In retrospect, I shouldn’t have looked at the twelve-week scan. I shouldn’t have marvelled at its perfect, 6 cm long little body, its stomach, bladder and beating heart, its tiny vertebrae, arms and legs. I shouldn’t have watched it leaping summersaults in my belly. It might then have been easier not to view it as a little life, as a baby.
Because we decided, before it was even conceived, that if this baby has the same condition as Benjamin, we will terminate the pregnancy, however far gone that pregnancy is.
I’m not writing this to shock, or to hurt. I apologise if it seems brutal, particularly to those who consider themselves disabled, those who have lost children, and those who have struggled to conceive. Please let me explain. I didn’t go into this because I was comfortable with a one-in-four chance that I will have to abort my baby. I went into this because the risk is low and the possible gains are great. I went into this because I don’t wholly believe the geneticists’ one-in-four. Some combination of intuition, research, and my own knowledge of genetics tells me that Benjamin’s condition is a one-off, de novo mutation. And, I went into this because some crazy, half-imagined, half-hoped, half-understood feeling tells me that if only we are bold enough to jump, God will honour our trust by not letting us fall. That fortune favours the brave.
None of that makes it any easier to relax now that we have jumped. I am haunted by the possibility that I will have to have a late term abortion. And if necessary, I will do it, I won’t go back on our decision. I still believe that abortion – at any stage of pregnancy – is killing. But I think I could do it to give Jackie and Benjamin a better life. The fact is, that in our society, being disabled is a disadvantage and having a disabled sibling is a disadvantage. If I can limit that disadvantage for Jackie and Benjamin, I will.
I wonder if this makes me a hypocrite. If I could abort this child, why couldn’t I have aborted Benjamin and saved us all this torment? My answer is that this is not Benjamin. It is a different pregnancy, under different circumstances, with different information. Since we’ve had Benjamin, I’ve met women who’ve aborted unborn babies with fairly treatable disabilities, and women who’ve continued with a pregnancy that promised serious disability. I wouldn’t dare to judge any of these women, and I try hard not to judge myself. Every situation is unique and can never be fully understood from the outside. The only thing I know is that the parents who face these decisions, whatever they choose, do not choose lightly; they choose painstakingly, bravely, honestly, in good faith, and through love.
And what does this mean of my love for Benjamin? If I would abort another like him? I have loved Benjamin since the day he was conceived and my love for him grows daily, as it does for my daughter. And, no matter how much I try to shield myself from it, the same is true for the new child in my womb. If we lose this gamble, I will grieve this child as a loved one.
Plenty of people are willing to voice their opinions on abortion, for and against. But the actual decision – either way – is rightly very private. However, this leaves the parents, perhaps especially the mother, open to a whole lot of hidden guilt, shame and doubt. I feel this about Benjamin and I will feel it for my third child, whatever the outcome of this pregnancy. I hope that by being more open with our experiences we can begin to support these parents. So, I open our own choice up for criticism. I don’t expect everyone to understand or agree. You may think us heartless, selfish, or worse, but I know that the path we’ve chosen is right for our family. I will share this story as it happens, not warped by mis-telling, nor airbrushed with hindsight. We didn’t ask to be making life-and-death decisions and we’re not intellectually or emotionally equipped to do so. We’re just doing the best we can.