is partly about. Rick Davis has told us that this election is not about the issues, it's about personalities. And what a personality we have in Sarah Palin.
She must have gone through a great deal of stress to deliver her recently born baby, Trig, in the glare of the public spotlight. To get pregnant at 43 years old when you are governor of a state and to balance your public duties with private pressures cannot have been easy. Having a baby with Down Syndrome on top of all this is an extremely onerous ordeal for anyone. And yet Palin managed to do her job - even posing for Vogue - without showing the slightest sign of pressure. What amazing Thatcher-like reserves of strength. I am a ferocious devotee of Margaret Thatcher, but reading the details of Palin's life-story, Thatcher has nothing on the Iron Lady of Alaska.
We may have under-estimated the psychological pressure. But knowing in advance that you have an unborn child with Down Syndrome is an emotional and spiritual experience most of us will never understand unless we have gone through it. The confusing feelings it might provoke, feelings which you need time to talk through with your spouse and existing children, if you have them, must be intense. Palin hints at the struggle she must have gone through in People: “Not knowing in my own heart if I was going to be ready to embrace a child with special needs. I couldn’t talk about it.” So Palin must have gone through all this as well (although she didn't tell her husband for three days, didn't tell her parents and never told her other children until the birth).
But she had another cross to bear. She was a governor. To prepare herself for the kind of public scrutiny no private person would have to endure, Palin went much further than most pro-life women would have in such circumstances. Most pro-life women do not see the need for an amniocentesis because amnios are elective and performed to test for defects in case you want to abort the unborn child. No serious private pro-life person would do that if she is going to have the baby anyway. What's the point? If you're worried about your pregnancy for some reason, you can always take a non-invasive procedure to test the likelihood of genetic abnormalities. According to this story in Christian News Service:
Technological advances now allow women alternative pre-natal screenings to determine the risks of their child having Down syndrome, including blood tests and ultrasound. But more reliable results require chromosome diagnostic testing such as amniocentesis, which collects amniotic fluid in the womb by inserting a needle through the woman’s abdominal wall into the uterus.
So Palin was not just prepared to put herself through the possibility of finding out that there was a chance of her having a child with Down Syndrome, she actually got the most rigorous test available to find out. She knew she was in the public eye and needed to be prepared for everything. This is particularly remarkable for a pro-life woman because, again, according to Christian News Service
The procedure increases the normal rate of miscarriage, which is 2 percent to 3 percent, by 1/2 to 1 percent, according to Dr. Len Leshin, a pediatrician in Texas who has a son with Down syndrome and has written extensively on the subject.
This may seem like a small chance of killing an unborn baby (and studies suggest the risk of such killing can be anywhere between 1 in 200 and 1 in 1600). But when you are adamantly pro-life - even in cases of rape or incest - you do not take any chances with the life and well-being of an unborn child. I'm not an expert but I imagine most women who have been pregnant have been informed of the risks of an amnio. Palin, as governor, of course, had to deal with a bigger pubic platform and so must have felt that the small risk to the child's life was outweighed by the necessity of being fully "prepared" in the public square. I cannot begin to judge how a woman weighs those kinds of decisions - but they are very, very hard ones and Palin made a clear choice and stuck with it. If we want a president who is able to take risks, Palin has demonstrated this skill admirably.
Still, nothing really compares with the story of how she finally came to give birth. The time from her amniotic fluid leaking and her feeling the first contractions to the time she finally gave birth was at least a day. That day was spent in a hotel room in Dallas, Texas, in an auditorium where Palin was so tough she gave the speech on energy policy even as amniotic fluid was at risk of leaking again from her dress and she was reporting contractions, through three separate plane rides to her delivery room in her home-town of Wasilla, Alaska. You want a pitbull with lipstick? Here's a pitbull with lipstick:
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. "I said I am going to stay for the day. I have a speech I was determined to give," Palin said. She gave the luncheon keynote address for the energy conference.
Palin kept in close contact with Baldwin-Johnson. The contractions slowed to one or two an hour, "which is not active labor," the doctor said. "Things were already settling down when she talked to me," Baldwin-Johnson said. Palin did not ask for a medical OK to fly, the doctor said.
She was in a state thousands of miles from home, leaking amniotic fluid and experiencing contractions, with a Down Syndrome baby (which she had done so much to prepare for), but but she didn't even ask her doctor if it was advisable to travel! She knew her own body; she'd had four pregnancies before and this was one she must have believed she could easily handle, getting on a plane from Dallas to Anchorage at least twelve hours after getting contractions with a fifth child.
On the airplane all the way home, with a stop in Seattle, Palin was so strong she didn't even let the flight attendants know about her pregnancy:
Palin was very pleasant to the gate agents and flight attendants, as always, Boren said. "The stage of her pregnancy was not apparent by observation. She did not show any signs of distress," Boren said.
Talk about cool and collected. Even after landing in Alaska, Palin decided not to go to a hospital in Anchorage but to head to her home town of Wasilla to have her baby delivered by the same family obstetrician who had delivered her last baby. The pace of events must have somehow prevented both Todd and Sarah Palin from telling their other children what to expect when their mother gave birth to their siblings. As Willow Piper said, according to the New York Times:
Inside Ms. Palin’s room, her daughter Willow, 14, immediately noticed her new brother’s condition, according to People magazine. “He looks like he has Down syndrome,” Willow said. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
And so not only did Palin have to deliver this child under these circumstances, she also had to explain the Down Syndrome to her other children, even as she was recovering from the delivery. That cannot have been easy. But Palin managed it anyway. And after a mere three days, she was back at her work, proving every bit the feisty, principled, straight-talking running mate that McCain obviously saw in his extensive vetting of her background.
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