In her New York Times op-ed “My Abortion at 23 Weeks” Judy Nicastro writes that “she believes” she knows when “parenthood starts.” It’s “at the moment you decide you want a child, and are ready and able to create a safe and loving home for him or her.”
But this definition of parenthood changes in the 23rd week of her second pregnancy, when, pregnant with twins, Nicastro learns that that the male twin has a herniated diaphragm. She recalls being told, “All the organs are in his chest and not developing.”
They were facing a child on oxygen, and, she writes, “other life supports for a long time. The thought of hearing him gasp for air and linger in pain was our nightmare.”
They still “desperately wanted this child and would do whatever we could to save him, if his hernia was fixable and he could have a good quality of life.”
If. If the problem is “fixable” and the child can have “a good quality of life.” Every mother, every father hopes and prays for a healthy baby. Every parent hopes and prays for a long and joyful life for the children in their care. No expectant parent says, “We don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, just as long as the baby has a chronic illness.”
But the deep wisdom of the church is that we are not the gods of life and death. We cannot foresee or manage every outcome. The healthy baby is hit by a car and becomes the brain-damaged child. The child with leukemia is healed. Some of it is in our power to affect; most of it is not. Children fall into the deep end. What looks like a cold becomes fatal meningitis. The “desperately wanted” child grows up to be an alcoholic or a meth addict or a murderer. The quality of life, promising at the start, turns bitter and life-denying.
And all children, desperately wanted or wanted not at all, will die. Just like every adult; just like every human being. We all have problems that will turn out not to be “fixable.”
So it’s that “if” that breaks your heart. That “if” and Nicastro’s belief that the only option is either death by abortion or an endless series of medical interventions that may only heap pain upon pain. The church says there is another way, and that way is love. We love one another while we have one another, with no guarantees as to how long, or in what condition, we will be together. We care for one another, healthy or ill.
John describes Jesus this way, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus loved them knowing one of his own would betray him to death, while others would simply betray him. He was facing his murder at the hands of one who ate with him and lived with him. Not a good quality of life and not a “fixable” problem. But Jesus’ way must be our way. Our call is to love one another to the end.