Small Beginnings and Why They Matter: One Story

The pro-abortion news from New York, Virginia, Illinois, and Vermont in 2019 has thus far illuminated a distinct lack of empathy for–even outright hostility toward–small beginnings. It’s horrific to see the spectrum of enthusiastic responses for abortion, from overt support toward death by negligence to the celebration of small lives intentionally destroyed. At the same time, such responses show the true murderous reality of abortion. Abortion has always been about snuffing out inconvenient or fragile lives for the sake of preserving the autonomy of the mother, father, or other adults.

This year, Americans can’t pretend that other motives, more practical or even “altruistic,” provoke the murder of our children. As Hans Fiene has written, abortion supporters have found themselves, intentionally or not, climbing what amounts to an enormous skyscraper as they’ve had to justify increasingly more barbaric practices for the sake of preserving abortion. Now, even infanticide is okay.

Our very own U.S. Senate, just this week, blocked a bill that would require doctors to provide care to children born alive after botched abortions. Abortion advocates insist that such a bill is unnecessary because infanticide is illegal. They purposely misinterpret this bill. Abortion–and tellingly, abortion up to the moment of a child’s birth–is now legal in parts of the U.S. (see above). And so now doctors are faced with terrible quandaries. They must preserve the life of infants in every situation they encounter them–except after abortions. Some lives, it seems, are more deserving of care than others.

This entire debate has always passionately interested me, mostly because I was taught–and I deeply believe–that every human being, from the moment of conception, deserves a chance at life, no matter how difficult or short that life might be. It’s occurred to me in the last month or so, though, that as abortion supporters are attempting to codify limitless access to abortion, and by extension, encourage infanticide when it’s connected to abortion, I need to share my own small beginning. My story is just one example, among many, of what can happen when doctors and other medical personnel strive mightily to give even very small children a chance to live.

Our Birth Story

Last weekend, I came across some family papers. They included family trees, copies of old documents, things like that. One of them was a November-December 1981 copy of Hi-Lines, a publication of Illinois Power Company (which has since been bought by Amren). My father, Stephen, worked for Illinois Power in the 1980s. On the cover of this particular issue was a picture of him, my mother Talitha, and my twin sister Amilia and I.

L-R: Amilia, me, Mom, and Dad.

The title of the article in which we were featured was “The Most Precious Gift.” At the beginning, the columnist Glenda Collins wrote, “Each of us possesses this gift, but many of us take it for granted acting as if ‘we’ are in control of the situation. This gift is as fleeting as vapor… here one minute and, without warning, gone the next. No human can give this gift, but many are guilty of taking it away from others. When given, this gift is accepted without thought or choice. The most precious gift is… the gift of LIFE!”

I wonder if most people in state of Illinois even believe Collins’ comments anymore.

My parents found out in May of 1981 that my mother was expecting. In August, they found out they were expecting twins. In October, right before they were supposed to begin their prenatal classes, my mother went into labor at about 29 weeks–at the very beginning of her third trimester.

Thankfully, Mom was able to receive care at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, which included a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She was given intravenous (IV) drugs, then oral medication, and then IV drugs again in multiple attempts to stop labor. After some tests, doctors confirmed that the babies’ lungs were undeveloped. My parents were told that if labor didn’t stop and their children were born, the babies could be blind, that they could have permanent disabilities, and that, frankly, they could die. The doctors gave the babies’ chances of survival at between 25-50%.

My parents were overwhelmed. Mom was 22, and Dad was was 25. As they prayed, they struggled. Mom remembered: “[We] couldn’t rejoice in the fact of two new lives because we weren’t sure if that was what God had chosen for us. I guess that’s the hardest thing to ask God; for strength to accept His will.”

Just over twenty-four hours after my mother was admitted to the hospital, her labor was unstoppable. My dad remembered what happened next.

By 8 p.m., in the words of the doctor, ‘the party was over.’ The labor and delivery ward went from calm to a ‘controlled’ pandemonium. The doctor was a general in the midst of the battle…directing his personnel in strategic moves which had been made many times before.

