Pro Vita, pro Ecclesia Dei et pro Hibernia – A journal of conservative Catholic opinion from Ireland
By CLÍONA JOHNSON
In this article, Clíona Johnson discusses the advice she received during her pregnancy with John Paul junior, particularly in reference to abortion, and offers her own advice to mothers in the same tragic situation. See Part I here.
VERY LITTLE direct advice was given at the time of our diagnosis. A lot of sympathy and compassion were given which was very helpful. From a practical perspective, the consultant began to explain to me that under these circumstances, some would choose to terminate. I found this very hard to listen to because I had just heard that my child’s life, instead of stretching out indefinitely before us, was going to be limited to a very short amount of time. Now I felt like this delicate life was being further threatened by the talk of traveling to terminate the pregnancy. I told the consultant I didn’t want to hear any talk of termination but he explained that he was required to give me all my options. Once we’d heard what our practical “options” were, we made it clear to him that this was not even a consideration for us. He then promised that the hospital staff would do all they could to care for us in the weeks and months ahead. This was very reassuring for us at the time.
When we first got the diagnosis, I was shocked and horrified, though not utterly surprised. I’d had a gut feeling that there was going to be something very different about this pregnancy and I couldn’t explain why – now I understood. As I already described, it took a few nightmarish days to let the truth of the situation sink in but I came out of that with the resolve that from there on we would make the most of every day we had our son. My emotions changed over time. There was huge apprehension approaching the birth, mixed with the joy that he was still alive. It was like an emotional roller-coaster. But in general, it can be said that while we had John Paul, we wanted to make it all about him – make the most of every day, celebrate him, so to an extent I was putting my own pain aside for a time, although unwittingly.
For me therefore, the real pain of grief, sorrow and hopelessness came after he had died and after all was said and done. I was now left to process all that happened and it was awful. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain of this type of grief. From there, it has been a journey towards healing. This journey has involved anger, pain, tears followed by relief, then the whole process staring again. Sometimes it has involved a time of feeling numb and then angry all over again. But one thing which has been hugely significant is that in the midst of the pain I have the memories of the precious time we had with John Paul and that has been of great comfort.
I was told that abortion was one of my options and that I could travel if this was my choice, since it was not available in this country.
I found great support in my family, friends and the hospital staff. We searched the internet and read stories of families who had been through similar journeys. Finally, the thing that was most helpful was the knowledge that if God had sent this child to us, He would give us all we needed to parent him. I knew I was not alone. Grace was available. I would definitely not choose abortion in the situation again. Undeniably I have suffered at the death of my baby but I have precious memories of him to hold on to for life. When I put myself back at that moment of diagnosis, I realise that no matter what happened from there, the future held my child passing on and me left to grieve him. This was unavoidable. So the only choice I really had is what role I would play in his short life and what role I would play in his death. This choice has been crucial for my own healing. When I look back, I not only have pain but peace and treasured memories to give me comfort and assist with healing. If I had had an abortion, I think I would be trying to forget instead of being free to remember. Our family wouldn’t be celebrating his birthday every year and the fact that he is still part of us and always will be. I think I would be plagued by questions about what could have been and I think healing from such an experience would have been a lot more complex.
Abortion adds another layer of pain
I’d like to say I am so sorry for any couple that finds themselves in this situation. No one knows better than you the hopelessness of this situation. One thing that I think is crucial to recognise is that whatever choice you make now cannot change the inevitability of the loss of your baby. Many who are concerned for you will try to help and some may think the easier road would be to have an abortion. But I firmly believe that choosing that road will only add another layer to the pain and suffering you will experience at the death of your child. Not only will you be left missing your baby but also left with many questions about what might have been.
Secondly, while the death of your child is part of the path ahead, there are many moments of life also to be had along the way. Choosing to terminate the pregnancy now will certainly rob you of those moments of life and joy which will be a big help to you in your own healing. To be able to remember the birth date of your child and keep mementos is invaluable, as is having a memorial stone/grave to visit as a special place to remember and talk to your child. All this will be forfeit if you choose to terminate. I have found these small but deeply significant things to be invaluable and I would wish them for any woman who finds herself in this situation.
Thirdly, it is my observation that every child has something unique to bring into the world and also that each child has some handicap, be it small (shyness/lack of confidence) or big (mental/physical). As parents, what we want is to be there to celebrate and show how proud we are of our kids in their strengths and to support them in their weaknesses. There is joy to be had out of both and sometimes more joy to be had out of the latter. With a child like this, the same applies. The handicap is much greater than anything you may have experienced before but there is a distinct joy to be had from being there for every day of your child’s life that you can be there. Also even this child can bring some good into the world and change the shape of a family for the good. I found this in a profound way with my son, John Paul.
The long-term effects it has had on my family because of the closeness we experienced and because of the things I learnt in grieving him are things I wouldn’t swap for the world. They are part of the story of John Paul. He has had a hugely positive influence on my husband, our children and me. He has even had an impact on our wider family and friends and I am so proud of him for this. He has made his mark on the world.
We are just average people. There’s nothing extra special about us but when something like this happens to you, it brings the extra special with it if you are willing to take the pain.
Finally, death is part of life. We all know this to be the case. We try to live life to the full and accept the inevitability of death along the way. So in accepting this life, short as it may be, you would be doing just that – accepting life, limited as it is. But in choosing to end this life, you would sacrifice the life part of the journey. This is a huge sacrifice and could be more costly than you realise.