It all started with a letter. A cowardly, faceless email to be exact, written by me to our priest at our now former church. A letter which has has caused our priest to stonily stare me down when passing me by with my three young children in tow.
What letter could cause this kind of animosity between a priest and a lowly stay-at-home mother of three, you ask? Have you heard the expression, never discuss religion or politics? Inadvertently, I mixed the two. In my defense, I didn’t start it. The church did.
Do I deserve the icy stares? Do my children deserve to be blacklisted from Vacation Bible School this summer? I’ll let you be the judge. Deleting names for anonymity’s sake.
April 8, 2014
Dear Rev. [name withheld],
I would like to preface this letter by saying that although I have shared with you my name, I ask that you not share it with anyone else, for the sake of my family. I could have sent this anonymously, but I am putting on my "brave hat", and thought that you should know I am a real person who has met you, who has talked with you, and who trusts you.
This is a plea for understanding and compassion. I am a local parent to three children. My husband and I were excited to discover your church. We were looking forward to becoming members of your congregation, and our children part of your many youth activities.
This week, as I walked through the church, I saw a flier for something called 40 Days of Light. Curious, I read further. 40 Days of Light turned out to be a non-violent protest of abortion and family planning clinics in the surrounding area.
Please let me tell you about my 140 days of light. These were the number of days I had to be mother to my identical twin boys. I loved them unconditionally, as I love all my children, both born and unborn. There are nine, altogether. Three are alive today. My husband and I experienced four heartbreaking years of infertility and recurrent miscarriage before we decided to try in vitro fertilization. Though we did our best, we had only three embryos to transfer. My doctor was not very hopeful, given my history and age. He suggested we transfer them all. We did.
Miracle of miracles, all three implanted. We were over the moon. Surely God was blessing us with triplets, after all our years of suffering.
Then, we were told one of the embryos had split, presenting us with a grand total of four beautiful babies, two identical boys, and two fraternal girls. We were ecstatic. Worried, but ecstatic. My husband had come from a large family, and we knew we could do it. I prayed for the strength to raise four babies at once. I thanked God for giving us the opportunity to pray for the strength to raise four babies at once.
Then, heartbreak. One of our identical twins had developed a fatal condition in which he was not able to excrete fluids. He was swollen like a balloon about to burst. Day after day we monitored his progress towards death on an ultrasound monitor. It was a living hell, watching my baby suffer this way. Yes, doctors confirmed our son was suffering terribly, suffering excruciating, immeasurable pain, every second of every day that he lived on.
One day, our now team of doctors let us have the worst news yet - baby boy C had become so large, so quickly, that he was threatening the entire pregnancy. If we didn't do something soon, we would in all probability lose every single one of the children we already loved so much. They recommended we reduce the identical twins, which is not technically abortion, but it amounts to the same thing. It was the only way, we were told, to save our two fraternal twins. There was no way to save the healthy twin, as they shared a blood supply. He was doomed to die along with his brother.
We sought a second opinion. A third. A fourth. I scoured medical journals for information, and discovered a specialty clinic in San Francisco which performs an experimental procedure to cauterize the blood supply from one identical twin to another, so that we could at least try to save our healthy son. No good, they told us. Our babies were too young for the procedure.
I had exhausted all other options. It was either kill two children, or by inaction, kill four children. I was heartbroken. I could not believe that after losing so many children to miscarriage, I was about to lose four more, unless I could make the decision to kill two. What an impossible situation to be in, after dreaming of babies for so long.
We waited, against medical advice. I prayed that God would either save all my children, or if He must, take my identical sons peacefully and quickly so the suffering of the one would end, and his sisters would be saved without my having to intervene in such a horrific way. But my prayers went unanswered. Baby boy C continued to swell too quickly, and to suffer.
Words can't adequately describe my feelings. I was waiting for, hoping for, one of my sons to die in order to save the lives of his siblings. At the same time, I prayed for a miracle, that he would not die, that I could hold all my babies in my arms. I felt I was a horrible person for wishing his death. I was angry at God. Desperate. Inconsolable.
Then, a Jewish friend of mine told me about rodef. He said that in the Jewish religion, abortion is allowed if the fetus is a rodef, or a threat, to the life of the mother, or to the life of another child. The sacrifice of the one to save another is considered an act of preservation of life, not of murder.
I thought about this. I was raised to never look for only one answer. Ours is not the only faith in this world. For me, this was the only thing to make sense in a situation that made no sense.
We made our decision. We wanted to preserve the lives of our two healthy children. We went to our priest at the time, the one who had married us, and who had been counseling us through this time. We prayed together. We cried together. She offered to give our children a blessing, and we accepted. We stood over the ocean, talking to our children in my tummy. We told them they would always be loved, always remembered. We begged for their forgiveness. We went to have another ultrasound, to see if, miracle of miracles, anything had changed.
Nothing had. And we were out of time. We went ahead with the reduction. I cried through it all. My heart broke in half when I saw my baby boys, one after the other, stop kicking. I was sure I'd made the biggest mistake of my life.
My baby boys were gone. Emotionally speaking, I was beyond devastated. Medically speaking, it was a rocky few months. But in the end, I held my healthy baby girls in my arms. At that moment, everything made sense.
My sons had sacrificed their already doomed lives to save the lives of their sisters. It was as clear as if they'd said the words to me themselves. I'd had my 140 days of light, blessed by the presence of my twin baby boys I would never hold.
I tell you this story not because I expect you to understand. I hope and pray that no one ever truly understands my story, because to understand it, one must experience it for oneself. And that is not something I would wish on anyone. Sadly, however, my story is in no way unique. Every day, many women, for a variety of difficult reasons, are forced to make impossible decisions like mine. Who is anyone to judge which reasons are in line with Christ's beliefs and which are not? You may have the best of intentions with a non-violent protest, but regardless of violence, I can tell you this protest has hurt me - and will hurt others like me - in more ways than violence ever could.
What I truly wish to convey is my feeling of judgment, reading the flier titled 40 Days of Light. That an entire congregation, and a pastor devoted to the ideas of love and acceptance, would protest the one thing that makes it possible for me to hold my beautiful girls today, saddens me beyond words. I can only speak for myself, but I know I am not alone when I say, protests like this don't bring peace. They teach judgment and intolerance.
Please don't allow that to happen here.
Yours in Christ,
Lisa [surname withheld]