Tuesday

Jane is 11 today !!!!


jane and sydney 14
Originally uploaded by kgranju.


My babygirl is 11.

Here's an essay I wrote ten years ago about my pregnancy with Jane, and her birth:

The Decision

by Katie Allison Granju (Originally published in Hip Mama)

I began to suspect that something was very wrong the day I could no longer walk across the library at the law school where I was a first year student. Ten weeks pregnant, I had been fighting excessive fatigue, loss of appetite and night sweats for almost a month.

"Relax," my midwife told me. "You're just having a rough first trimester."

I was inclined to believe her. At age 27 and in perfect health, I had no reason to consider that anything more than extreme morning sickness was plaguing me, and that was no big deal. Heck, with my first pregnancy, three years previously, I had felt so good that I had even wished for a little first-trimester yukkiness so that I could feel "really pregnant."

Still, the nagging feeling that something other than just the pregnancy was going on grew stronger with each wretched day. The afternoon when I found myself collapsed in a chair in the law library brought the situation to a head. A classmate had to practically carry me to her car so that she could drive me home. There, she insisted on taking my temperature: 104'.

Within hours, I was admitted to the maternity floor at a local hospital, where I spent the next eight unhappy days. Each afternoon, just to make sure that all was well, the obstetrician would perform an ultrasound, showing us the tiny "beep, beep" of the fetal heart and the jerky movements of a glowing human jumping bean. We began calling the baby "Peanut." My doctor was puzzled as test after test failed to determine what the cause of my illness could be. He brought in an infectious disease specialist, who tested me for everything from HIV to Malaria.

On the sixth day of my confinement, as I was lying miserably in my hospitalbed, watching a rerun of the Andy Griffith show, both of my doctors suddenly entered my room, closed the door and turned off the TV without asking. Now I knew for certain that I had been right; something was terribly wrong.

They had come to inform me that I had an acute, primary cytomegolovirus infection, popularly known as CMV. The disease is not generally something to worry about....unless you are immunocompromised, which I wasn't....or pregnant, which I was. CMV, we were told by the obstetrician, is very dangerous to a fetus, particularly in the first trimester. It is a leading cause of congenital neurologic impairment, severe physical anomalies, devastating mental retardation and infant fatality. Really, we were told, we should consider our "options".

Suddenly, I, a person with all her grandparents still alive, a person who had never even been to a funeral, was faced with death. Not only was I faced with death in the abstract, I was faced with The Decision. In consultation with my with my sweet, 26 year old husband, a man similarly unschooled in the ways of mortality, I was charged with handing down a judgment as to whether Peanut would continue to leap and hop about in my womb and ultimately, be born alive. With a somber face, the doctor uttered the words that were to become so familiar to us over the next weeks, "Now, no one can make this decision for you. Only you can decide."

Only, I couldn't. Not without more information. And maybe not even then. We immediately became experts on CMV and its potential sequelae. I stayed up all night for days after the diagnosis, reading medical literature and searching the World Wide Web for answers. None was forthcoming. The best information available told us that if we carried the pregnancy to term, there was approximately a 1 in 4 chance that an infected baby would be affected by the CMV in some way. I was paralyzed with grief and indecision.

As an ostensibly pro-choice woman, I realized that I was not actually "pro"- anyone ever having to make a choice like this. Although no one wanted to offer an opinion as to what we should do, everyone had an angle. My doctor answered my questions honestly and told me that if his wife or daughter were faced with a CMV diagnosis in the first trimester, he would definitely encourage an abortion.

The minister whom a friend sent to see me was gentle and kind. Yet, she assumed that I was crying because I had already made the obvious decision to have an abortion and was grieving. She offered to set a time for a memorial service after the abortion to "celebrate and remember". She even showed me the feminist liturgy she had photocopied for just such an occasion. I found her point of view strangely repulsive and without intellectual honesty. If the life I would be taking was worthy of religious remembrance and ceremony, how was it possibly mine to take? There are no memorial services for appendectomies or squashed bugs. Only for people.

