By Dave Andrusko
When you read or hear about parents being told their unborn child has a life-threatening chromosomal disorder, your heart goes out to them. Kylie Gunn’s sad, sad story of aborting her child at 24 weeks is both specific in some areas and vague enough in others to make you grapple with why she “cried uncontrollably’ for her lost son” when he was delivered still inside the amniotic sac yet is “at peace” with her decision.
Mrs. Gunn and her husband had three children before she aborted Travis twelve years ago, and three after, according to a story in the Daily Mail.
Gunn, 37, from Thames, New Zealand, told the Daily Mail/Australia that she had her scan at 21 weeks at which point (wrote Katherine Davison) she and her husband were told
their unborn baby had a raft of medical conditions – including the deletion of chromosome 22 and major heart problems.
Mrs. Gunn, a practice nurse, said the conditions meant her son would be born brain-damaged and would not survive.
Obviously we know only what she told the newspaper and what also appeared in an open letter she wrote.
Pro-lifers, to whom Mrs. Gunn seems sympathetic, would have counseled her about prenatal hospice which is much more known about today than it was 12 years ago and a far better response.
A few thoughts on this tragedy.
She does not hide from us or herself what took place in that abortion, even as she tells us she believes she did the right thing:
‘It was so difficult to make the decision to take Travis’ life at such a young age,’ Mrs. Gunn said. ‘But it seemed like the right thing.’ She said she is ‘at peace’ with her decision.
More about that in a moment. Suffice it to say it is impossible to miss her pain and her grief:
She said an initial feeling of shock turned to anger and that there were times when grief came back to her ‘in the middle of nowhere’, particularly in the first year.
‘I was grieving as much as if I had lost a child I already knew. We wanted Travis.’
A family of six children? Does it have anything to do, perhaps, with regret and self-doubt even after all these years?
‘The reason I ended up having a big family was partly me getting over the grieving and wanting more children to hold,’ Mrs. Gunn said, revealing the first two weeks following her son’s death were ‘really, really difficult.’
‘I tried once to go up town and I just could not because I could not reconcile my mind. I’ve just had this baby and life is ticking on.’
One of the many reasons perinatal hospice is becoming more of an option to inducing a premature delivery knowing the baby will be born dead, is captured in this graphic memory:
“They induce you. I went through a full and very painful labour,’ Mrs. Gunn said, talking about the termination procedure. ‘It took quite some time. My body did not want to let him go.”
Her lifeless baby was delivered, still inside the amniotic sac, then the medical staff took him out and placed him in Mrs. Gunn’s arms.
She said she then “cried uncontrollably” for her lost son.
If I may, I would like to quote extensively from a story I wrote a few months ago. Not to bash anyone, but to show there is another way.
The inspiration was a largely sympathetic story about perinatal hospice and “non-viable” pregnancies in the Washington Post.
The story’s key caregiver is a nurse in Virginia who operates her program at Mary Washington Hospital, not 30 miles from where we live. Tammy Ruiz Ziegler emphasized that the program is not “connected to religion” [whatever that means].
Ruiz Ziegler has met parents from both sides of the ideological aisle who have decided to continue nonviable pregnancies. Some feel it helps them grieve, she said. Some want to know they’ve done everything they could.
“Eleven years ago, when I first brought this idea up to physicians, they stared back at me like there was something genuinely wrong with me,” Ruiz Ziegler said. “Today those same doctors are my staunchest supporters.”
They’re acknowledging a demand for an alternative to abortion for women carrying nonviable fetuses, a need that previously received little attention, she said.
Eight years later, Warner, now 46, cherishes the memory of her birth. She remembers it as joyful, as though the first wave of grief prepared her for the baby’s last minutes in the delivery room.
Paquette’s final example is Natalie Wilson who “was 21 weeks pregnant [when] she learned her baby’s heart would fail.” She didn’t want her baby’s life to end on an operating table and wasn’t “comfortable” with abortion.
A nurse herself, she had been around sick babies most of her career. She knew
that, as a parent, she could influence how, exactly, her newborn’s life would end. She wanted it to be gentle — a death surrounded by loved ones. She has since become a perinatal hospice nurse.
The story of fighting to carry Liam long enough to deliver him alive is incredibly inspirational. Liam
was born that April crying, with fingers spread open. His extended family gathered at the hospital, passing him around.
The next day, unsure of how long Liam’s heart would keep beating, Wilson wrapped him in a blue-striped blanket and took him home. She stayed up all night with her husband, Alan, taking turns rocking the baby. She listened through a stethoscope to his heart.
Just 49-and-a-half hours after Liam’s birth, the beat started to slow. Wilson called Gavin [Liam’s 4-year-old brother] into the bedroom. She handed the baby to Alan, who cradled Liam in his outstretched forearms. The infant’s feet touched his dad’s stomach. They all huddled close on a king-sized bed, rubbing his arms and legs and belly, saying, “We love you. We love you.”
Liam seemed to look at his family — each of them, individually, Wilson recalls. Then he shut his eyes.