The Missing: It’s So Personal

A reader writes:

Enough of the judgment from your readers: a well-considered decision to bring either an adopted or biological child into a family is a highly personal one, and the idea that it is well-considered is the important part.  I appreciated the candor of your reader who had 11 miscarriages; her perception that an adopted child may be more risky or difficult to parent may or may not be correct, but if it gives her pause or causes her to think deeply about why she wants to be a parent and what her coping skills realistically are, that is a good thing.  It is far better than someone whose romanticized view of adoption – as a selfless act that is all about giving a child a family, not giving a family a child – leads them into a situation they cannot cope with.

Sometimes, perhaps a decision to hold out for a same-race child may signal that a person has gotten in touch with some hard truths about themselves and is simply being honest about what they think they are equipped for.  I am not sure they should be made to justify the decision or cover it up with a lie.

When someone is making "kim-chi excuses" for why they want to adopt a child of the same race, why are we judging them for that decision?  It may not be based on factual evidence about what is best for an adopted child, and it may not even be the real reason, but it may be based on a lot of soul-searching.  If a person has deeply considered their prejudices and feels for some reason they could not parent a child of another race, should we become indignant about their racism, or should we respect them for being honest with themselves (even as we may be saddened or troubled by the implications of it)? 

Adopting a special needs child is really no different: some people are up to it, but some people know they aren't. And while any child may be born with or develop physical, emotional or mental problems, adopted children are statistically more likely to suffer from such issues.   Fifteen or 18 years ago, The Atlantic Monthly ran a very long cover story on adoption that was so powerful, it still sticks with me: it cited statistics that showed the much higher prevalence of behaviors such as teen pregnancy among even children who were adopted at birth.

And of course no one disputes that parents' emotional and mental issues, substance abuse, or child abuse and neglect – all highly cyclical problems, whether genetic or environmental – are often what precipitate an unplanned pregnancy or foster care placement in the first place.  If someone says kids in foster care are "broken," it is an ugly word, but it acknowledges this higher statistical incidence.  However, it could also point to some careful deliberation; perhaps they are also saying "I'm trying to maximize my chances of a healthy child, because I am worried about my ability to be a good parent to a child who has special needs."  It's not pretty, but at least it is honest. 

Thank God for all the amazing adoptive and biological parents out there who love every child equally, harbor no prejudices, and care for the children in greatest physical and emotional need.  But I am also thankful for those who know in their hearts they are not those kinds of parents, and make decisions accordingly.

It’s So Personal … On MTV

by Zoë Pollock

Lynn Harris praises MTV's 30-minute interview special on abortion, "No Easy Decision":

Seriously, they nailed it. And by "nailed it," I don't mean they just did a great PSA for abortion. I mean they told the many-sided truth: that abortion is safe and common, that abortion has been made difficult to get, and, most importantly, that abortion is a complex decision made by complex human beings. (That thump you heard around 11:35 p.m. EST was the sound of 100 feminist media critics falling off our collective couches.)

Posts Of The Year: It’s So Personal: A Round-Up, June 5, 2009

(Perhaps the best posts this year were penned by readers, and the most illuminating, gripping and emotional posts were related to late-term abortion, in the wake of the assassination of the abortion doctor George Tiller. I've never seen the power of this medium so clearly and up-close: one personal account caused a stream of others. How could old-school reporting have found all these women? How could any third-person account compete with the rawness and honesty and pain of these testimonials?

It was a revelation to me about what this medium could do. Like the Iranian revolution that followed this post, it made 2009 a very special year for this blog. – Andrew)

Many readers have asked us to compile the various late term abortion testimonials we published this week (which are only a fraction of the ones we've received). Here they are, in chronological order:

Fetus It's So Personal
It's So Personal, Ctd
The Catholic Mother
The Trauma
A Doctor's View (reader reaction)
A Target Of Terror
The Regret
Not Knowing For Sure
When Principle Meets Reality
Serial Abortions (reader reaction)
Preparing For The Worst
An Unforgiving Family (reader reaction)
The Guilt
Holding On
The Gay Fathers
What Guilt?
Ectopic "Miscarriage"

Still more to come. (And maybe a bound collection? We're actively thinking of it, prompted by many reader requests. But this should be a useful link for now.)

