The Keoughs always wanted a large family, but it didn’t come easily to them. When they became pregnant after much difficulty conceiving, doctors tried to convince them to abort their baby just because she had Down syndrome.
“My husband, Nick, and I are both from larger families and always imagined we would have a large family ourselves,” Laura Keough said in an interview with Live Action News. “We had been trying to conceive for close to two years without success. After I was diagnosed with endometriosis, I quickly had surgery, and was able to conceive within a few months. We were over the moon to meet our first child.”
But by 12 weeks, the couple was told there were signs of an abnormality. At 14 weeks, they were sent for another ultrasound, which confirmed the diagnosis of Down syndrome. In a video posted on YouTube, Keough described what the conversation was like.
“It most likely has Down syndrome,” she recalled. “I’m sorry; you have two options from here: to continue with the pregnancy, or terminate it.” Keough was 17 weeks along, and was thrilled to be expecting her little girl. “I had prayed and waited for her for so long, and she was finally here,” she continued. “And now, as I lay in the dark ultrasound room, my husband and I joyfully watching her twist and turn on the monitor, I was being asked if I still wanted her. ‘She may have a learning disability. She may be sick. She may need surgery.’ And for that, did I want her to be mutilated and thrown away?”
While Keough said they weren’t outright pressured to have an abortion, they weren’t given any positive news, either.
“Nick and I were still very much excited to meet our baby, but had a multitude of questions swirling in our brains. Our future was so unknown,” she said. “During the ultrasound at 14 weeks, we were given the option to terminate. It was very eerie, and we immediately said that would not be necessary. In our experience there was no pressure to do so. But the doctor was very somber about the diagnosis, offering no positive words or resources, which was quite troubling and disappointing. My husband and I were okay, but I imagined the many moms and dads who needed support and were not given any in such a vulnerable time.”
A campaign from the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network (DSDN) showed how frequent this kind of diagnosis experience is. According to DSDN, only 11% of women who receive a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis describe it positively. A survey of doctors also found that 13% admitted to emphasizing the negative aspects of Down syndrome to pressure women into having an abortion. DSDN’s “Dear Doctor” campaign spotlighted the way diagnoses were delivered, with one mother, for example, reporting that her doctor said her daughter would be a “vegetable.”
Despite the negative experience with their diagnosis, the Keoughs embraced their new future as parents of a child with Down syndrome. “We were in a state of shock for the first few days but it quickly wore off,” she said. “I remember googling pictures of babies with Down syndrome and thinking how adorable they all were. I would text pictures to Nick and we would get so excited to meet our baby! Wondering what they would look like, see their smile, hear their laugh… Even though we knew nothing of our future, we were certain that it would be OK.”
During the pregnancy, prenatal testing allowed them to discover that their daughter, whom they named Winnie, had a heart condition and would need surgery. “We were thankful to be able to know this so early, and follow her health throughout the pregnancy,” she said. And when Winnie was born, the Keoughs were thrilled.
“We hoped for a girl. I had many brothers and so did Nick, so we were ready for a girl in the family. And she was the best surprise!” Keough said. “We were able to hold her but not for long before she was taken to the NICU. Being very small and having a heart condition she needed constant care and feeding through a tube. She remained in the hospital for 4 long months, receiving multiple surgeries. But eventually we took our tiny girl home where she adapted well, and even began nursing after months of being tube fed. We finally started to feel like a normal family!”
Despite the diagnosis experience, Keough said the doctors in the hospital after Winnie was born were supportive and helpful. “They treated her just like any other child,” she said. “Recognizing her worth that we knew was there all along.”
Today, Winnie is five years old, with brothers Julian and Rohan—three years old and eight months old—rounding out the family. “Winnie is an energetic, stubborn, loving little girl, with lots to say and do,” Keough said. “She loves her family, friends, and school. She plays mommy to her dolls, doctor to her brothers, loves to read books and do crafts. And insists on a dance party almost every day.”
When it comes to the doctors who advised abortion, Keough had a suggestion. “Instead of telling them anything I would simply ask them to spend a few moments with Winnie before asking another patient if they wanted to terminate their baby with Down Syndrome,” she said. And she also had some words of advice for other parents struggling with a new diagnosis.
“No matter what, they make the world a better place. I have never met a soul that could argue that fact. So no matter how scary or unknown a Down syndrome diagnosis can be, there will never be a time that termination would be the better choice.”
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