Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Life is a Journey

By now, most of you have heard about the little girl in Washington State, whose parents have decided to have her surgically altered in an attempt to keep her small and manageable. Her prognosis is to be a mentally handicapped child for her entire life. The problem is that normal parents cannot handle a full grown adult infant, as they themselves age and lose strength. These parents had their daughter's uterus, appendix, and breast buds removed and massive doses of estrogen given in an attempt to keep her "little" forever. It was not a decision made lightly, but with the help of medical ethicians. It is being called The Ashley Treatment. This family loves their little girl and takes excellent care of the child. I went to their site and read the comments by perfect strangers and was stunned by the freedom other bloggers feel in forming opinions and being disgustingly frank with these well meaning parents. There were comments like "Cut off her limbs, too --- that would make her smaller" or "How do you know that menstruation would be painful for her --- let her grow up normally". What words did these people not understand? This child has a condition that will never allow her to do anything and caring for her is a huge problem. Unless they have walked in these parents' moccasins, they have no right to an opinion.

This picture is my youngest daughter as she and her husband awaited the birth of their first child after suffering an earlier miscarriage. May of 1984 was a time of great joy and expectation. Every week she went to the doctor and then stopped by our house to tell me what the doctor had said. Her due date was around the 24th of May and she was hoping to have the baby on the 30th, because her birthday, her husband's birthday and their anniversary were all on the 30th of different months. When she missed the 30th, the appointment on the 31st was rather anticlimactic --- but, she didn't come to my house afterward. After a few hours, I told my husband that I was worried and we decided to call her house. She answered and sounded nothing like my daughter. When I asked if something were wrong, her only answer was ,"We're coming over". She was crying and distraught. I am a nurse and she is a nurse --- all sorts of awful things went through my mind, but I could not imagine what the actual problem was. They arrived and my son-in-law went around the car to help the expectant mom out of the car. Her face was blotchy with swelling and tears and he looked like someone had just shot him. "Mom, I had an ultrasound today and the baby has hydrocephalus". My mind was flipping through all the pages of child and infant care from my training and I knew there was hope for this type of handicap with shunts and good neurosurgeons. After a quick discussion of where we were with this (already a week overdue), I called the doctor for her and asked if there was any possibility that the baby could be delivered the next day, since nobody could eat or sleep until the baby was safely here.

