Friday, June 18, 2010

Choosing life when doctors say no

Life over death: Five moms pressed by doctors to abort choose life for their babies.

When you get a terrible prenatal diagnosis, there are three possible outcomes:

1. The doctors are right. Your baby's condition is fatal and he dies.
2. The doctors are partially right. Your baby has problems, but they're not fatal, and she gets to have a life.
3. The doctors are completely wrong. Your baby is just fine.

If you choose abortion, you rule out any chance of outcomes 2 and 3. You choose to make absolutely sure that the baby dies, regardless of whether or not the diagnosis and prognosis were correct.

Why do doctors push women to act out of despair and to cut off all hope? There are a lot of reasons, but they boil down to these:

1. Doctors are "fixers". They go into medicine because they want to fix things. And if the only thing they can think to do to "fix" a situation is abortion, they'll recommend abortion. Doing nothing and letting nature take its course is alien to them.
2. Some doctors are prejudiced, and think that people with disabilities are worthless and that there is no point in living if you have an ailment or disability.
3. Some doctors are ignorant. (Research has born this out.) They make recommendations based on information that is decades old. There is no excuse for this -- if you're in the business of making diagnoses and prognoses, it's your responsibility to stay up to date. But just because it ought not to be this way doesn't mean it's not really this way in real life.

If you choose abortion after an unfavorable prenatal diagnosis, you're ending your child's life based on a doctor's ego, prejudice, and/or ignorance. How wise a choice is that, really?

For real help and support, see:

Be Not Afraid

Carry to Term

Having Your Baby When Others Say No!

Perinatal Hospice

Prenatal Partners for Life

String of Pearls

Waiting With Love


Lola said...

Believe it or not, Elizabeth Taylor had this to remember:

"About four weeks after (back surgery) ... a dozen doctors said I should have and abortion"
"there was no way I would not have that baby!"

She chose life for Liza Todd.

Elizabeth Takes Off, by Elizabeth Taylor
page 73

I found myself re-reading this because I found it more extraordinary than her Taylor-Burton Diamond!

army_wife said...

Here's another one for you. This woman was carrying twins and it was found that one twin had Dandy-Walker (amongst other problems) and the doctors pressured these folks five times to let them go in and cut the "abnormal" twin's umbilical cord with a lazer (to abort her without disturbing the other baby).

They said NO. They're military folks and I really admire them for giving their daughter life and being determined to help her live it to the fullest extent that she can. She recently had surgery to correct an additional problem (her skull plates fused prematurely, which restricted the growing-room for her brain - the surgery was to correct this and give her brain enough room to grow properly).

L. said...

Okay, but there are cases in which babies lack vital organs -- hearts, brains -- necessary for life.

When I was pregnant, I would have made a decision based on the probable quality of life for the baby. That is to say, I would have given birth to a baby even with severe deformities/disabilities -- to a point. I can't say where exactly that point would be, and thankfully, I never faced it.

And yes, doctors are human and are prejudiced by their own opinions, which is one must seek second, third or even more opinions in tough cases. Heck, sometimes you need to do that even for routine minor things, too.

I have a friend here in Tokyo who aborted an almost-fullterm pregnancy after her doctor told her something was definitely wrong with the baby. The autopsy revealed that her little boy was perfectly healthy, just on the small side.

Christina Dunigan said...

L., why seek all those multiple opinions when if the baby is moribund, he'll die anyway without somebody deliberately killing him? Why not wait until the baby is born, and if the doctor was right, you hold and comfort the baby until his natural death, and if the doctor is wrong you have a lifetime with the child.

Why this presumption that it's so much better to make absolutely sure the baby is dead than to risk the baby being just fine?

L. said...

Why not? Because I didn't think it would be worth getting my stomach cut open for a baby lacking a brain or vital organs necessary for life.

If there was some doubt as to the severity of the baby's condition, I would probably have erred on the side of delivering.

But not every condition is ambiguous.

Kathy said...

L, most doctors wouldn't perform a C-section on you if your baby had a condition "incompatible with life" even if you begged them to, or only if you literally begged them. In fact, I've read many stories of such babies who were expected to be stillborn because of known anomalies, and the doctors wouldn't even check the baby's heartbeat during labor, much less have the EFM running continuously, because they didn't want the mother to know when/that the baby had died.

Christina Dunigan said...

L, you said, "I have a friend here in Tokyo who aborted an almost-fullterm pregnancy after her doctor told her something was definitely wrong with the baby. The autopsy revealed that her little boy was perfectly healthy, just on the small side."

THAT is why. Your friend killed a perfectly healthy baby because "something was definitely wrong". No ambiguity there -- just lethal error.

L. said...

Kathy, I know of a woman who had a c-section to deliver a baby who only lived a few hours.

I know another woman with the same diagnosis who aborted.

And while I don't judge either of them, I tend to think I would have done what the second one did, in the same circumstances.

My Tokyo friend relied on the opinion of a single doctor.

Kathy said...

There's a third option -- vaginal birth of a possibly stillborn child. My point was that you do not *have* to choose between a C-section or an abortion.

L. said...

Kathy -- vaginal birth isn't a choice for everyone. It's not a choice for me.

OperationCounterstrike said...

Why not?

L. said...

Narrow pelvis, repeat c-sections. Believe me, I tried. :)

Kathy said...


I don't want to make you feel bad and will take you at your word that for whatever reason you couldn't have a vaginal birth. Most women can -- in fact, many women who have been "diagnosed" as having a pelvis too small or a baby too big (cephalopelvic disproportion or CPD) go on to have babies the same size or even larger in subsequent pregnancies [see Question CPD for a video of some of them]. So, while my statement may not apply to you personally, it would apply to most women.

