“Incompatible with life” – How we help others | opinion

The human condition has kept me very busy lately. Coverage of opposition to the Dobbs decision dominated the media as I finished reading Carolyn Kasteler’s Watching Over Angels, which tells the stories of parents whose unborn babies had conditions incompatible with life.

Working with a pediatric hospice team, these grieving couples found ways to welcome their children. They couldn’t prevent their children’s deaths, so they found ways to love their children’s short lives. Her sadness and courage stayed with me. A paraphrase of Anne Sexton’s sad refrain in the poem “The Abortion” flashed through my mind: Someone who should have lived was gone.

The thoughts of those families were still with me one Friday morning as I began packing for our weekend home in rural Utah. I was thrown off course by the increasing intensity of the strange pains that woke me early. My insides felt twisted in a downright uncomfortable way. By midmorning I was in the emergency room where I was diagnosed with a condition incompatible with life without surgery.

“I’ll give you something for the pain,” the paramedic told me. She did it and it worked: I don’t remember the CT scan, waiting for results, family members and nurses holding me still because of a spinal blockage, nor my time after surgery.

That evening I awoke in brief spurts to the remarkable luxury of being alive with no appreciable pain. But the next morning I was bleeding profusely and was wheeled back into surgery. I woke up to the soft gasp of the pressure cuffs around my legs squeezing and then releasing. A nasal cannula kept my oxygen levels up. Input and output bags were attached to the bed and a night pole, with hoses connected to me in places that left me with neither the expectation nor the ability to go anywhere on my own.

Within hours, the autonomy I had enjoyed for so long turned to dependency. King Lear’s observation came to mind: “The maladaptive man is reduced to a poor, naked, split animal like you.”

But unlike the beggar whom Lear encountered on the moor in a violent storm, I was housed much. My family took care of me even though I couldn’t do anything about it. Richard, my husband, was with me daily; Our children took turns sleeping with me.

I slept a lot but kept waking up amazed at being helplessly alive and receiving such kind care while relearning how much core strength it takes to roll onto one side, sit up, stand , to go.

Hospitalizations in my 20s and 30s repeated in my head. These visits were brief and joyous with the birth of each of our five children. Christian, our firstborn, came to us in breech presentation. As they warmed him and coaxed him to breathe, I prayed he lived – Live now, live forever! — and was overcome with gratitude and relief as his skin turned pink and his APGAR score returned to normal. We brought him home in terrible triumph. How, I wondered, could God, or any responsible doctor, trust this little creature in my arms to a miserable novice like me?

Of course, birth is only the beginning of parental wonder. Biology seems an inadequate explanation of how children enter this world, how we grow with our children. Each, though not trailing clouds of glory, certainly comes as a bright light inviting us to put ourselves aside and respond to an irreplaceable soul seeking connection.

For so many of us, the cascade of joys—from first smiles and taking first steps, to graduations, marriages and grandchildren—mellows the tantrums, the worries, the physical, mental, and economic stress. And now my firstborn was doing the night shift for me: chasing ice cream or a warm blanket, finding a clear liquid or soft food to whet my appetite, and then, finding the window seat too narrow for his shoulders, relaxing his large body over the armchair as he tried to sleep.

I thought of the scares and the parades. Half my life ago, two weeks before I was due to give birth to Lacey, my mother drove down snowy roads through ravines to be with me. She thought I might need help. I found her arrival a bit premature. She was right. My waters broke that night and I started bleeding. She stayed with our children while we went to the hospital for Lacey’s birth via emergency c-section due to placental abruption.

The ordinary miracle of birth—of life—is based on the ties that bind generations together. I thought again of Sexton’s poem, “and I wonder how anything fragile survives.” As I lay in the hospital bed, I was overwhelmed by the gifts of family life.

None of us enters this world by our own will. Each of us is created by a father and a mother; Each of us is housed in our dependence on our parents and others who were and are willing to love and care for us even when we cannot return it. We learn to love because they loved us first.

I know holy souls whose children’s development is stunted by illness, injury, or addiction, whose days, months, years of care and devotion bless and uplift their struggling progeny. I know powerful souls with mother and father hearts who have nurtured their students or their siblings, their parents, their friends, even strangers in various ways.

But many of us are slower to recognize the obvious truth that none of us is fully autonomous, each of us is dependent on others throughout our lifespan, and we may not fully appreciate that interdependence until we have children of our own — or life-saving surprises operations.

The ecology of our human family entrusts us with the care of the weak: our unborn children long before we see their faces, the dependent child, the sick, the injured, the elderly – in each one we see our own weakness and for whom we feel They have the urge to help and comfort, to carry them as they come and become – and to mourn their departure.

The narrator of The Abortion relates: “Up in Pennsylvania I met a little man/not Rumpelstiltskin, not at all…/he took the fullness that love began with.”

The “fullness” she was referring to was, of course, the child taken from her body. But thank God that for so many of us, though anxious and inadequate, the fullness of pregnancy is just the beginning. It is the beginning of a life of good things for the child and for those who give life, as our poor straws of parenthood are spun into gold with time and love.

Camille Stilson Williams, who earned a doctorate in law from Brigham Young University, taught literacy and family law to undergraduate students at BYU and has also published articles on women and the family and law in national magazines and journals. She is co-author of the book “Similarities, Differing Opinions: Latter-day Saints and Current Issues.”



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