[Apologetics] Why Carry a Dying Child? A Mother's Perspective

Dianne Dawson rcdianne at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 1 09:27:38 EDT 2004

by Teresa Streckfuss 

Other Articles by Teresa Streckfuss Why Carry a Dying Child? A Mother's Perspective 

 Three years ago, during a routine 18th-week pregnancy ultrasound, our third child was diagnosed with a fatal neural tube defect (NTD) called anencephaly. Having already lost a nephew to this condition four years earlier, we knew a lot about it. We knew he would die and we knew there was no chance of a misdiagnosis.

In This Article...
This Is about My Child
The Measure of Love
Support from the Communion of Saints

This Is about My Child

We also knew that he would be beautiful, that we would love him no matter how long he was with us, and that God had carefully and deliberately chosen us to be the parents of this child. We knew that abortion was not a real solution to this tragic condition, and out of love for the child God had blessed us with we carried Benedict Oliver to term. He was born, baptized and confirmed on the 25th of June 2001 and lived in our arms for 24 precious, unforgettable hours. 

Eighteen months after Benedict was born, we were blessed with Elijah, who is now a perfectly healthy 1-year-old and a constant source of joy in our lives. We are now expecting our fifth child, and much to our dismay this new baby girl — Charlotte Mary — has also been diagnosed with anencephaly. We never thought that we would be faced with this painful situation again. Even though our chances of having another baby affected with a NTD were higher after having Benedict, they were still only around 5%. Although we cannot see God's plan for us, we know He has one, and that it will be revealed to us in eternity. We believe God has created our baby with a special mission, one which He has not entrusted to anyone else. She is not a mistake: Charlotte is a person made in the image and likeness of God. She is due to be delivered by cesarean section June 21st, 2004 — just before Benedict's 3rd birthday.

Many of our friends have wondered, "What’s the point?" or perhaps pitied us for “having” to continue carrying a child who is not going to live for long. I understand these thoughts, because when my sister was carrying Thomas Walter (who had been diagnosed with anencephaly at 18 weeks and lived for 17½ hours after birth) I really didn’t properly comprehend the whole situation.

I knew it was the "right" thing to do. I didn’t question that I would have no other option if the same thing ever happened to me. (Although I knew it never would!) But I thought how awful it was to know for over four months that the child you are carrying is unable to live outside your womb. 

Once he was born, I was able to hold my nephew and see him finally as a real person — a precious unique creation — I began to realize that there was a lot more to it than mere "ethics." When much to my disbelief my own baby, Benedict, was diagnosed with this same condition four years later, I was finally able to grasp it, although it has taken me a long time to be able to put my thoughts into words. It is only since Charlotte’s diagnosis that I have found words that almost convey my feelings.

Some people think we carried Benedict and Charlotte to term because we don’t agree with abortion, because we are Catholic, or perhaps because our nephew was carried to term after a fatal diagnosis. While these factors probably all played a part in our immediate refusal of the option to "terminate," this is not what it’s all about! It’s about love! It’s about my baby! It’s not about some tragic, fatal medical condition — it’s about my child. We do not possess more strength than other people. It’s not because we can cope where others wouldn’t. There is no way to avoid the sad fact that she cannot live long after birth with this condition, but causing Charlotte to die earlier will not stop this happening. Causing her to die earlier will only take from us the beautiful experience of knowing and loving her. 

The Measure of Love

The tragedy is not the fact that we know our baby will die. The tragedy is that our baby will die. It is not nice to know for months beforehand, but it gives us a chance to appreciate a life so brief, and not to miss a moment. 

The value of Thomas Walter, Benedict and Charlotte cannot be measured by the length of their lives — we don’t apply this yardstick to adults, so why should we to babies? A baby is not a possession, an accessory to acquire. A baby is a gift, a new entity, a precious, individual soul loved by God. We are created for a purpose, there is a reason for our being here. Even if that reason is unclear to us most of the time, we are constantly affecting other people in our families, communities etc. Who knows what purpose can be fulfilled in 9 months and one day? I don’t know, but God does. I do know that Benedict left a lasting impression on our family; he made us slow down, savor life, and treasure our other children even more. He made us realize that we cannot control or predict what will happen in the future; he made us rely on God. And how often are we given the opportunity to really give another person true unconditional love? Love that truly expects no return? It is a blessing to
 experience that kind of pure love!

So don’t pity us for carrying a child we know will die. Carrying this beautiful person is an honor. Grieve for the fact that our baby will die. We wouldn’t wish away the time we had with Benedict, and also this time we are now experiencing with Charlotte, just to save us the pain of losing them. I’ve always thought of it like this: If your 3-year-old was diagnosed with untreatable, fatal cancer and had only 4 months to live, would you prefer the doctor kill your child straight away so that you didn’t have to wait for his/her impending death? Or would you prefer to spend as much time as you could with your child and love him/her for as long as you had left? 

Someone asked us after Benedict died, "Was it worth it?" Oh, yes! For the chance to hold him, and see him, and love him before letting him go... For the chance for our children to see that we would never stop loving them, regardless of their imperfections? For the chance to give him everything we could? Oh, yes! Love your children, and remember that they each have their own unique mission. Children are always and only a blessing from God — even if they don’t stay very long. 

Support from the Communion of Saints

"I Have My Mission," by Cardinal Newman, has been a source of comfort: God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it — if I do but keep His commandments.

Therefore I will trust in Him. Whatever, wherever I am. I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me — still He knows what he is about.We are asking God for a miracle: that He will heal our baby through the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). We would like to invite everyone to join us, by praying the following prayer during this time of waiting.

Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: Jesus, You made Blessed Teresa an inspiring example of firm faith and burning charity, an extraordinary witness to the way of spiritual childhood, and a great and esteemed teacher of the value and dignity of every human life. Grant that she may be venerated and imitated as one of the Church's canonized saints. Hear the requests of all those who seek her intercession, especially the petition we now implore: the healing of baby Charlotte Mary.

May we follow her example in heeding Your cry of thirst from the Cross and joyfully loving You in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, especially those most unloved and unwanted. We ask this in Your name and through the intercession of Mary, Your Mother and the Mother of us all. Amen. (With ecclesiastical approval.) 

Teresa Streckfuss has been married to Mark for seven years. They live in Victoria, Australia with their children Cecilia, Sebastian, and Elijah. You can read Benedict's full story on the internet here.

(This article was supplied to us courtesy of Benotafraid.net, an online outreach to parents who have received a poor or difficult prenatal diagnosis.)

[Editor's Note: Another important article on this subject, “Why Carry a Dying Child” by Fr. Frank Pavone, is available here ] 

Like a deer that longs for running waters so my soul longs for you, O God.

Ps 42:1

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