The first speaker at the Washington, D.C., March for Life Rally in January was Tameka Walden; she spoke of how she rejected her doctor’s encouragement to have an abortion after an ultrasound indicated the baby had a cyst on her brain and organ defects. As it turns out, Tameka’s daughter was born healthy, without a cyst or organ defects. Then the 19-year-old Ariel followed her mother on stage, singing the national anthem for the rally.

Tameka had known there would be numerous doctor visits. She would have loved her daughter unconditionally, but she also knew the world would deem her baby with imperfections as unlovable. She was afraid; yet she chose life anyway. Tameka said of that decision, “I chose to walk into the unknown.”

Her remark really struck me. Isn’t it “walking into the unknown” that is so terrifying for a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy or receiving an unexpected diagnosis for her baby?  Too often, she will choose abortion, rather than face the unknown.

In Tameka’s case, the intimidating future of raising a child with health issues didn’t materialize.  This sometimes happens; though, more often than not, the diagnosis comes to pass. For example, it is not uncommon, especially for a woman in the later stages of the child-bearing years, to learn through prenatal testing that the baby she is carrying has Down syndrome.

Sadly, a high percentage of moms in this situation will choose abortion, often with the recommendation of their physicians. Walking into the unknown world of raising a child with an intellectual disability and possible health issues can seem too daunting to face.

As a mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, I have read and heard many testimonies of other parents. Our stories almost always follow the same pattern: There is typically fear, grief and anxiety during the pregnancy. But once the baby is born, the unknown becomes known.  Parents fall in love with their baby, and they experience great joy. It doesn’t take long before they wonder why they were ever so fearful. This, despite any challenges that arise.

Whether it is an unexpected pregnancy or a pregnancy with unexpected challenges, most often when a mother chooses life for her baby, the joy her baby brings into her life helps her overcome fear of the unknown. If she can just trust and say yes to life, in most cases, she will have no regrets and will feel gratitude for the gift of her child.

Two thousand years ago, another mother “walked into the unknown” and gave her fiat to God’s invitation to bear His only begotten son. This month we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, when Mary said yes and trusted even though she must have known that walking into that unknown would be difficult.

We can look to the Blessed Mother for inspiration and her intercession when we need to walk into the unknown. May we also walk with moms in need as they face the unknown in unexpected or challenging pregnancies.

— Eileen Haupt is respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.