As we enter the Labor and Delivery department at University Hospital, I turn to Joe and ask, “Do I really have to stay here? This is like a bad dream.”
“I know it is. I can’t believe it either,” Joe replies.
We go through the admission process and then begin the series of blood work and tests. We tell the technician that we want to have an amniocentesis test; we want to know if the baby has Down Syndrome.
“I’m not sure I can get enough fluid to do the test,” the technician informs us. “But I’ll try.”
Watching on ultrasound as they insert a needle into the baby’s space is nerve-wracking. There is a little bit of fluid by the head and a smaller bit by his feet. We all agree to go for the pocket of fluid by the feet. After some tense moments, the technician does get some fluid and says, “I hope this is enough for the test. It will be a while before we know the results.”
In the meantime, I settle into a room. Well, this is home for a while, I guess. We hope for the balance of a full-term pregnancy. The thought of staying here, alone, for the weeks before the birth saddens, frightens, and depresses me. Nevertheless, I want to give our baby every chance.
Joe holds my hand as he lingers by my bed. He hates to leave as much as I hate to see him go. We both realize, however, that Luke needs to be with his dad, even if I can’t be there. Joe has a job also demanding his return. Life goes on, even though suspended in some type of surreal time warp here in this sterile, hospital world.
“I love you. I’ll call you often,” Joe promises. “Hang in there, baby.”
“I’ll be fine,” I reassure him. “Go take care of little Luke. Give him my love and lots of hugs and kisses for me.”
The test results come back for the amniocentesis: the baby does not have Down Syndrome and it’s a girl! So it’s Jolene after all. That takes some getting used to, but I am a little bit relieved. Somehow, it is easier to think of her being a girl, I suppose because if we lose her it will be less like losing Luke.
The doctor who takes over my day-to-day care from Dr. W. is Dr. K., who is young and friendly and seems to be very knowledgeable. She makes her daily rounds with her team of white coats filing in behind her. The recommendation is that we abort our baby. They call it “terminating” the pregnancy. They assure us that no one will question our decision to terminate. The pregnancy is younger than 24 weeks, the chance of the baby surviving is small, and the risk of her having serious health problems or even death is high. At one of these visits, Doctor K. explains the two more common procedures to terminate the pregnancy. One requires a cesarean section where the baby dies, but at least I will get to hold her before God takes her away. Doctor K. and Joe leave the room, out of my earshot, because the details of the other procedure, the D&C, are not something I want to hear at this time. The benefits of the D&C are non-surgery and quicker recovery.
Joe and I are weak at the thought of the obvious consequence of either procedure. As we talk of the possibilities, we are both mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Heart-rending tears punctuate each thought, each sentence.
Ultimately, we are unified in our decision. We are going to do everything possible to keep our baby alive, whatever that entails. Joe is strengthened in his decision by the image of the ultrasound that keeps appearing in his mind: the image of our baby’s outstretched arm, reaching out to us as if asking us to give her a hand up. We both reach out to our baby with our whole being. We will hang on with every fiber of our strength. We will not let you go, dear baby.
We have an easy time of standing by our decision because although he says it is ultimately my decision, I am the one who has to be in the hospital and go through any procedures. We agree that there is no way we can make the choice to end our baby’s life.
“It is really up to God,” Joe says. “It is God’s choice.”
We concur that there is only one way to know for sure, and we have to ride it out.
(Excerpted from God’s Choice: A Journey Through High-risk Pregnancy, Premature Birth, and One Child’s Fight to Live by Joseph and Katherine Comerford, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Used by permission.)
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Joseph and Katherine Comerford
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Joseph and Katherine Comerford
I am a self-described child of nature. As a child, I traveled with my parents and three siblings throughout the forests of Colorado, where my father worked as a logger. Before my marriage to Joe, I trained and showed horses. Joe and I are avid outdoor lovers. I’d rather chase Joe and the boys with our hounds through the woods than anything else. I never thought I wanted children, until I met the man of my dreams. With him, I could imagine it and after seven years together we started our family. Our first child, a son, made me realize just how crazy in love with your child you can be. It is an all-consuming fierce kind of love. I think all mommies, and probably daddies, can relate to that. Our second child, also a son, born very early and weighing only 1 pound, 9 ounces, is teaching me just how far you will go for your children, how all-consuming the fire of unconditional love can be. Joseph fought the frustrating battle of working to keep our family together emotionally through this crisis while also working full time. He divided his time between our home in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, Colorado and the medical centers of Denver, 200 miles away. He is a 1981 McQuaid Jesuit High School alumnus, and also earned an Associate Degree in Applied Sciences from the State University of New York, Delhi College of Agriculture and Technology. Since age 19, he has been a builder in “the Valley.”