A Life Well Loved

Posted on: November 21, 2012
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By Shirley Dilley
 
 
It would never be the choice for me. The medical and religious communities felt it was the right thing to do, but their string of reasons made me even more resolute in my decision.
 
 
“Your thyroid cancer has spread to ten lymph nodes.”
 
 
 
The surgeon appeared stricken. It seemed he was delivering the message to himself rather than the patient sitting in front of him.
 
 

“You will need a radical neck resection placing you under anesthesia for seven or eight hours. The four month fetus you’re carrying could be severely deprived of oxygen during that time so a therapeutic abortion is recommended. Otherwise, you could be delivering a child with multiple deformities or health problems.”
 
 
Spreading cancer, abortion, deformities. This can’t be happening. Why me? Why these horrible things for my child? Spinning out of control, my mind felt like it was whirling on a runaway carousel. Quietly, I was begging to be let off the ride so my life could settle back to a normal pace.
 
 
The doctor exited the examining room leaving me with only disturbing thoughts for companionship. My husband joined me moments later to assure me any decision I made he would support. A nurse practitioner entered the room along with my parish priest and she began a litany of reasons why the therapeutic abortion was being recommended.
 
 
“Whenever there is a pregnancy involved, cancers spread more rapidly.”
 
 
“You will need radiation immediately after surgery and it shouldn’t be delayed for the four or five months until you deliver the baby.”
 
 
“You are only twenty-four years old with four other children at home under the age of five. Who will raise them if you’re gone?”
 
 
My parish priest, Father Bill, stepped gingerly into the conversation with tears in his eyes. “Shirley, if you’re worried how the church feels in this situation, don’t be concerned. The church makes exceptions when a mother’s life is jeopardized and
this is certainly justified.”
 
 
I listened and went over each argument carefully in my mind. I believed in a good and loving God, not a cruel, punishing God. I would put him in charge of my health and my family. Believing this was best, I decided to carry my much loved child to term no matter the consequences. He or she deserved all the love and opportunity I had been given by my mother.
 
 
“Schedule the neck surgery.” I said to the nurse practitioner. “I’m keeping my baby.”
 
 
My husband and Father Bill looked at each other with concern, but both knew I must be the one to make the decision.
 
 
After the surgery, the surgeons and obstetricians were surprised my pregnancy continued without problems. A beautiful baby girl, Nancy Ruth, was delivered and placed in my arms five months later.
 
 
Before we left the hospital, the pediatrician came in to tell us the status of our daughter. He explained that she appeared in good health, no deformities of any kind. But there was a problem. My breathing stopped and I felt sure my heart must have discontinued beating also.
 
 
“Her cries are shrill and piercing and she stays tightly curled in the fetal position. These are generally definitive signs of spastic cerebral palsy. There is no cure for this condition and the child will probably need lifetime care. It affects the nervous system, brain, and muscles. Every facet of her life may be affected. Learning, eating, walking, talking.”
 
 
The doctor’s manner was detached and I felt he wanted to break the news and hurry from the room so he wouldn’t have to deal with devastated parents.
 
 
“What caused this? How did it happen? Are you sure? Are there any tests we can run to be positive?” I had a thousand questions and refused to let him get away until he answered all of them.
 
 
“No one knows for sure how it happens. Generally something goes wrong in the womb. Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain possibly,” he answered.
 
 
The very second he put a period on that sentence, the guilt train arrived in my brain. How could I have been so selfish? What kind of life have I subjected this child to?
 
 
The next several weeks, I held and cuddled my baby trying to assure her how much she was loved, how I would always take care of her and mostly, how sorry I was for being responsible for her condition. Guilt never was more than one thought
from my mind.
 
 
When Nancy cried, it sounded like a shrieking noise. Her arms stayed pulled in close to her sides, little fists balled up continually. Diapering her was difficult. You had to pry open her little knees just to get the diaper on and secured.
 
 
One morning, after her bottle, I placed my sleeping baby in the crib on her side. She was lying in her constant tight fetal position. When I didn’t hear her cries for attention after a couple hours, I tiptoed into the bedroom to check on her. She was
lying on her back, with her arms and hands open. Her legs were spread-eagled like a little frog. I was in a panic. My little girl must have died. When I grabbed her, and pulled her up to my chest, I realized she was smiling at me and her little fingers curled around mine for the first time. A faucet of tears exploded from my eyes and I was praying this was not just a momentary change but a permanent one.
 
 
A trip to the pediatrician gave few clues as to why this could have occurred. He was astounded. It was suggested the replacement thyroid I need to take daily crossed the placental barrier causing hyperthyroidism in my child, possibly explaining her spasticity. Not wanting me to expect too much, he advised there might still be problems and this could just be a temporary remission or anomaly.
 
 
I knew better. My child was healed and God granted us a miracle.
 
 
This special baby is now a special woman. She is a military veteran and has a college degree. Daily she works as a vice-president for a large financial conglomerate. Her grown son and teenage daughter are worthy of pride. She is a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sibling, citizen and devout in her faith.
 
 
God helps with our difficult decisions. Just ask Him.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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