A fourth option, which I think would apply to you even with a narrow pelvis, would be to induce labor prematurely with the baby small enough for you to birth.

L. said...

Kathy -- first pregnancy, labor induced at 38 weeks due to narrow pelvis, massive infant head. Pitocin turned all the way up to 40 cc -- no strong contractions, no dilation, water intact, so after two days, they decided to send me home, and said I would go into labor on my own any day. Not to be.

Baby born by c-section at 42.5 weeks, after a few more days of trial by pitocin -- dilated one cm.

Second baby: elective repeat c-section, after resisting very strong pressure to attempt VBAC (which I would have done, had I gone into labor naturally, since I certainly would have preferred it -- but it didn't start, and baby was overdue again, and I decided to spare both of us 'pit torture' -- no regrets there).

Third baby: elective repeat c-section.

Subsequent babies: prevented. Now praying for early menopause.

And I do hope you are not one of those women who look me in the eye and say, "Elective c-sections? Oh, you could have had a vaginal birth IF ONLY YOU HAD REALLY WANTED ONE AND BEEN MORE WILLING TO TRY."

I hear that a lot.

Christina Dunigan said...

What's their point? If you didn't want to push for the vaginal delivery, isn't that for you and your doctor to go for?

Kathy said...

I like the topic of birth; it's a hobby of mine (my husband thinks I should be a midwife, but I don't think I want that level of responsibility). So, I read a lot of stuff about birth, including stories like yours. If you're happy with your births, then that's fine by me.

What bothers me (and most other of "those women" who tell you that you could have given birth vaginally) is all the stories of women who believe their C-sections to have been unnecessary, and/or are forced into repeat C-sections even though they want to try to give birth vaginally. Because we hear those stories a lot, we tend to think that all women must or should feel that way.

So, on behalf of my fellow birth-nut sisters, I apologize for any inconsideration; and suggest that the next time you metaphorically cut them off at the knees by saying, "Oh, I had C-sections for all mine, and I'm happy I did." If they press the subject, just say, "I understand you are happy with your vaginal birth (or are unhappy with your C-section), but please understand that I'm happy with the way my children were born." Then smile and walk away.


L. said...

Christina, my doctor was among the people encouraging me to attempt a VBAC. And I admit it -- I wanted the easier recovery of a vaginal birth.

He was very disappointed in me when I changed my mind and scheduled the c-section, after much deliberation (and due date came and went). But without a few days of pointlessly contracting beforehand, the c-section recovery turned out to be fine. My daughter was asleep when they lifted her out -- imagine coming into the world asleep.

The third c-section was in Japan, where there is a cultural bias against the use of painkillers in childbirth -- even, as I found out, in surgical childbirth. That experience...could have been better.

But it's funny how the words "elective c-section" are just as contentious as "election abortion."

Christina Dunigan said...

L, when somebody says "elective c-section" I think of yuppies who schedule the birth on their social calendar, not women who have some medical reason where they're weighing their options and decide a c-section is best in their circumstances. If I found out I was about to give birth to a baby with anencephaly, for example, I'd choose a c-section because that significantly increase the chance of a live birth. Some people might consider that "elective" -- but only as compared to "emergency".

Kathy said...

Classifying C-sections is... a huge gray area. There is a range from the true emergencies (with doctors and nurses running down the halls and knocking the mother out because they don't have time to wait for the epidural) to the purely elective C-sections (which I define as chosen by the mother without a medical indication for either herself or the baby, and not pushed/suggested by the doctor -- this includes the yuppies who want to schedule everything [Heaven help them when they actually *have* the baby and find that they can't schedule when the baby cries! ;-)], to those with tokophobia, or think birth is gross, to the "too posh to push" crowd, and those that just don't want to try for whatever reason). But that leaves a huge gray area in between, with a whole spectrum of C/s, including medically necessary, medically indicated, failed induction, mom too tired, fetal distress, cord entanglement trapping descent, labor exceeded some arbitrary time limit, etc.

L. said...

Yes, the definition of a "purely elective" c-section is fuzzy. But a lot of people seem to think that if there is even a small chance of the possibility of a vaginal birth, with no grave risks to the baby, women should be compelled to "at least try," or they are no better than the too-posh-to-push yuppies.

I've even heard talk that elective c-sections such as mine shouldn't be fully covered by insurance companies, unless women first try everything possible to deliver vaginally, including pitocin induction. "Pit torture" can sometimes be harder on the baby,'s ALWAYS much cheaper for insurance companies than surgery.

Kathy said...

A few things that completely surprise me about insurance companies is that they are so willing to pay for elective inductions and C-sections, and so hesitant to approve a birth at home. It is cheaper for them to deny elective procedures and by far cheaper for them to pay the midwife's fee than a hospital birth. I don't know why they do pay so easily and fully for these elective procedures and often refuse to cover home births. That's weird to me.

L. said...

Yeah, I know who people who had really great homebirth experiences, and getting reimbursed by insurers was the hardest part for them.

Perhaps it's because c-sections/inductions are more routine than home births, and so the paperwork is already in place? Seems like a silly reason to me.

No matter what a woman chooses when it comes to birth, there is going to be someone who doesn't approve, for one reason or another....and there is also going to be someone who doesn't think insurance should cover it.

My father told me that when my brother and I were born, over 40 years ago, his standard health insurance policy did not cover any prenatal care or birth. It paid a little bit for the c-sections, because the first one was an emergency and the repeats were standard in the dark ages of vertical incisions.