In the spring of 1994 1 was pregnant and expecting my third child on Mother's Day. The nursery was ready and we were very excited anticipating the arrival of our baby. Bill had delivered our other two children., and he was going to deliver Abigail. Jon was going to get to cut the cord and Katie was going to be the first to hold her. She had already become a very important part of our family.
At 36 weeks of pregnancy all of our dreams and happy expectations came crashing down around us. My doctor ordered an ultrasound that detected what all my previous prenatal testing, including a chorionic villus sampling, an alphafetoprotein and an earlier ultrasound had failed to detect, an encephalocoele. Approximately 2/3 of my daughter's brain had formed on the outside of her skull. I literally fell to my knees from the shock. I immediately knew that she would not be able to survive outside my womb. My doctor sent me to a perinatologist, a pediatric radiologist and a geneticist all desperately trying to find a way to save her. My husband and I were praying that there would be some new surgical technique to fix her brain. But all the experts concurred. Abigail would NOT survive outside my womb. And she could not survive the birthing process, because of the size of her anomaly her head would be crushed and she would suffocate. Because of the size of her anomaly, the doctors also feared that my uterus would rupture in the birthing process most likely rendering me sterile.
It was also discovered that what I thought were big healthy strong baby movements were in fact seizures. They were being caused by compression of the encephalocoele that continued to increase as she continued to grow inside my womb. I asked, "What about a c-section?" Sadly, my doctor told me "Viki, we do c-sections to save babies. We can't save her. A c-section is dangerous for you and I can't justify those risks. The biggest question for me and my husband was not "Is she going to die?" A higher power had already decided that for us. The question now was "How is she going to die?" We wanted to help her leave this world as painlessly and peacefully as possible, and in a way that protected my life and health and allowed us to try again to have more children.
We agonized over these options, and kept praying for a miracle. After discussing our situation extensively, our doctors referred us to Dr. McMahon. It was during our drive to Los Angeles that we chose our daughter's name. We named her Abigail, the name my grandmother had always wanted for a grandchild. We decided that if she were named Abigail, her great-grandma would be able to recognize her in heaven. My husband grilled Dr. McMahon with all the same questions that many of you probably have asked about the procedure. We would never have let anything happen to our baby that was cruel, or unnecessary . . . and Bill as my husband, loving me, wanted to be sure it was safe for me. Dr. McMahon and this procedure were our salvation.
My daughter died with dignity inside my womb. She was NOT stabbed in the back of the head with scissors, no one dragged her out half alive and then killed her, we would never have allowed that to happen. Losing Abigail was the hardest thing that's ever happened to us in our life. After we went home, I went into the nursery and sat there holding her baby clothes crying and thinking she'll never get to hear me tell her that I love her. I've often wondered why this had happened to us, what we had done to deserve such pain. I am a practicing Catholic, and I couldn't help believing that God had to have some reason for giving us such a burden. Then I found out about this legislation, and I knew then and there that Abigail's life had a special meaning.
God knew I would be strong enough to come here and tell you our story, to try to stop this legislation from passing and causing incredible devastation for other families like ours. There will be families in the future faced with this tragedy, because pre-natal testing is not infallible. I urge you, PLEASE don't take away the safest procedure available. I told the Monsignor at my parish that I was coming here, and he supports me. He said, "Viki, what happened to you wasn't about choice. You didn't have a choice. What you did was about preserving your life." I was grateful for his words.
This issue isn't about choice, it's about a medical necessity. It's about life and health. My kids attend a Catholic school where a playground was built and named in Abigail's honor. I believe that God gave me the intelligence to make my own decisions knowing I'm the one that has to live with the consequences. My husband said to me as I was getting on the plane to come to Washington "Viki, make sure this Congress realizes this is truly a Cruelty to Families Act."
Testimony Before the Senate Judiciary Committee Against H.R. 1833/S. 939
November 17, 1995
Senator Hatch, Senator Biden, and members of the committee, I'd like to thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. My name is Coreen Costello. I live in Agoura, California, with my husband Jim and our son Chad and daughter Carlyn. Jim is a chiropractor and I am a full-time wife and mom.
I am a registered Republican, and very conservative. I don't believe in abortion. Because of my deeply held Christian beliefs, I knew that I would never have an abortion.
Then, on March 24 of this year, when I was seven months pregnant, I was having premature contractions and my husband and I rushed to the hospital.
During an ultrasound, the physician became very silent. Soon more physicians came in. I knew there was something very wrong. I went into the bathroom and sobbed. I begged God to let my baby be okay. I prayed like I've never prayed before in my life.
My husband reassured me that we could deal with whatever was wrong. We had talked about raising a child with disabilities and we were willing to take whatever God gave us.
My doctor arrived at two in the morning. He held my hand, and informed me that they did not expect our baby to live. She was unable to absorb the amniotic fluid and it was puddling into my uterus.
This poor precious child had a lethal neurological disorder and been unable to move for almost two months. The movements I had been feeling over the last few months had been nothing more than bubbles and fluid. Her chest cavity was unable to rise and fall to stretch her lungs to prepare them for air, leaving them severely underdeveloped, almost to the point of not existing. Her vital organs were atrophying. Our darling little girl was going to die.
