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Molly G Motherhood Parenting Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Respect Life Month

The Promise of Cord Blood Research

Meagan was our fifth child, so ultrasounds were nothing new to me. I remember seeing the solid black in the picture of her head on the screen and having a hunch something was not right.   Turns out my gut feeling was correct.

20 weeks into my pregnancy, our unborn daughter was diagnosed with severe fetal Hydrocephalus.  The  cerebral spinal fluid was gathering in her head where brain tissue should have been.  What tissue was left, was under immense pressure, which grew by the day as the fluid continued to gather.  It is fatal if untreated, but the treatment  could not be done until after birth.  I was immediately asked if I felt I should continue my pregnancy, followed by a grim “counseling” session from the genetic counselor.  I knew of course I would love my daughter no matter what, but even so,  I felt my heart, and my world, come to a stop.

Meagan minutes old ready for transport to Children’s Hospital for brain surgery

The night we got home, I frantically searched the internet for any and all information I could find on my daughter’s newly diagnosed condition.  I wanted to read something that showed me the Perinatologist was wrong.  The more I read, and the more scan pictures I compared to Meagan’s scans, the more I realized the diagnosis was not a dream.   Almost everything I read was “doom and gloom,” but the one thing that was a common thread in any article was the prognosis.  In a word, prognosis was “unknown.”  It could vary greatly for every child depending on how much quality brain tissue was salvaged from the damage.  I began shifting my focus  on the internet to any new Hydro research that could help Meagan’s prognosis.  I knew her life and future was in God’s hands, but, I also knew God gave us the wonderful gifts and talents we have so we can help others.  I thought, maybe, there was something out there that could at least give Meagan a better shot at being the best she could be.

 

I remember distinctly my feelings when I found out about a Hydrocephalus study happening at Duke Children’s.  The reason I remember these feelings so clearly really comes down to two words that stood out to me in the article; stem cells.  I felt elated at the prospect of Meagan being involved in a Hydro study and possibly giving her a better chance in the future, but at the same time I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach because I needed to know more about how the stem cell aspect of the Hydro program worked.  I immediately felt conflicted – almost sick to my stomach.  I had found the one glimmer of hope for Meagan’s future, but knew if there were any ethical questions surrounding the stem cells to be used on her, I had to re-examine our involvement.  I obtained the doctor’s email through another Hydro family I had “met” online.  I emailed several questions I had about the program, and waited.  The wait for my answers seemed like an eternity.  The doctor was actually very efficient in her response time, but, when waiting for news with such important consequences, the minutes can seem like days.

 

Meagan’s MRI at birth. At 37 weeks she was born with a 49cm head. An average newborn has a 34cm head. The small grey line on the left is all that remained of her brain tissue at birth. The rest is all fluid.

It probably seems crazy to some that I would even consider turning down such an opportunity for my daughter.  But I was prepared to do so if it turned out the cells were altered in any sort of unethical manner, or if any embryonic cells were used along the way.  I won’t sugar coat my feelings at the time – I certainly felt if any thing negative surfaced from my inquiries and I had to decline involvement in the program, my daughter would be cheated again.  She was cheated out of her health, and now she would be cheated out of the one program that offered a glimmer of hope.  But at the end of the day, my obligation to my daughter was to help her, and trust in God through the amazing faith He had given me, without crossing ethical lines to do so.

 

The much anticipated email came from the doctor.  I felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders.  Meagan would receive her own cord blood stem cells, plain and simple!  There was no alteration of the cells or involvement of other embryonic cells in her study.  It was simply re-infusing Meagan’s cord blood cells back into her body.  The hope was for the cells to go to areas of the brain that were under the most pressure and mitigate some of the permanent damage.  By no means was this a cure for her Hydrocephalus, as much as it offered a hopeful “boost” for brain tissue – or perhaps other areas of Meagan’s body that were affected by the Hydro, such as muscular regions, vision, hearing, or any other area that may have been affected.

 

Meagan during one of her stem cell infusions with my husband, the doctor, nurses, and the music therapist.

