by Meredith Stephens
“For it was You who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalms 139: 13-14
Mom loved to recount to me how she defied her uncle’s advice to have an abortion. Her uncle happened to be a doctor, and he was concerned for her health as she was suffering from pre-eclampsia. Mom’s desire to see through her pregnancy for her first child was so strong that she had no trouble resisting his advice. Thanks to her fierce desire to deliver me, I am able to write this story.
In my early thirties, I fell pregnant with my first child. I had a phone call at work one day from a nurse at the local hospital concerning the results of a routine blood test. They revealed that I had more than double the chance of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome than other mothers of my age. The risk for women my age was one in seven hundred, but mine was one in three hundred. The nurse offered me the opportunity to undergo a procedure called an amniocentesis, in which a needle would be inserted into my uterus to extract some amniotic fluid. An analysis of this fluid would provide more conclusive evidence of whether my baby would have Down’s Syndrome.
“There is a small risk that this procedure will result in spontaneous abortion,” she warned.
“What is the proportion of this risk?” I enquired.
“One in two hundred,” she advised.
I pondered the statistics I was being provided with. The probability of having a baby with Down’s Syndrome was one in three hundred, whereas the probability of having a spontaneous abortion if I underwent this procedure was one in two hundred. The nurse was urging me to undergo the procedure and her tone suggested that the likelihood of having a child with Down’s Syndrome was elevated, despite the fact that it was only one in three hundred. Nevertheless, logic suggested that since the probability of provoking a spontaneous abortion was even higher, I should refuse the procedure.
Reluctantly, I agreed to undergo the procedure. I arrived at the hospital on the appointed day and was ushered into a special room. I lay on the table and told the doctor how nervous I was because of the risk of spontaneous abortion. My fear must have been transmitted to her because she suddenly left the room and her assistant replaced her. I asked the assistant to distract me with talk of other topics while she inserted the needle into my stomach to extract the amniotic fluid.
A few days later, the results came back and indicated that my baby did not have Down’s Syndrome. I felt ashamed of myself for having undergone the procedure. If I had been offered the choice of a termination, I could not have agreed. Every life is equally precious.
Just before term, my baby daughter was born. Like my own mother, I had pre-eclampsia. The doctors warned me that my life was in danger and so they performed an emergency caesarian, both saving my life and delivering a healthy baby a week before she was due.
When my daughter was 26 and I was 58, Mom passed away. My sisters and I delivered the eulogy at her funeral. I reflected on Mom’s long and eventful life, and among the many things I was grateful for, the most important was that she had defied her uncle’s advice and refused to terminate her pregnancy. This was the first point I mentioned in the eulogy. After relating to this anecdote, I said: “Thanks, Mom.” This comment was received by a murmur of appreciation from the congregation. Throughout the joys, love, excitement, sorrow, anguish, tribulation, and even boredom of my life, I continue to treasure the gift of life.
Meredith Stephens is a retired professor from South Australia. She taught in Japan for over twenty years. Her work has appeared in The Font- A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, Transnational Literature, The Blue Mountain Review, The Muse, Borderless, The Writers’ and Readers’ Journal, Reading in a Foreign Language, and The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching.