In light of the increasing efforts to inject the issue of pro-choice vs. pro-life into conversations being conducted on a variety of subjects in our country today, I am, after much deliberation, sharing the following personal experience with the hope of increasing the understanding of those affiliated with both positions.
My wife and I married in our 30s, a little later than most couples marrying in the 1980s, and our first child was born five years later. Perhaps it was our choice to delay parenthood that made our son's birth such a joyous occasion. From the moment he arrived, our lives were more full than we could have imagined. Small wonder then that, when we learned the following year we would again become parents, we were ecstatic.
Our happiness was short-lived. Within weeks after receiving the good news, a routine medical appointment followed by a doctor's uncomfortable call, additional tests and an exploratory surgical procedure turned our world upside down.
The next months, which should have been all about choosing names and nursery colors, were instead consumed with physicians' visits, CAT scans, blood draws and seeking medical opinions across the country from experts in the field.
The reality of the situation soon became all too clear. At age 36, my wife was diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness. Her chances of long-term survival were slim, at best, and depended on a combination of conventional treatments and experimental regimens which could begin only after the baby was born or, if the pregnancy were terminated, immediately. As if the choice confronting us weren't difficult enough, it was further complicated by the fact that medical professionals disagreed as to whether my wife could afford to wait five months until the baby was born to begin treatment.
On one fact, however, there was unanimous agreement: Treatments could not occur while she was pregnant.
The anguish my wife and I experienced both during and after the short period we were given to make a decision cannot be overstated.
The love we had for our son had immediately expanded to include our unborn daughter. Although the baby was months from arriving, she already had a place in our family and our hearts. While we had never previously had any reason to discuss the subject, neither of us was a proponent of abortion. Uncertainty, fear, guilt and, yes, blame both consumed and controlled us.
As was usually the case in our marriage, my wife, a Roman Catholic, ultimately grasped this issue with a clarity and resolve that I was unable to achieve. She wanted to survive and she wanted to raise our son to adulthood.
For her, the only option was the option that maximized her chances of being able to do both. The decision to terminate the pregnancy was made, and each of us said goodbye to our daughter in our own and very separate ways. My wife underwent the procedure alone. I did not accompany her.
Our marriage had been hijacked. I was too consumed with my own loss to provide my wife with the understanding and support she needed at this critical time in her life.
Following the procedure, my wife began treatments that continued for a number of months during which there was occasionally encouraging news. Then there was only bad news.
My wife died at age 37. She was able to say goodbye to our son, age 21/2, four days before she died.
I share this deeply uncomfortable story to underscore how very personal and complicated the decision of whether to complete or terminate a pregnancy often is. There is no position, rule, formula or calculation that can be applied universally to address the host of individualized issues confronting a woman or couple when faced with this painful dilemma.
Unflinching advocates of both pro-choice and pro-life positions must each incorporate greater sensitivity, understanding and compassion into their respective movements. Both positions have much to contribute to the discussion, but neither view in its extreme form is helpful or productive.
Thirty-plus years later I still ask whether, given the chance, my wife and I would have been able to deal with this issue differently today than we did in 1987. Certainly we would know ourselves and each other better than we did after only seven years of marriage.
Advances in the treatment of my wife's illness and access to increased medical information would increase the options available to us. Medical, pastoral and psychological counseling, together with marriage counseling, would be a necessary part of our decision-making process.
The series of tragic events my wife and I faced in 1986 and 1987 will not fade from memory, but on occasion I draw comfort from allowing myself to believe that we did then, and would today, make the right decision.
Lawrence Shine is a Fort Wayne resident.