This whole experience with Meagan really made me think more about stem cell research as a whole.  For so long, we have been pushed into the idea that the only hope rests in using embryonic stem cells for cures to cancers, other diseases, or to help children like Meagan with lifelong conditions have a better future.   Why are we constantly led to believe there are no other options? Why should we feel caught between helping people and crossing ethical lines when we now have a beautiful medium between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells – those cells found in cord blood.  These stem cells are showing immense promise across the board in the treatment of several diseases or conditions, such as the recent stories of cured brain cancer in Spain, or new trials to see how cord blood cells can affect children with Autism right here in the United States.  Many parents cannot afford to personally bank the blood, so most cord blood is simply thrown away.  Some public donation banks do exist, but there needs to be more.  I can only imagine all the stem cells we would have available for further research, all while respecting the sanctity of human  life, if cord blood donation was the norm.  There have been some pioneers in cord blood research, such as the Duke Children’s program where Meagan goes, or other places such as Mercy Medical in Maryland that just started the first public cord blood banking system for the state, thereby opening people’s eyes to the potential that lies in donated cord blood stem cells.

 

The very night Meagan looked at me for the first time.

Meagan has now had three stem cell infusions at Duke.  After her first infusion, I started to notice a very sudden change in her vision.  I noticed her following me across the room, looking up at her mobile and trying to focus on the toys hanging above.  I noticed for the first time, as I looked in her eyes, she was actually seeing me.  For so long she had looked “through” me, but now she could actually could see her mommy.

  Meagan’s second infusion was done around six months old, and again, I noticed a sudden change in Meagan.  This time, it seemed to be cognitively. She was still floppy with no head control, but she started to smile on demand and communicate in her own ways with my husband and me.  She began to react to her sisters’ silly antics and for the first time, seemed to “take in” the environment around her and became interested in her toys.

 

Meagan smiled non stop after her second infusion

We just returned from Meagan’s third infusion earlier this month at almost thirteen months old.  I have seen a rapid change in her use of her arms – she went from no weight bearing on her arms before the infusion, to suddenly having no issue doing so when I prop her up.  She also is eating. This is a huge change. Meagan has had horrible eating issues since birth.  She has been losing weight for months and has had zero progress with feeding therapy.  After 6 months and two therapists, we still couldn’t get more than 4-5 ‘licks’ of food into her mouth.  Post-infusion, she now opens her mouth when I offer baby food and swallows it. She has never done this before. As a matter of fact, her eating skills were reverting before this last infusion.

For the first time ever, Meagan has suddenly been putting her arms down on her own. Prior to her third infusion, they would flail out to the side and be floppy.

 

To say I am a believer is an understatement.  I have seen the abrupt changes that have happened in the weeks after Meagan’s stem cell infusions.  These little changes may mean something for Meagan’s future. I feel so extremely grateful she was able to be a part of the study.  What makes me even more grateful is that we were able to participate in a program that used cord blood stem cells, while at the same time recognizing man’s God given skills to use those cells in life changing ways.

 

For me, though swirling with conflicted feelings at the time, I know I’d make the same decision again.   Having been faced with the question myself of terminating my pregnancy with Meagan, I could have never destroyed another life to better hers.  It would make me no different than the doctors who saw Meagan’s life as worthless.  

We should celebrate the ingenuity of man’s research, but always remember that respect of human life is of utmost importance.  Now with the promise of cord blood stem cells, we have an obligation to pursue this new ethical path of stem cell research. There is no reason we should have to destroy embryonic life when there are practical paths to the same end that uphold the responsibility we have to protect all life.  In a document from the Pontifical Academy For Life regarding stem cell treatments, it reads,

“A good end does not make right an action which in itself is wrong.”     

There has never been a truer statement, and I’m pretty sure Meagan would agree.

 

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Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Respect Life Uncategorized

Remembering the Innocents

 

This past week our Right to Life group held a candlelight memorial service in remembrance of all the babies and mothers lost to abortion.  It was such a moving experience.  When I was putting together all that we were going to do I tried my hardest to determine what kinds of things were “too much” to introduce and what kinds of statistics and/or pictures would make the greatest impact.  It was a hard task to do.  I knew that besides those who would come from the parish we also would have the entire middle and high school youth groups there as well as representatives from our local pregnancy resource center, the West Georgia Right to Life representative and someone from the paper.  It was a daunting task.  How do you bring such a sensitive, yet important, topic to those who may not have any knowledge about abortion?