A perinatologist recommended terminating the pregnancy. For my husband and me, this was not an option. I chose to go into labor naturally. I wanted her to come on God's time--I didn't want to interfere.
It was so difficult to go home and be pregnant and go on with life, knowing my baby was dying. I wanted to stay in bed. My husband looked at me and said, "Coreen, this baby is still with us. Let's be proud of her. Let's make these last days of her life as special as possible." I felt her life inside of me, and somehow I still glowed. At this time we chose her name-- Katherine Grace. "Katherine" means pure, and "Grace" represents God's mercy.
We went to many more experts over the next two weeks. It was discovered that Katherine's body was rigid and she was stuck in a transverse position. Due to swelling, her head was already larger than that of a full-term baby. Natural birth or an induced labor were impossible.
We considered a caesarean section, but experts at Cedars-Sinai Hospital were adamant that the risks to my health and possibly my life were too great. There was no reason to risk leaving my children motherless if there was no hope of saving Katherine.
The doctors all agreed that our only option was the intact D&E procedure. I was devastated. The thought of an abortion sent chills down my spine. I remember patting my tummy promising my little girl that I would never let anyone hurt or devalue her.
After Dr. McMahon explained the procedure, I was so comforted. He and his staff understood the pain and anguish we were feeling. I realized I was in the right place. This was the safest way for me to deliver. This left open the possibility of more children. It greatly lowered the risk of my death. Most important, it offered a peaceful, painless passing for Katherine Grace.
When I was put under the anesthesia, Katherine's heart stopped. She was able to pass away peacefully in the womb, which was the most comfortable place for her to be. Even if regular birth or a caesarean had been medically possible, my daughter would have died a agonizing death.
When I awoke a few hours later, she was brought in to us. She was beautiful. She was not missing part of her brain. She had not been stabbed in the head with scissors. She looked peaceful. My husband and I held her tight and sobbed. We stayed with her for hours, praying and singing lullabies. Giving her back was the hardest moment of my life.
Because of the safety of this procedure, I am now pregnant again.
Fortunately, most of you will never have to walk the valley we have walked. It deeply saddens me that you are making a decision having never walked in our shoes. When families like ours are given this kind of tragic news, the last people we want to seek advice from are politicians. We talk to our doctors--lots of doctors. We talk to our families and other loved ones. And we ponder, long and hard into the night, with God.
What happened to our family is heartbreaking, and it is private. But we have chosen to share our story with you because we hope it will help you act with wisdom and compassion. I hope that you can all put aside your political differences, your positions on abortion, and your party affiliations--and just try to remember us. We are the ones who know.
We are the families that ache to hold our babies, to raise them, to love and nurture them. We are the families who will forever have a hole in our hearts. We are the families that had to choose how our babies would die. Each one of you should be grateful that you and your families have not had to face such a choice. I pray that no one you love ever does. Please put a stop to this terrible bill. Families like ours are counting on you.
Testimony of Erica Fox
Thank you for allowing me to submit my testimony to the Judiciary Committee for the official record. I never thought my personal tragedy would become part of the political debate, but it is important for you to hear stories like mine before you pass legislation that could destroy peoples lives.
On October 19, 1995, I visited my doctor for a routine ultrasound. I was expecting no problems, since I was at the end of my 22nd week of pregnancy and had already received the results from my amnio tests indicating that everything was normal. After the ultrasound technician performed the test, she was a little quieter than usual. I started to get an uncomfortable feeling that all was not well. The physician then entered the room and told my husband and I that the technician was getting readings that were very small and that this might be a problem. I struggled to react optimistically, as my husband usually does, and thought, "maybe this baby is just starting small." But as the doctor proceeded, my optimism was shattered. He was noticing other problems.
My physician referred me to a specialist who discovered that the placenta was abnormal, and there was a severe strain on the heart. The fetus had stopped growing at 18 weeks although I was already 22 weeks into my pregnancy. Phrases like "severe metal retardation" and "short, painful life followed by death" were just a couple of the things I heard.
Then, my doctor said something that in my opinion took a lot of courage. He said, "If this were me, I would terminate the pregnancy." In hopes that there had been some horrible mistake I had my doctor speak with my sister, who is a physician herself. After a long conversation, she called me and said "sweetheart, I think this is what you should do. I'm so sorry." It was then that I knew there was no hope for this pregnancy.
I hung up the phone and told the doctor that I wanted him to take care of it immediately. Given what we were facing, I did not want the torture to last another minute. I assumed my obstetrician/gynecologist would perform the procedure in a hospital. I was surprised to learn that I could only obtain the procedure in a clinic that specialized in late term abortions. All of my doctors felt this clinic was the best place to obtain the procedure, especially in my case. As someone who wants to get pregnant again, my physicians told me that I couldn't find a better place. We made the appointment for the following Tuesday -- five days away.
