Human Interest

Doctor offered abortion for baby with anencephaly: ‘We can just take care of it’

anencephaly

Heather Salisbury of Nevada already had one daughter, Gianna, when she conceived her second child in the spring of 2013. Tragically, at her first ultrasound, Heather and her husband Jason received a shocking diagnosis for their second daughter: anencephaly.

Anencephaly is a life-limiting birth defect that causes the preborn baby to develop without significant parts of her brain, skull, and scalp. These babies may behave fairly normally in the womb, where the mother’s body maintains their temperature and the rest of their environment. But because they are missing vital brain matter and the protective covering of their skulls and scalps, these children frequently live for a very brief period of time after birth. Moms who carry babies with anencephaly require frequent fetal monitoring and checkups because they can develop polyhydramnios — too much amniotic fluid — and risk life-threatening uterine rupture.

Heather spoke to Live Action News about the pressure that she faced to abort her daughter, Aubriella Marie, as well as how she grew through the experience, and what she would say to other families receiving a similarly devastating diagnosis.

“We can just take care of it”

Heather recalled that when she and Jason received the news, they felt “devastated, confused, upset, hurt. I wondered right away ‘what caused this?’ Sometimes it’s a folate deficiency. Other times, it just happens… Because I’m Type A, I asked as many questions as I could.” Her obstetrician’s answers were not reassuring.

“She gave me options,” said Heather, but she “made it clear that she’d never had [a baby with anencephaly] live longer than a few minutes. She said that the majority of people terminated their pregnancy. She never said the word ‘abortion,’ but she did emphasize that ‘We can just take care of it.'”

Knowing the extensive training and education that doctors undergo, Heather had previously felt that “[doctors] have all of the answers.” But when she heard the words, “We can just take care of it,” Heather said she “felt super sick to my stomach.” Heather’s OB gave her just a few days to decide what she wanted to do.

READ: ‘I cannot stop thanking God’: Couples chose life after anencephaly with no regrets

During that time, Heather and Jason met with two people. Their first visit was with a pediatrician, to get ideas about what caring for a child with anencephaly could look like. Heather remembered, “She was really opinionated, and kind of surprised, wondering why I would even go through with the pregnancy. She said, ‘I don’t even know why we’re discussing this.'”

The doctor’s strong advocacy for abortion contrasted starkly with the St. Christopher medal Heather saw hanging around her neck. Heather said that there was a “darkness that was indescribable in that room.” Heather told Live Action News that by God’s grace, the poor interaction with that pediatrician actually solidified her resolve to carry Aubriella to term. By the time she left the office, Heather said she was “100% sure” of her decision.

“This was between me and God”

Heather and Jason next met with the Catholic deacon who had helped prepare them for marriage. The deacon, a medical doctor, was the first person to talk to them about continuing the pregnancy and carrying Aubriella to term. Jason, worried that his wife’s life could potentially be in danger, had gone into the meeting with the deacon seeking justification for an abortion, but did not receive any.

Heather told Live Action News she knew that “ultimately, this was between me and God.” She added, “I wouldn’t have been able to make the decision I did without the values of my faith instilled in me by my parents throughout my growing up.” In particular, Heather said, “I would like to mention how instrumental my mother was to me and how much unconditional love and support she offered during my pregnancy and birth of Aubriella and still to this day.”

Heather was referred to two MFM specialists who “fully understood my decision and were very supportive,” adding, “They never made me feel like I was doing something wrong.” Heather kept the news of Aubriella’s diagnosis mostly amongst “close family members and super close friends” because “I didn’t want people to judge me. I treated it like a normal pregnancy because in a lot of ways it felt like one. Aubriella kicked and moved like a normal baby.”

Heather gladly accepted a generous offer from her brother and sister-in-law to do a maternity photo shoot, along with her daughter Gianna, up in the mountains.

Laboring and Life

Heather’s first seven-and-a-half months of pregnancy progressed normally. She told Live Action News that “About six weeks before Aubriella was full-term, I missed one of my every other week appointments, right around Thanksgiving. Around that time, I started to feel pain in my hands and feet, and I stopped sleeping. I had to take pain meds because I was only sleeping every three nights.”

Just a few days later, with her next scheduled specialist appointment right around the corner, Heather went to a Christmas work party. When she came home, she started contracting. In the middle of the night, her husband drove her an hour to the closest hospital, where Heather realized she was in full-blown labor.

 

After almost 24 hours of labor, Aubriella was born on December 5, 2013. Heather said, “She lived [outside the womb] for 58 minutes. We had time to love her, to talk to her, kiss on her.”

Aubriella’s short life outside the womb changed her father’s heart even though he originally felt abortion was the answer. She even squeezed his fingers several times as he held her. “Something changed in my husband that day for sure,” Heather said. [The pregnancy] wasn’t easy, it was very hard. But the look he gave her when he saw her made it all worth it.” Heather said she will never forget “the joy that Aubriella brought to us, and the presence of God that was with us that evening.” She added, “Jason often wonders and hopes Aubriella felt the love he gave her during her short life experience with us here on earth.”

READ: Mom chooses life for baby with anencephaly: ‘She can feel our love’

Honoring Aubriella

Heather and her family continue to honor Aubriella’s life and memory. Each year, they have a birthday party for her with friends and family. Heather noted, “I talk about her all the time. People ask me how many kids I’ve had and I always say three. I made a book about her and the kids sometimes sit down and look at that. My little boy [Aubriella’s younger brother] always says, ‘I miss her.'”

 

When asked what advice she’s shared with other moms facing child loss or a devastating prenatal diagnosis, Heather said, “It may be hard going through it right now but it’s worth it in the end. You want to meet your baby. Its not easy but you’re going to make it through it. God will be with you.”

Heather believes “Every human life deserves a chance… even if the baby dies, they touch your life in so many ways. I’m so glad that I made the decision that I made. I will never forget her.”

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