The first thing we decided to do was to tell people how many babies have died since the legalization of abortion.  We put up a sign at the front entrance of the church parking lot that said, “50,000,000 abortions since 1973”.  The actual number now is about 52,000,000 (we borrowed this sign from the West Georgia Right to Life group).  We also included crosses as well as “choose life” signs and “vote pro-life”.  After putting up the signs right before the Saturday Mass the first car into the parking lot rolled down his window and asked me if the number was right.  Could there possibly be that many babies aborted since abortion became legal.  I assured him it was.  He shook his head in disbelief and said he just had no idea.  He knew abortion took lives but that many?  He just couldn’t wrap his mind around that number.  I realized right then that we had already touch a life.  Hopefully we made a difference for him.  I think we did.  Most importantly we educated him and hopefully he’ll go out and educate others as well.

We left the signs up all weekend for the Masses.  I had several people tell me thank you for taking on the task of getting the word out how prevalent abortion is in our society.  I hoped and prayed that our memorial service would be a success later in the week.  If I had a hunger before to open eyes, now it was insatiable!

I decided that the best way to go with the prayer service would be to first introduce what the Bible says about the child growing in the womb.   I read the following passages:

In Jeremiah 1:4-5 we hear the words, “The word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as the prophet to the nations.”

In Psalm 139:13-16 we read the words, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  I was woven together in the depths of the earth; your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Of course there are other passages that pertain to life but these are the ones that spoke to me.  I then asked the people present to think about those passages as I described life in the womb, month by month.  As we talked about each month we lit candles in front of a picture of the child in the womb at that stage. 

Month 5

 

 Month 5:  The baby is very active now and can be felt by his mother.  She may be able to hear now.  Fingerprints and footprints are complete.  She can suck her thumb.  She is approximately 8-12 inches long.  At this stage in pregnancy it is still legal to take her life through abortion.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Month 9
 
At Month 9 Baby has very specific active and sleep periods.  She is preparing for birth by putting on weight and settling head down.  She is practicing her breathing.  Her weight and height vary greatly now during this last month.  An average full term baby weighs between 7-8 pounds and is between 19-21 inches long.  As unreal as it seems, it is still legal to take this baby’s life through abortion.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I invited the congregation to reflect on the development of the baby while also thinking about the fact that at all stages of pregnancy a woman can obtain an abortion.  I think that it was a fact that many just didn’t know and couldn’t fathom.  After all, didn’t they just hear that at 3 months he can grasp an object placed in the palm of his hand?  And that at 4 months there is rapid eye movement signalling that the baby is dreaming?  What about the fact that at 7 months he is able to cry and his bones are fully developed?  How can it be then that it is legal to kill this child?   As we reflected on these ideas I played Ave Maria.  I reminded them of Mary saying yes to life.  She was willing to endure ridicule, judgment and possibly being alone.  Still, she brought our Savior into the world.  What better testament and role model can we have?
 
Following our reflection I introduced what our Catholic faith tells us about abortion and about what our duties are for protecting life.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find the Church talking about abortion at line 2270 and continuing 2275.   We read these words:

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

After hearing these lines I then presented some abortion facts to them to think about…

  • Abortion is the #1 outpatient surgery performed in the United States.
  • In the United States there are approximately 1.21 million abortion performed per year.
  • This breaks down to approximately 4000 per day.
  • At these current rates about 1/3 of all American women will one day have an abortion.
  • 84% of all those who have abortions are unmarried.
  • 1% are done as a result of rape.
  • 6% are done for the health of the mother or child.
  • 93% are done for social reasons… inconvenience,  fear of judgment, lack of money, etc.
  • 37% of all abortions done are by Protestant women.
  • 28% of all abortions done are by Catholic women.

I repeated the statistics on the number of Catholic women who have abortions.  It’s a shocking number.  Our faith teaches us to respect life and defend life and yet 1120 babies each day are killed by women who profess the Catholic faith.  What is wrong here?  How did we get to this point where even those who profess the Catholic faith kill innocent babies?

