Over the weekend I was taking a walk through our neighborhood. I ran into a gal that also has a toddler. We were talking about our kids and then she asked when I was due. Somehow the fact that she was a special education teacher prior to her having her child came up. Because of this, I felt comfortable telling her that my baby has Down syndrome. Her response wasn’t what I had expected from a former special educator. Those that I have told in the past have acted almost like I told them my child will have red hair – no biggie. She, on the other hand, gave me a sympathetic smile followed by an “oh, how old are you?”. Um, excuse me? The question caught me off guard so I actually fumbled over my words when I responded with, “36 at delivery, 35 at conception”. She then went on to tell me that her and her husband are trying for their second child and because she’s 37, Down syndrome is a big concern. I informed her that anyone can have a baby with
Down syndrome but the odds are always in your favor to not. I wished her luck and continued on with my walk.
Quite honestly, that conversation pissed me off. I hate having the misconception that because I’m of “advanced maternal age” I caused our baby to have Down syndrome. I feel like people might think it’s my fault and that I was just lucky with my first – I shouldn’t have pushed the envelope. That we “deserve this” because we’re “old”. The whole thing really upsets me. To think that there was anything that I could’ve done to “cause” Eli to have Down syndrome devastates me. People have actually asked me if there was any way we could’ve “prevented this”. Uh ok. That question usually doesn’t even get a response. What do you say to complete ignorance? (That reminds me, I need to come up with a witty response to that question!) 😉
I do want to help spread the word that Down syndrome doesn’t just happen to babies of “old” parents. (I keep putting that word in quotes because I don’t think 36 is old and I certainly don’t feel old!) Ask the gal who at 18 is due with her first baby girl, who has Down syndrome. Or the 25 year old mom who just had her third boy, who happens to have Down syndrome. Or the 27 year old mom who underwent fertility treatments before becoming pregnant with a baby who also has that extra 21st chromosome. There’s many other stories out there like that. One of my fears for the future has been the stares my baby will receive and then the look up at me to see if I’m an old lady who was out of place having a family at this “advanced maternal age”.
Here is some information I pulled from the March of Dimes website:
At age 25, the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome is 1 in 1,250.
At age 30, the risk is 1 in 1,000.
At age 35, the risk is 1 in 400.
At age 40, the risk is 1 in 100.
At age 45, the risk is 1 in 30.
Even though the risk is greater as the mother’s age increases, about 80 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born to women under age 35. This is because younger women have more babies than older women.
When I first was given odds (before any blood tests or ultrasounds) they were 1 in 800, just based on my age and previous healthy pregnancy. Even though my risk went up with age, I’d bet those odds in Vegas – as would most people. When our odds went way up to 1 in 3 (after the prenatal testing) I still would’ve taken those odds. There was a 66% percent chance our baby would not have Down syndrome.
Down syndrome can affect any family. 1 out of every 800 babies born in the US has Down syndrome. That’s 3,400 babies a year. That number would obviously be higher if less people chose medical termination when faced with the prenatal diagnosis. Come October, our family will be blessed with one of those 3,400. When you meet me out on a walk/at the store/playing in the park with my two beautiful boys, please don’t ask my age. Please don’t ask what I did to “cause” this. I ask you not to judge my child and I beg you not to judge me.