Saturday, October 22, 2016

termination, incompatibility with life, and the value of a child

We mixed the concrete, shoveled and tamped, checked and double checked with levels and measuring tape.  I worked quietly next to Sam, because that’s what we do: work together.  He knew that I was quiet because I was sad.  “I’m sorry you’re out here.  You shouldn’t be able to be out here right now, setting fence posts with me. You should be with our two month old.”  And he was right, I was sad because I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing.  But even more so, my heart felt heavy knowing that while I mourned my empty arms, babies were being killed this very moment. 

Can we just call this what it is?  A genocide. 

darling Winnie, just after birth
Clive and Winnie have taught me many things, especially the value of life, however short it may be.  There’s been lots of abortion talk this week, so I thought I’d throw in my thoughts.  Last year I wrote a blog post about how all kids deserved to be loved and given a chance at life, spurred by my time at the cemetery looking at the small graves.  “And here I am saying this: every child deserves to be fought for, to be loved, to live, and to be remembered.” (That post is here.)


But today, my thoughts go in a different direction.  What about the moms?  What about our role as a society?  What about the children that are “incompatible with life”?  What about our vote? 

I feel a Deep Sadness when I think about it.  Not anger at the moms, but sadness that we don’t do this well as a societyI feel that we have continued to perpetuate abortion.  We tell moms that they could not possibly handle being a teenage mom, having a baby during college, having a sick or dying baby, or having a baby that was conceived from an act of absolute violence.  We tell them that they are not strong enough and that the only option is to abort.  But what if, instead, we tell them: “Yes, sweet one, life is so very hard and broken.  I see how scary this is.  I see your pain. I will not dismiss this and act like this is an easy decision. I see that this is not what you wanted.  But beautiful things could come from this absolutely difficult situation.”   What if we tell them about the strong women who have walked this road ahead of them?

Winnie at 36 weeks
What if we show them our unconditional love and support through their entire journey, whatever their choice may be?  What if we do more than just support programs that help moms?  What if we actually help them?  Yes, it might take our resources, our finances, our time, our lives, but that’s what we do because it takes a village.  I’ve watched women’s lives become absolutely changed by having an unexpected pregnancy. It’s hard being a single mom.  They didn’t expect this life.  But there is so much absolute love for their child.  They’d have it no other way.  And I’ve watched people surround them with love, support, and kindness in the most beautiful village-like way.


What if, instead of just dismissively saying “You can put the baby up for adoption,” we acknowledge how incredibly brave, selfless, and hard that will be.  Can we applaud these women and give them all the support they need in this journey, rather than just list it as a ‘simple’ alternative?  There’s nothing simple about it. 

Many children are aborted because it is an inconvenient time, or the wrong person, or a potentially sick baby.  What if we break the stigma that life can be controlled and perfect?  Abortion is heartbreaking on so many levels, but one that is often unrecognized is that it perpetuates the idea that we can control our lives and protect ourselves from pain.  But, we absolutely cannot.  Hard, unbearable things will happen in our lives and we need stop perpetuating the idea that we need to hold things together and save face.  We need to stop perpetuating the idea that there is such a thing as a "perfect family".  Maybe something painfully beautiful can come out of a situation that is riddled with shame and pain if we open ourselves up to speak about it and share about the mess of our lives.  We can’t control each thing that happens to us, but we can control (to some level) what we do with what happens to us.  What if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and share our burdens with others, so that they may know how we, too, walk a hard road?  
Clive at 30 weeks

Many of the babies who are aborted, especially late in pregnancy, have defects.   Let’s talk about that. 

Medical technology is simply amazing.  We can see a heartbeat at about 5 weeks.  This is actually only 3 weeks after conception.  With ultrasounds can see fingers, and heart chambers, and tongues moving in and out of tiny mouths.  We can detect so many things on ultrasounds and with prenatal testing.  Some of these things potential defects with unknowns that can be determined only after birth, and some are much more definite syndromes and defects that will definitely end in the child’s death.  And there’s everything in between, too. 

Let me start with an example that is about adoption, rather than abortion.  In adoption, it’s become well known that it is better to have the child know about their birth family, even have a relationship with them, if possible.  There’s evidence that this helps them understand, process, and be more emotionally stable as they grow up.  I wonder if, similarly, the opportunity to emotionally process a child’s life and death helps women when they’ve been giving a fatal diagnosis about their child during pregnancy.  When a condition that is “incompatible with life” is detected during pregnancy, women are often counseled to terminate the pregnancy.  But perhaps, by ending the child’s life in abortion and never getting the chance to see the baby we are hindering the mother’s opportunity to love and grieve their child.