We prayed intercessory prayers and then I invited everyone present to come forward and light a candle in remembrance of all those who have died, all those who are struggling with the decision whether or not to abort their child and all those affected by the sin of abortion.   With quiet music playing in the background people came forward and lit a candle.  It was such a wonderful remembrance of so many innocent souls. 

 I would hear later from others that so many people’s lives were touched by what they saw and heard that night.  I also was disappointed to hear that there were some that were not affected at all.  Still, our goal was to spread the word and if we even touched one life then we did our job.  I’m positive we touched more lives than just one!

As Catholics sometimes we don’t do as well as our Protestant brothers and sisters regarding evangelization.  This is an area where we can not fail.  We are required by Christ to save the lives of the innocents.  We are required by God to protect those who can not protect themselves.  I realize that not everyone can organize a memorial service or that they even have access to banners or crosses or signs.  So how can you bring the issue of the sanctity of life to those around you?

Pray.  Always pray for life.  Pray for those considering abortions, those who have had abortions, those who have been aborted, those who perform abortions, those who fight abortion.  Pray.

Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are prolife.  I realize sometimes this is hard!  People will judge you, call you intolerant, they will persecute for your beliefs… speak up anyway! 

If you can’t organize a prayer service or a stand for life, find where one is taking place and join in!  Show that you are prolife through your actions. 

Volunteer at your local pregnancy resource center.   If there isn’t one around you find another establishment that is doing the good work of the pro life movement and ask what you can do to help.  If you can’t volunteer your time, make a donation.

Teach your children our faith and our values.  Tell them that all life is sacred and then show them you respect life.  The younger they are when they learn just how precious life is the greater the chance that they will grow up always respecting life. 

It is so important that we, as Catholics, live our faith as Christ established it.  God loved us so much that he became one of us.  He didn’t come as an adult, he came as an innocent baby, helpless in every way, depending on his mother to protect and nurture him.  Because he made us in his image he asks no less of us than he did of his very own mother.   What are we doing to answer his call?

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Abortion Amelia Doctrine Faith Formation Holy Days of Obligation Ink Slingers Mary Motherhood NFP and contraceptives Respect Life Saints Vocations

No MisConception, Here!

Imagine for a moment that you could choose your mother. Unrestricted by time, out of all the women in the world, you can handpick the woman who will carry you, nurture you, and raise you to adulthood. Additionally, you know that, because of a hereditary disorder, she is marked for sickness and death. You have the power to save her from that and, in so doing, you can give her what she needs in order for her to cope with the sorrow you know will pierce her heart. If she were your mother and you had the power to do all of that, wouldn’t you do it?
Why is it so difficult to imagine that God has done that very thing for one very special woman,

His Own Mother?

Another Catholic Sista explained why Mary needed to be sinless as Jesus’ Mother and as witness to the Crucifixion of Christ. I will attempt to explain how it’s possible that she was conceived without sin, why it’s necessary, and why this is important to us all.
God is sovereign King of the Universe and as such is not bound by any laws. If He were subject to laws, He would not be GOD. God can create however He wills. He spoke, and there was light. God lovingly crafted Adam and Eve, sharing His own nature with them. He gave them many gifts – the most important of which was the gift of sanctifying grace, allowing His love (the Holy Spirit) to flow directly into them. God required only one thing from them in order for their children to inherit this gift as their birthright: a free act of the will. Adam and Eve had to choose all on their own to love God and to demonstrate this in obedience to Him alone. It was with complete clarity of mind, for there was no ignorance or weakness before the Fall, that they chose themselves over God. They were punished with suffering and death. As their descendants, we are born with the stain of that first sin, Original Sin.

Since God created Adam and Eve, only one human being (besides Christ!) has possessed a perfectly balanced human nature:

The Blessed Virgin Mary

 The stain of Original Sin would have been on Mary as well had Jesus not saved her.  From the instant she was conceived, Mary was in spiritual union with God. We call this her Immaculate Conception.

 

“He selected and purified a tabernacle for Himself, becoming the immaculate seed of the woman, forming His body miraculously from the substance of the Virgin Mary” (John Henry Cardinal Newman)

Mary’s Immaculate Conception was a special gift from God, a privilege He bestowed upon the Woman chosen to be His mother. Does this mean that Mary had no need for a Savior?

