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Courage to love

In an age of mass communication, there seems to be a shortage of information (and stories) like mine readily available for women who face the unexpected—how to deal with the results of a devastating prenatal ultrasound.

Let me introduce myself:  I am a 41-year-old married mother of seven children, and I am due with my eighth child on January 29, 2004.  My husband and I were thrilled and also a bit apprehensive at the surprise news of another pregnancy.  My pregnancies are always difficult since I am not only at risk for early miscarriage, but also pre-term labor and delivery.  However, my husband and I, and all of our children, were very happy at the news, and we’re preparing ourselves for the road ahead.

Thoughts that something would be wrong with my baby never entered my mind; but on September 11th at my twenty-week routine ultrasound, my husband and I were bluntly and uncompassionately informed that our baby had severe abnormalities.  Four days later, after a second ultrasound, we learned that our baby, a girl, had holoproencephaly (the brain is not fully divided into two hemispheres), facial deformities, and a defective heart valve.  Survival after birth would be impossible, and the baby’s demise might occur sooner.  The perinatologist, who was somewhat sympathetic, asked us, “What do you want to do?” and offered her help.  I responded, a bit confused, and asked her what she meant.  Well, of course, she meant “did we want to terminate?”

We are a pro-life couple who have always declined risky pre-natal and genetic testing in the past, but now we found ourselves thrown into a sea of emotions without a life-boat.  Abortion was not an option, but fear besieged me. My initial reaction was: “How could I carry through with this pregnancy and look at my child after her birth?” But maybe this pregnancy would be short; I could try to go into pre-term labor by taking long walks and running my family all over town.  Of course, this kind of thinking was wrong.

Fear is an emotion that can overwhelm a woman who has welcomed her pregnancy, only to be told that something is terribly awry.  There is little information, if any, that is readily available to help the distraught and confused mother-to-be who wants to flee from her situation.  “Help” is often available in the form of a quick, “merciful” induction or a “therapeutic” abortion.

Fear is an emotion that can overwhelm a woman who has welcomed her pregnancy, only to be told that something is terribly awry.

What can a health-care provider, member of the church, or fellow family member or friend do in difficult situations that involve devastating news of a pre-natal ultrasound or test?  First, show compassion.  Recognize that the mother, who just recently was thinking of baby names and making preparations in a nursery, is now very shocked and distraught.  She needs to be held emotionally, with a tender hand.  Secondly, remember the humanity of the baby and the mother. The mother needs to know that now may be the only time she has with her child, but she can still name and love him.

Time does heal, and a woman can follow natural law and embrace the life of her child for as long as she has that child with her (not unlike her care and love of a terminally-ill child). Many are also fortunate, as I am, to be blessed with a strong faith, a husband and family who respect all life, and school and church communities who support us with prayer and any necessary help. In my situation, I found peace and, surprisingly, joy rather quickly, and I have obtained the courage to nurture and love my baby daughter, who we named Gianna Christe Mariolina. When my road is lonely, sad, or I am apprehensive about tomorrow,  I am comforted by the love and support around me and the unborn life within me. Little Gianna is a gift for all humanity.

Gianna Christe is an advocate for other unborn babies like her. In order to help women, information and compassion must be available not only in churches and doctors’ offices, but also in our popular culture. These women, who probably had been excited over the early news of a pregnancy, need support to find their reservoir of courage and embrace the gift of life.

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About the author

Doreen Nagurny