today, so I must say here, I wish I were.
No, for many reasons (including the fact there are no local marches, everyone drives or busses it to a bigger city to march or to THE MARCH), we are not marching today. However, I choose EVERY DAY to be a witness for life. We choose to be witnesses for life.
Shelby’s autism would never have been detected by ultrasound or any other pre-natal testing, however, research is leading that way. Down Syndrome, Tay-Sachs, Cystic Fibrosis and countless other health concerns are detectable. When I was pregnant with Shelby and was given the myriad of forms letting me know about the testing and the consequences if I chose not to test (but down-playing the inaccuracies in results), Jeff took them from my hand and told the doctor, “Just show us where to sign to decline all testing.” Jeff has never been outspokenly pro-life. But to the doctor’s puzzled face he said, “This is our child. A diagnosis does not change that.” His conviction hit me hard. It made me proud and I straightened my spine. Regardless of the testing, we would never abort anyway, so why bother with the expense and inconvenience. My pregnancy was full of difficulty anyway with HG and shots of blood thinners why could I not just enjoy it despite those things? Why did I need to add another element of worry with tests that were just as often wrong as right? We prayed for the child God intended for us. We never prayed for health or one gender or the other.
I have often been asked why we continued to be open to life after having Shelby. There is a very common misconception that children with special needs, if they are a first child, should be only children as siblings will deprive them of the full attention of their parents and siblings will be equally deprived. First, off I don’t believe that for a second. I believe that love is never divided in a family and another child can only multiply love. And it’s beside the point. Joey is fourteen months younger than Shelby, he was conceived and born before she was even diagnosed. But we would have had him no matter what. Joey is a strong boy with bright blue eyes. Joey loves fiercely and shows affection openly. He chases his sister down and holds her hand to lead her back if she runs off. He meets each new person with the assumption this is a possible new friend. Our lives could never be complete without him.
And the same is definitely true of his little brother. Will has an infectious laugh and big happy dimples. But at 16 weeks, I got an ultrasound at the maternal-fetal medicine doctor’s office that might have caused someone of less pro-life conviction more worry. On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe I was told that half of my baby’s heart appeared to be not growing correctly and he had chorionic cysts on his brain. My third child, I had learned that if you spoke a doctor’s “language” they more likely viewed you as a worthy adversary and maybe even a qualified partner vs an unsuspecting dupe. “Are either of these conditions ‘incompatible with life?’ ” I asked. I was never going to abort, however, I wanted the doctor to know I understood fully the consequences of giving birth to child with that “diagnosis.” Clearly taken aback, the doctor stammered and explained that the cysts were actually small in size and one in two people had them in utero (meaning of the two of us sitting there, one had probably had them) and only cysts large in size were an indication of other issues (such as Trisomy 18). She then went onto say that any heart condition would be correctable at birth. But then wisely decided to order another ultrasound. As it turned out, Will’s heart was just fine. He was in a bad position for the inexperienced ultra-sound tech I initially had to get a good picture. And the cysts were gone at the following month’s ultrasound. Will is smart as a whip, he is hilariously funny both intentionally and otherwise and he is a stubborn fighter. But even if his heart defect had been very real. Even if those had been large cysts on his brain, we would have continued our pregnancy, he was given his life by God and he deserved it no matter what the “consequences” were to me or his father.
Not to mention, during Will’s pregnancy, both Jeff and I lost our jobs. I was stung by one family member’s suggestion that this pregnancy was a) unintended (as we believe all pregnancy is intended by God and therefore, nothing can be unintended) and b) unwelcome. To feel his personhood attacked by someone who should have loved and welcomed it with joy was a knife in my heart and just hardened my resolve that God wanted us to have this child.
I want to march next year. I want people to see that life with a child with a profound developmental delay is not only worth it, but a gift. I want people to see that no matter the circumstances with one child, another is even more of a gift. I want people to see that pre-natal diagnosis is not always accurate and that economic circumstances should never dictate whether a child becomes a “choice” or not. Children are not burdens. All of mine are incredible gifts. And they were from the moment they were conceived because whether I was aware of their existence or not at the time. As Amy Welborn says in A Catholic Woman’s Book of Days in today’s entry:
No human being is an accident or unwanted, for every human being is formed by God, loved and treasured, our names written lovingly on the palm of his hand.
God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t make junk. And He NEVER makes a child a “choice.”