Absolutely not!

 

She did need a Savior. In fact, she has greater cause to praise Him than anyone, for she was rescued from the pit of sin before she ever fell in.
Mary, most blessed among women, being always free from original sin, was from the start filled with the sanctifying grace that usually comes with baptism after birth. She was so “full of grace” that she became defined by it and was troubled by the Angel’s greeting at the Annunciation. She had found favor with God and was destined to be the Mother of Our Lord. But note: predestination does not mean predetermination. She could have, at any moment, said “No”…but she didn’t. The Heavens waited with bated breath, and she said Yes.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

God took great care in describing to the tiniest detail how He was to be worshipped. One can go cross-eyed reading about blue, scarlet, and purple stuff in the Old Testament. He designed the Ark of the Covenant and required that it be exactly the way He wanted it and placed in the Holy of Holies where no one might look upon it with irreverence. The point is: God is Holy. He cannot be treated as any common thing. We cannot use our everyday dishes during Mass. We go in our Sunday best to church. He is to be worshipped and adored with the very best we can offer, because He is God. Therefore, it stands to reason that not just any Tabernacle would do for the Son of the Living God. Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant because she carried within her the Word of God made flesh.  God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil. His perfect Son could only be born of a virgin, pure, stainless, set apart. But just because one is a virgin, it does not mean that one is without sin. Mary was both, because God made her that way.

Some would argue that all of this about Mary is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture.  Just because something is not spelled out in the Bible in a straightforward way does not necessarily mean it did not happen, only that the author chose not to tell us about it. For example, if I tell you a story about my day yesterday, I might tell you that I got up, went to Mass, and then came home. You know that in order for me to go to Mass, I have to get dressed (you would hope!) and go out my door. I don’t have to tell you every detail. You know, without my having to say so, that I need to walk out of the church in order to come back home and that I need to walk through my door in order to get into my house. Now imagine that I wrote all of this down and gave it to a Catholic friend with whom I go to Mass. If you are a practicing Catholic, you know what happens during Mass and I don’t need to explain to you that I crossed myself with holy water upon entering the sanctuary, that I genuflected before sitting down, and that I received Our Lord in the Eucharist. The same can be said about Holy Scripture in that God’s Word is not contained in one book, but in fact it includes and is complemented by Sacred Tradition. St. Paul commends the keeping and passing down of oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 11:2 where we read, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:14 we read, “Therefore, brethren, stand firm; and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or letter from us.”
Scripture was not written in a bubble outside of history, but goes hand-in-hand with Sacred Tradition and cannot be separated from it if it is to be rightly understood. Just as the Bible cannot be understood without Sacred Tradition to set it in context, so must one look to Tradition and the Church Fathers to understand that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was upheld before she herself declared it to a young Basque virgin near Lourdes, France, and way before it was ever formally declared and defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854:
“…in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

In honoring Mother Mary, we obey our Lord, who gave her to us all on Calvary as our spiritual mother.

The Catholic Church has us pause in the middle of Advent to celebrate the Mother of God’s conception (We celebrate her birthday nine months later on September 8.), not only because Mary’s identity is inextricably linked to Jesus’ identity, but also because the Church must obey God in valuing life and life begins at conception. We are each of us knit in our mother’s womb. Each of us is personally known and loved by God. A fertilized egg does not at some point become a human being, it IS human. And, as a human being with a soul, he or she has dignity and a right to live.

***

Mary, like Jesus, is prefigured in the Old Testament. She is the New Ark of the Covenant, the New Eve, the Gebirah or Queen Mother of the Davidic Kingdom. I am human, and I err…a lot. I encourage you to put my words to the test. Read the Bible, read the Catechism, research Sacred Tradition and the Church Fathers. If you need further assistance, there are several excellent Catholic sites in addition to this one that can explain further, such as Catholic Answers(www.catholic.com) and NewAdvent (www.newadvent.org). They are apologists; I am not. I am just a mom who has stayed up way too late to write about her Mother whom she loves dearly and talks to every day.