'What Is Normal and What Is Perfect?'

By Steve Quinn
Associated Press
Saturday, May 10, 2008; 9:34 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska -- The results of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's prenatal testing were in, and the doctor's tone was ominous: "You need to come to the office so we can talk about it."

Palin responded, "No, go ahead and tell me over the phone."

The physician replied, "Down syndrome," stunning the Republican governor who had just completed what many political analysts regarded as a startling first year in office. Now, Palin said, she is trying to balance caring for her son with special needs and running the nation's largest state.

Palin had reached the Alaska statehouse after riding an ethics reform platform to victory over an incumbent Republican in the primary and a former two-term Democratic governor in the general election. Her growing reputation as a maverick, for bucking her party's establishment and Alaska's powerful oil industry, quickly gained her a national reputation.

All that seemed put into question after the doctor's call in December, when Palin was four months pregnant.

"I've never had problems with my other pregnancies, so I was shocked," said Palin, a mother of four other children. "It took a while to open up the book that the doctor gave me about children with Down syndrome, and a while to log on to the Web site and start reading facts about the situation."

Her husband, Todd, was out of town, and the 44-year-old governor waited a few days before telling him, allowing her first to understand what was ahead for them.

Once her husband got the news, he told her: "We shouldn't be asking, 'Why us?' We should be saying, 'Well, why not us?' "

Down syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in the fetus's cells. The genetic abnormality impedes physical, intellectual and language development.

The cause of the abnormality remains unclear, but a mother's age plays a significant factor: A pregnant 40-year-old woman faces odds of 1 in 100 of having a child with Down syndrome, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Even after getting the diagnosis, the Palins said, there was never any doubt they would have the child, and on April 18 Sarah Palin gave birth to Trig Paxson Van Palin.

"We've both been very vocal about being pro-life," she said. "We understand that every innocent life has wonderful potential."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company