Betsy Leaf knows that no mother expects to hear that her baby won’t make it outside the womb. But that is exactly what her doctor told her when she was 17 weeks pregnant with her third child, a baby boy named Jacen Lucas.
He was diagnosed with anencephaly, a condition in which a person’s skull doesn’t form. Alone at the appointment, she took in everything the doctor was telling her. She looked at the photos of babies with anencephaly and asked every question she could think of. Then she was given the option to either carry to term, or abort her son.
The doctor mentioned an abortion procedure in which a needle is inserted through the mother’s stomach and into the baby’s heart, injecting a drug that causes the baby’s heart to stop. The mother would then deliver a deceased baby.
Leaf went home and told her husband, who was equally heartbroken. But despite his fears, he told his wife that he didn’t want to abort the baby. Together, they decided to love Jacen and give him a chance.
“I chose life,” Leaf said, “because before the diagnosis, he was loved by so many. I am a strong believer in Christ, and I just prayed and asked Him to send me a sign on what I should do. From that day on, Jacen was a very strong mover. You could see his feet in my tummy pushing against my tummy!”
A few days later, a nurse from the hospital called Leaf, and asked to discuss the referral they had received about her abortion. When she heard this, Leaf quickly informed the nurse that she would be carrying her son to term. The nurse reminded her that Jacen wouldn’t live long outside of the womb, or could die before birth, but Leaf knew that her son was a fighter.
Leaf and her husband soon had to tell their other two children, Addyson and Kallan, about their baby brother. They went out and purchased cuddle blankets and baby blankets, one for each of the children, so that they would feel like they were always together.
When Jacen was born on January 26, 2015, his skin coloring was deep purple.
“I just wept,” says Leaf. “I thought he was born sleeping, and he took a breath and tears of joy came down my face. We knew our time was limited, so everyone was at the hospital, and as I was cleared for the OK, everyone came in and loved on him, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. He was gorgeous.”
As the day progressed, Jacen’s heart rate and respiratory rates were so good that the nurses were shocked and amazed. Their family and friends had the opportunity to meet Jacen, and were grateful to the parents for choosing life. Jacen lived for 27 hours, more time than the family imagined they would be blessed with.
“I hope to give meaning to his life and share his story because this little boy was such a fighter,” Leaf said. “When I was down, he kicked me and made my heart fill with love. My two other kids loved their little brother so much. My oldest knew Jacen was going to live with Jesus because he had an ‘owie’ on his head that only Jesus could fix. And to this day she is absolutely amazing at understanding for a four-year-old.”
Leaf had never heard about anencephaly before Jacen’s diagnosis. Surprised at how many babies are born with the condition, she hopes Jacen can help educate people on anencephaly, and the beauty and joy in choosing life.
Addyson asks about her baby brother from time to time, and Kallan knows that he has a brother, but not much else. As her children grow up, Leaf has promised to make sure they always remember their baby brother.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly labeled an induction abortion procedure as a “D & C” which is another abortion procedure that is commonly performed in the second trimester.