To make the days go quicker, we went up to Santa Barbara to spend the weekend with my mother and step-father. I thought, my mother will hold me and she'll make me feel better. But even she couldn't make anything better. I wondered aloud to my mother whether I had anything at all to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
My mother told me about my grandmother who had had a child nine years before my mother was born. His name was Phillip and he was a micro-cephalic. He suffered all his short life and died in an institution. She told me how it had made her mother afraid to have children and how it had ruined her mother's marriage. If only my grandmother had had ultrasounds and amnios, then she could have been spared this suffering. Phillip could have been spared his suffering. I decided I was thankful that I found out when I did so I could do something about it.
Finally, Tuesday arrived and I went to the clinic, accompanied by my husband, mother, step-father, sister and father, who is an ob/gyn. I was very nervous about what was going to happen to me. My husband and I were taken into a room by a counselor/nurse and she explained the procedure: I would come in two times a day for two days, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. I would receive anesthesia and laminaria would be placed in my cervix each time I came in. This would make my cervix expand to allow the fetus to be removed. The fetus would die from the measures taken to prepare for the procedure. Later, fluid would be drained from the fetus' head with a needle so that it would be soft and fit through my cervix. It was important that the fetus be intact so that an autopsy could be performed to find out what went wrong in the hopes of avoiding any problems in future pregnancies.
The doctor met my entire family and explained the procedure and its benefits--how it is the least invasive procedure, how women recover from this faster than any other procedure of its kind and how the blood loss to the mother is considerably less. Most importantly, he explained how this procedure safeguarded my ability to become pregnant again, which for me is very important. When this happens to you, the only thing you have left is the hope that you can try again to have a healthy baby.
Everyone at the clinic was extremely compassionate. They all said they were sorry to meet me under these circumstances. They all understood what I was going through and I appreciated what they were doing for me. They helped me in a way that even my mother couldn't--they took care of me through the most traumatic incident of my life. They saw me through it with both great skill and kindness.
Imagine my horror when during my recuperation I turned on C-Span and saw the U.S. House of Representatives vote to make the very procedure I had just had illegal. They cavalierly called the people who had just taken such good care of me "Mengele" and equated the procedure to a drive-by shooting! I sat there on my couch and wanted to scream.
It's true what I had done is technically considered an "elective" procedure because my life wasn't in danger. But is it really an "elective" procedure? Did I just decide in my fifth month that I was tired of being pregnant? NO! NO! NO! Medical technology and my doctors' advice led me to a decision that I know was right.
Why do we have ultrasound and amnio? Why does medicine advance if politicians want to take away our alternatives? I have rights and options that my grandmothers and mother and older sisters fought for. I had a choice. It is a choice I made. I thank God that there was a doctor and his staff out there so that I had the option and could choose the best procedure for my circumstances and have hope of having a healthy baby in the future.
Instead of listening to lies and rhetoric, listen to the truth. Listen to families who know and have been through the procedure that some legislators are attempting to ban.
I hope that you and your loved ones are never faced with the "choice" I had to make.
Testimony of Phyllis G. Baker Alpharetta, GA
I am a dedicated member of the Republican party and am a firm believer in the adage that big government is bad government. It's based upon this belief that I helped put Representative Gingrich into office and support him to this day. I oppose the giant bureaucracy in Washington making decisions about what we can and can't do here in Alpharetta. I truly feel that there are many issues in which government has no role.
However, my reasons for opposing H.R. 1833/ S. 939 run much deeper than my desire for small government. My reasons are extremely personal but for the sake of pregnant women across the nation who are coping with tragic situations and impossible decisions I have put my story in writing. I hope you will take the time to read my story and understand why these decisions belong with women and their doctors and not in the halls of Congress.
In September of 1993, I discovered I was pregnant with our first child. I was so excited with the prospect of being pregnant after trying for so long, but at age 35 (almost 36), I had some concerns as well. Would I have a normal pregnancy? Would I gain too much weight? Would I be able to lose the weight after delivery? These were my fears--not that my baby wouldn't be healthy.
My first visit to my obstetrician, Dr. George Ellis, occurred during my seventh week of pregnancy. He confirmed what I already knew, that I was pregnant, and we discussed the way he would manage my pregnancy. For example, he recommended two ultrasounds, one at approximately 12 weeks to date the pregnancy, and the second at 28 weeks, to monitor the progress. Sometimes, the second ultrasound would not be covered by insurance but we would deal with that when the time came. He would also perform several different tests, and offered optional ones like HIV screening and amniocentesis. Because I was over the age of 35, he recommended that I consider having an amnio, but insisted that the only real reason to have it was if we would be willing to terminate the pregnancy should the test results come back unfavorably. My husband, Randy, and I decided that I should have the amnio but would probably pass on the second ultrasound.
The amniocentesis was performed in late November, and I thought little of the results I would receive ten days later. In the phone message from Dr. Ellis, I found out that my baby was healthy and a little girl. In my heart I had known all along that she was a girl, but her Daddy didn't want to know her sex, so I called and gave him the part of the good news that I could. He was so relieved to know that everything was alright; he had apparently been far more worried than I had been about the test results. We set out to celebrate Christmas and our precious new family member we'd nicknamed B.B.
