* I feel compelled to share this Facebook message my sister Jessee wrote about her experience with a hot button topic. I love her perspective. To read more about Jessee’s experiences, you can follow her Facebook page Our Girl, Jo.*
by Jessee Stewart
My motive in sharing these thoughts is to bring peace, not to inflame the issue. My message is one that I hope will bring healing and hope.
Life is messy, complex and imperfect. All of our lives have messy portions, and perhaps messiness that our closest loved ones don’t know about. I haven’t lived your life, your pain, and you haven’t lived mine. I feel like acknowledging that we are all coming from different places is necessary to have an open conversation. I hope we can agree in the end, but if we don’t, let’s not hate the other.
I have given birth to four children. Two of those wonderful children are buried in a peaceful cemetery near my parent’s home. Two of those wonderful children are healthy, funny, energetic, and challenge me as a parent daily.
All four of them have brought me joy. Deep, abiding, soul-infusing joy. I think of all four of them every day, and I am grateful for their influence in my life.
I was asked several times during both of my two complicated pregnancies if I would like an abortion. My answer was a polite “No, I would like to spend as much time with them as I can.”
My specialists who cared for me with my last pregnancy were very respectful of my wishes, but asked me a few more times, just to be certain. They were so empathetic to my already having a severely challenging pregnancy and death of a daughter, that they didn’t want me to have to go through that again. I could feel my child convulsing inside of me. It was heartbreaking, and I did not sleep much after a troubling bout of tremors in the middle of the night. I loved them for their concern for me. And I didn’t want to have to go through it again either.
I felt all of my children kick within me; I felt all of them roll around, hiccup, and move in ways unique to them. There was a life within me, biologically put there for protection. I had a hand in its creation, but I would never feel like I should have a hand in deciding it should not live.
1. I believe that a fetus is alive.
I could not justify ending the tenuous life of my unborn daughter to potentially save myself, my husband and children heartache. If things did not end well, we would all have heartache. But how would it bring hope or healing to take her life instead of letting it end in its own way at its natural time?
2. Medicine is a practice, not a crystal ball.
There are gaps in scientific and medical understanding. Several well-known, respected doctors disagreed on most things about Ava and Jo’s conditions, from their heart defects to their oral/feeding challenges. In fact, the neo-natalogist on shift proclaimed Jo to be 100% well directly after she was born. The most advanced genetic testing available in the US couldn’t give us any answers either.
Science and medicine, even with miraculous advances, remain limited. Doctors are often wrong, not because they are idiots or careless, but because they are humans dealing with ambiguity, lack of data, machines and tools that are limited. When it comes to life and death decisions, I would err on the side of life. I hoped for an inexplicable medical miracle where my daughters would live happy lives, but instead I got a mysterious “suspected genetic syndrome”. Either way, it was beyond what science could predict
3. Peace, Dignity and Respect Matter
I have miscarried four times, and carried two precious girls in their caskets to their graves. I have buried them with my own shovel fulls of dirt. I mourn their loss every day. However, I am not plagued with guilt, or haunted with questions. I was not a perfect mom—whatever that is—but I feel peace and dignity from my efforts to care for, advocate for, and bring respect to the flesh of my flesh.
In 2015 I awoke from a D and C procedure from a 19 week miscarried pregnancy with an enormous sense of loneliness. I could feel the emptiness inside of myself where a baby once was. The loss I felt was great. But thankfully it wasn’t compounded by regret or conflict that left me wondering if I had done the right thing.
One chaotic summer day in 2017, I made a mistake in Jo’s cares. Talmage (my son who was less than a year old at the time) was suppose to be napping, and instead had taken off his poopy diaper and smeared it all over the crib. After I had cleaned it up and gotten him settled again, I walked back to Jo’s nursery, and instantly saw my mistake. I had taken off Jo’s pulse oximeter, which would alarm to tell me if her levels of oxygen were sinking. She had torn her cannula off, and was not getting the oxygen she needed to survive. I remedied it in an instant, but guilt racked me for days following. To see the discomfort that my carelessness had inflicted upon a completely dependent being took my breath away, and I sobbed for hours, then a few days.
Occasionally I have a hard time sleeping, and all of my regrets come to teasingly dance around in my memories, reminding me of what I can’t go back and change. I can only imagine what knowingly allowing harm to come to the fetus inside must feel like. I would truly never wish regret like that upon anyone.
4. It may have seemed useless to some who don’t share my belief in the afterlife and eternal families to birth my two daughters. Why give them life at all, when I could have avoided heartbreak, and they could have avoided pain? They died anyway, right? Yes, my daughters did die anyway, and I was heartbroken. Broken to my core. But I have learned from experience that truly loving someone will always bring more fullness than emptiness, more joy than pain. And I wanted to choose joy. My life was enriched, my heart grew softer and kinder, and my ability to feel sorrow and joy was deepened.
But while I benefited from them, did my daughters’ lives have meaning and purpose outside of me? My daughters’ short, and in some ways very sad, lives were not at all useless, but actually incredibly profound and full of meaning. I do not feel that I was selfish in giving them birth, though their existence had uncomfortable and perhaps painful elements to it. My daughters changed people around them in ways no one else could have. An estranged uncle softened enough to contact and support us. Complete strangers have written me to tell me what a difference Jo and her story made in their lives.
But perhaps the most profound legacy my girls left is their courageous demonstration that something doesn’t have to be perfect, or even normal, in order to be powerful. The messy, the imperfect, and the vulnerable (moments, situations, and people) are valuable, needed, and often the best teachers.My family and community would have been so much the poorer if my two daughters had never lived to influence us. Brokenness, imperfection, and messiness, in matters of relationships and people, is not synonymous with garbage. Please, let’s not throw them away. They can teach us.
Carrying my girls and giving them birth was the best choice I could have made. I write this very personal explanation of my choice not to bring controversy among my family and friends, but to hopefully show that even when life is messy, there are some choices that will bring peace amid the terrible, and others that compound the hurt. I love women, their courage and their feminine strength. I wish healing, hope and peace for all women, men and children, and hope that we can talk together as friends, not enemies.