The last week of December has always been a joyous time of year for me. December of 2007 was no exception. We had just arrived back home from two weeks in Mexico with my wife Moira’s family in time to spend Christmas with my family. The Mexican trip was turning into an annual tradition, an escape from the holiday mayhem. I enjoyed arriving back home just as the rest of the world was slowing down to enjoy the holiday.
We spent Christmas Eve at my parents, Christmas day at my aunt and uncles with a long stop at my grandmother’s. She was ninety-one and still engaged with life full of stories, wisdom and most of all curiosity. She lived a life of gratitude. The time I spent with her was some of my most cherished moments. At that time of year, I enjoyed slowing down, hanging out, reflecting and getting recharged. 2007 was a little different than past years. Moira was pregnant with our first child. The pregnancy gave me more to contemplate about the future, AND at a deeper level.
On December 26th we had our twenty-two week appointment with the prenatal doctor and ultrasound with the technician. Our biggest concern at that appointment was whether we should find out the sex of our baby. Luckily, both of us agreed, we wanted it to be a surprise. We were relaxed, happy, and nicely tan. Our Mexican trip was spent on the beaches of Isla Mujeres. As we were lounging on the beach down there, Moira and I had extra time to think and talk about our new life as parents. We pondered how our travel would change in the future. We were excited, and as prospective parents, had no idea what was in front of us. We made a list of commitments to each other that our lifestyle was not going to change. We were still going travel as much as we wanted. I was convinced I would continue skiing in the mountains as much as I wanted. Life was going to be great. It is only one kid we thought. We have the energy to do all of this. Our lifestyle won’t change.
Another couple vacationing at our beach side condominium had a three-month-old baby. They were proving our point. They were traveling as a family already. Their baby instigated many conversations with Moira and me. I didn’t know that there actually could be an angry baby, but this one was. He was the talk of the beach. Always with a frown on his face, he was heavy with patches of black hair and bald spots and gave new meaning to rolly polly. “What if we have an ugly baby? Would we even know if it was ugly? Can I still love it?” I wondered. I realized this baby was showing how naïve, dumb, and shortsighted I was about parenthood. Maybe more accurately, I was scared. It became clear up until that point I had lived a self-absorbed life. I had made decisions based on what would benefit me most, not considering how my actions affected other people. The prospect of parenthood challenged me. I needed to step into changing my perspective. Life was about to make sure that I would.
As we walked into our twenty-two week appointment, I was reflecting on how fortunate I was. We arrived at the office waiting room and checked in. The technician soon led us into the exam room and explained the process as Moira laid down on the exam table. The tech rubbed gel all over Moira’s stomach and asked, “How are you feeling? Any concerns I should know about?” Moira responded, “None that I know of.”
Moira tilted her head back and to the side so she could see the screen that was showing the picture the ultrasound was revealing. I was excited and curious to be there. My anxiety about the future was palpable. Until then I felt as if I were going through the motions, a little disconnected from the baby growing inside my wife. I was excited, but detached.
The technician pointed out. “There are the head and feet. You can see the hands and heartbeat.” It looked all good to me. The tech kept moving the handle. Then stopped abruptly. She pressed some buttons to take some still pictures, studied the screen, and looked over at us with concern on her face. “See this? This doesn’t look right,” she said. She continued to move the ultrasound and kept quiet. Thirty seconds or so went by and I asked her, “What did you mean, that doesn’t look right?” She replied, “The stomach is not in the right place. Just wait here,” and she left the room.
Moira was on the bed with goop all over her. She and I sat there looking at each other not knowing what to say. I could feel my breath getting shallower, my jaw clinching telling myself, “just take a deep breath.” Then thinking – what is she doing? Where did she go? What in the hell is that all about? The picture of our baby was still on the monitor. We kept alternating our focus from each other to the monitor trying to understand what was going on. What did she mean? Leaning closer to Moira, I squeezed her hand.
Ten or fifteen minutes went by, could have been a minute or an hour, BUT it felt like a day. The technician walked back into the room with our prenatal doctor. The doctor pulled the monitor closer and pointed to an area that she said was the chest. “I’ve been doing some calculations, I am sorry to tell you that your baby has a severe case of CDH, which means Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia.” Moira and I looked at each other, squeezed our hands harder together and looked back. The doctor then said, “It means that one side of your child’s diaphragm has not formed correctly and as a result the stomach, and looks like some other things, have migrated up into the chest cavity. This does not allow the lungs and heart to develop correctly. Children with this condition also usually have other genetic defects. A large majority of these children do not survive, especially the ones that also have genetic issues. Given MY calculations, this is a severe case. I do not expect this child to survive. The genetic tests we need to do will take two weeks to get the results back and you are already at twenty-two weeks. I strongly suggest that you terminate this pregnancy now. There are very few hospitals in the country that will perform an abortion this late in your pregnancy – and none that will do an abortion after twenty-four weeks. If the child does survive, it will not be more than a few days and the quality of life will be extremely poor.”
I moved as close to Moira as I could. Shocked, we looked at each other, not knowing how to respond, dread overcoming us both. I really did not want to believe what the doctor was saying. How can she tell looking at a picture? God Dammit if this is going to be it. Who the hell are you, doctor? It was too soon to be sad. I was mad. Disbelief took over.
How do you make the decision to abort your baby? How do you make a choice to end your child’s life? What goes into it? What is important? Is this the right information? For whom do you make it? The child or yourself. Whose quality of life do you consider?
The doctor printed off screen shots of our baby then wiped the gel off Moira. She wanted to have a follow up appointment in a week. We needed to think about our new journey.
After that, I don’t remember much. The world shut down around me. I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t feel, I was sick to my stomach. We perfunctorily thanked the doctor and left the building.
We were in a quandary. To receive the results of the genetic testing would require two weeks. The results would provide more information on the potential quality of our child’s life if it were to survive. Yet, by that time there would not be a hospital in the country which would perform an abortion. Even now, we would likely have to go out of state to have the procedure done. We had less than a week to make a decision and limited information to go on.
We walked out of the clinic and Moira turned to me, hugged me and said, “What are we going to do, baby?” “I don’t know,” was all I could say. We didn’t move, just embraced. I never felt closer to my wife. I was at a loss about what to do next. I don’t remember the rest of that day. I don’t remember what we did, or where we went. But I do remember crying. And, I do remember Moira’s arms.
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