It’s So Personal: The Lesbian Mothers

A reader writes:

Last January, at the age of 41, I conceived my first child, a child I have wanted all my life. At 22 weeks into the pregnancy, my partner and I went for a routine ultrasound at a clinic in Overland Park, Kansas, near our home in Lawrence. We and all the expectant Davinci grandparents were eager to find out the baby’s gender. Before the appointment, my mother wrote a quick email: “What time is your ultrasound? I’m excited!! Let me know what gender my “Grand” is! Love, Mum.xoxoxoxo”

Our appointment began jovially. The perinatologist and nurse joked about names, and at one point, the doctor called the baby a “little rascal.” As the ultrasound continued, the room grew quiet. The perinatologist scanned the baby’s head again and again. He finally announced, in a solemn voice, “I’m seeing some things in the baby’s brain that concern me.” Time stopped, and everything in the universe shifted. Holding my partner’s hand, I struggled to listen despite the thick blanket of grief that settled over the room.

The doctor continued, “The baby has holoprosencephaly. It’s a brain malformation in which the forebrain fails to divide. Most of these babies die before term. Those that are born have severe disabilities.” He finally took a deep sigh and started to deliver the especially delicate part: “I don’t know what your beliefs are but some people would terminate a pregnancy of this nature. Since you are 22 weeks along, you would have to go to Wichita for the procedure.” Everyone in the room knew this was shorthand for, “You would have to see George Tiller, the infamous late-term abortion doctor. No one else will help you at this point.” Numb, I asked to know the baby’s gender. He placed the ultrasound wand back on my stomach and read the grainy image: “It’s a girl.” We walked out of the clinic with blank stares and wept in the car.

At home we looked up the diagnosis. The first pictures we saw took our breath away: babies with only one eye, noses on their foreheads, severe cleft lips. We read the unfavorable statistics: Most babies would die before term. Those that didn’t would likely die shortly after birth. Few would live beyond a few years. They would have problems with every human function: feeding, sleeping, walking, talking. It looked like babies with HPE who lived would be subjected to endless medical procedures and have little quality of life.

Devastated and sobbing so hard that we could barely speak, we called George Tiller’s clinic. The woman on the other end of the phone was compassionate and gentle. We set up the appointment for the grueling week-long procedure. We would be required to undergo counseling. The process would begin with an injection to stop the baby’s heart and then a slow induction of labor. After a few days I would deliver a still baby, a baby that had kicked harder than ever since we received the devastating news.

We spent the longest weekend of our lives seeking the advice of everyone: our parents, women in my partner’s online fertility group, coworkers with expertise in developmental disabilities. And to everyone’s surprise, we changed our minds. A lifelong pro-choice advocate and feminist, and a person who was finally, after so many years of yearning, a mother, I simply could not stop the beating heart of this baby inside me. We decided that if the baby lived to term – a baby we named Alice in the course of the weekend – we would love her and get her the best medical care she could have.

Although my partner and I decided not to terminate a pregnancy deemed dire at best and fatal at worst, we did need medical care appropriate to our situation. Scientific progress – and some would even say the hand of God – has enabled us to detect severe disability earlier and earlier in a pregnancy. But in some cases, such as mine, a potentially fatal deformity went undetected until one day over the limit for the procedure to be performed in a reputable medical facility. We were left with an agonizing decision. To add insult to injury, we had to make it knowing that we would have to walk through protestors in Wichita, protesters who felt moved to yell at us without the slightest inkling of our particular situation. Those with unchecked emotional fervor should put themselves in our shoes: What decision is most humane when you may have created a life filled with almost certain suffering?

Without the few doctors in the U.S. like George Tiller, we would have felt even more abandoned by a country too busy posturing for political advantage to do the hard work of reconciling its moral beliefs with its equal desire for scientific progress. If we have learned anything, it’s that we have to start this discussion with the particulars of each situation. It’s not politically expedient, but it’s what could move our country forward on the issues of sex, life, death, and the role of science and medicine.

It’s So Personal: Marfan Syndrome

A reader writes:

My wife has Marfan Syndrome, a condition that (among other things) leaves people susceptible to sudden dilation or aneurysm of the aorta. It weakens the walls of the aorta with no symptoms, followed sometimes by catastrophic tearing.  When it tears, there's an 80% of death – 65% en Davinciroute to the hospital, 15% at the hospital – and only 20% survive through aortic graft surgery.  Pregnancy greatly exacerbates that risk.