I was hesitant to share my dilemma with a certain close relative because I feared her unbending anti-abortion stance. Of course, she immediately realized the decision with which I was faced after someone told her of my diagnosis. She telephoned me to instruct me that, although abortion is wrong, sometimes God realizes that the time is not right for a particular soul to come into this world. Considering the circumstances, she opined, no one could blame me for whatever decision I felt was right. Her stunning hypocrisy angered me. Despite her stated views, she was conveniently able to allow for choice in this issue when the woman in question was someone she loved.

As days passed and I wrestled with my conscience, I realized that I was petrified of the physical procedure itself. My doctor assured me that he could perform the abortion at the hospital. I wouldn't have to go sit in a waiting room at a clinic. I told him that, although I realized that most first and early second trimester abortions are performed under local anesthesia, the only way I could face this would be knocked out cold. He agreed. I knew that I could be admitted to the hospital, drift gently off to sleep and wake up, relieved of this problem forever. I would never have to think about it again if I chose not to. Variously, this sounded tremendously appealing and completely horrifying.

When I envisioned the actual opening of my womb and suctioning of its contents, the same primal instinct kicked in that would allow me to single-handedly rip the lungs out of any man who laid a hand on my little boy. What kind of terrible mother would allow her defenseless offspring to be taken from the very bosom of maternal safety and warmth? I felt sick, and wept yet again.

My father tried to reason with me, pointing out the lifelong ramifications of my decision. He was terribly worried that I would be forever shackled to the responsibilities of caring for a severely ill or disabled child. He fretted that his big plans for his own child would be sucked away forever by a draining responsibility from which I could never escape. I too was seized with these fears. I secretly believed that I simply wasn't up to the task of mothering a child with serious health and developmental problems. What would that do to our other child, whom I already knew and loved? What would it do to my career goals? Our marriage? And what about the baby? The thought of seeing our tiny baby, suffering, perhaps hooked up to tubes and wires in a neonatal intensive care unit, caused me almost unbearable psychic pain. I imagined a future in which our mentally retarded and physically handicapped 13 year old child would endure the cruel taunts of other teenagers.

I began to wonder if I was being selfish in even considering giving birth to this baby. Would anyone choose for herself the life that this child might face? Were my own fears about a relatively minor surgery and future guilt good enough reasons to bring forth a human being who would have to live with the consequences of my own cowardice? I tentatively decided that motherhood is full of tough calls and hard decisions, both in the name of love and in a child's best interests. This must be one of them, I thought. I would do what was best for all concerned.

I telephoned the hospital, as instructed by my physician, and weakly scheduled the procedure for the next day. The admitting clerk who took the call easily misunderstood my vague instructions and thought that I was coming in for labor induction of a full-term, healthy pregnancy. "Congratulations," she said brightly. I corrected her mistake and her tone grew dark, almost menacing. She told me to meet my doctor at the labor and delivery wing at 6:30 a.m. sharp the following morning. She abruptly hung up.

There, I thought to myself. I have done the right thing. No turning back. I felt like someone had drained all the life from me. I sat in a darkened room for the next several hours, absently rubbing my still flat belly and murmuring maternal expressions of comfort to no one in particular. Later that evening, my husband and I discussed the choice that had been made. I attempted stoicism. He reminded me that we had a friend coming over to bring us supper, as many kind people had done throughout my illness and convalescence at home. I roused myself enough to get dressed and out of bed.

Our friend arrived and we all ate supper together. I told her of my decision and the reasons behind it. She listened quietly and then asked if she could tell us a little about her brother, who had died recently at the age of nine. She recounted a tale of extraordinary courage on the part of her parents, her sister, herself, and especially, on the part of a little boy with Down Syndrome named David. This child and this family had lived through all of the things I feared when I considered birthing my own baby, including David's eventual early death. Still, the joy and love of his brief existence canceled out all of the pain, fear and hurt. No one who knew David had any regrets. Our friend showed us his photograph: a beautiful and smiling tow-headed little boy, obviously mentally retarded.

Neither do I have any regrets about the decisions I made after that discussion. I never arrived at the hospital the next morning. I canceled the abortion and after a pregnancy alternating between exhilaration and despair, gave birth to my daughter, Elizabeth Jane Chevillard Granju on August 15th, 1995. She was born ten days early weighing 6 pounds and eleven ounces. She was born infected with congenital cytomegolovirus and had two seizure episodes in her first year. Since that time, however, she has been physically and developmentally normal in every way. She is also a strikingly beautiful child, with shiny dark hair, olive skin and a lithe, elfin figure.