Years ago, stillborn babies were whisked away and mothers were never allowed to see them.  It was believed that they could “move on” better if they didn’t see their child.  Even babies who were born alive, with severe birth defects, were not allowed to be seen.  It caused a lot of lingering trauma for moms who were never given the opportunity to see or hold the child that they carried.  Now, it’s common for families to spend hours with their stillborn child (or even longer, with technology such as a Cuddlecot), allowing for an opportunity to say “hello” and “goodbye” to them.  I wouldn’t have understood this need to hold a deceased child, but now I unfortunately do.  It absolutely won’t make complete sense to someone who has not said goodbye to a baby, but there is a lot of emotional closure that happens during this time.  I know countless mothers, and they wouldn’t have traded these moments for anything.  Even when it is anticipated that the child will die, I truly believe that the mother will process her grief so much better if given the opportunity to meet her child rather than end it in an abortion.  Because she is going to grieve either way.   If an abortion is done because of a defect, at whatever point in pregnancy, the mother is going to grieve.  She’ll grieve the loss, grieve the child, grieve the pregnancy, grieve the life she imagined.  I haven’t looked up studies and I’m not sure they’ve been done, but I truly believe that the emotional processing of grief after loss of a child to a defect would be improved if able to “meet” and love the child as they are.

I have friends who have chosen early inductions or cesareans because they knew their child would not live and wanted a chance to meet them.  Sometimes it’s even possible for the doctors to know when the baby is starting to die (if they have a terminal condition) and they can allow the mom to have time with the child while still alive.  These moms are so grateful for this opportunity, whether it was before or after the child passed.  They’re grateful that people have shared that this is not wrong or gross or weird and helped them feel brave to make this decision.  They’re grateful for the doctors and nurses that still believe that this child is beautiful and valued, even if they are not going to live.  People don’t often talk about this (because who wants to talk about dead babies?  it is oh, so very hard) but I think it needs to be shared because you never know who might make a decision to have a time to say “hello” and “goodbye” to their baby and have beautiful memories made in the midst of complete tragedy

But, isn’t it so hard for a mother to carry a baby that she knows will not live?  Yes, yes it is.  It is SO HARD.  (I don't speak from experience, but so many moms have shared with me.  Thank you, brave mamas.)  Having strangers gush about your belly, not preparing a nursery because you know they will not come home, always wondering when the last beat of the heart may come.  But it is also so hard to suffer in silence.  To choose to end the life.  To choose not to meet the child.  It’s absolutely not an easier, more pain-free, simple choice to end a pregnancy.  We shouldn’t act like it is.

And what of the babies that still might live, despite their birth defect?  They might not die, but may live with disabilities.  If you’ve been involved with a Best Buddies program or gotten to know anyone with disabilities, you know that we have SO MUCH TO LEARN from people who are different from us.  There are organizations (like the Down Syndrome Adoption Network) that have people WAITING to adopt a child with a disability.  Children that are aborted something like 90% of the time.  Children who would live, although their life might look different from the “picture perfect” child that was expected.  But, guys, life isn’t perfect.  I love groups like Special Books for Special Kids that feature these children who are such blessings to their families just the way they are.  They absolutely deserve a chance to live. 

And what about the babies that have suspected conditions?  There are so many stories I know about babies who had various things monitored throughout pregnancy (that doctors warned could lead to disabilities) who have gone on to be completely typically developing.  But these women are still given the option to abort because of the possibility.  Healthy babies are being killed because of a possibility

What about the moms whose health is at risk?  Babies can survive after 22 weeks.  Not great outcomes at this point, but they can.  And each week provides more and more gains for chance of survival.  Visit a NICU and see these amazing fighters and realize that they at least deserve a fighting chance rather than being killed in a late-term abortion when the mom’s health is at risk, for whatever reason.

What about our vote?  Ultimately, I don’t believe that voting for a candidate that is “pro-life” will be the turning point for our country.  We need to think much more broadly than being “single-issue” voters.  We need to think much more broadly than whether something is even legal or illegal.  We need to support women and support causes that support women.  We need to show that we value all life and that we're willing to personally help women and children who need it.

