On Tuesday, Baby Megan was born in a hospital in Colorado.
Her parents were told months ago that she would not survive birth. They were given no hope for their daughter. Her in utero diagnosis is one of those couched in the dreaded phrase “incompatible with life.” She was expected to be stillborn or to die shortly after birth due to respiratory failure.
Yet today, Baby Megan is alive. Not only is she alive, but she is breathing on her own, and has been since the beginning. She isn’t out of the woods yet, and her challenges are great. But Baby Megan’s mother has been able to hold her in her arms. Baby Megan has been awash in the love of her parents and grandparents. It’s even possible that Baby Megan could go home sometime next week. Baby Megan’s parents were given dire predictions about her, and they were encouraged by the doctors who diagnosed her to abort. So I’m rejoicing today.
And I’m angry.
Two months ago, I published a two-part series on prenatal testing, and in part one, I talked about our friends F and S, who felt they were pressured to abort their son, who is now several months old and expected to live a completely normal life. In that post, I wrote, “…a geneticist in a laboratory won’t live your life for you when you leave his office. He may know a lot about karyotyping, disease risk factors, and life expectancy, but those things are but a small shadow of a person – just a blip on the radar of a life. Doctors don’t deserve to decide who lives and who dies – or who is allowed to be born.”
After reading it, my friend Dawn called me up.
Although she agreed with me in principle, she felt I was a bit tough on doctors. We discussed the post, prenatal testing, and abortion for awhile, and at one point she asked me if I felt that doctors really had that much power over their patients, and if they really are guilty in that many cases of pressuring parents to abort. Do doctors really have that much control?
The only evidence I have is anecdotal, of course, but I’ve known three couples – friends in real life – who’ve been pressured after a diagnosis and I’ve read the birth stories of countless others (you may be one of those who shared your own story with me). It happened to Baby Megan’s parents in Colorado. It happened to F and S in Georgia. It happened to Mr. Andi and me in Alabama. So yes, I do believe it happens and that it happens often. And don’t forget about the many families who sent their children with T21 to institutions years ago – on the recommendation of their doctor.
One day, either here or in some other medium, I plan to publicly share the story of our first child who became an angel on July 13, 1999, but today is not that day. I wrote it years ago, but have never shared it outside my immediate family. What I will say now is that when our daughter was stillborn, Mr. Andi and I chose not to hold her, see her, or even to give her a name. It wasn’t until years later that I contacted the hospital and asked for the photos they took of her that day.
And it is the Single Great Regret of My Life.
We believed what the doctors told us – that our baby would be grotesquely deformed (she wasn’t). We believed what the doctors told us – that we should get on with our lives and not dwell on what had happened (impossible). Even though we were steadfast in our pro-life beliefs, we accepted the subtle message that was impressed upon us – that because she never took a breath she was not person enough to love, not worth the pain or sacrifice we would have to endure if we embraced her.
I have made many mistakes in my life, but most of them I accept as just a part of who I am – opportunities to grow, learn, and do better. But never holding my baby in my arms is the one thing I would do over if given the chance.
So today I am angry – angry at the doctors who tried to steal the precious gift that is Baby Megan from her parents. I don’t know what the future holds for her, but I have no doubt that her parents will never, ever regret the time they spent with her, no matter how long or how short.