19: A Life Well Loved

19: A Life Well Loved

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

A Life Well Loved

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles.

~George Bernard Shaw

I would never make that choice. The medical and religious communities felt it was the right thing to do, but their reasoning made me even more resolute in my decision.

The surgeon appeared stricken. “Your thyroid cancer has spread to ten lymph nodes.” It seemed he was delivering the message to himself rather than the patient sitting in front of him.

“You will need a radical neck resection, placing you under anesthesia for seven or eight hours. The four-month fetus you’re carrying could be severely deprived of oxygen during that time so a therapeutic abortion is recommended. Otherwise, you could be delivering a child with multiple deformities or health problems.”

Spreading cancer, abortion, deformities. This couldn’t be happening. Why me? Why these horrible things for my child? The doctor exited the examining room and my husband joined me moments later to assure me that he would support any decision I made.

The nurse practitioner entered the room along with my parish priest and began a litany of reasons why a therapeutic abortion was being recommended. “Whenever there is a pregnancy involved, cancers spread more rapidly. You will need radiation immediately after surgery and it shouldn’t be delayed for the four or five months until you deliver the baby. You are only twenty-four years old with four other children at home under the age of five. Who will raise them if you’re gone?”

My parish priest, Father Bill, stepped gingerly into the conversation with tears in his eyes. “Shirley, if you’re worried how the church feels in this situation, don’t be concerned. Our church makes exceptions when a mother’s life is in jeopardy.”

I listened and went over each argument carefully in my mind. I believed in a good and loving God, not a cruel, punishing God. I would put him in charge of my health and my family. Believing this was best, I decided to carry my child to term no matter the consequences. He or she deserved all the love and opportunity I had been given by my mother.

“Schedule the surgery,” I said to the nurse practitioner. “I’m keeping my baby.”

My husband and Father Bill looked at each other with concern, but both knew I must be the one to make the decision.

After the surgery, the surgeons and obstetricians were surprised my pregnancy continued without problems. A beautiful baby girl, Nancy Ruth, was delivered and placed in my arms five months later.

Before we left the hospital, the pediatrician came in to tell us the status of our daughter. He explained that she appeared in good health, with no deformities of any kind. But there was a problem. My breathing stopped and I felt sure my heart must have stopped beating also.

“Her cries are shrill and piercing and she stays tightly curled in the fetal position. These are generally signs of spastic cerebral palsy. There is no cure for this condition and she will probably need lifetime care. It affects the nervous system, brain, and muscles. Every facet of her life may be affected: learning, eating, walking, talking.”

The doctor’s manner was detached and I felt he wanted to break the news and hurry from the room so he wouldn’t have to deal with devastated parents.

“What caused this? How did it happen? Are you sure? Are there any tests we can run to be positive?”

I had a thousand questions and refused to let him get away until he answered all of them.

“No one knows for sure how it happens. Generally something goes wrong in the womb. Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain possibly,” he answered.

The very second he ended that sentence, the guilt train arrived. How could I have been so selfish? What kind of life had I created for this child?

The next several weeks, I held and cuddled my baby, trying to assure her how much she was loved, how I would always take care of her and mostly, how sorry I was for being responsible for her condition. I was wracked with guilt.

When Nancy cried, it sounded like a shrieking noise. Her arms stayed pulled in close to her sides, with her little fists balled up. Diapering her was difficult. You had to pry open her little knees just to get the diaper on and secured.

One morning, after her bottle, I placed her in the crib on her side. She was lying in her usual tight fetal position. When I didn’t hear her cries for attention after a couple of hours, I tiptoed into the bedroom to check on her. She was lying on her back, with her arms and hands open. Her legs were spread-eagled like a little frog. I was in a panic. My little girl must have died. When I grabbed her, and pulled her up to my chest, I realized she was smiling at me and her little fingers curled around mine for the first time. Tears poured from my eyes and I prayed this was not temporary.

A trip to the pediatrician gave us few clues as to why this could have occurred. He was astounded. It was suggested the replacement thyroid I need to take daily crossed the placental barrier causing hyper-thyroidism in my child, possibly explaining her spasticity. Not wanting me to expect too much, he advised there might still be problems and this could just be a temporary remission or anomaly.

I knew better.

My child was healed and God had granted us a miracle.

This special baby is now a special woman. She is a military veteran and has a college degree. She works as a vice president for a large financial conglomerate and has a grown son and daughter. She is a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sibling, grandmother, citizen and is devout in her faith.

God helps with our difficult decisions. Just ask Him.

~Shirley Irene Dilley

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