This entry was first posted on Caring Bridge and on Facebook on June 3, 2011, a week before Gabriel was born. It was interesting to re-read it after all this time, and after witnessing the miraculous ten days of Gabriel's life and the many, many ways that his story has inspired people over a year after his birth and death.
I was inspired to read and post this entry again today after attending a baby shower, where I felt I couldn't join the pregnant women and other mothers in talking about my own pregnancy and child too much, because inevitably Gabriel's death would come up too and I didn't want to drag the mood down. I think other people feel more uncomfortable talking about Gabriel than I do. I'm still a very proud mommy.
The pro-life movement has a saying: "It's a child, not a choice." Gabriel and I sometimes sport a t-shirt with that mantra, and I use it as a segue to explain Gabriel's condition. There never really was a choice for me when it came to Gabriel. Though I wondered how I'd get through this pregnancy, what it would do to me to lose him, what it would do to Ben, and what it would do to our marriage, I knew what I had to do. I pondered the alternatives, wondering if I could ever bring myself to do them, but as we are now a week away from Gabriel's birth, it should be clear that I never could. Gabriel is my son and he is special in more than one way. His unique condition makes him special, and he is special because he was carried to term when most babies like him are not. He is special because he is a boy, and most babies like him are girls. He is special because in most cases, anencephaly can be avoided with proper folic acid intake, but I was taking folic acid -- Gabriel was simply meant to be as he is. Most importantly to me, Gabriel was specially prayed for. I begged God to send him to me, and I did not put conditions on what kind of child I would love and accept. I did not say "Please God, send me a baby boy," or even "Please God, send me a child that is perfectly healthy." Maybe I took for granted that God would not send me a baby that was NOT perfectly healthy, or maybe it just didn't matter. I don't remember anymore. All I remember is that the day I took that pregnancy test and it came out positive, I thanked God for the baby on the way. All that mattered was that he was coming.
And yet, there was a choice to be made down the road. The law provides women like me with one, even if I disagree that there should be such options. Gabriel's defect was discovered in the second trimester of pregnancy, when abortions are not readily available except in certain circumstances. Gabriel and I fell into that category. Gabriel is not considered "viable." He is "incompatible with life," according to the medical community, though he has lived for 39 weeks now and may live for some time after he is born. Because he is expected to "die anyway" I have options available to me that are not available in other pregnancies. At 21 weeks when we learned of Gabriel's diagnosis, I could have chosen termination. Because of the advanced gestational stage, the abortion would have consisted of injecting Gabriel with a chemical that would stop his heart, and then he would be removed with forceps. He may or may not have come out in one piece.
I allowed myself to ponder that possibility but easily dismissed it. I then considered another possibility, the procedure that became available as I advanced even further. By 23 weeks when Gabriel's condition was confirmed by a specialist, the recommended procedure would have been termination by early inducement and delivery. This option was and has been available to me at any time during my pregnancy since Gabriel's diagnosis. I could call the hospital tomorrow and tell them that I just can't take the emotional strain of this pregnancy any longer, and they would induce my labor. My insurance would pay for it, and it would all be over. Legally, because f the advanced gestational stage, Ben and I would still be in charge of disposing of Gabriel's remains. He was no longer considered "waste" by the time we learned he had anencephaly, unlike my previous child who was miscarried at 8 weeks and disposed of like trash.
These were my choices, even if I knew I couldn't take them. It's important to note that not because I want to toot my own horn about what an example I've been, but because so many people have come to know and love Gabriel that they should know they might not have ever had that chance because of these available options. This is what the pro-life movement means when it says "Smile! Your mom chose life." These days, all lives are reduced by law to a choice. I was surprised to learn that cases like Gabriel cause a divide even among people who consider themselves pro-life. I am disappointed but not surprised by people who tell me, "Well, this was your choice, and it worked for you." But I was shocked to learn that there are pro-life people who think termination by either means was a legitimate choice, maybe even the right choice. Some would say that those people are not really pro-life, but I choose to believe they are just misguided -- a fair assessment, in my opinion, given the way anencephaly is sometimes explained and treated by the medical community. The public, the pro-choice crowd, thinks it's patriarchy to deny a woman a right to abortion. They think a woman is smart enough to know what's good for her and her baby. I say giving a woman a right to "choose" is a cop-out. It tells her we don't believe she is strong enough to take care of her own child whether that means raising him, or giving her a chance for a better life through adoption. When I was offered the chance to terminate my own pregnancy, I felt as though I were being told I couldn't do something. I can do anything, and I can do even more when I'm doing for Gabriel.
I've thought a lot about what carrying Gabriel to term means to me, but I think more about what it means for Gabe. Inevitably, it comes down to what I would really want for myself. I'd like to think if I were diagnosed tomorrow with a terminal illness, that Ben wouldn't just take me out back and shoot me. I'd like to think that he and my family and friends would be by my side, urging me to keep fighting, to keep raging against death. After all, death is forever. Eternal rewards which I hope to enjoy someday are forever. The beauty of this life, and even the pain and sadness, are just temporary.
I'm compelled to write this blog today while considering the death of Dr. Kevorkian. I called for prayers for his soul on my Facebook page, and someone wrote she prays he is reunited with the people whose pain he helped relieve. I pray for the same, and I pray that the place of reunification for all of them is in Heaven. We should never take for granted that every soul who dies winds up there -- Very few of us have any guarantees, though I believe innocent lives like Gabriel do. But what really surprised me, and upset me even, was the accusation that wanting a loved one to live is selfish. Perhaps that is because of my own intimate experiences with self-inflicted death, most notably through my experience with my boyfriend Sean. Sean was a soul that was in a lot of emotional pain -- and we know that emotional pain is every bit as real and debilitating as phyiscal pain can be. I have a lot of feelings about Sean's suicide, including confusion, pain, and sadness that will never go away, but I have no anger towards him. That said, I wish he wouldn't have left us like he did. Is it selfish of me to want him around? Is it selfish for me to wish for more of a life for him? I do not believe it is selfish of me to ask that he allow his human instincts to govern, for him to fight against death until it took him kicking and screaming. Sean was 26 years old, and none of us are guaranteed even one more day, but chances are he would have had several days, years even. And even if it were just one more day of life only to be cut short by some other fate the next day, at least he and I would know he saw life through to its most natural end.
Among Sean's possessions when he died was a book of poetry by Dylan Thomas. I asked at his funeral that the words that he did not heed be read: "Rage. Rage against the dying of the light."
Every day I feel my son rage. I feel him fight, I feel his desire to be alive. I feel his life within me. He has no guarantees of days that he will remain on this earth. He has a promise of eternal reward in Heaven. And he has my promise as his mother, and that of his father too, to give him every chance to live, every chance to fight for his life. He cannot be reduced to a choice. He is Gabriel Cude.