It’s So Personal, Ctd: The Trauma

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 1 2009 @ 12:27pm

A reader writes:

My brother and his wife received a diagnosis at the beginning of the second trimester's Views_of_a_Foetus_in_the_Womb_detail ultrasound that their child had anencephaly – a condition where the fetus' skull does not completely close and the brain forms partially outside the skull.  It is a neural tube defect, similar to spina bifida, but it happens higher up on the body. They were told the child would die before, or shortly after, birth. There was no doubt about the diagnosis. My brother and his wife were encouraged by their doctor to go to Kansas for an abortion, the closest place where they could obtain one in the second trimester. 
 
It was an agonizing decision, but they chose not to have the abortion for religious reasons.  The pregnancy went to term and the baby lived for several weeks.  She was surrounded by love for the brief time she was here. 

I wish I could say unequivocally that they made the right decision, but the long-term effects on my sister-in-law's mental well-being have been serious. She is very much changed from the person that she was before.

Imagine what it is like to walk around in your third trimester, obviously pregnant, while well-meaning people ask you about this baby that you don't expect to be taking home from the hospital. Innocuous comments become incredibly hurtful in this context. Then imagine the baby survives and days later you take home this child who will die. In case you might relax and pretend for a little while that everything is okay, a hospice nurse comes to your house every couple of days and reminds you the signs and symptoms of death. Every time you open the refrigerator you see the narcotics you've been given to ease the baby's suffering once things get really bad.
 
Eventually, this baby dies a grueling death in your arms and you go home to an empty house.  You want another baby, but are paralyzed by the thought of having another child with the same condition, yet you desperately want a child that is related to the child you lost. You find yourself unable to conceive and resentful of those who have many healthy children so easily. The infertility takes its toll on your marriage. The suffering and injustice takes its toll on your faith.
 
I often wonder what would have happened if they had the abortion. I'm not sure my sister-in-law could have lived with that decision, but at least she was given the gift of making a deliberate choice and this did make a difference in how my brother and his wife perceived their circumstances. How do people respond when they feel trapped?
 
I agree with those who believe abortion is a selfish choice, but in some cases the cost to the self is too high and the benefit to the other is too hard to determine. I'm afraid that the murder of Dr. Tiller will hasten the decline in doctors willing to do this work and deny desperate people of options.