Fast forward to the next morning and the birth of a lovely baby girl by C-Section. Things looked pretty good when the neurosurgeon said that a shunt would take care of everything Then came
the CAT Scan of Courtney's brain. June second, the neurosurgeon waltzed into my daughter's room and stuck the films against the window, where sunshine streamed brightly and illuminated a skull with a large amount of empty space. He said, "Unfortunately, this child has almost no brain and I'm not sure we should shunt her". With a shunt, she would live about two years and without the shunt , she would live about three months. The decision was taken out of this young family's hands. The federal government had passed "The Baby Jane Doe" ruling that required that medical personnel notify the authorities, if physicians did not do everything possible for newborn babies. Ironically enough, women could kill their fetuses inutero, but families could not withhold treatment from children who could not possibly live. The cephalic shunt was done the next day and the excess cerebrospinal fluid was drained from her skull and absorbed in her abdominal cavity. This allowed her fontanels to close and her skull to become a normal size. She would never be able to see, hear, eat, speak, roll over or even know she was alive. This is a picture of
Courtney at a couple of months old. Cute, huh? Yes, she was lovely and lovable, but the trick is
--- she is being held up for the picture. She was never even able to hold her own head up. My kids struggled to feed the baby by
dripping formula down the throat of a child who could not even suckle. By eight months old, the doctors finally realized that she would starve to death, if she was not fed by gastric tube, so they operated again and she was fed parentally by machine for her whole life. Her life was a series of specialists from every type of medicine, but nothing could be done to change the prognosis for this little girl. Even with very good health insurance, her medical needs took two paychecks, so my daughter worked part time at the hospital and the kids moved in with us to save money and have help caring for Courtney. Friends and family took CPR and learned to work her Apnea Monitor and G-Tube, so they could babysit occasionally to relieve her exhausted parents. Her medical condition caused seizures and the inability to have feedings while awake. If she coughed, she vomited, so feedings were done at night while she slept. I could hear my daughter and son-in-law running to her bedside all through the night to keep her from choking or to clean her up after vomiting. By four years old, she tipped the scales at nineteen pounds and remained easy to handle. I wonder how hard it would have been to care for a child who grew normally, but never was able to move and was a total lift.In this picture, you can see the plugged G-tube that was her lifeline for
feedings. By forcing her to be shunted, the government rules condemned her to nine and a half years as a prisoner inside a tiny body that did not function. She was loved so much and her family suffered terribly from this enforced slow death by well meaning souls who have no idea what they have brought upon such children. We watched as she writhed in convulsive seizures and wondered each time, "Is this the day?" Families of severely handicapped children need to be free to make educated decisions regarding the medical and surgical issues involving these children without input from the public at large. I feel that the parents of Ashley in Washington should be applauded for their choice to keep their daughter small and manageable in order to care for her at home.
This picture shows Courtney as she was getting older. You can see the spasticity in her body and know that she had no cognitive function by the way her hands are curled in decerebrate movement. If she had been born in an earlier time without medical intervention, she would have passed quickly from this world of pain. Once again, one of God's special little ones was snatched from the jaws of Heaven by do-gooders without knowledge of her best interests. Courtney lived for nine and a half years suffering through pneumonias, abdominal surgeries for obstructions and clam shell braces for a scoliosing spine. Her family watched helplessly while she suffered with multiple difficulties. How can anyone say what medical procedures should be done to a child, if they are not the ones who have to live with the consequences? Our family has lived through the heartache of birth defect and we would support Ashley's family's decision to prevent her from becoming adult size and necessitating care outside a loving home.
I first wrote this in January of 2007, when I heard about Ashley's family on television and the problems they were having with public opinion. This week, I heard that the hospital where her surgery was done is in trouble for not having a judge approve of the surgical procedures done to the child. The world has so many problems to handle --- why can't they leave this family alone to deal with their personal difficulties and to care for their child?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"I Am the Lucky One"

Happy Mother's Day to Mom, the original seat belt! Today is Mother's Day and this is the card I got from Numero Uno child. It really cracks me up, because I spent their formative years throwing my arms across the chest of the child sitting next to me on the front bench seat of the car to prevent their being thrown through the windshield. Lord knows how they managed to live through no car seats and certainly no seat belts. One absolute rule was that they couldn't sit too near any door, because who knew whether or not the lock would hold and one could possibly fall from the car during a turn and get run over by the back wheels. However did I manage to get them safely through infancy, school, college and to the altar without killing anyone?

I think motherhood started for me when I was about ten or eleven and our neighbor had a baby boy. I was allowed to play with him on a blanket in their backyard while my Mom chatted with the new mother.
I fell in love with the smell, feel, touch, the enchanting smiles and the cuddly little body of any baby. Little girls are preprogrammed to desire babies in their lives. Shortly after marrying at seventeen, my mind turned to thoughts of having my very own baby to cuddle and smell and love. Luckily, God knew that we were not ready financially for parenthood. He made me wait until I was twenty-one, before He felt I could be trusted with an infant of my own. I couldn't believe it when after all those months and years of trying, I finally knew I was pregnant.
Every since that very first day, when I knew there was a baby coming to our home, I have been the most blessed of all creation --- a mother. If there is to be a special day --- it should be a day for rejoicing in the fact that God has seen fit to give us children to raise and love and then set free. This is a picture of me with my first child when she was two years and six weeks old. My second child was only six weeks old and I was six weeks away from getting pregnant with my third. How ironic that after almost four years without children, we had three in less than three years. Motherhood has been a joy every step of the way and I am still thanking God for the children he sent my way almost fifty years ago. I love you Lesley, Matthew and Stacey and the ten children you have brought into my life in the last twenty-five years. The pastor praised moms in church this morning, but it is we who should be thanking God for the privilege He has given to us. I cannot imagine a life without my children. To quote Ben Folds, " I Am the Lucky One!"