Clive, just after birth
If not in voting, where will the larger societal change come from? Personally, I think that the medical community needs to have a change of perspective about the value of life, and that will then trickle into forming opinions.  And for this to happen, I believe families will need to be making brave, loving decisions and sharing the lives of their children with their doctors, family, friends, and the world.  These children-- however feeble, broken, sick, and “incompatible” they are—are valuable teachers to us all.

I’ve learned so much from my babies.  My sick, sweet, beautiful, darling babies.  If I knew they were going to die, I’d still choose to do things the exact same way.  Because meeting them and loving them was worth it.   They are loved and valued.  They didn’t contribute anything to society, and they cost a fortune in medical bills, but they changed lives by just being alive for a tiny period of time.  The world is a better place because they lived.

I’ve learned so much from other mamas and their children.  Brave single moms.  Moms who continued to carry babies who would not live.  Moms who surprised the doctors by not terminating.  Babies and children who (from an outside perspective) would seem to be such a burden with their range of disabilities but are an absolute blessing by just being themselves.

So, what are my prayers?  What are my action steps?  What do I strongly encourage you to do?

-Support efforts to help mothers who do not have the means to support a child, especially a child that may have special needs.  Choosing life does not end the story.  We need to be pro-life for the whole life. 

-Support, pray for, and acknowledge the beauty of adoption.  It is a beautiful way to bring life into a situation that might otherwise end in death.  

-Follow the Down Syndrome Adoption Network on Facebook to find out more about the children who have been chosen to be adopted not in spite of their disability but because of their disability.  Beautiful.  (Sadly, children with Down Syndrome are aborted about 90% of the time.  Truly a genocide.) 

-Raise awareness of the value of life, especially the lives of people with disabilities.  Do not shy away out of fear or ignorance.  We have so much to learn. 

-Share the beauty of having an opportunity to meet and say “goodbye” to a baby with a terminal diagnosis, even if is so painful.

-Pray for the doctors who might recommend termination for certain conditions, that they would recognize the value of life, however short. Pray that they would share options with parents about spending time with the baby, even if they will ultimately pass away.  

-Pray that parents would be bold to share their personal experiences of the value of the time they spent with their child, even if they were stillborn. 

-Pray for openness and vulnerability about loss, disability, death, pain, grief, and many other topics.  So many things are unspoken, and so many people live in silence thinking they are alone.

-Share your story, even if it’s unrelated to any of this.  We need to hear and see each other.

-Follow pages like Stand For Life on Facebook and Instagram.  They share beautiful stories about women that chose life and had a variety of outcomes.  Terminal diagnoses, pregnancy after rape, choosing adoption, choosing to be a single mom, mis-diagnosed conditions… It’s not sugar-coated, and some of the stories are hard.  But it’s so beautiful to hear these real stories. 

-Follow pages like Special Books by Special Kids on Facebook. and Instagram to see the beauty and value of children, regardless of their ability levels.  


7 comments:

  1. Emmaline was stillborn. We had already experienced 3 miscarriages, and would have 3 more after...but stillbirth was very different. I cannot and will not ever forget the experience.

    I got to hold her. I was allowed to love her, even though she was already dead. She was my first child, my only daughter, and I am so eternally grateful that I could meet her before her burial. It seems a lifetime ago, but I remember every eyelash, every pore on her face. Lord, I wish I could have raised her, but I am so grateful to have been her Mom!!

    God, I pray for those women suffering the dreaded decision. Please, Lord, give them your strength to follow through with life. To realize that even just a fleeting moment with their child is too precious to waste. Jesus, please help those who have never had to experience this pain realize that they need to help mothers who would otherwise abort their babies. They need to join us, not just in prayer, but with the resources it takes to protect these mothers and their babies. In a broken and imperfect world, we need the help of Your citizens to support those mothers who are otherwise friendless.

    Losing children is so very hard, as Rachel says, but Lord, we trust You to guide us and help us find Your strength through the pain, to guide us to the path that is righteous and good. Amen.

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    1. <3 thank you for sharing your story, Liz. Emmaline changed the world because she changed you and grew you to become even more caring, loving, and understanding.

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  3. Thank you so much for writing this and allowing me "to feel" the pain of losing a child if just for a moment through your writing. Many hugs and prayers to you and your husband. Clive and Winnie WIN!

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  4. Thank you so much for writing this and allowing me "to feel" the pain of losing a child if just for a moment through your writing. Many hugs and prayers to you and your husband. Clive and Winnie WIN!

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