A mother whose unborn child was diagnosed with spina bifida tells her story of the choice to abort:
I said at that stage, a termination was out of the question. I felt such strong love for this baby already and I wanted to nurture and protect him. … As an adult, I felt a woman should have the right to terminate a pregnancy — but that was a view forged from rational thought, not personal experience. I never once imagined it was anything I would do. I believed that choosing to keep a baby, whatever its disability, was the mark of a good mother. How fate mocks our lofty ideals.
The scan confirmed that our baby would never walk. He would be doubly incontinent and paralysed from the waist down. Water was collecting around his brain, and only time would tell if that would impair him mentally. … I tried to shake away the image I conjured in my head of a little boy, lonely and friendless, robbed of the most basic human functions. The prospect of watching a child I’d love just as much as his sisters suffer in this way made me howl. … It was the thought of our son’s incurable impotence that triggered my husband’s tears. ‘Oh God, what sort of life will he have?’ he asked the doctors.
When my older sister, Marie, a nurse who has cared for sick children, told me I should spare us all the suffering and have a termination, I was still shocked. And angry. I felt nobody but me loved this baby. … Yet when I look back now, I am grateful for my sister’s words. They gave me permission, somehow, to consider termination. … And so it was that a week after that first scan, and against my initial instincts, I realised I couldn’t bring this child into the world, knowing the extent to which he would suffer. Andrew and I talked long into the night, and finally agreed that ending the pregnancy was the kindest thing we could do for our son.
Yet if making that choice was hard, the physical ordeal was only just beginning. At 18 weeks pregnant, I was too far gone for a surgical termination and would have to go through a labour and delivery, under the care of midwives at our local hospital. The first step was to take the drug Mifepristone to block progesterone, a hormone vital to pregnancy. I swallowed the pill in a side room on the labour ward — the same room where I’d given birth to our younger daughter two years previously. Over the two days that followed, I fought the urge to put my hands on my stomach when I felt the baby move. Knowing that he was slowly dying inside me was the very definition of hell. After two days, I returned to the same room to take a second drug to induce labour. What followed were the worst 16 hours of my life. They passed in a morphine-induced haze, but there was no dulling what was happening. My baby was being forced into the world long before he could survive in it, and it felt unnatural — completely at odds with my instincts as a mother. My body seemed to be doing all it could to hold onto him, and the labour went on and on. At one point, in the grips of what felt like a panic attack, I became hysterical. Gasping for breath and screaming, I demanded that Andrew tell me why we were doing this and why it was the right thing for our son. He calmly described the kind of life we were trying to spare him from, and that we were loving parents, doing what we felt was best. I demanded to know: ‘If this baby was inside you, not me, would you be on this bed right now, ending his life?’ ‘Yes,’ he assured me. ‘I know how hard it must be, and I wish I could take your place.’
There are parents with severely disabled children who, I’m certain, would say we made a mistake — that George’s life would have been fulfilling, and ours all the richer for having him. Part of me believes them, but I know, faced with that decision again, I would make the same painful choice.
While I genuinely feel for the parents who receive such horrible news, I am amazed at how entrenched the thinking has become in our culture that it is better to be dead than to suffer from a disability. Is the best way to care for your disabled child to kill him/her? While no one ever hopes to be disabled or to care for someone who is, surely it is not acceptable to kill such persons. A society that cannot value or care for the weakest among us is a society that has lost an element of its humanity. Given this mother’s testimony, it appears she recognizes that she lost some of her own.