Today, hundreds of thousands of people are gathering in Washington DC for the annual March for Life. Bruce and I had hoped to go this year, but he had surgery earlier this month to get rid of some pesky kidney stones. (He is recovering well!) Even so, this particular year the March is very special to me. The reason? This year’s theme: Every Life is a Gift. Specifically, the theme focuses on the dignity of unborn babies with fetal anomalies.
As a person with a life-long disability, this is very significant to me. It pains me to hear people attempt to justify abortion in cases involving fetal anomalies. Numerous articles have been written about the high percentage of unborn children with Down’s Syndrome being aborted. And while ultrasounds show us the wonder of prenatal life, sadly many doctors use this tool to encourage “termination” for conditions as minor as a club foot. I recall that in high school, I wrote a term paper on genetic counseling (which is closely linked to prenatal testing.) I was actually in favor of it at that time, as a means of preparing parents for the care of a special needs child. In my youthful naivete, I had no idea how this scientific tool could be used for the destruction of life.
Why are we so obsessed with “perfect children?” Why do we even have so many of these prenatal tests? How many times do we hear parents speak of their unborn baby in these terms: “We don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, as long as we have a healthy baby.” Don’t get me wrong. I understand the desire to have a healthy child, and it is okay to pray for a healthy child. But when we…even in the Church…say these things, it’s as if we will accept a healthy child from God, but an unhealthy child can be refused and everyone will understand.
I believe people often have these ideas because they cannot bare the thought that their loved one would suffer physical pain, mockery from school kids, surgeries and other medical interventions. Life would just be too hard. But life IS hard! I was made fun of…I did cry at times when I wasn’t accepted by my peers. But I also excelled in my own ways. Additionally…and this is important when considering severe disabilities…no one should decide that another person’s life is so miserable that he/she would be better off dead. Who gets to decide how much suffering is too much? Is it the child’s suffering that worries us? Or society’s? After all, if there are fewer children with special needs, we wouldn’t have to make so many accommodations with things like ramps and reserved parking spaces and braille and special ed classrooms. We wouldn’t have to see adults in diapers or drooling on themselves while sitting in the front pew at church…if they are fortunate enough to get in a church.
I remember when I first learned that Gabriel had severe anomalies. I remember the doctor saying I needed to consider my “options.” I also remember his apparent disdain and annoyance when I said there were no options. He wanted my case to be over. Clear the calendar for the next several months…give those appointment times to another patient. At one point he said “Your baby is not going to survive, if it is born alive at all.”
My memory is fuzzy at this point. I know many of the things I probably would have said if I wasn’t so saddened by the prognosis. Things like, “Well, you’re going to die any way too. That doesn’t mean I can expedite the process.” I’m certain that I said less than I wanted to because my Guardian Angel had his wings held tightly over my mouth!
But my main thought process was this: We are talking about my baby. He may not live long… so now is the only time I have. How dare you ask me to give that up.
Bruce and I prayed for our baby. Our family prayed for him. We had church friends praying for our baby. We wanted the miracle…where a heavenly light enters the delivery room and the doctor sees that he is wrong when the baby makes his first cry and the joyful testimony rings out and then friends and family rally with the biggest impromptu baby shower and nursery makeover……..
But that didn’t happen. No angelic songs, no streams of light. The doctor was right; Gabriel was stillborn. His body was too tiny and frail. Had he survived birth, he likely would have suffered physical pain. He may have undergone numerous surgeries. In fact, earlier in the pregnancy, we started consulting with neonatal surgeons at Riley’s. We were preparing for a lengthy struggle.
But despite the sad ending, he was…and is…my baby. My son. The little boy who made me a mommy. A grieving mommy, but a mommy nonetheless.
And actually, this is really not a sad ending. I believe Gabriel is in heaven waiting for us, looking down on us now. We arranged for him to be baptized in the hospital room, because we know not when the soul leaves the body. We had a funeral Mass and proper burial for him, just as we would for any family member. We commended him into the loving hands of God.
Gabriel’s short earthly life…33 weeks in my womb…definitely matters. It did back then, and it does now. I always wanted to be a mommy…and I am one. Gabriel was God’s gift to me. And as this year’s March for Life proclaims, #EveryLifeisAGift!