Jane's epilepsy could conceivably worsen and she is at risk for other neurologic problems and progressive hearing loss until she leaves childhood behind. Still, she is remarkably healthy. Many people want to extract a moral from this story. Pro-life friends tell me that Jane is my gift from God for making the right choice. They want to hold my baby up as their own personal anti-abortion poster child.

Those who are pro-choice attempt to use the tale as a cautionary parable for why choice should be the focus of the debate, rather than abortion itself. After all, I was able to carefully consider each of my options and ultimately, have the final say. This wouldn't have been possible in another political context. My own views have become less reactionary and more cognizant of the complexity of the abortion issue. I continue to fear the slippery slope that we head down when we deny women the right to choose when and how we bear children. On the other hand, I no longer attempt to repudiate the fact that the graphic posters displayed by anti-abortion activists are real photographs of what really comes out of the uterus during an abortion. Many abortions do indeed "stop a beating heart," as the bumper sticker says.

However, I will not allow Jane to be used as a crucible for the views of any person or group. I know that I would love Jane just as much if she had been born severely disabled. I do not, however, deny the relief I feel that she is so radiantly well. I am deeply aware that I was graced with this experience, which has allowed me to see that the blessing is sometimes as much in the struggle, from which I have learned so much, as in the outcome.

COPYRIGHT KATIE ALLISON GRANJU 1997-2005 -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED-- CONTACT KATIE AT kagranju@gmail.com FOR REPRINT OR SYNDICATION INFO (or just to let me know your thoughts on the essay)

14 comments:

Katharine said...

Katie, thank you for sharing Jane's story. It is amazing. I would have struggled with "the decision" just as hard as you did.

Jane is lucky to have you as her mother.

Lynnster, yeah said...

Sitting here in tears this afternoon. That's a fabulous essay, Katie, thanks for sharing that. And happy birthday to Jane (and happy day to you).

mary c said...

you wrote :"Considering the circumstances, she opined, no one could blame me for whatever decision I felt was right. Her stunning hypocrisy angered me. Despite her stated views, she was conveniently able to allow for choice in this issue when the woman in question was someone she loved."
Hate the sin not the sinner....Do you still consider ourself pro- choice, having faced this situation and realized you couldn't make that choice?

katie allison granju said...

Mary - I am even more strongly pro-choice today than I was 11 years ago. The key word is "choice." I made my decision and it was the right one for me and my family. Would I feel the same way if my child had arrived severely disabled, mentally and physically? If she suffered? I don't know.

mary c said...

I've never had to make the choice and am torn between mother's rights and the baby's rights-You argued both sides of the case very well for Jane- I just wondered if it had changed your outlook. This was a topic of conversation yesterday _BTW. I was looking into amembership at Curves (a ladies gym) and it seems the founder (male) is radically anti- choice. So the debate continues - do business with a company that goes too far in my opinion or find one less suited to my needs?

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful essay.

I had an experience with my first pregnancy when I was told that there was a small chance my baby would have trisomy 13. After a long weekend, I decided not to even have the amino done to be certain. I realized even if the diagnosis were certain, I could not end my baby's life. Though I am pro-choice, I really felt it was not my right to end this pregnancy, but to instead give my daughter's life a chance.

I would not force others to make the same decision I did. It is really a personal feeling.

My daughter is 10 now and perfectly healthy.

Anonymous said...

Katie, a reminder from your 88 year old grandpa ... You failed to mention in your excellent essay the fact that in the days preceding little Jane's birth, there were literally thousands of prayers from across the country asking for a safe and healthy birth. Leading some of these were very respected physicians. Just recently I had two doctors in the Vanderbilt Cancer Clinic voluntarily tell me they were praying for me. Recently in a hospital emergency room, I had the attending physician ask me if he could pray for me, this in front of his nurses and others. My point, more and more medical folk are realizing they sometimes need more than medical expertise to cope with extreme situations. One physician still carries a small picture of Jane in his bill fold to remind him that there is help available beyond the textbooks. Yes, I realize this comment is a little out of place with some of the readers of your blog, but at 88 I can pretty well say what I damn well please. Don't talk back to your elders!!

