Anencephaly, abortion and tragedy

Matters of the heart


My heart goes out to the families of both men involved in the shooting this week of a doctor who performed late term abortions; to both the doctor’s family and the gunman’s family. We can never understand what truly goes on in the hearts and minds of others but I imagine two families are currently devastated with grief and fear. I’ll bet a nation of people are judging each of these men for the lives they’ve led and the decisions they’ve made that apparently led to this tragedy. I ask, in this blog, for people to open their hearts instead of applying judgment and find compassion for the people whose lives these men have touched.
You may be asking, “What does this have to do with a pregnancy blog?” Raising a child, even during pregnancy, involves an open mind, open heart and the ability to make the best decisions possible for the health and well being of mother and child. Because sometimes, babies don’t develop normally or lives don’t progress smoothly. Because in a time that’s a great blessing for many, pregnancy is still a great hardship for some. We don’t know what’s in the hearts and minds of many women who’ve experienced an abortion or who carry to term a baby who’s not destined to lead a physically or mentally “perfect” life. Motherhood requires flexibility and compassion and few women see the world the same way after a pregnancy as before.
I followed a lead in Anderson Cooper’s blog on CNN to an article in the Iowa Independent written by a woman who had a late-term abortion. It was an open letter to Barack Obama during his run for the presidency. It’s the poignant story of why she chose to terminate her much-wanted pregnancy. The long and short of it is that this church-going woman discovered she was caring an anencephalic baby who would never know life outside his mother’s body. She made a painful, heartbreaking decision. It was the best one she could make for herself and her family. The doctor who performed her abortion was the one killed this week. This article discusses the decision of another woman who chose to carry her anencephalic child to term – an equally heartbreaking story. I’ve been present for the births of a couple anencephalic babies. They are lessons in beauty despite disparity. They are hello and goodbye said simultaneously. The chances of this happening to you, readers, is almost none. Be grateful for the goodness you have in your life.
Here’s what the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health says about anencephaly: Anencephaly is a defect in the closure of the neural tube during fetal development. The neural tube is a narrow channel that folds and closes between the 3rd and 4th weeks of pregnancy to form the brain and spinal cord of the embryo. Anencephaly occurs when the "cephalic" or head end of the neural tube fails to close, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp. Infants with this disorder are born without a forebrain (the front part of the brain) and a cerebrum (the thinking and coordinating part of the brain). The remaining brain tissue is often exposed--not covered by bone or skin. A baby born with anencephaly is usually blind, deaf, unconscious, and unable to feel pain. Although some individuals with anencephaly may be born with a rudimentary brain stem, the lack of a functioning cerebrum permanently rules out the possibility of ever gaining consciousness. Reflex actions such as breathing and responses to sound or touch may occur.
The cause of anencephaly is unknown. Although it is thought that a mother's diet and vitamin intake may play a role, scientists believe that many other factors are also involved. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year about 1,000 babies in the United States will be born with anencephaly (1). In other words, only about 1 in every 4,000 babies born in the United States.
You all know I like to put a reassuring spin on statistics: Only .025% of pregnancies will result in anencephaly. It’s really, really rare. Most American women these days (99.75%) get enough folic acid to prevent neural tube disorders like this one. We’re a lot more knowledgeable now than when the above-mentioned woman’s pregnancy resulted in her anencephalic baby.
To the mother of the gunman, the family of the doctor and to all women who know what it’s like to make a serious, life-changing decision regarding their pregnancy, child and family, all I can say is, “Bless your hearts.” I work every day to keep mine open.

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