The Geraci family has a story that bridges the disability rights and Pro-Life movements extraordinarily well. Mr. Glenn Geraci and Mrs. Michelle Geraci are the parents of five children in Nathalie (18-years-old), Glenn (16), Leighann (13), Harry (11), and Penelope (8). Michelle and Glenn have raised their children in the Catholic faith and as people who consistently care about the unborn, pregnant mothers and those with special-needs, but their journey in getting to that point is especially unique and will be told by Nathalie.
“When [my mom] had first gotten pregnant with me, there were a lot of complications … and they decided to do prenatal testing on me [in the first trimester]. My test came back as false positive for down syndrome,” Nathalie Geraci said. “[The female doctor] was really, really [sic] pushing an abortion. She was an OB-GYN [and] also had a nurse on the other hand that was also trying to gear my mom in that direction to make her feel as if abortion was the best option for her … The nurse said things like ‘your kids [are] not going to be happy [or] have a quality of life that’s good … [My mom] realized after that [this] was horrible, totally terrible.”
Michelle came from a home that was not particularly pro-life or pro-abortion and, although they were married at the time, Glenn was not fully educated on the issue of abortion and would be in favor of whatever his wife decided. Through Michelle’s careful research on the subject of pregnancy and abortion, however, she became determined to see another physician rather than agreeing to the first obstetrician’s pro-abortion decree. She was able to find another doctor who gave her an in-depth sonogram that clearly displayed Nathalie’s spine, organs, and heart valves. The sonogram uncovered that the original ultrasound was mistaken as Nathalie did not actually have Trisomy 21, otherwise known as Down syndrome. After resisting the fatal recommendation of the first OB/GYN, Michelle would have little Glenn two years later and, then, become pregnant with Leighann just over two years after Glenn was born.
Leighann, just like Nathalie, would not pass her prenatal tests, would be figured to have Down syndrome, and her mother would be told that she had the option to abort. Michelle, however, already caring for two children, immersing herself more in her Christian faith community, becoming more pro-life and more informed about how Down syndrome can truly be a blessing, quickly dismissed that ‘choice’ and decided to have Leighann regardless of her potential disability status.
“[The doctors] were like this is what’s going to be best for you and for her, because the quality of life is going to be low and they try to demean the life of the person just because of that disability,” Nathalie said. “That’s what upsets me about the whole situation a lot, because I know my mom is just one of many.”
Nathalie is not wrong. Many gynecologists and physicians recommend unborn babies that are Trisomy 21 positive for abortion. U.S. data on the issue from 1995-2011 was amassed in a 2012 study that determined the weighted mean abortion rate for American babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome to be ‘67% among seven population-based studies, 85% among nine hospital-based studies, and 50% among eight anomaly-based studies’.1
Leighann’s original diagnosis was found to be inaccurate following a sonogram and she was born without Down syndrome. Even if she did have Down syndrome, however, the Geraci’s were ready to welcome their little girl into the world with open arms.
Almost two years later, Michelle would become pregnant again with Harry.
“[My mom] told me she had a sixth sense about the whole thing,” Nathalie said. “She kind of knew there was probably a chance that [Harry] had Down syndrome … because of that feeling she decided she wouldn’t do the prenatal testing at all on him … she had known that a few of the doctors in that practice were more pro-choice. She didn’t want to put herself in the position where they were going to be very firm with her and tell her what to do.”
As Michelle predicted, Harry would be born with Down syndrome and welcomed into the Geraci home.
“Watching him develop and grow was such an amazing experience,” Nathalie said. “He was just always smiling. He was very, very [sic] active, too … [he] loves to throw.”
An individual with Down syndrome having such a joyous disposition is actually the norm. A survey from the American Journal of Medical Genetics found that out of 284 people with Down syndrome surveyed, 99% expressed that they were happy with their lives, 99% indicated love for their families, 97% liked who they are, and 96% liked how they look.2
After having Harry, Michelle decided to get more involved with 40 Days for Life, an internationally coordinated Pro-Life organization that sets up campaigns where volunteers pray, fast and stand outside abortion clinics for the sake of the unborn and mothers in crisis, through her local Connecticut chapter. Michelle would find a prayerful and joyful group of volunteers that she and her family would grow with in fellowship. Through these same Pro-Life connections, the Geraci family would come to find a new faith.