Although I had become quite ill with "all-day sickness," the pregnancy continued uneventfully through the holidays. We painted and wallpapered the nursery. We ordered the crib. But by late February, something told me to schedule the ultrasound that I'd long ago decided I wouldn't have. Because I'd felt so comfortable and liked him so much, I wanted to have Dr. Lawrence Stone, the perinatologist who'd performed the amnio, do the ultrasound. I called his office and scheduled an appointment for Thursday, February 24 at 8:30 am. My husband arranged his schedule accordingly, but had a meeting to attend at 10:00 that day, and would need to leave just as soon as we were through.
Randy and I struggled through the rush-hour traffic that morning with great anticipation. We were looking forward to seeing the changes in our baby, to hearing how normal and how perfect she was, to counting ten fingers and ten toes. When we arrived at Dr. Stone's office, we were told that there had been an emergency earlier that morning and that Dr. Stone wouldn't be able to see us until 9:30 am. We waited.
As the time passed ever so slowly, Randy became anxious about his 10:00 meeting. I encouraged him to go ahead and leave, as it was obviously an important appointment for him. He was just about to depart when we were called into the examination room.
The exam began as the others had, with the technician showing us the baby, one part at a time, and since B.B. was already inverted, the technician began with her feet. She moved the ultrasound wand across my broad belly, from one area to another to capture B.B.'s limbs, her stomach, her back. Randy and I were relaxed, and even joked with the technician while she worked. That was, until we noticed her spending an inordinate amount of time on one particular area.
When we asked the technician where she was (on the baby's body), she replied "the head" and my heart skipped a beat. She told us that B.B's head was much larger than normal, and that she was going to have Dr. Stone take a look at the ultrasound film. As the technician left the room, I burst into tears. Randy had not realized the implications of the technician's words, and I exclaimed, "There's something wrong, terribly wrong with the baby!" He wanted to know how I knew, and all I could say was "I just do. I just do." The room turned gray as we waited.
As Dr. Stone entered the room, the expression on his face told the tale. He informed us that our beautiful child, this child we'd been dreaming of, loving, planning for months had a defect known as hydracephaly--water on the brain. He went on to explain that she suffered from aqueductal stenosis, the blockage of the duct that drains the protective fluid out of the head and down the spinal column. This is known as a closed neural tube defect, and cannot be detected in any other kind of testing besides ultrasound. He had closely examined her films and had determined this to be the diagnosis. Because of its early onset, it would become very severe.
Randy--having heard all he could take--began to hyperventilate, and had to be assisted by Dr. Stone. He recovered fairly quickly, but I was frozen. Unmoving, cold, I just couldn't believe what was happening. Dr. Stone asked me to dress and for Randy and I to meet him in the conference room.
In the short time between leaving Randy and me in the examination room, and meeting us in the conference room, Dr. Stone had already made three phone calls. The first was to a pediatric neurosurgeon, whom he called out of a meeting to consult with us. That appointment would be as soon as we left Dr. Stone's office. The second was to Dr. Ellis, my obstetrician. We were to go there as soon as we finished at the neurosurgeon's office. The third was to Dr. George Tiller, in Wichita, Kansas, a provider of late abortion care for fetal anomaly. Dr. Stone explained that the state of Georgia does not allow third trimester abortions for fetal anomaly, and that Dr. Tiller's facility was the closest. He encouraged us to carefully examine all of our options once we'd spoken to both the neurosurgeon and Dr. Ellis and in the meantime, with our permission, he would send all of our case information to Dr. Tiller for consideration. Although we were numb with grief, we were appreciative to Dr. Stone for his caring treatment of our situation, and with B.B.'s films in our hands, we left for the neurosurgeon's office.
I stopped to call my mother to tell her that her unborn grandbaby was gravely ill, and that we would keep her posted as the situation progressed. I don't know how she understood me through the sobs, but she did, and she cried as well. Randy called his folks, who weren't home at the time, and left a brief but telling message. We would, of course, speak to them later.
One look at the neurosurgeon's face as he looked as B.B.'s films, and we knew our baby was doomed. He felt that the progression of the hydracephaly was so severe that the possibility of her being born alive was greatly diminished, and if she was born alive, she would be no more than a vegetable. He further explained that when tissue, in this case brain tissue, battles fluid, the tissue loses. Upon examination of her films, he could find nothing but fluid in her head, leaving little chance for brain tissue to develop in the future. The cost of keeping her in neo-natal intensive care, should she be born alive, would be exorbitant. There was no way to know how much pain she would experience. She would never know us or love us, or even know she had parents. We were devastated. It seemed as though our options were narrowing rapidly. We left to go see Dr. Ellis.
Dr. Ellis helped us weigh our remaining option, that of carrying the pregnancy to term. Under that option, we would carefully monitor B.B.'s condition through ultrasound on a weekly basis until 36 weeks, when labor would be induced. We would have to get a court order to have treatment withheld from her at birth, so she would be allowed to die naturally, rather than have the immediate surgery it would require to save her life. I knew I wouldn't be able to withstand the anguish of carrying a child to term that I knew wouldn't be alive long enough to do anything but suffer. No choice was easy; anything we decided would be painful.