We knew about the dangers during my wife's first pregnancy, so she had repeated measurements of the aorta.  It got a little bigger, but never to the danger zone. Our daughter was delivered by C-section without serious complications.  Once the aorta gets bigger, however, it never gets smaller, so the pregnancy left my wife on the precipice of serious medical catastrophe. 

A few years later came the second pregnancy.  Her OB/GYN sent her to a Marfan specialist at Johns Hopkins.  He treated us like we were murderers – or rather, treated her like she was a slow-motion suicide.  He insisted on an immediate abortion.  He plied us with his recently published study demonstrating that all of his previously pregnant Marfan patients died during the second pregnancy.  And he pointed out that all the women in his study were at least 5 to 10 years younger than my wife at the time.

We decided to proceed instead with the help of an OB/GYN who specialized in dangerous and difficult pregnancies, fighting to make them safe and successful.

The aorta grew a little bigger, approached the danger zone but never crossed the line. Then, a catastrophe!  She was walking down the hallway in the Senate, where she worked, when a sudden intense back pain caused her to fall – luckily, just outside the office of Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., who immediately diagnosed the pain as an aortic dissection and got her to Georgetown. She was stuck in a big blue bag of ice, doctors performed a C-Section, the operating-room gurney was spun around, and other doctors came in to replace the part of her aorta that had burst.
The tough decision was not at Johns Hopkins, where we ignored (foolishly ignored, you could say) this cold research professional with his certitude that pregnancy = death.  The tough decision was at Georgetown, in the few minutes while we were waiting for the MRI results to confirm the aortic dissection and set the wild night of surgeries into motion.  My wife and I discussed what to do if there were complications during the C-Section and it came down to saving her or saving our newborn son.
Our son is now 16, and my wife is fine. So is our daughter, age 21.

It’s So Personal: Holoprosencephaly

A reader writes:

While I've always considered myself a pro-life conservative, I do admit to having mixed feelings about abortion.  I've been following your series on late-term abortion for the past several days, and I thought I'd pass on our story.

About 5 years ago, after a lot of effort, my wife got pregnant with our second child. We did the regular genetic screening (I can't recall the name of the test, but it was just a simple blood test). It  Davinci came back positive for Down's Syndrome, but only at a slightly higher risk. Our OB/Gyn said the odds for someone my wife's age (27) to have a Down's baby were about 1 in 10,000. The positive test result put the odds closer to 1 in 150. He recommended we go to a doctor who specialized in high-risk pregnancies to confirm there was no problem. She was 5 months along at the time.

During the additional testing, we had an ultrasound done with an amazingly high-tech machine. During the scan we kept asking the tech if she saw anything, but she kept telling us she wasn't legally allowed to say one way or the other. We sat quietly until the end of the test, at which point the tech turned to us and said, "Well, I'm going to be honest with you, because it's the only way I know how to be. I see some problems with the head."

I could hear my wife's breathing quicken, and my hands started to shake uncontrollably. The doctor came in and said he saw holoprosencephaly, which, as we learned, essentially means that the brain did not divide into two hemispheres. In fact, although we were 19 weeks along, the brain had stopped developing at 11 weeks.

He recommended a second scan with a different doctor. That doctor verified what the first doctor said, but his diagnosis was even worse. Not only had the brain stopped developing, but our daughter had a malformed heart, her bones were horribly misshapen, and her face consisted of just a hole where her nose should be. (He showed us a picture of her hand; around the middle of the fingers, the bones turned to the side at almost a 90 degree angle.)  The doctor maintained that even if she were born alive, she would immediately die because she wouldn't have the brain function to work her lungs. "Birth defects don't get any more serious than this," he said.
All three doctors involved recommended abortion. It didn't take us long to agree. All I could think about was trying to tell my wife, "You need to carry this baby another 3 months, and, assuming she doesn't die in the womb and put your life in danger, you can deliver a horribly deformed child that will die immediately." Even though my wife's health was not in immediate danger, the psychological damage of this (for both of us) would have been devastating.
We went ahead with the abortion. It was a two day procedure, and truly the most horrible days of our lives. I have no delusions about what we did, and to this day I'm aware that we chose to abort a baby we tried so hard to have. At the same time, I thank God every day that we live in a country where we could do it.
Anyway, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. It's something I long to talk about, but it doesn't exactly come up in regular social circles.