“[My mother and subsequently the whole family became Catholic] definitely because of the Pro-Life movement,” Nathalie said. “We were very involved with 40 Days for Life up in Connecticut ... a lot of the sisters and the religious people that she was surrounded with because of 40 Days for Life influenced her and she was like ‘wow these people are really, really [sic] nice’ and she started to look at the faith as well. And she was like … ‘this is right- the Eucharist is right’.”
The Geraci family would officially be initiated into the Catholic faith following the birth of Penelope in December 2011. Penelope’s birth, however, was not desired by everyone.
“We had moved to Florida when my mom was pregnant with Penelope and so my mom was a lot older when she had Penelope versus the rest of us,” Nathalie said. “The doctors were trying to push her in suggesting abortion as an option because she had already had a kid with special-needs and [there was] the fact that she was [38-years-old].”
This doctor had not even given Michelle prenatal testing before recommending abortion as her age and simply having Harry years before made the obstetrician feel he had to recommend killing the unborn child. Michelle would forgo any more prenatal screenings and happily gave birth to a healthy Penelope.
Nathalie, an active Catholic in the Diocese of St. Augustine, understands how special-needs awareness and the Pro-Life movement work well together through the Catholic Church.
“I think a lot of the combination between the pro-life movement and the special-needs movement … is in the Church definitely. I’ve been to a lot of events where it’s just purely special-needs and a lot of movements in the Church where it’s purely pro-life. But I kind of see a lot of that merged together because the Church has so many families in it, just noticing [those with special-needs] throughout going to Mass- I feel like that is a really good converging place, because it holds the family in such a high place.”
The Geraci family is very involved with Catholic Charities’ Camp I Am Special, which is a six-day, multiple-session summer camp for children, teenagers, and adults who have physical, mental and emotional disabilities in Northeast Florida. Nathalie volunteered as a ‘buddy’ for one of those six-day sessions at Camp I Am Special over Summer 2019, which allowed her to spend time bonding with a special-needs ‘camper’ at the pool, on the swings, and during meals. Her brothers, Glenn and Harry, both went to camp as a ‘buddy’ and a ‘camper’ respectively.
“I was a little bit nervous, just because I wanted to be the best buddy for my camper,” Nathalie said. “So, I just prayed a little bit. I was like: ‘God, give me the insight to be the best person I can for her’. [It] was one of the best weeks of my entire life. [My camper] was awesome.”
Nathalie sees herself being an active part of the Pro-Life movement in college, too.
“I definitely can see myself going to the March [for Life] in the future … I definitely think that I’ll be doing some sort of Pro-Life activism in college,” Nathalie said. “And depending on how available that is, maybe if there is 40 Days for Life, that’s something I would definitely join in college and [just] doing everything I can as one person.”
Nathalie knows her family’s story is powerful and contributes to the culture of life. She feels that her mother, being recommended or offered abortion for three of her children suspected of Down syndrome, which has enhanced Harry’s life as a now-11-year-old boy who constantly smiles while playing with his dog, helping cook, playing basketball, and listening to music, would have great advice for women in the same situation that she was in.
“I would definitely think that she would just tell them to pray and know that every single child is a gift no matter what they look like or any disability,” Nathalie said. “Their value isn’t defined by what they can and can’t do, it’s just the fact that they’re your child and that’s your flesh and blood. She would acknowledge the fact that it is very daunting and it’s an emotional roller coaster, but, at the end of the day, everything will be okay.”
The Geraci Family:
1: Natoli, Jaime L, et al. “Prenatal Diagnosis of Down Syndrome: a Systematic Review of Termination Rates (1995-2011).” PubMed.gov, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Feb. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22418958.
2: Skotko, Brian G, et al. “Self-Perceptions from People with Down Syndrome.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3740159/.