Having seen all of the evidence, and having the options presented to us by trusted physicians, it seemed that there was simply no other alternative than to terminate the pregnancy. Randy and I believe, to this day, that we were led to this knowledge, and therefore our decision, by God. We called Dr. Stone's office to ask them to let us know the minute they heard from Dr. Tiller's office as to whether our case had been accepted or not.
Our families were stunned. No one had thought anything could be wrong with our baby. My cousin's wife who had just given birth to a healthy baby boy in December- next to my mother, was the most affected. All my mother could do was cry. She couldn't even speak about it to anyone, so my Aunt called the rest of the family to let them know. Randy's mother passed the word around in their family. Everyone was very supportive of the decision we had to make, and offered to assist in any way they could.
We received word from Dr. Stone's office that Dr. Tiller's office had agreed to help us. I don't know what we felt more--a sense of relief that we could do the one thing to protect our child from suffering, or a sense of doom that this pregnancy that we'd wanted so badly would soon be coming to an end. We called Dr. Tiller's office and spoke with Dena Vogler, who prepared us for not only the procedural and financial aspects, but also for the pro-life protesters who continually demonstrated outside the facility. We made our flight and hotel reservations on Friday, and settled in for what would be the longest weekend of our lives. We grieved for our little girl, relishing her every movement in my belly, realizing that this time next week we would no longer have her. We took turns crying and yelling and being silent, until we finally were able to come to terms with our decision.
We arrived in Wichita on Sunday night, and made our first visit to Dr. Tiller's facility early on Monday morning. There were a total of eight couples visiting that week in the same situation as we were- all terminating very wanted pregnancies. Dr. Tiller's staff was sensitive, efficient and keenly aware of our pain. Not one of them pretended to know what we were going through, even though they had seen it many times. They were supportive and sympathetic, and held your hand when you needed. I can't begin to say how very much I appreciated them.
But most of all, I feel very fortunate to have had Dr. George Tiller come into my life. This is a man who truly cares about the quality of life for women, so much so that he sacrifices a big part of the living' part of his own life to help us. As a result of terroristic tactics of the anti-choice movement, as I have come to call it, Dr. Tiller lives with a 24-hour a day bodyguard, and he wears a bullet- proof vest when he is outside of his home or office. Because he cares so much about me and women like me, he employs a full time legal advocate with the Kansas State Legislature to make sure the laws are such that he can continue to help us. In my opinion, this man is a gift from God, and I believe that God sent me to Wichita to meet him.
On Monday, we were introduced to the procedure we would undergo, called Digoxin Induction. Each of the women would undergo a final ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis that had already been made by our home-town physicians. Once confirmed, Dr. Tiller would perform an intra-fetal injection of Digoxin, which would lead to fetal demise. Then labor would be gradually induced by the placement of laminaria into the cervix. The laminaria would be monitored daily and changed as often as necessary, and delivery of our babies would occur most likely on Thursday or Friday.
During the afternoon hours, Dr. Tiller sat down in a counseling session with all eight of the couples. It was, even under these circumstances, a wonderful opportunity to talk to other parents who were going through the same trying situation that we were. We left Wichita with a new set of friends, and continue to correspond with some of them. We continued Dr. Tiller's group get-togethers each night, sans Dr. Tiller, finding solace in the company. As it turned out, Randy and I were able to help some of the other couples through this most difficult time, because we were so sure of our decision.
On Tuesday, another ultrasound was performed to ensure that fetal demise had occurred. It was so difficult to bear the thought of not hearing her precious heartbeat, not seeing her move or suck her thumb. The laminaria were then inserted.
On Thursday night, four of the couples went out to, what would be, one last dinner together. All of the pregnant women were extremely uncomfortable, as our labor was progressing, and the contractions were getting stronger by the minute. It was important to eat, however, as we weren't to eat after midnight, and we would need our strength for the delivery. We arrived back at the hotel around 9:00 pm that night, and all went to rest. There wasn't much sleep for me, however, because of the increased pain from the contractions. At 3:15 am on Friday morning, we called the on-duty nurse, who was staying in our hotel, because the pain had become almost unbearable. She came to our room, removed the laminaria, and told us she would be surprised if my water didn't break within the next two hours.
At 4:20 am that morning, my water broke. B.B. was on her way. My precious little girl, with whom I had bonded for seven months would finally arrive. We dressed, and traveled to Dr. Tiller's office, where he and his bodyguard were waiting. At least there were no lines of demonstrators to go through- I don't think I could have endured that.
My labor continued another hour and twenty-eight minutes. Because I hadn't yet gone through childbirth classes, I didn't really know what to expect, or how to breathe. Dr. Tiller coached me through the entire process, and at one point in time, when I said I couldn't take it anymore, he held my hand tightly and gently but firmly told me that I had to find the strength to bring B.B. into the world. After that, there were no more tears, and I worked through my labor instead of fighting it.
