AD Main Menu

Palins' child diagnosed with Down syndrome (04/22/08)

Lisa Demer

Gov. Sarah Palin was back at work Monday in Anchorage, holding a meeting on the proposed natural gas pipeline three days after giving birth to her fifth child.

She and her husband, Todd, showed their new baby, Trig Paxson Van Palin, to a few reporters and photographers and answered questions about his condition and the sooner-than-expected delivery.

Trig has Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality that affects a child's intellectual and physical development, the governor confirmed.

"When we first heard, it was kind of confusing," Palin, 44, said. She called the revelation "very, very challenging" and said she initially felt sad.

But the family has worked through that. Palin said she and Todd feel blessed and chosen by God. With a big family including four older kids, grandparents, aunts and uncles, Palin said, they will have lots of support for what's ahead. In their eyes, she said, "he's absolutely perfect."

The oldest Palin kid, Track, is in the Army and texted his mother after learning the news with something to the effect of "This is just so cool -- I finally got my brother."

In a letter she e-mailed to relatives and close friends Friday after giving birth, Palin wrote, "Many people will express sympathy, but you don't want or need that, because Trig will be a joy. You will have to trust me on this." She wrote it in the voice of and signed it as "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father."

"Children are the most precious and promising ingredient in this mixed-up world you live in down there on Earth. Trig is no different, except he has one extra chromosome," Palin wrote.

As for people who think a baby like Trig shouldn't even be born, look around, the governor wrote. Who is perfect or even normal?

A MOTHER'S AGE

The risk of Down syndrome increases with the mother's age. For mothers under 30, it happens in fewer than one in 1,000 births. For mothers Palin's age, it's one in 35, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Most children with Down syndrome are considered mildly or moderately disabled; there's a big range. A toddler may not walk until age 2; an adult may never live on his own. But support groups stress that those with Down syndrome are more like other people than not and can live rich and rewarding lives.

Because of prenatal testing, most families now know beforehand, said Judy Waldron, president of the Alaska chapter of the National Down Syndrome Congress, a support and education group that delivered a parent packet to the Palins in the hospital.

"They anticipate it and they kind of relish the challenge of having a child with special needs," said Waldron, an Anchorage teacher whose 19-year-old daughter, Lyn, has Down syndrome.

While it's "no walk in the park," the joys are great, she said. "Just the fact that they require such great effort to complete some simple tasks and that's real rewarding."

Todd Palin said the family has gotten a flood of supportive e-mail from families around the country with special-needs children. He said he's playing it by ear as far as his North Slope job.

Some people call them "angel children," straight from God, Waldron said. They are usually sweet-natured but can be ornery, like anyone.

EARLY ARRIVAL

Palin was in Texas last week for an energy conference of the Republican Governors Association when she experienced signs of early labor. She wasn't due for another month.

Early Thursday -- she thinks it was around 4 a.m. Texas time -- she consulted with her doctor, family physician Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who is based in the Valley and has delivered lots of babies, including Piper, Palin's 7-year-old.

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.

"I don't think it was unreasonable for her to continue to travel back," Baldwin-Johnson said.

So the Palins flew on Alaska Airlines from Dallas to Anchorage, stopping in Seattle and checking with the doctor along the way.

"I am not a glutton for pain and punishment. I would have never wanted to travel had I been fully engaged in labor," Palin said. After four kids, the governor said, she knew what labor felt like, and she wasn't in labor.

Still, a Sacramento, Calif., obstetrician who is active in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said when a pregnant woman's water breaks, she should go right to the hospital because of the risk of infection. That's true even if the amniotic fluid simply leaks out, said Dr. Laurie Gregg.

"To us, leaking and broken, we are talking the same thing. We are talking doctor-speak," Gregg said.

Some airlines have policies against pregnant women onboard during the last four weeks of pregnancy, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises against flying after 36 weeks.

This was going to be Palin's last flight anyway, her doctor said.

Alaska Airlines has no such rule and leaves the decision to the woman and her doctor, said spokeswoman Caroline Boren. 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.

Palin never got big with this pregnancy. She said she didn't try to hide it but didn't feel a need to alert the airline, either.

They landed in Anchorage around 10:30 p.m. Thursday and an hour later were at the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Wasilla.

Baldwin-Johnson said she had to induce labor, and the baby didn't come until 6:30 a.m. Friday.

"It was smooth. It was relatively easy," Palin said. "In fact it was the easiest of all," probably because Trig was small, at 6 pounds, 2 ounces.

Palin said she wanted him born in Alaska but wouldn't have risked anyone's health to make that happen.

"You can't have a fish picker from Texas," said Todd.

Palin said she won't take maternity leave but will go with Trig to doctor's visits, physical therapy, whatever he needs. She's breast feeding and plans to bring Trig to work with her, just as she did with Piper.

"It just feels like he fits perfectly," Palin said. "He is supposed to be here with us."

Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.

Alaska Politics blog: Video
By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com
Contact Lisa Demer at LDemer@adn.com or on