On the Lies We Tell Ourselves
An article made the rounds recently with the surprising revelation that children with Down’s Syndrome are disappearing. In Denmark, one of the countries most friendly to people born with an extra 21st chromosome, only 18 children were born with Down’s Syndrome in 2019 due to the free prenatal screening available to every pregnant woman. While the author notes Denmark is an outlier in the pervasiveness of prenatal genetic testing, the disappearance of Denmark’s Down Syndrome population will soon be mirrored in the west more broadly. Prenatal testing remarkably positions every parent to make casual life and death decisions, placing themselves in the position of God.
I listened to a recent podcast which followed a woman in her forties on a quest to make a baby. Unpartnered, she needed a sperm donor. We the listeners traced her steps, from trying artificial insemination with a gay friend’s sperm, to finally getting pregnant through IVF by sperm donor. At twenty-five weeks pregnant, after normal findings in her earlier anatomy scan, an additional ultrasound showed fetal abnormalities. The baby’s head was too small, and there were irregularities in the brain. Within three days, the mother had procured a “termination for medical reasons,” or TFMR. In other words, an abortion.
As a listener, I was not expecting this end to her story. As a mother, I was uniquely affected by her choice. You see, at the same time the podcaster learned of her baby’s abnormalities, I learned of my own baby’s abnormalities. My baby has some of the same brain defects that her baby did. While she chose a TFMR, I chose David.
David was born with a unique set of birth defects. For a time, our doctors thought he would soon die. We all did. I’m not sure what the trajectory of David’s life will be, but for now, he is alive and thriving. An unexpected, miraculous story.
These days, I often think about pain. I’m not sure if David is in pain. When he struggles to breathe and eat, I wonder if it hurts him. I know that it hurts me. David’s birth gave birth to something else. My pain. I don’t experience pain in the physical sense, but multiple times a day, looking at David, I realize I am in pain. A voice in my head goes something like this–I can’t do this one more minute, hour, or day. This must end. I will do whatever it takes to escape this. Death– mine, not his, would be a mercy.
Humans, I’ve realized, do not like pain.
I think about the reasons the podcaster aborted her baby. She says it was to give her baby a different life, a new chance, a fresh start. This is metaphysical displacement. She chose abortion to give herself a different path. A path that theoretically didn’t lead to pain.
I think often about life before now, with our modern scans, interventions, treatments and maybe, seldomly, cures. I wonder about pain then, as opposed to pain now.
Perhaps, I reason, had I lived a couple hundred years earlier, this wouldn’t be so hard. I would expect pain as part of life. I would have realized that life is and will be despite pain. This is a fallacy. I think our ancestors hated pain as much as I do; they just had fewer options to escape it. Life was very inconvenient back then.
It could be that the most painful part of pain is the surprise of it; hitting me again, freshly, when I see David struggle. I think this should not be so, and remember that it is so and will keep being so. There is no way around this pain. The way is through the pain.
Parents are constantly looking to minimize our exposure to pain under the guise of meeting our children’s needs. This is what lies at the heart of the abortion debate. Not, “when does life begin”, but whose needs win. Mine, or theirs?
Aborting particular kinds of children to spare a baby’s suffering is a cruel charade. This does nothing but spare the parents their own pain. This is the absence of responsibility, the betrayal of a parent’s role. A parent’s call is not to dispose of their baby to spare them suffering but rather to lay their own life down in preservation of another.
If a car was careening down the street, straight for your child, and you could push your kid out of the way, would you? I think most parents would say “I would absolutely save my child, regardless of the risk to my person.” Abortion isn’t the refusal to rescue a child in danger. Abortion is the car. Abortion is sending your disabled son to play in the road, hoping he gets hit by said car, and knowing you are free of him.
If that sounds too harsh, you have been fooled by today’s soft eugenics.
As a mother nothing could be more contrary to my innate impulses than to sacrifice my baby for my own preservation. I am not a hero; any parent would say what I’ve said now, should they see their baby born rather than make a disembodied calculation en utero.
Even if I had aborted David to spare myself pain, the joke would be on me. Pain would find me, after all. If not through David, then by some other means. Life and pain are soldered together, inextricably. Woe to us who devise and facilitate a means of escape that sacrifices the innocent. In the end, pain is waiting. It will find us, and it will try it’s best to defeat us and demean us.
David’s pediatrician texted me the other day. “Would you pray,” she asked me, “for a baby with special needs dying in the hospital…would you pray for the suffering to end?” This doctor knows, deep in her bones, that pain means things are not as they should be. She said, “I have trouble seeing things spiritually. Would you help me?” Her humility brought me to my knees. I too, have trouble seeing things spiritually. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Pain only has one Master; and in the end, pain and suffering will take their places in the Lake of Fire, banished and chained forever. Pain, and the one who has brought it into our world, does not have the final answer, the final say, on my life or David’s life. “He shall crush thy head, though thou shalt strike thy heel.”
*Image Credit: Wunderstock