When the baby's head crowned, Dr. Tiller brought me into the delivery room, where he administered drugs to ease my pain. B.B. was in vertex position, on her side, but because of the advanced state of the hydracephaly, her head was far too large to deliver normally. So, in an effort to protect my fertility for future pregnancies, Dr. Tiller had to perform an intra-cranial decompression; vacuum aspirating the fluid from B.B's head. The time of birth was 5:48 am on Friday, March 4.
Later that day, Randy and I had an opportunity to look at and hold our precious B.B. Even though she was quite small, and her head was misshapen by the hydracephaly, she was beautiful. Dr, Tiller took photos of the three of us, and we were able to tell her that we loved her, and bid her a tearful good-bye. We chose not to bury her, so she was cremated later that night.
After a final checkup and instructions on Saturday, we traveled back home to Atlanta, where we were greeted by the collective arms of our family and friends. They were supportive and sympathetic. They cried with us when we cried, and laughed with us when we could. I went through several months of grief counseling, and I know I wouldn't have healed as well without it. To this day, the grief is still with me, but it is bearable because I know that God called my B.B. back because He wasn't finished with her. She is holding hands with my daddy and all of her great-grandparents in Heaven, and she is whole and loved and well taken care of there. She continues to be loved here on earth, as well.
It is because of Dr. Tiller's expert care during B.B.'s delivery, that I now have the most beautiful 10-month old son any mother could hope for. Austin is the absolute light of my life, and I thank God every day for this precious gift that God and Dr. Tiller have given to me.
Senators, what I hope you will get from my story is that women who seek third trimester abortions are not frivolous, promiscuous women using abortion as birth control or sex selection. They are members of families with wanted pregnancies in tragic situations, forced to make choices that no one should ever have to make. This legislation does nothing more than interfere with the care provided to these women by experienced, compassionate physicians. Please do not allow the government to tell my doctor how to practice medicine. He has been doing it far longer than anyone in the Senate, and knows how to care for my health far better.
Testimony of Vikki Stella Before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Opposition to H.R. 1833/S. 939
November 17, 1995
I'd like to thank the Judiciary Committee for asking me to speak at this important hearing. My name is Vikki Stella. My husband Archer and I live in Naperville, Illinois, in the western suburbs of Chicago.
I am nearly eight months pregnant. Our son is going to be born soon -- probably sooner than you might think, because I am diabetic and my babies grow much bigger, much faster than for other women. We have two daughters already, ages eleven and seven, and Lindsay and Natalie absolutely cannot wait to have a little brother to fuss over. My husband is just about to burst with joy over his son. In the midst of our happiness, though, there is still the pain of what happened to the son we almost had. . .and the apprehension over what Congress is trying to do to families like ours.
A year and a half ago, I was in my third trimester of pregnancy with a much-wanted son. Because I'm diabetic and my health is of particular concern, I'd had even more prenatal tests than most women: amnios, ultrasounds, the works. A few weeks before the world ended, my doctor pronounced my pregnancy "disgustingly normal." Then at 32 weeks, I went in for another ultrasound, and everything fell apart. Ultimately, my son was diagnosed with at least nine major anomalies, including a fluid-filled cranium with no brain tissue at all. He would never have survived outside my womb.
I almost had to be carried out of the doctor's office. My husband was literally holding me up on my feet. Never in our lives had we imagined that a disaster like this could happen to us. We went home to our house in Naperville with a room prepared for a little boy -- clothes folded, crib up, walls painted--and we cried.
My husband is in private business now, but he was a practicing physician for some years, and he knew even better than I that there was no hope for this pregnancy. The diagnosis had been confirmed by a perinatologist with a level II ultrasound.
We found the only answer we could: a surgical abortion procedure performed by a physician in Los Angeles. When we got to his clinic, we knew we were safe. As a diabetic, I knew that the controlled, gentle nature of this surgery was much safer for me than induced labor or a c-section, since I don't heal as well as other people. We found out that our baby would die peacefully and painlessly, from the combination of steps taken to prepare for the surgery. He would be brought out intact, though the doctor would have to use a spinal needle to take some fluid off his head so that my cervix wouldn't rupture. And then we could hold him and say our goodbyes.
That's just what happened. And, as promised, the surgery preserved my fertility. This past spring we discovered I was pregnant again. Then the doctor from Los Angeles, the doctor who saved my life, health and sanity, the doctor whose picture I still keep up on my refrigerator, called and said Congress was thinking about banning the surgery I had. Would I go to Washington and tell them my story?
I agonized. This isn't an easy story to tell. It's a very private pain, and my community is very conservative. I feared what the neighbors would say, that they wouldn't understand, that they wouldn't allow me near their kids anymore. But finally our outrage at the lies and misinformation being spread about this procedure grew too great, and my husband and I agreed that I should tell all of you about our son, Anthony.