Anonymous said...

This and another story I heard recently of a mother who chose to give birth when predictions were awful, are why the abortion issue is such an important one. The woman will have beliefs from her upbringing, her doctor will give facts, her friends and family will have input, but only the mother can make this choice. I believe in the sanctity of mother and child. But the living, breathing woman is the one who is the most important in this equation. We are not incubators to let others decided what is best for us. Happy Birthday, Jane and you go granpa!

Anonymous said...

no women arent "incubators" but because there IS a life in there then that life has rights too. it just fries me when, depending on if the child is "wanted" it can be a crime to kill it in the womb, if say, it is done by the carelessness of another driver for instance. but if the woman wants to get rid of it herself and drives herself over to the abortion clinic then its all perfectly legal and acceptable. inherent in our actions is responsibility towards others. and that includes not killing children just because they arent born yet.
I find it amazing that some of the people who bray the loudest about children not being "property" once they are here have no problem considering the value of the child in the womb to be completely based on whether the mother wants it there or not. as far as potentially disabled children go..the number of times the doctors predictions are wrong and either the child is perfectly fine or the "tragic" situation turns out to be something very very mild should be reason enough to not abort a child because of disability

Anonymous said...

no women arent "incubators" but because there IS a life in there then that life has rights too. it just fries me when, depending on if the child is "wanted" it can be a crime to kill it in the womb, if say, it is done by the carelessness of another driver for instance. but if the woman wants to get rid of it herself and drives herself over to the abortion clinic then its all perfectly legal and acceptable. inherent in our actions is responsibility towards others. and that includes not killing children just because they arent born yet.
I find it amazing that some of the people who bray the loudest about children not being "property" once they are here have no problem considering the value of the child in the womb to be completely based on whether the mother wants it there or not. as far as potentially disabled children go..the number of times the doctors predictions are wrong and either the child is perfectly fine or the "tragic" situation turns out to be something very very mild should be reason enough to not abort a child because of disability

britney said...

most-recent-anon-er: the concept of who has "rights" and who does not is always open to debate - there is no universal rule (about that or anything else, really) - "rights" vary from culture to culture, society to society, era to era.

Emily said...

Question for anonymous commenter above: You say that "inherent in our actions is responsibility towards others. and that includes not killing children just because they aren't born yet." Does responsibility toward others also include not bringing a baby into the world if he or she is going to suffer miserably with severe birth defects? Does it include not bearing a child whom one cannot take care of? I would argue that those are responsible choices, too.

Also, women don't have abortions "just because [the babies] aren't born yet." Just so you know, it's possible to be against abortion and still recognize that women often have valid reasons to terminate their pregnancies.

Anonymous said...

well what about if you dont know about the disability before the child is born? some things cant be detected. what then? do you kill the newborn? some people believe it is okay to wait a few months into the babies life and if anything shows up in that time that infanticide is perfectly acceptable.
and again, what if the doctors are wrong and you abort a perfectly healthy baby? too bad so sad. it has happened many many times that what the doctors predict prenatally fails to materialize.
and as for the variances in culture...did it ever cross your mind that some cultures have better moral values than others???
are we supposed to understand a culture that kills the wife when the husband dies so that she can be cremated with her husband? are we supposed to understand female genital mutilation? no its usually people who are talking the most about cultural relatavism who suddenly get very absolute when the barbarism present in some other cultures is presented. we here in america are not exempt from barbarism. killing a baby in its mothers womb is pretty barbaric if you ask me. and talk about a "slippery slope". and what of things like down syndrome which some folks might not want but so many others find these children to be a blessing. you might find it interesting that many of the diabled themselves, who might otherwise be quite liberal, are pretty dismayed at the idea of aborting the disabled. it is saying that they are meaningless and would be better off dead, a decision their parents could easily have made for them had they been so inclined.
I wonder what Katie will do if as her daughter gets older as she ponders her life and the chance she got at if she becomes very pro life.

Emily said...

Anonymous: "Some people believe it is okay to wait a few months into the babies life and if anything shows up in that time that infanticide is perfectly acceptable."

"Some people" believe this, huh? Minus 50 points for the crappily constructed straw man argument... but plus 5 for making it so entertainingly hysterical.