I am a baby killer.
I stopped mid-step on my way into my office in Manhattan, and that thought scrolled through my brain yet again: “I am a baby killer.” It was an April day this year, nine weeks after I ended my child’s life.
I decided to keep walking.
That is a choice I have to make every day: Give up or keep moving. I have been choosing the latter, over and over again.
I consider myself “pro-life.” But that phrase is heavy with multiple meanings. Like “pro-choice.” I identify with both of those terms. I am a walking contradiction.
It all began in January. My husband and I went to our 20-week anatomy scan. We watched in amazement and excitement as the tech showed us all the precious growing parts of our baby girl: her spine, left hand, right ankle, 10 fingers, 10 toes, lips, tiny little tush. After the appointment, I downloaded all of these images to my phone, where they are still stored. “She looks perfect,” the tech said. My heart swelled with pride when she added: “Your baby is being nice. She isn’t moving too much.”
Not until the end of the appointment did we get our first hint that all was not well. “I see something,” the tech said. “I’m not sure what it is. Come back tomorrow.”
What followed was a few weeks of agony: an amniocentesis, a fetal M.R.I., multiple ultrasounds. After much waiting, we learned the diagnosis: severe brain abnormalities. There was a small empty space where brain matter should have developed in our child’s frontal lobe. She also had agenesis of the corpus callosum, which meant that the middle structure joining left and right hemispheres hadn’t grown properly. And there was a third abnormality, a “rough” area of gray matter.
We knew the diagnosis but we didn’t know what it would mean for our daughter’s daily life. It was explained to us that she would face seizures. Hourly, daily, weekly or monthly? No one could say. She would face developmental delays. Could she breathe? Yes. Could she feed herself, crawl, walk, talk? No one could say. She would face cognitive impairment. Would she know what was happening to her? Would she know us as her parents? No one could say.
What was certain was pain, confusion, frustration, isolation. Precisely how much? Exactly how severe? Only time would tell.
If you identify as “pro-life,” what does that phrase mean to you? I know that in advocacy circles, it means, essentially, “anti-abortion.” But what does life mean to you — the life that you are “for”? Does it mean breathing on your own? Does it mean having a heartbeat? What are the markers of a life of quality, of purpose, of meaning? If your brain was not functioning following a traumatic car accident, would you want your body artificially sustained indefinitely? What is the threshold of experience for you to want to continue living?
I’m asking honestly. People’s answers differ. If it’s hard to imagine answering these questions for yourself, can you imagine being asked to answer them for someone else?
My husband and I chose to end our child’s life. Many imagine this as an impossible decision to make, one that would take hours of deliberation. I will be honest with you. You may not want to hear this, but the decision was obvious to us. Our child would not be given a life of pain and suffering. Instead, we would take her pain on as our own.
I regret that we had to make the choice. I regret that she was so sick, so broken. But I do not regret the decision we made. Within 15 minutes of the diagnosis, we knew what we had to do: We would become baby killers.
Am I punishing myself by using that term? I don’t think so. I want people to know: I ended my child’s life. At 23 weeks and six days into my pregnancy, I had a “late term” abortion. When people ask, “How could you?” I reply that allowing her to live would have been a fate worse than death. Her diagnosis was not fatal, not incompatible with the bare mechanics of a living body. But it was incompatible with a fulfilling life. And that makes all the difference to me. That’s why I call myself “pro-life.”
The night before our abortion (a procedure that takes three days to complete), President Trump delivered the annual State of the Union address. I did not watch, but later I saw his comments about late-term abortion make the rounds on social media. Who are these monstrous women and doctors that, in his lurid language, “rip” babies “from the mother’s womb moments before birth”?
My child was lovingly cared for until her last heartbeat. She was gently laid to rest after her footprints were stamped in black ink on a rectangle of paper. Those same footprints hang on my bedroom wall along with a locket containing her ashes.
Is this not the picture of maternal feticide you had in mind? I am not a dark shadowy imaginary figure. I am a grieving mother.
President Trump lamented the “living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world.” I, too, lament their unlived potential. Through a fluke of nature, my beautiful baby was given a broken brain. A brain that would have limited every moment of her life. If she had made it to full term, what love and dreams would she have shared with the world?
Do you know what I find more chilling than the specter of a ghoulish doctor “ripping” babies out of their mothers’ wombs? The idea that my husband and I should have been given the diagnosis, told of the dire outcomes — and then sent home to hope for a natural miscarriage. Is it any less barbaric to be told that your child will suffer and then be deprived of any ability to protect her?
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Most of the related initiatives are designed to help those who have suffered “miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death.” Where do I fit in? If my body had recognized that my baby was sick and miscarried naturally, I know that I would be offered immediate, unqualified compassion. But because I was faced with a choice, I am made to feel unworthy of support.
I mourn my daughter’s absence every day. I whisper her name in the morning when I wake up. I breathe it out before I go to sleep. She is present in my every thought and action.
I pray you never have to face a decision like the one I faced. You might swear up and down that you could never make the choice I did, but you never know for sure until the time comes. I know I made the best choice for my child. I do not regret it, and I will not hide it.
Lyndsay Werking-Yip works for an arts nonprofit in New York.
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