Since then I've been fighting to stop this bill, known as the "Partial- Birth Abortion Ban" Act. With other mothers like me, I've tried to make sure the truth is heard, not the right-to-life propaganda that starts with the outrageous and inaccurate name of the bill. It's been an education, I must say that. I've heard the worst one human being can say about others, without ever knowing them or having walked in their shoes. For example, I've been told that mothers like me all want perfect babies, that we're having abortions because of cleft palates and missing fingers. Well, yes, my son had a cleft palate. I wish to God that was all he had! He wasn't just imperfect -- he was incompatible with life. The only thing that was keeping him alive was my body. He could never have survived outside my womb, so I did the kindest thing, the most loving thing I knew to do. I took my son off life support.
When I came back to Washington the second time, my oldest daughter asked me why I was going. I told her what I had told both girls the first time, that I was going because of Anthony. Lindsay's eleven, and smart. She wanted to know why I had to go to Washington because her baby brother died. So I sat her down and told her the whole story. When I finished she looked up at me with her great big eyes and said, without hesitation, "Mom, you did the right thing." It's a sad thing when an eleven-year-old is wiser than some United States Senators.
Next month, our son will be born. And in our joy over this new baby, my husband, my daughters and I will remember our first son, and how the way his short life ended made it possible for this new baby to be born. We hope that other families like ours will be given this same chance. We hope the Senate will listen to the voices of families and reject S. 939.
Testimony of Claudia Crown Ades Senate Judiciary Committee,
November 17 1995
I would like to thank the Committee for giving me the opportunity to testify. My name is Claudia Crown Ades. I live in Santa Monica, California. I have been married to Richard Ades for five joyous years.
Three years ago, when I was 26 weeks into what seemed a perfect pregnancy, I made the decision along with my doctor not to have an amniocentesis. At 33, there seemed no need. Then one day, feeling anxious and worried about declining that test, I went to my doctor. There was no basis for my anxiety; it was just an instinct. However, to set my mind at ease, I was sent to a radiologist, an ultrasound expert. "Don't worry," my doctor told me. "He can see a vein out of place." I was never expecting what came next.
The radiologist spent far too long conducting what was supposed to be a routine examination of a healthy baby. He told us that he wanted to review the images and that he would call us. The next day, when we returned from Rosh Hashana services, there was a message on the answering machine. "I'd like you to come back in so that my partner can take a look at your ultrasound. Please don't worry. I don't think it's anything," he said. You can't tell a pregnant woman not to worry.
His partner, who wrote the authoritative book on ultrasound, immediately determined that there was a sac of fluid in my baby's brain. He called it a Dandy Walker Syndrome. He also told us that many people walk around with Dandy Walker Syndrome without any impairment. On the other hand, it could be more serious and he referred us to a perinatologist for more expert opinion. The doctor put his hand on Richard's shoulder and told him not to lose hope and that everything could be ok. You don't console someone if nothing is wrong.
Because of his suspicions, which we were unaware of at the time, the perinatologist rearranged her schedule to see me the next day resulting in an agonizing night of emotional torture.
The next day, we went into the perinatologist's office, apprehensive about what we might discover. She prepped me for an ultrasound, Within thirty seconds, the perinatologist said "I concur with your doctor". Concur with what? At this point we had no idea.
This was when our worst fears were realized. At that moment we learned that our son's Dandy Walker Syndrome was more serious than we had known. In addition to a fluid filled nonfunctional brain, he had a malformed heart with a large hole between the chambers that was preventing normal blood flow. He had also developed an extremely large cyst filled with intestinal matter, and hyperteloric eyes which was another indication of severe brain damage. We later found out that these symptoms added up to Trisomy 13, a fatal chromosomal disorder.
With each new bit of information, the tears flowed harder. Richard was holding me. I thought we were the only parents in the world who had ever heard such devastating news about their child. What were we going to do? We loved this baby. We wanted this baby desperately. This was our son. We were preparing our family and our world for him. And now, we had to prepare for a tragedy. Away went the baby name books. Away went the shower invitations. Away went the first birthday party, the baseball games, the bar mitzvah. Away went our dream.
Along with the tears, the questions flowed. Could a cardiologist fix our son's heart? Could a neurosurgeon repair his brain? Could an eye surgeon help him to see? Could this baby survive? Was there anything, anything at all, that could be done? The answers were emphatically no. It was our worst nightmare and it was real. Even if my son survived the pregnancy, he had no chance of life. Every day meant pain and torture for him. As his mother, I could not, in good conscience, allow my child to suffer.
By this time, a geneticist had joined us to discuss our options. We went through them all. I could carry to term. I could have a cesarean. I could induce pre-mature labor in the maternity ward. All of these posed high risks for me, and more pain and suffering for my son, The doctors felt that a procedure called an Intact Dilation and Extraction (Intact D&E) would be the safest for me, my baby, and for my future children. This is when we learned about Dr. McMahon and his clinic.
When I first met Dr. McMahon, I asked him only one question: "Would my baby be in any pain?" This kind and gentle man assured me he wouldn't. He specialized in severe anomaly cases like ours: families in crisis and tragedy. He explained the procedure step by step to me and my husband. He set our minds at ease. We knew my baby and I were in good hands.
