Not Every Woman is as Strong as I Am

…one of many myths about pro-life women…

We’ve been called hypocrites, religious zealots, heartless, and ignorant all because we believe that life begins at conception.  While there is no shortage of scientific theories that will attempt to make abortion and embryonic research more palatable by suggesting that each life begins at a different stage of development and that there are many nuances, etc., the fact is that life begins at conception.   This thinking is not uniquely religious.

We have been told, “Not all women are as strong as you are.”   We don’t think we are all that strong.  In fact, we know we are weak.  We have also been told that we have never been put in a position of being forced to have a baby so we cannot understand.   In reality, what you will find among the throngs of pro-life women are countless stories about high risk pregnancy, complicated childbirth, infertility, miscarriage, fetal diagnosis, teen pregnancy,  and abortion regrets.   All of us have struggled with the fear and uncertainty that besets the facts of our biology.   So, while no one has ever “forced” us to have a baby,  we have all been in the position where our choices were limited because of our religious convictions and our scientific understanding of when life begins.

Here is my story.

I didn’t start my family until I was in my 30’s.  It wasn’t long into my adventure in baby making that I became known as AMA, aka Advanced Maternal Age.  This happens when a woman turns 35 and has the audacity to want to have a child.  All risks are suddenly on the table.  You are given blood test results that tell you your odds of having a sickly baby or developing multiple pregnancy complications.  You are treated to long faces and somber tones.  I remember I got a call one Friday afternoon just as all medical offices were going to close.  It went something like this: “Hi, we got your test results and the numbers are high risk for such and such.  We have scheduled a consultation with a genetic counselor who will talk to you about amniocentesis and your options first thing Monday morning.  We have also contacted the high risk maternal fetal office and you have an appointment for a full scan on Tuesday.”  I don’t remember what I did that weekend.

When Monday rolled around, I decided to cancel the genetic counseling because I did not see the point in an amniocentesis when I was going to have this baby no matter what.   I felt strong for some reason.  I found strength I never knew I had.  It wasn’t mine.  When I went for my regularly scheduled ultrasounds to look for “markers,” I developed the habit of telling doctors and nurses and technicians that I take my babies “as is” so don’t talk to me like we are at a funeral.  I began to look forward to the ultrasounds so I could get a peak at my baby.  I was no longer afraid of what they would find.   As it turned out, all my kids were healthy and the tests and anxiety they caused were the only complications I faced.

I had my last two babies in my 40’s.  And, I had the same experience with the phone calls, the recommendations, the high risk numbers, the long faces, the somber tones, etc.  At that time, I did some reading about being pregnant in your 40’s.  I discovered that babies conceived by women in their 40’s are babies at high risk for abortion.  More than 25% of all pregnancies of women in their 40’s ends in abortion.  And this statistic reveals a sharp increase among women in my generation over previous generations.

Discouraged, I decided to consult my communion of saints and I met Gianna.  Saint Gianna Beretta Molla.  I had never heard of her but before I read her story, I totally grabbed her name for my soon-to-be-born baby.  Then, I was humbled and reduced to tears by her story.   She was a forty year old mother of three children and a pediatrician who was offered the choice of an abortion or a hysterectomy to save her life.  The hysterectomy was an option that would have been acceptable in the eyes of the Catholic Church.  The procedure would have taken care of the tumor that she had, but, it would have resulted in the unintended consequence of the loss of her daughter.  Talk about Sophie’s choice!  She could not do that.  She gave birth to her baby and died shortly after of peritonitis.

I pray to God that I never have to face that choice.  I know I am not that strong.  I may not be done with the baby making business, either.  Time will tell.  But, I hope and pray that if ever I am put in a life or death situation, I will always err on the side of choosing life.  Because every woman is just strong enough.

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. ~2 Corinthinas 12:10

  • Jooi POctober 13, 2011 - 7:18 am

    Wonderful Mrs. Shiela, made me smile!ReplyCancel

  • robbieOctober 13, 2011 - 7:55 am

    I love the way you’ve expressed this. Thank you! I, too, have had a couple of “advanced maternal age” babies. My most recent doctor was the BEST–she never even mentioned my age as a possible factor in my various aches and pains (the last doc pretty much wrote off everything with the line, “Well, you know you ARE older….”). A doctor makes a tremendous difference in facing “old age” or worrisome pregnancies. My motto has become, “Never settle for less!” when searching for a doctor.

