Columnist to Sen. Holley: Consider my storyPublished 10:03pm Sunday, March 16, 2014
Editor’s note: Star-News columnist wrote this letter to Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, who represents Covington County in the Alabama Senate, after the legislature began focusing on four anti-abortion bills. She shared the letter on her Facebook page, and granted us permission to use here.
Dear Senator Holley,
Before you vote on the Abortion Bills that are coming before the Alabama senate, I want you to hear my story so you understand how my life would have been impacted had these bills been law in 1993.
First, let me say that I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-choice, but abortion is not something that feels right for me if the fetus is healthy. However, I think women have the right to make their own decisions about this issue.
Now to my story. In early 1993, I found out I was pregnant and I was excited. I had four other children at the time – three from my first marriage – two of them almost grown. My second husband and I had a child who was a toddler when we learned another baby was on the way. We were thrilled that our daughter was going to have a younger sibling to grow up with since her brothers and sister were much older.
From the beginning of the pregnancy, though I was happy, I didn’t feel quite right, something felt different from my other babies. I remember being anxious about feeling the baby move that first time and thrilled when we heard the heart beat. I was an older mother, but I’d had four other pregnancies with no problems, so I stuffed down any concerns I felt.
At the time, I worked at a hospital as the community relations director, and as chance would have it, the hospital was in the process of going back into the business of delivering babies. To prepare for this, they purchased an ultra sound system and were training employees on how to use it. They needed a pregnant person to demonstrate the equipment and I happily volunteered because I knew I’d get to see an ultrasound picture of my baby.
The day they did the ultrasound, the technician doing the procedure looked at the screen where the image of my child appeared. When she didn’t say much, I didn’t give it much thought. Then as I was preparing to leave, she handed me a CD and some pictures, but also asked me if my doctor had done an ultrasound or if one was scheduled soon. I told her no and she asked if it would be OK for her to send a copy of the one she did to my doctor. I detected something in her voice and asked if everything was OK. She cleared her throat and said, “Well, there is a little shadow, but it’s probably nothing.”
Again, I stuffed down panic and headed home where I put in the video and watched as my baby son moved around on the screen. I could see his heart beating and I strained trying to see the “shadow” the tech mention.
The next day I went for an appointment with my doctor. She checked me and said everything looked good. I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I heard her say, “Oh wait, I have something here from an ultrasound you had.” I explained how it came about as she looked over a bunch of papers. She flipped a page and I saw her face change.
“I think it’s time for us to get an ultrasound,” she said, and I could tell she was trying to be casual.
She did her own ultrasound, and I waited over a long weekend to hear the results. When she called me, she said I needed to come in and talk with her. She suggested I bring my husband. Sitting in an exam room, we heard her words and tried to hold on to our composure.
“Something showed up on the ultrasound that we need to take a better look at,” she said. “I want you to go to a specialist in Mobile, a neonatologist, and have
Amniocentesis. (A procedure that examines the chromosomes of the fetus to determine lung maturity, and the possibilities of birth defects.)
It felt like my heart stopped. I couldn’t speak so my husband asked for details. Immediately, she called the doctor in Mobile and set up an appointment. A few days later, I was in yet another exam room having another ultrasound and then amnio.
After the ultrasound, all the doctor would tell me was that there was a shadow in the brain. He said it could be a little cyst and might not be anything to be concerned about. I held on to his words and prayed he was right.
For two long weeks, we waited for the results of the amniocentesis. And then I got a call at work from my doctor. She told me she needed to see me and my husband as soon as possible. I felt the blood drain from my face. I pressed her to tell me what was going on. Finally, she did.
“Your baby has a serious genetic anomaly,” she said. “It is what is known as a Trisomy 18. We need to schedule a medical termination (which was a polite way of saying abortion).
I hung up the phone and sat in stunned silence. Then the tears started. I was crying so hard when I called my husband that he could hardly make out what I said.
I’ll skip over the description of the next few painful days as arrangements were made for me to return to Mobile. My heart was breaking, but at the same time, it also told me I was doing the right thing.
Babies with an extra 18th chromosome, which is what a Trisomy 18 is, for the most part do not survive, especially males. If they are born alive, it is most usually a short and not pleasant life because of the complications associated with this syndrome.
My option was to terminate the pregnancy or carry a baby to full term that was most likely going to die as soon as it was born – if it didn’t die inside me first. There were also concerns about what continuing the pregnancy would do to my health, if nothing else from the stress of knowing what was coming.
The local doctor who cared for me was a friend I’d known since childhood. She was a dedicated; some might say even a bit fanatical Christian, who was very much pro life and not in favor of abortions. She held me as I cried and said something that told me all I needed to know about whether my decision was the one she thought was right.
“If I was in this situation,” she said, “I would medically terminate this pregnancy.”
And that is what I did. It was the hardest, saddest thing I’ve ever done. It was also possibly the most spiritual experience of my life.
You see on the day that I said good-bye to my child, my son, I knew something in a way that comes only from the divine speaking to your heart. What I knew was that this child, this tiny unborn soul needed to learn, to experience that there was someone who loved him enough to let him go, loved him enough to not allow him to suffer. Even if in letting him go, it caused her so much grief and loss.
I let my son go. I gave him back to God, and I allowed his body to stay at the teaching hospital so that students could see what a baby with this rare anomaly looks like. I did this in hopes that it might help them to help someone else some day. And I did this because I knew I was supposed to release this child completely, free this spirit.
There is so much more to this story, so many things that happened that were miraculous. Some day, if you have the time, I’d like to share them with you because they demonstrate in amazing ways the grace of God.
What I want you to think about, what I want every one of you who will be voting on these abortions bills to think about, is how different my story would be if the law was different back then. You would have forced me to continue a pregnancy until I either gave birth to a child only to watch him die or until he died inside me and the heartbeat stopped. That would be unbelievably cruel.
Please know that every case, every person, every pregnancy is different. This is not a black and white issue. There are far too many gray areas to legislate what should happen for every woman. I beg you and all the others who will vote soon to hear me, hear my story and give serious consideration to whether or not these bills leave any room for compassion.
What Is Trisomy 18?
Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome, is a condition caused by a error in cell division, known as meiotic disjunction. Trisomy 18 occurs in about 1 out of every 2500 pregnancies in the United States, about 1 in 6000 live births. The numbers of total births increase significantly when stillbirths are factored in that occur in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy.
Unlike Down syndrome, which is caused by a chromosomal defect, the developmental issues caused by Trisomy 18 are associated with medical complications that are more potentially life-threatening in the early months and years of life. Fifty percent of babies carried to term are stillborn, with baby boys having higher stillbirth rate than baby girls.
At birth, intensive care admissions in Neonatal units are common for infants with Trisomy 18. Again, boys experience higher mortality rates in this neonatal period than girls, although those with higher birth weights do better across all categories.
Some children are able to be discharged from the hospital with home nursing support for their families. And although less than 10 percent survive to their first birthdays, some children with Trisomy 18 can live for years. A small number of adults (usually girls) with Trisomy 18 have and are living into their twenties and thirties, although with significant developmental delays that do not allow them to live independently without assisted care giving.
FYI – an autopsy showed that my child had a malformed heart and serious facial disfiguration. He also had a much lower weight than he should have had at that stage of the pregnancy. He would have lived. Less than two years after we lost him, we learned that our youngest daughter, his older sister, had autism.