After Drudge ran a headline promising a New York Times “exposé” on Sarah Palin and her infant Trig, most of us rolled our eyes and wondered what new smear(s) would enter the media feeding frenzy over John McCain’s choice of running mate.  Imagine our pleasant surprise, then, when the Times published a balanced and mostly non-political look at Palin’s pregnancy, her work ethic, and the difficulties she faced with her final pregancy.  It gently deflates the remaining attacks on Palin regarding her pregnancy and puts a human face on the Palins — something lost in the avalanche of mud that had engulfed them over the last ten days.

Here is most of the political portion:

Before her son was born, Ms. Palin went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his arrival would not compromise her work. She hid the pregnancy. She traveled to Texas a month before her due date to give an important speech, delivering it even though her amniotic fluid was leaking. Three days after giving birth, she returned to work.

But with Trig in her arms, Ms. Palin has risen higher than ever. Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, says he selected her as his running mate because of her image as a reformer, but she is also making motherhood an explicit part of her appeal, running as a self-proclaimed hockey mom. In just a few months, she has gone from hiding her pregnancy from those closest to her to toting her infant on stage at the Republican National Convention.

No one has ever tried to combine presidential politics and motherhood in quite the way Ms. Palin is doing, and it is no simple task. In the last week, the criticism she feared in Alaska has exploded into a national debate. On blogs and at PTA meetings, voters alternately cheer and fault her balancing act, and although many are thrilled to see a child with special needs in the spotlight, some accuse her of exploiting Trig for political gain.

But her son has given Ms. Palin, 44, a powerful message. Other candidates kiss strangers’ babies; Ms. Palin has one of her own. He is tangible proof of Ms. Palin’s anti-abortion convictions, which have rallied social conservatives, and her belief that women can balance family life with ambitious careers. And on Wednesday in St. Paul, she proclaimed herself a guardian of the nation’s disabled children.

“Children with special needs inspire a special love,” Ms. Palin said, echoing the message she had shared at the shower.

Jodi Kantor writes well about the struggles the Palins had in coming to terms with both the late pregnancy and Trig’s Downs syndrome.  The popular view of Palin on the Right is that she is so tough that nothing bothers her, but that’s expecting far too much of anyone.  She and Todd had some difficulties in adjusting to the news — as would any couple — and didn’t tell their children about the diagnosis until after giving birth to Trig.  She had put it off to the last month of the pregnancy, hoping that they would get used to the idea of a new sibling first, and Trig’s premature birth meant she ran out of time.

The premature birth and the leaking amniotic fluid get a mention here as well.  Kantor notes that Palin spoke with her physician from Texas, who advised her to continue with her business and then fly home.  Palin followed her advice and in the end, no complications ensued.  She didn’t go into labor until her OB/GYN induced it once back in Alaska.

Just as with most people, humanizing Sarah Palin makes her more attractive than the hyperbolic persona projected by followers in the first blush of her arrival on the national stage.  It shows a woman who lives her faith and finds joy in her life, but who also has the same struggles as everyone else.  Congratulations to Kantor and the Times for good, honest reporting.