    While it is true we have nothing to feel guilty about, and that many, many pro-lifers have experienced situations in which we could have chosen to abort, one thing is different in my case that does give me pause. I have always had the support of those around me–husband, parents, and generally my doctors, too. Not that this is an excuse, but so many women don’t have that support. Those are the women in particular that I feel called to pray for, since “there but for the grace of God….”ReplyCancel

  • EllenOctober 13, 2011 - 9:31 am

    Wonderful Sheila (Sheila was my Mom’s name, too, so I always think of her when I see your siggie)! I was also “one of those”, I was 17 when I had my oldest child. She’s biracial, and my family is/was (some still are, some of have become more enlightened) extremely racist. I was terrified and had NO support (her father disappeared very quickly), but somehow made it through the pregnancy on my own (got tons of support once she was born. Babies tend to melt hearts, even hatefilled racist, ones. I had actually planned on putting her up for adoption before I realized I suddenly had all this support). Then, I got married at 30, and, like you, became “Advanced Maternal Age” very quickly. My own OB was always wonderful, but the “high risk” doctor I was required to consult with made me feel like I was 80. (and don’t even get me started on how they treat you when you’re AMA *and* a “Grand Multi-Para” (more than 3 kids)), they practically have the morgue on hold while you’re in labor!).ReplyCancel

  • BirgitJOctober 13, 2011 - 10:01 am

    What a wonderful post! I loved how you tied your story in with the Communion of Saints. One of my best friends has a story very similar to yours and I’ve always admired her tenacity. While I started my family at a very young age, she has four still in school at 54!ReplyCancel

  • robbieOctober 13, 2011 - 12:17 pm

    I don’t see a way to email privately, but wanted to share a cool video with the “Sistas”. Maybe it is something that you would choose to share in a larger way. It’s called 180. Perhaps some of you have seen it, as it’s circling around the internet lately. If you type in 180movie dot com you’ll find it. Very timely for this months’ series of articles. Just passing it on!ReplyCancel

  • CynthiaOctober 13, 2011 - 12:17 pm

    This is such a beautiful post, thank you!

    My mother had my littlest brother in her 40s and has always been such a positive example in my life.

    Also, I adore St. Gianna. You’re right, what a strong woman to emulate. It sounds like you are as well, though 🙂ReplyCancel

  • LisaOctober 13, 2011 - 6:21 pm

    Shiela, I went through many of the emotions you wrote about as a 41 year old finding out I was pregnant with my 3rd. I panicked thinking that it wasn’t possible to have a healthy baby over the age of 40. I was so wrong! I was blessed to have doctors and nurses that didn’t discourage me and said that they loved their pregnant over 40 moms because they kept care of themselves better than younger patients. I also found out that my paternal grandmother had a baby at 40 and this was in 1950. I remember reading the statistics about abortions for women over 40 and crying thinking how blessed I was by having my little Joseph at 41. How I learned so much about myself and my husband by having this baby. It showed me how strong my faith is.ReplyCancel

  • MichelleOctober 14, 2011 - 10:10 pm

    Sheila, thank you for sharing your story! As a now AMA expecting mother I can’t imagine ever thinking if terminating my child because of a defect. We have been given that option before and I am always firm when I tell them no. Thank you for reminding all women that they are just strong enough!ReplyCancel

  • diana hallMarch 26, 2012 - 9:18 pm

    Wonderful story Shiela! Some Doctors should NOT BE DOCTORS! Young women today at 35 are healthier, more active and productive than ever! I think many times some of these Doctors are just covering their own selves and their insurance and having an older mother abort is more cost effective for them than them overseeing a pregnancy to term which in many cases, yours as well, there was no need for all the bells and whistles and causing unnecessary angst to the expecting parents.

    Good for you for telling the Doctor that you take your baby “as is”. God knows what He’s doing whether the doctors do or not…..

    My great grandmother had her 8th child at 41 and that was in 1928!!

    He put himself through college. Had a degree as a CPA and later went into the Pharmacy at People’s Drug Store Chain as a Pharmacist and worked for them for 30 years when he retired. There was NOTHING wrong with him and there were no fancy machines and ultra sounds then and she took her babies “as is” as well, being a good Catholic girl until one night in July 1977 she lay down for her last night’s sleep, nearly 90, leaving one handicapped child who never left home to be cared for by that Pharmacist brother until her peaceful passing some 10 years later.

    That child, my great aunt, never left home because of her mental infirmities but was a pleasant child who had a good home life, excellent care by loving parents and siblings, who, as far as they were concerned had a wonderful sister and treated her as any member of the family would be treated and that was back in a time where the “experts” would have recommended she be put in an “asylum” or locked away. And if I remember all my family history correctly that was recommended to the Captain and Mrs. Dooley and they said, “No, thank you”.

    So, no Doctor can predict, even with all their new hi-tech equipment and magic machines whether or not a child is going to have difficulties and while these technologies can help; when they are being used to change the morality of practicing Holy Women of Grace to influence them to terminate their pregnancies these Doctors have no idea with whom they are messing.

    Had there been this kind of technology in 1928 and 1917 and the doctor were to suggest termination to my great grandmother she would have told him in her broken German and English that it was not even a possibility to give any thought or consideration to.

    Every woman is stronger than she thinks….and our Faith in God’s divine providence for our lives, His promises…..are enough to sustain us…..always.

    Granny Dooley knew that, too. Helen Bertha Putzier Dooley 1887-1977 because of her faith….I am.ReplyCancel