In Focus on the Family’s See Life series, a woman named Laura told her story of choosing life after her daughter was diagnosed in the womb with a fatal brain disorder. A labor and delivery nurse, Laura and her husband were pregnant with their fourth child. She was excited to go in for her 20-week ultrasound but knew it was the one where potential problems with the baby could be discovered.
“I knew, because it’s my fourth time, that this sonographer was going slow and quiet,” she said. “And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, no, no. No. This is not going to be us.'”
The doctor came in and told her that her daughter wasn’t going to survive. He immediately asked her and her husband, “What do you want to do?” Laura explained:
And I was like, what do you mean what do I want to do? I’m going to have a baby in four more months. That’s what I’m going to do.
[The doctor] said, “We could go take care of this.” Meaning, let’s go upstairs and start an induction [for an abortion]. But I knew there was a story here. And I need to embrace what that story was with our baby.
Laura named her daughter Pearl, meaning “crafted in adversity.” She was determined to celebrate every moment Pearl was alive. She said:
[I] wandered around Hobby Lobby, trying to get all the keepsakes I knew I needed to have. All my kids had Christmas ornaments with their handprints on them for their first Christmas, so Pearl was going to have the exact same thing too.
Pearl was born alive and lived for an hour and a half before she died in Laura’s arms. “That little girl knew nothing but love,” said Laura. “The whole time that she was with us. We sang songs. I knew she knew our voice.”
In Pearl’s memory and honor, Laura founded a group called String of Pearls, which helps other families whose babies are diagnosed with a fatal condition in the womb. She also educates these families about perinatal hospice, where terminally ill newborns are given palliative care.
“[W]hat we had done has a name. It’s called perinatal hospice, where the mom is the walking hospice for this baby,” she explained. “It’s not a place – I was the place. To be doing all the caring, all the growing, although treasuring each moment that we had with her, and out of that, started String of Pearls…” said Laura.
“… There’s a string of pearls around this country and other parts of the world, of other families that have made the brave decision to carry their baby following a fatal diagnosis and helping them walk through the process of birth planning, keepsakes, funeral plans.”
Laura remembers how hard it was to walk into a funeral home, still pregnant, and pick out a casket and burial plot for her baby. She wants to help other women and families through that experience.
She also talks about how when a family chooses abortion in the case of a terminally ill child, it becomes a secret. She encourages families to have their babies and grieve openly, honoring their children’s lives.
“I want to give a voice to these families, to these people to be able to write something beautiful in their own book, what their story looks like,” she said.
Laura has no regrets about giving birth to Pearl. She calls her child a gift:
If I close my eyes, I can still feel her cute little black head in the crook of my arms, that black curly hair, still in the crook of my arms – a moment I would do again to have back with me in a second. But what an honor, a life – that was a gift God gave us. A strange gift. It takes a long time to say it was a gift, because in the moment you’re thinking, what have we just been asked to do?
According to Laura, whether or not a woman is presented with the option of perinatal hospice has a huge impact on her decision. When women and families aren’t presented with that option, 80% of them choose abortion. But when they are told about perinatal hospice, 80% choose to give birth to the baby.
Laura has the following advice for a woman and her family who just found out their baby has a fatal diagnosis: “I would say to that mom, that family… Go slow. There’s no reason to rush any kind of decision right now, immediately, you have time, and time is a gift. And take that gift of time.”
Laura is convinced that abortion is the wrong choice even when a baby has a fatal condition. Studies back this up, showing that couples who give birth in this situation do better psychologically than those who abort. One study found that continuing the pregnancy was “associated with less psychiatric distress in women,” and “women who continued reported significantly less despair, avoidance and depression than women who terminated….”
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