Yesterday a friend shared on Facebook the heartbreaking Yahoo article “What Kind of Mother is 8 Months Pregnant and Wants an Abortion?”
The piece tells of Kate, a mother who learned at 36 weeks pregnant with her second daughter that the baby in her womb had two severe brain deformities: Dandy-Walker malformation and agenesis of the corpus callosum. These conditions presented in their severest forms, which meant that the baby was not likely to survive very long into her infancy or childhood. If she did survive, she would have moderate to severe mental retardation, moderate to severe physical disabilities, and constant seizures. Kate realized that the erratic, unusual movements she’d felt the baby making in utero, so unlike those she felt her first child make, were probably seizures, afflicting the baby already.
Kate and her husband wanted this baby, wanted lots of babies, and had been joyfully anticipating the arrival of their second child. When they first learned there might be something wrong with the baby but before they knew how severe it was, they contemplated things like special education, long-term care, and how much money to save to ensure their daughter would be cared for after they died. But after an MRI and a consultation with a neurologist, they knew the picture of their daughter’s future was much bleaker. Kate asked the doctor what babies like her are like. What do they do? Do they just sleep all the time? The doctor told her no, that “babies like this one are not generally comfortable enough to sleep.”
Kate writes, “I had to think about a baby who was probably not going to live very long, and the longer she lived, the more pain she would be in. That realization–that I was more scared of her living than of her dying–is what made the choice for me.”
That choice was to fly halfway across the country to Colorado, the only place in the country where she could go, to pay $25,000 and undergo a four-day-long procedure that would end the baby’s life and allow Kate to deliver her stillborn. Kate held the baby after her body was born, got her footprints, and named her Rose. The baby was cremated, and her remains were sent to the family a few days later.
The grief Kate and her husband felt through this whole ordeal, and which they continue to feel, is abundantly clear in this article. So is Kate’s panic that her baby would suffer–horribly, constantly, and pointlessly–and that there would be nothing Kate could do to stop her pain.
So, what kind of mother is 8 months pregnant and wants an abortion? This article wants you to see that it could be the kind of mother who wants her baby, has planned for and loved her baby, and who knows that her baby’s life will be nothing but pain. The kind of mother who wants to save her daughter from meaningless torture more than she wants to save herself from grief, judgement, and ridicule. The kind of mother who wants a better option than an abortion but who sees no other options in the horrible hand her child has been dealt.
In this article, writer Susan Michelle Tyrell reframes Kate’s story as that of, yes, “a tragic pregnancy,” but moreover, a story in which “the tragedy lies in the parents’ decision that baby Rose should not have a chance to live.” Tyrell acknowledges the pain Kate expresses but says, “The mother’s narrative almost sounds like a tragic miscarriage, rather than a miscarriage of justice for an innocent child.”
Tyrell quotes extensively from Kate’s original article, but then bafflingly reimagines the words themselves in her extrapolation.
For example, Kate shares in her original story that as she waited to learn the severity of her child’s condition, she imagined all the possibilities: “What would it be like to have the miracle baby who was OK and exceeded all expectations? What if she died at birth? What if she lived only a couple of years? What does it mean to get a DNR (a do-not-resuscitate order), for an infant? Hospitals are legally protected from trying to save a baby and not legally protected from letting a baby die.” Later, when she knew the extent of Rose’s brain malformation, she wondered if she would be able to have an abortion legally at the late stage in her pregnancy. She imagined to herself, “If I can’t get the abortion, I’m going to run away somewhere rural and I’m going to have this baby by myself and let her die without intervention.”
Tyrell quotes this last line but prefaces it with the interpretation that Kate “would leave baby Rose alone to die after birth.” Alone, as if Kate just told us she planned to go into the woods, give birth, and leave the baby to starve to death or be eaten by animals.
Tyrell later pushes her misinterpretation further and describes Kate’s “open attitude that her baby would die one way or another–even if it meant leaving the child alone to die.”
Tyrell doesn’t seem to understand that allowing someone to die “without intervention” is not the same as abandoning someone to die alone. “Without intervention” means not restarting a heart that has stopped beating, or not giving CPR to someone who has stopped breathing. It’s difficult to understand why even this option would be unacceptable to someone who opposes abortion. Kate’s imaginary scenario would have her giving birth, then allowing Rose to die from her disease without the interference of the inevitable needles, tubes, and noisy machines of a hospital.