Emotions in the waiting room hit a new high. In times of great uncertainty, especially when the matter becomes life or death, one turns to God. Everyone has probably experienced the feeling whether it is the life of a friend, relative, or even your own life. Now I was asking God for two lives. ‘Thy will be done’ almost caught in my throat. I felt selfish asking God for both babies. I didn’t want to accept the possibility of one life without the other.

“The Most Precious Gift,” Hi-Lines. November-December 1981.

At 8:19, I was born. I weighed two pounds, eleven ounces. My sister was born at 8:20. She weighed one pound, fourteen ounces. Each one of us could be held in a palm of our father’s hand.

Me, in an incubator after birth.

We spent months in the NICU. Countless nurses, doctors, and other dedicated medical personnel cared for us. Relatives poured out support and help to my parents. My sister developed hydrocephalus in her brain and underwent several procedures before receiving a ventriculoperiteneal (VP) shunt to correct the blockage. She had to have surgery as a small child to have the shunt lengthened, which was successful. Amilia will always live with the shunt. She also developed viral pneumonia just after being released in late 1981 and had to be airlifted back to the hospital for treatment. Thankfully, she fully recovered. In early 1982, we were both finally at home with my parents.

Thirty-seven years later after our traumatic birth, my sister and I are not blind. We have no disabilities. We survived, and we believe we have thrived, in the quotidian ways of millions of Americans. We are college graduates. Both of us are married and cherish our families. We work at jobs and engage in our communities. We both have always lived with deep gratitude that we live. It would have been so easy, so remarkably easy, for us to have died.

Though we live far apart, Amilia and I talk regularly about our lives, books, culture, and our shared Lutheran faith. We have no doubt that God has blessed us with our lives, and that He has directed the hands of many hundreds, if not thousands of others, to preserve them.

L-R: Mom, Amilia, me, and Dad.

What happens to small beginnings now?

In 1981, no doctor could fully foresee the kinds of challenges and blessings that lay in store for my sister and I. And the fact is, aside from speculating to my parents about certain risks we faced, the doctors who cared for my sister and I never tried to argue that our lives weren’t worth saving. It wasn’t even a conversation. For one thing, U.S. and Missouri law prohibited them from wrapping us in blankets and leaving us in a corner to die. For another, the ethical oath of their practice, a version of the Hippocratic Oath, bound them to do right. One early translation of the Hippocratic Oath reads: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm.” Our physicians assumed, as doctors have historically always done, that their jobs were to use all of the skills and tools at their disposal to keep us alive, regardless of the outcome.

But what happens now when children are born alive who, just a moment before, physicians were trying to kill? I can hardly believe that doctors would be so callous and unloving to deny care to any child. But then, doctors have been actively killing children in utero for decades. It is not a bridge too far to see that children ex utero will likewise be targeted for death, whether through intentional harm or passive neglect. Both options are abhorrent beyond belief.

And then there’s the parental role in baby death. My parents had no idea what kind of lives we, their daughters, would have in 1981–if they would be short or long, if they would include ongoing medical treatment. They were frightened by the prospect of our deaths, but also by the possibility that we would live with terrible physical or neurological problems. My sister and I can rest in the knowledge that even if my parents had somehow been given the choice to determine whether we would receive care and thus live or die, they would have chosen care.

But many parents now hold both the awesome and appalling power to both choose death for their small ones deliberately through abortion and passively through neglect. It breaks my heart that doctors in several states in our country will now be obligated to cease treatment for babies like my sister and I due to the fears, both real and speculative, of the mothers and perhaps fathers of those babies.

1983. Me, on the left, looking thrilled. Amilia, on the right, admiring some grass.

And as a mother myself, I empathize with mothers and fathers who believe that aborting their children is their best choice. Birthing and raising children, no matter their health needs, is hard. But my empathy does not extend to support for death. We can all acknowledge that life itself is hard. Ending the lives of helpless children of any age or condition is neither caring nor loving. Too many of us are afraid of what might happen. We fear that our unborn child might need expensive or involved care. We fear that she will suffer physical or other pain. We fear that he will die and we won’t be able to handle it. We fear that whatever might happen might just be too much for us to take, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially. These are the fears that can overwhelm us, that can make abortion seem necessary, even merciful.

