It’s So Personal: Holding On

Jun 4 2009 @ 3:44pm

A reader writes:

My wife and I had our lives forever changed by an unexpected pregnancy that began one year ago, almost to the day. It was to be our first child, Zoey, and we were both very scared in the beginning. Everything had gone perfectly, when nearly Davinci four months into the pregnancy, we paid a routine visit to the hospital for an ultrasound session. The doctor's face all of a sudden became grave, and he told us that not all was well.

Zoey had what is called a cystic hygroma, a buildup of fluid on the backside of the neck. These can, in some cases, go away, but in other cases they can grow, leading to hydropsy, which can cause the baby to die or be born in a severely handicapped state. Hers was a severe case. I will never, ever be able to forget those minutes inside the doctor's office. They were the longest and most heart-rending of my life, and exponentially so for my wife. The pregnancy had forever changed our lives to begin with, and now everything had changed even more drastically.
 
In Korea, where we live, there really is no social issue regarding the rights and wrongs of abortion. The common phrase for aborting in Korea is to 'erase' a child, generally used in cases of pregnancy outside marriage, and this well illustrates the no-issue attitude held by the majority of the nation's people. Virtually every OB/GYN clinic is an abortion clinic, and the procedures are as easy to get as anything. Further, hospital staff put great pressure on mothers to abort in cases of abnormality, big or small. This was our experience.

We returned to the clinic in a few days as instructed to repeat the ultrasound and monitor the cystic hygroma, and it had grown even in that short time. The doctors immediately began to prepare for the abortion without even so much as asking my wife what her choice would be, and she had to stop them. Then things got ugly.

Their attitude became extremely rude, and they condescendingly asked if we had a religious reason for resisting the abortion. My wife calmly explained to them that we're Jehovah's Witnesses, and that we only see abortion as a choice when the mother's life may be in danger. At this point, the staff gave up, and sent us away without so much as an encouraging word.

We began to have personal doubts as to what to do, feeling torn apart. If the child was sure to die, then wouldn't the most merciful path be to end its life before it began to suffer? This was something we had to grapple with very painfully, but we prayerfully decided that it would not be right for us to end the child's life. There are a great many Jehovah's Witnesses in Korea, but only the top hospitals in the country respect our beliefs, often having staff who specialize in dealing with us. One prestigious hospital, in particular, is famous for this, and we immediately sought it out and were connected with the senior OB/GYN specialist.

He clearly laid out the situation to us, and deeply respected my wife's right to do as she chose from day one. There was little chance for our daughter to survive to birth, and even if she would, she would likely either die soon thereafter or have to live with major problems. Our sadness didn't go away, but it was indescribably comforting to be understood and respected. Over the next weeks, we began to come to terms with our baby's situation, relying on God for strength and praying for the most merciful outcome, whatever that would be. My mother in-law came and stayed at the house to help my wife, which is a nice Korean custom, especially if you have a wonderful mother in-law. It was a time of great fear, but we learned to cope, and little by little, we were overcome by a deep peace of mind.
 
And then we actually got to know Zoey. She began to kick, she began to jump whenever she heard music, and she exhibited all the signs of being a completely happy baby, just as she had all along. She was an absolute joy. But every time we went back to the hospital, the doctor's expression would be that much more grave, and his tone that much more somber, explaining to us that her hydropsy was worsening, but that her heart was unusually strong.

Three months went by, and I can tell you without a doubt that they were the happiest three months of our lives. We treasured each moment we spent with Zoey, knowing that our days with her were numbered. There were a great many tears, and there was indescribable sadness, but there was an incredibly deep tranquility and peace of mind that transcended it all. 
 
Later in November, Zoey died. Her heart held out for an exceptionally long time considering her condition, but the time had come when it could beat no longer. My wife told me one day that she knew it had happened. We packed up her things and went to the hospital, and within ten hours she was in labor, giving birth, but with a great void in her heart where the joy of a new mother was supposed to be. It was crushing, but there was peace in knowing that Zoey's life ended mercifully in the womb. And there is indescribable peace in the belief that we will someday be reunited with her again. It's been a long and slow road to recovery, but my wife is doing well. We went to Hawaii in February to scatter the baby's ashes in a beautiful, untouched place, and were able to find a great deal of closure.
 
I'm not saying anything about anyone else here or what they've done — I learned firsthand the indescribable sadness and torment of being told your child in the womb has a life-threatening condition, and my heart goes out to any and all parents who've had to deal with such a situation. But the decision we made to keep our baby alive was the very best thing we could have ever done. My wife and I got to know the greatest love of our life, and it changed us forever in ways I can't even begin to express.