I don’t always know what to do with the question of pre-natal terminal diagnosis. Not because I believe that abortion could be permissible in these circumstances, but because I can’t imagine the shock, pain, and grief that would follow the news that the eagerly anticipated arrival of your child will not be what you thought it would be. In these cases people don’t have an abortion because they don’t want their child, or because they can’t care for her. In fact, many people focus on the fact that they don’t want their child to suffer.
Who does? If there’s anything that’s easy to agree on, it’s that we don’t want children to suffer. I think one of the most heart-wrenching things you can do is walk through a children’s hospital and see all the children who should have rosy cheeks and laughing eyes, children who should be playing outside and going to school, children whose problems shouldn’t go farther then who they’re going to play with that day. But instead they lie on their backs in hospital beds, pale and drawn, drowsy with pain medication, and the suffering they endure is reflected in the tears shining in their parents’ eyes as they sit by their child’s side.
No one wants to see their child suffer, and yet the parents sit there, suffering with their child, wishing that every bit of pain that isn’t dulled by medication could be taken upon themselves. Doing everything they can to show their child that they are there for her, that they will care for her, that they will fight for her. Some parents know that they’re fighting a losing battle. Their child does not have long, and yet they fight. They fight to show their child beauty, love, laughter, and truth in the little time that they have left. And we never wonder why. We never wonder why the parents fight, even though their child may suffer. We never wonder why the parents fight for their children’s lives instead of taking their hand and telling them that they love them, and that’s why it’s time to say good-bye.
We never wonder why because even though the fight is hard, even though the fight takes all of their time, all of their energy, and even though the loss grows greater with every passing day, we know that the parents are doing the right thing, loving their child, valuing their child. And, in the end, what they’re doing is the hardest thing they will ever have to do. Saying good-bye is never easy, but there are times it would be easier than putting up a fight. Saying good-bye means that you can move on, that you can heal. Saying good-bye in your time means that you’re in control of a situation when control is what you desperately want. And when you’re pregnant with a child who has a terminal diagnosis, saying good-bye early means that you don’t have to deal with the questions, the surprise baby showers, the well-meant congratulations and squeals of excitement.
But it isn’t better. Our children are meant to be fought for, born and pre-born. When we are told that our child or our friend or another loved one has only a short time to live, do we cut short the time that we have or do we maximize the time that we have left? How is it more loving to end a loved one’s life early, rather than fighting for them, loving them, cherishing the time that we have been given? The loss of a child is always impossibly difficult, but what would be easier: knowing that you maximized the time you had with your child, or knowing that you ended her life too soon?
As Deidrea Laux said after losing her son Thomas to Trisomy 13, giving birth and loving him was the hardest thing she and her husband had ever done: “We knew it would be a hard road, but I think that sometimes when you make the toughest decisions you can get the greatest joy out of those.”