A meticulously researched, empathetic account, expanded from a series Zuckoff wrote for the Boston Globe, about a young couple’s decision to continue with a pregnancy after they learned the baby had Down’s syndrome.
Though this is a story about one particular couple, the issues raised—the availability of increasingly sophisticated prenatal testing, the option of legal abortion, and society’s response to mental retardation—have wider implications. As he chronicles the challenges faced by grad student Greg Fairchild and wife Tierney Temple-Fairchild, who manages education programs for United Technologies, Zuckoff also comprehensively details attitudes toward and treatment of Down’s syndrome, meets with geneticists and prenatal specialists, talks to family and friends. The account begins in June 1998, when Tierney undergoes a prenatal examination called a triple screen, follow-up to the routine blood test and ultrasound that confirmed her pregnancy in April. The couple does not anticipate any untoward results—31-year-old Tierney is not considered at risk—but results show the baby has a heart defect that might indicate Down’s. As they consult experts, the couple wrestles with the question of abortion. They have about three weeks to decide; Tierney is 21 weeks pregnant, and Connecticut law allows elective abortion only through the 24th week. They must also deal with conflicting advice, her father’s coldness, and their own fears. African-American Greg worries that their child’s disability will expose it to even greater prejudice than its mixed-raced background (Tierney is white). They decide to continue the pregnancy, and Naia is born on November 22. Although she has a relatively moderate form of the syndrome, Naia is frequently ill during the first year of her life as surgeons wait for her to weigh enough to undergo heart surgery. It’s successful, and the couple—smitten like all new parents—begins making a rich, loving life for their exceptional daughter.
A moving testimony to a remarkable family as well as an informative primer on Down’s syndrome.