It’s So Personal: Anencephaly

A reader writes:

In August 1989, my then five-and-a half-month pregnant wife and I went in together for a routine sonogram at her OB's office. The sonogram showed that the fetus was Davinci

Immediately after the test we sat down with the OB in her office where she told us the reality of what we were facing. We scheduled a hospital visit for the next day. At the hospital they induced labor and the pregnancy was terminated. The baby was a little girl and she died during delivery. We were able to hold her for about an hour after the procedure. We named her and buried her.

It was a traumatic time and decision, but it was the right decision to make. How can you make a woman carry a baby to term when she know that the baby will die soon after it is delivered? Psychologically how much damage does that do to the mother and the family who cares for her?

Luckily for us, 14 months later we had a very healthy baby girl. A girl who is set to graduate from high school at the end of this week.

Over the past day, I have thought a lot about the OB who sat down with us almost 20 years ago and gave us the facts about what we were facing. The doctor was caring, empathetic, and honest. I'm going to contact the doctor who helped us in the next week just to say thanks for what she was able to do for us so long ago.

It’s So Personal: A Life Saved By Choice

A reader writes:

I know that you and many others do not approve of late-term abortions and those who perform them and I understand the reasons.  However, there is one aspect of this moral dilemma which I have not seen addressed by you or the media: the fact that clinics like Dr. Tiller's can help SAVE the lives of unborn children. Here is my best friend's story…

Davinci My friend "Katie" is pro-choice, and her husband "Rob" (raised Catholic) always considered himself pro-life.  They have two wonderful children, one of whom is a special needs child.  With all of the complications of raising their autistic daughter they decided against having a third.  But Mother Nature vetoed this decision and Katie became unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 39.  Though unplanned, there was no question they would keep the child. So they initially decided against any invasive screening.  However, due to her age and other factors, the doctors recommended extra testing.  And sure enough, one of the tests came back with measurements that indicated chromosomal issues and/or heart deformities.

It was then that the reality of their situation sunk in. Rob started seriously thinking about what their situation might be if they had another child with even bigger medical issues and perhaps Down syndrome.  So it was Rob who asked Katie whether they should get genetic testing.  She agreed.  In the meantime, Rob was experiencing ambivalence about the future and what the best choice might be.  Time became a factor; Katie was starting to show and was bonding with the baby, whatever its condition.  Rob, on the other hand, became more and more certain they couldn't handle another baby with severe health issues.

Katie and Rob started discussing the "what ifs".  What if it had Down's – keep it or not?  What if it didn't have Down's but major cardiac malformations – keep it or not?  All this they had to think through in a short amount of time while they waited for the genetic test results. They still were in an "acceptable" window to terminate.  Katie knew that if the fetus had any major issues, Rob wanted to abort.  She, the "pro choice" one, was not so sure.  Although the clock was ticking, they agreed to wait for the test results.

Finally, the genetic results were in.  No Down's, but other signs still suggested major heart issues were likely.  More specialists and testing to be done, but they would have to wait another few weeks, since the doctors had to see the heart performing on an ultrasound at a later stage of development.

It seemed like decision time. Rob wanted to terminate, Katie was unsure. They were in a bind -well into the second trimester at this point.  Katie knew that if she waited any longer her OB/GYN would not be able to terminate.  Katie was in anguish.  I can't tell you how many times we talked that week about what to do. Katie was on the verge of siding with Rob and scheduling an abortion.  She called up her OB about making an appointment.  Instead, her doctor gave her another option which Katie thought was off the table: waiting until they knew for sure.  If they still wanted to terminate, the OB knew a name of another doctor who would abort the child up until viability. 

Although to Katie it seemed more ethical to terminate earlier rather than later, there was still a possibility that the fetus was generally okay.  In her heart she knew she could live with a late abortion if the fetus would die eventually anyway, but she didn't know if she could live with the uncertainty of aborting a child which might have been healthy. So they agreed to wait.

After what seemed like a lifetime, they finally got the good news: a heart with no fatal malformations. It did have a minor defect, but it appeared operable without any long term complications. So they kept the pregnancy going. A few months later their daughter was born. After some surgery, she is now is a happy, healthy child.

Because Rob and Katie had the option of going to late-term abortionists like Tiller, they chose NOT to have an abortion. Without the ability to terminate after 18 weeks, they would have aborted much sooner, given the 90% chance of serious defects. But just knowing they had the option of waiting without limiting their choices allowed them to obtain the critical information. And that choice ended up saving their daughter.