The procedure was difficult and it was painful. Dr. McMahon put me under anesthesia and inserted laminaria to slowly dilate my cervix. He and his staff were compassionate and patient as they painstakingly determined how wide my cervix had to be to safely and gently remove my baby and prevent my uterus from tearing. Living ten minutes away, Richard and I were lucky enough to go home between each treatment. This is a luxury other families did not have. Many of Dr. McMahon's patients came from out of state, some from other countries. Being able to go to my own comforting home was a luxury I relished.
The entire process took three days. There were no scissors stabbed in the back of his head, no brains sucked out, no skull crushed, and no pain to my baby.
Ironically, the final day of the procedure was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. On Yom Kippur, we are asked to mourn those who have passed and pray to God to inscribe us into the Book of Life. I prayed more than one person can pray. I was praying for all of us.
Although I never imagined I would be faced with such a decision, I can honestly say that for many reasons, I feel very blessed. First, that I was able to find out when I did. Second, that I had access to the finest medical care in the world. And third, that I live in a place where my rights as an individual have not been compromised.
Though I hope and pray that no one has to go through what my husband and I have, there are people who will. Many families who are opposed to abortion have chosen this procedure and have come to realize its necessity. The point is, it can happen to anyone--to you, your wife, your sister, your daughter, your friends. All women should have the protection, the guidance and the access that modern medicine allows. This procedure is designed to protect the integrity of the family. H.R. 1833/ S. 939 is designed to destroy it.
Testimony of Richard Ades Senate Judiciary Committee November 17, 1995
My name is Richard Ades. I have been married to Claudia Crown Ades for five great years. I am a writer/producer. My wife is a personal manager. I have lived in California for twenty years, she for fourteen. I want to thank you for the opportunity to submit my testimony to this committee regarding H.R. I833/S.939.
As a man, as a husband, as a father, I think it is imperative that our side of the story be heard. I have major concerns with this legislation and what it will mean to our wives, our sisters and our daughters. This is not a women's issue. This was my baby too. This is a family issue. This is not a choice issue. This is a health issue for everyone.
The procedure under assault in H.R. I833/S.939 protected my wife's health and possibly saved her life. It allowed my son's suffering to end. It allowed us to look forward to a growing family. It was the safest medical procedure available to us.
In October I992, when Claudia was twenty-six weeks pregnant, we discovered that the baby she was carrying, our son, was afflicted with Trisomy I3. Our son's symptoms included a fluid-filled non-functional brain, a malformed heart with a large hole between the chambers that prevented normal blood flow, an extremely large cyst on the chest filled with intestinal matter, hyperteloric eyes and many more devastating anomalies. Our son would not live. This was certain. The only question left was when he would die and what would be the repercussions to my wife's health.
After consulting our team of specialists, including: perinatologists, geneticists, obstetricians and radiologists, we chose to end our son's suffering by having an Intact Dilation and Extraction (Intact D&E), We discussed it extensively with our family, clergy, and doctors. With all due respect, we did not consult our legislators. This was a personal decision to make with our family. We chose to undergo this procedure because it was the safest, most humane method of treatment available considering the grave circumstances in which we found ourselves, through no fault of our own.
This was the best way to terminate this very wanted pregnancy without risking my wife's health. As her loving husband, this was my greatest concern.
As Claudia will tell you, in our initial consultation with our doctor, Dr. McMahon, she had one major concern: "Would my baby be in pain?" Dr. McMahon assured us that he wouldn't and gave us a detailed explanation of the procedure, and why the baby would not suffer. Indeed, this was the most compassionate way we could choose to end our son's suffering.
I, on the other hand, had two major concerns: The baby and his mother -- my wife. Anytime any person goes in for a surgical procedure, there is reason for concern and lots of questions. I was a wreck. I already knew that the baby's torture would end quickly, but what about my wife?
Would there be complications? How would her recovery be? I, as Claudia's husband, wanted to be assured that she was in good hands, that the best medical techniques known would be employed and that she would be in the same exact health as before she became pregnant. All of this was promised.
The clock ticked painfully slowly each time Claudia was in with Dr. McMahon. It was Yom Kippur. I was in the waiting room coming to understand that bad things happen to good people like us, and that in many instances we don't have control over our own lives. But that when these things do happen, having optimal remedies, solutions, or resolutions is of paramount importance.
I don't know what I would have done without this medical option. I knew that my son's fetal abnormalities were so severe that we had already lost him. I knew that on top of the grief of losing my son, I could not bear losing my wife. I knew that the other options presented to us also offered irreconcilable problems to Claudia's health and our ability to continue our quest to have children. I knew, after all the discussions, deliberations and questioning that both Claudia and I did, that an Intact D & E was the safest, most humane procedure available to our family. For that, I am grateful.
As a father and as a husband, my duty is to my family. I have upheld that duty by insisting that my wife and son receive the best medical care possible. I have extended that duty by telling my story to anyone who will listen on behalf of the fathers and mothers that come after us. I press upon you, members of the United States Senate, to uphold your duty by voting against H.R. 1833/S. 939 when it comes to the floor.
Thank you for your compassion and understanding.
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