History can guide us here. In 1949, medical utilitarianism, or the idea that lives could be judged worthy of care based on a set of increasingly subjective qualities, was rightly under assault. Why? The world had seen, in awful example after awful example, how the argument for merciful death could lead to the Holocaust. Wesley Smith wrote, “Writing after the revelation of the depraved practices of the Nazi regime’s doctors, who engaged in infanticide, the killing of disabled adults, and many other infamies in the name of science, Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist and medical adviser to the office of chief counsel at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, warned that the utilitarian infection that destroyed German medical ethics could spread:

Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.

Quoted in “As Doctors Euthanize Patients and Harvest Their Organs, the Hippocratic Oath is Dead.” LifeNews.com. 17 September 2018.

Small beginnings are, in fact, not small at all. How we view them, and treat them, reveals how we view life itself. Medical utilitarianism doesn’t spring up overnight. For over forty years in America, abortion has been a depraved and horrific practice hidden in plain view. Millions upon millions of our children have died–and they have died legally. Now we can see the natural, slippery progression of attitude shifts and thus actions. Doctors kill lives in the womb, and now they are allowed to leave others to die outside of it. This is no fallacy; this is actually happening. We must never forget that some gas chambers built to euthanize people in Germany during the mid-twentieth century were built on hospital grounds. Once some lives are deemed not worthy to be lived, others will be, too. They already are. If my sister and I were born in 2019 at twenty-nine weeks to parents who decided we shouldn’t receive care, then who is to say our lives now, thirty-seven years later, are worth keeping or saving? Will doctors act as “[generals] in the midst of [battles]…directing [their] personnel in strategic moves which [have] been made many times before,” as my father noted, in efforts to preserve life? How will they treat small beginnings, and how will they treat others?

No matter how dark our way forward looks, though, we can reject the fears that drive us to seek solace in death as the lies they are. We don’t know what will happen, and we don’t know how we will handle whatever comes. But Someone does, and He always has a plan for us and for our children. We can admit, no matter how long we’ve believed that abortion and infanticide are acceptable, that they are, in fact, wrong. All children deserve life, no matter their ages or conditions. We can embrace this fundamental truth. If you haven’t, know that God still loves you. He knows your entire life, from your worst thoughts and failings and actions. Despite them, He still wants you —small, little, mortal you–to live, from your very beginning to your God-deemed end. Hans Fiene again:

So, yes, voters, you should have stopped voting for pro-choice candidates a long time ago. Yes, politicians, from day one you should have feared the wrath of God more than the wrath of NARAL. But it’s not too late to do that now. It’s not too late to escape condemnation and find peace with the God who has already written out of existence every sin you committed against your most innocent and defenseless neighbors.

So don’t be afraid to take the plunge out the window. Don’t be afraid to jump. Don’t think that your father in heaven wants to watch you splatter on the sidewalk. He doesn’t. He wants to watch you land safely in the hands that have been waiting to catch you from before the foundation of the world. And don’t worry that you’ve doubled down on your sin one too many times. Don’t worry that you’ve climbed too high to survive the fall. Jump and see that the gravity of guilt is no match for the grace of God.

UPDATE: From my sister, Amilia.

I can’t, and won’t pretend, to be impartial about abortion. I have always been pro-life, and my own story has a role why I take that side. Though to me it’s not a sides issue – we’re all human, and we all started out small.
To me, making abortion illegal has never been about taking away someone’s rights – it’s acknowledging that there’s more than one person’s rights involved. As Dr. Seuss said, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” And in weighing the rights of the people involved in an unplanned or risky pregnancy, as a society we need to take into consideration the rights of the person who cannot speak for themselves just as much as the woman carrying her or him. It seems to be the just thing to do. Not to ignore the smaller, infinitely weaker person. That to me is what bullies do.
Our humanity is not based on how much we’re wanted by our parents, or whether we’ve got good health (mental and physical), or whether the circumstances around our births are perfect. It’s not based on how little of a burden we’ll place on others by our existence. Our humanity is established in this fact: that we EXIST, both before birth and after. No matter how many years or months or days or breaths of life that we’re given.
We don’t know the effects we have on others. Emily, thank you for sharing our story.

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