There are few happy endings when doctors pronounce a child in the womb to be “incompatible with life.” But miracles – and good medicine – do happen.
In the Huffington Post, Nicole Stewart wrote of her abortion at 22 weeks after a doctor made that pronouncement. Her post doesn’t detail the problems the doctor diagnosed, but a story from the Dallas News in January gives a few more clues. The baby boy’s brain was “abnormal.” Fluid was building up in his brain and lungs. He would lose the ability to swallow.
Ms. Stewart and her husband made the decision to take the life of their wanted and loved child, and they feel it was the right decision. She speaks publicly about it, and receives kudos for being one of the few women brave enough to talk out loud about her abortion. Of course, the women of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign have been doing that since 2003, but that’s another subject.
But a few weeks before the Dallas News was congratulating Ms. Stewart for her courage in talking about her abortion, a couple in Johnstown, Pa., was reaping the rewards of their courage – and their faith. Jen and Kevin Sheridan, a devout Catholic couple who already were the parents of a baby girl, learned that something was seriously wrong with the baby boy in Mrs. Sheridan’s womb. She was about 14 weeks pregnant when doctors told the couple that a neural tube defect called an encephalocele was causing a portion of the baby’s brain to grow outside of his skull. Abortion was never an option for the Sheridans.
By the time baby Owen was born at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center on Dec. 6, 2013, the growth was nearly seven pounds, and almost as long as his body. The couple knew that Owen might die shortly after his birth, but that boy had other plans. A team of specialists at Boston Children’s Hospital was able to remove the encephalocele and close his skull. Today Owen is four months old and a treasured member of his family. Exactly what his future will hold is unknown, but that is true for every living creature on God’s Earth.
It is not up to us to decide who is compatible or incompatible with life. It is not our right, in any circumstance, to take a life.
It takes courage and faith to travel the road the Sheridans did. And it takes a doctor willing to accompany a couple whose baby’s survival is in jeopardy. As I wrote in my book, “Recall Abortion,” those doctors can be found. Dr. Byron Calhoun is one. He is a pioneer of the perinatal hospice movement. Parents who know their children might not live long after birth are prepared for that eventuality. They have family with them for the birth, and often a clergy member, and a photographer. They have a chance to hold their child, to surround him with love, to let him die with dignity. Contrast that with a shot of digoxin to the heart and a brutal dismemberment. That’s what a late-term abortion is, and we can’t pretend that choosing that kind of death for a child in the womb could ever be a loving choice.
Ms. Stewart’s experience also reminds me of a situation I encountered almost 30 years ago. A woman who had given birth to twins on Staten Island asked for help from the Mothers of Twins Club, of which I was a member. One of this woman’s twin daughters was born healthy but the other had severe complications. She needed a breathing machine and a feeding tube to live, but the family’s insurance company wanted to drop them from the policy, citing the futility of continued care for this sickly newborn.
I alerted the media, rallied the troops, and joined this girl’s parents in the fight for her life. As it turns out, this is another happy ending for a child whose life was considered not worth saving. She is in her late 20s now. She had a rough start, with lots of medical intervention, but she survived and is now a young woman, a college graduate with a bright future.
Nicole Stewart and her husband made the choice they thought was right. But they were wrong. As Blessed St. John Paul II, who will be canonized this month, often said, “Life is always a good.”