Incompatible with Life

Diagnosis: Polyhydramnios

By Anonymous from Boston

Many might agree that the rantings of the far right, especially about the abortion issue, are scary. How innocent a word. "Scary" however, becomes "terrifying" when seen through the eyes of one who could be targeted. Yes, the terrorist right has now officially terrified me.

I have been sickened by the rhetoric celebrating the killing of Doctor George Tiller, who performed his professional duties according to his conscience in a legal action, which is reviewed by two of his peers prior to the carrying out of the procedure. What's next - doctors having to submit their medical plans to a board at Fox News?

I know this issue all too intimately. In March of 1973, my much anticipated and much loved first child was found, in the seventh month of her uterine life, to be massively damaged - a condition "incompatible with life" as my doctor so memorably announced to me after my seventh month check-up. I was enormously bloated, popping buttons on my maternity shirts, growing daily more and more uncomfortable because of - I later found out - a condition called hydramnios. My baby's defect was such that she was unable to swallow and process amniotic fluid; thus, I had retained seven months build-up of that fluid, which was now pressing on my uterus and my gall bladder and internal organs, causing crippling pain and numbness. The pressure was so great that I could not feel the skin of my abdomen. Ignorant of how very abnormal that was, I blithely wondered if I was to be blessed with twins, or triplets! How dashed were our hopes, how decimated were we when we heard those words: "incompatible with life." Not three blessings, not two, not even one.

My case was sent before a panel of medical reviewers at Boston Lying-In, while we went home to wait the interminable days between knowledge of our baby's condition and medical direction for how to proceed. Lying on my side on the couch (the only position in which the pain was alleviated somewhat), for five days, I was an infant myself, with no direction, no sensibility, as helpless and adrift as was my baby daughter, floating while I waited to hear what was to become of us all. Truthfully, I remember that period of time through a fog of unremitting pain, certainly as much psychological as physical. After two more weeks, I was relieved of my pain, and brought into the world of unending grief, still extant now these 36 years later, by the humanity of the medical team who voted to allow my doctor to deliver her - as it turns out, stillborn. No matter - she had no brain, no autonomic nervous system, no means of drawing her first breath. She could in fact, never have known human life outside my womb.

In all these 36 years, I have rarely had to consider what the consequences might have been had that medical panel voted, "no." Would my life have been sacrificed? In truth, I recall telling my mother-in-law at that time that I would have gladly given my own life if it meant that the baby would live. I even wished that it were so. But, I had the good sense, and the support of a loving husband, to survive the inevitable. She was delivered and mourned, and ever will be. Those unnamed doctors who brought us through the nightmare have been in my prayers ever since. They provided the only sane response I could have fathomed. Later, I suffered another pregnancy that ended poorly, but never again did I feel so completely vulnerable, so fragile, on the cusp of life and death, so tormented by the loss of that dear baby, who has lived in our hearts ever since. She was our only daughter. A few years ago, I was given a mother's ring with a stone for each of our two sons, and one for her, as my husband knew I would want.

That is my story. If others have stories of crippling and debilitating, and yes, life-threatening depression, or life-diminishing complications of family dynamics, or if some cannot suffer the shame or confusion caused by pregnancy outside of marriage, or a pregnancy resulting from a rape or an affair, or if some cannot work though the dilemma of being unable to provide for a new child, or whatever condition might drive a woman to this decision - let us be. Bless us in our pain, offer what relief a good friend might provide, but DO NOT JUDGE. We all live in glass houses.

And so, I will not tolerate the demonization of the good Dr. Tiller. I know that he must have been a savior to many. I know that he brought the saving mercies of medical science to his patients. Distortion and lies by right-wing terrorists have somehow fostered perverse untruths about this issue. Today I send my story to those who might allow a first-person testimony to check their blanket condemnations. For obvious reasons, I cannot attach my name to this submission. Yes, I am terrified. In a world where a murder of a doctor can be viewed as beneficial, who knows what zealot out there might decide that I am a she-devil. I know, and I feel, and I hope that I am a carrier of the truth that we are our best human selves when we are able to look into our own hearts to make choices about our own lives.


Books on Loss and Grief

Our Heartbreaking Choices: Forty-Six Women Share Their Stories of Interrupting a Much-Wanted Pregnancy

The Dive :: A Memoir

A Time to Decide a Time to Heal: For Parents Making Difficult Decisions About Babies They Love

Precious Lives Painful Choices: A Prenatal Decision-Making Guide

Sunshine After the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, Revised Edition: Surviving the Death of Your Baby

Empty Arms: Coping With Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death

A Silent Sorrow: Pregnancy Loss

Unspeakable Losses: Healing From Miscarriage, Abortion, And Other Pregnancy Loss

Surviving Pregnancy Loss: A Complete Sourcebook for Women and Their Families

Difficult Decisions: For Families Whose Unborn Baby Has a Serious Problem

Books for Fathers, Family, Children and Friends

Couple Communication After a Baby Dies: Differing Perspectives

For Better or Worse: For Couples Whose Child Has Died

How to Say it When You Don't Know What to Say: The Right Words For Difficult Times

A Guide For Fathers: When A Baby Dies

When Your Friend's Child Dies: A Guide to Being a Thoughtful and Caring Friend

When Pregnancy Fails: Families Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death

What You Can Say When You Don't Know What to Say: Reaching Out to Those Who Hurt

Books about Trying Again and Pregnancy after Loss

Journeys: Stories of Pregnancy After Loss

Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss

Pregnancy After a Loss: A Guide to Pregnancy After a Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death