In fact, far from saying she’d leave Rose alone, Kate indicates that she herself would be alone. She imagines giving birth to her baby “by [herself],” without the assistance of a doctor or midwife and possibly without even another person’s hand to hold, at great risk to her own life. An unassisted birth of a baby with Rose’s condition would be dangerous because the baby’s head could swell with fluid, enlarging it to the point she couldn’t pass through the birth canal. Kate says, “The risks that I was willing to take to let this baby go in peace, in the way I believed she deserved — it’s terrifying.” But she would have risked her own life if it meant ensuring her child’s suffering wouldn’t be prolonged.
The thing is, Rose was going to die one way or another, whether Kate ended the pregnancy in its 8th month or allowed the baby to be born. The difference is that if Rose were born, her brief life would be consumed with pain. No newborn can understand suffering–imagine the cries of an infant just getting a shot. Rose’s suffering would have been the type that she’d never overcome. Every moment of misery would pass just to bring her to the next. She would never smile or coo or even sleep. Instead, she would cry that high-pitched scream that babies in pain cry, except she would never stop. Not until she were completely sedated or until her life ended. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that baby Rose was suffering inside Kate’s womb, seizing but unable to cry out in the silence of the amniotic sac.
The title of Tyrell’s piece, “Mother pays $25,000 to kill her 8-month-old disabled baby,” is obviously misleading on two levels. There’s the characterization of Rose as an 8-month-old, which implies she’s been outside the womb for eight months. That part can be dismissed generously as part the title’s clickbait composition.
The second misnomer is the word “disabled.” While technically accurate, that word severely understates Rose’s condition. Were she to live, she would not be merely disabled. We’re not talking about just a kid in a wheelchair, nor a kid who goes to speech therapy, nor kid who grows up to get a job in a supportive work environment bagging groceries or living in an apartment with the help of a social worker. We’re not just talking about an IEP and a government check, nor even a Terri-Schiavo-esque hospital bed with a feeding tube and smiles at Mylar balloons. We’re talking about misery.
Commenters on these articles and others like it point out that everyone suffers, that people with disabilities suffer. It’s true: suffering is a part of life, and it’s unfortunately a bigger part of some people’s’ lives than others. But as Kate understood it and relates in her article, Rose’s life would have been nothing but suffering, and her young age if not her intellectual state would have made her incapable of understanding why or how or anything other than pain.
Other commenters take an exception to Kate’s use of the word “euthanize” in describing the procedure in which “the doctor injected the baby with a drug that, over a few hours, slowed her heart to still.” Commenters protest that “euthanize” is something we do to animals. This is also true. We talk about putting an animal out of its suffering when nothing can be done to help, because an animal can’t understand its pain, and we know intuitively that it’s wrong to subject an innocent life to suffering when it does no good. When we euthanize a beloved pet, we do that out of compassion. A baby is not a pet, but there is nothing in Kate’s piece to suggest she’s acted on anything less than compassion for her daughter.
One commenter I engaged with myself called Kate’s story an example of what Pope Francis calls “a throwaway culture
.” I have a lot of fondness and respect for Pope Francis and respect for the commenter who cited him, but I think Kate’s abortion is the last one you could say was done to throw anything away. It’s very clear from Kate’s telling of her story that she did not reject Rose. You don’t finish knitting a sweater for someone you reject. You don’t ask to hold and admire the baby you reject. You don’t keep the footprints of and ask to have cremated the person you reject. You certainly don’t spend $25,000 and risk condemnation from all those around you as a form of rejection. Kate did what she did out of love and to protect Rose.
And Kate’s article uses the word “baby” throughout to refer to Rose. She never once uses the word “fetus,” which pro-life activists will tell you is a linguistic manipulation used to dehumanize a valuable human life. Kate named her daughter; she valued her life.
I don’t know what decision I would make if I were in Kate’s situation. My impulse is to say that I wouldn’t get the abortion, and I wouldn’t go into the woods to give birth without intervention. But to be honest, after considering the choices Kate faced, my impulses feel selfish. I would want to hang onto the pregnancy in order to have more days with the baby. I might want to see my baby hooked up to machines so I could know her heart was still beating and I could still touch her hand. My reasons for wanting to prolong the baby’s life would be to give me comfort, not for any reason that would benefit her.
The fact is that whatever decision I would make is irrelevant to the decision she made. Any Rose in my womb would be my responsibility; Kate’s Rose was hers.
The real symptom of the “throwaway culture” is the legion of writers and commenters who throw away Kate’s pain and dismiss her reasoning she has shared so openly and simply call her a murderer, a ghoul, selfish, or careless. Those who toss aside the anguishing realities of Rose’s brain malformations and insist it was “just a disability.” Those who throw away the human aspect of this story, propagandize the piece, and condense it into clickbait.