Thank you to supporter Kim Kampen for sharing her story in this guest post. At the time this story took place, she wrote a letter to the editor, pictured here. This letter was published in the local paper, and her husband has saved a copy to this day as a reminder. The obstetrician mentioned in this story also made a copy of this letter, and inserted it into Kim’s file to send to her new obstetrician when she informed him she would no longer be his patient. Twenty five years later, not much has changed.
We hear a lot about freedom of choice nowadays, including when the topic of abortion is raised. But what if a woman chooses to keep her baby, and pressure from others, be they parents, a boyfriend, or a husband, comes to try to convince her that her choice is wrong? What if the pressure even comes from her family doctor?
In 1993, I went for an appointment with my family doctor to confirm what I basically already knew; that I was expecting a child. Routine, I thought. I already had other children, so I knew the drill. Yes, I was expecting and, after a few calculations, my due date was announced: September 9. I’m thinking, cool, my 35th birthday is my due date! That is where the ‘routine’ ended.
My doctor immediately informed me that, since I was turning 35, he was legally obliged to inform me that I could get amniocentesis to make sure everything was fine with the baby, since the risks of complications increase after the age of 35. While I was aware of the age of increased risk, I answered immediately that I wasn’t interested in amniocentesis. I knew there were risks to the baby to undergo the procedure and, even if there was a problem, I wouldn’t choose do anything about it anyway in terms of aborting the baby. That’s where the pressure started.
It soon became clear that, for this doctor, he wasn’t just informing me of my choices because he had to. He was convinced that I should go ahead with the test and then consider “getting rid of it” if there was a problem. In the end, he seemed frustrated that he couldn’t convince me, then gave me the papers I needed to get an ultrasound. With my first children, ultrasounds were only done if the doctor suspected a problem, or twins, but they had become more common by this time as part of the routine checks.
After my ultrasound, I received an unexpected phone call from my doctor. I will never forget his words. After explaining that the ultrasound showed two suspicious bubbles in the baby’s brain that were often a sign of Down syndrome, he said, “Abortion is the only cure for Down syndrome.” I felt like I’d been hit with a truck…twice! Once with the news from the ultrasound, then again with his declaration that abortion was the only cure.
Shaking, I again told him I would not abort my baby. I was told to think about it, and he would set up an appointment for me with an obstetrician.
My obstetrician appointment was just an amplification of the pressure to abort. I was told I was “in denial”. I was “kidding myself if I thought the baby was okay”. The only “reasonable choice” was to get rid of it. I was asked, “Who would willingly give birth to a handicapped child?” I tried to make it clear that I was not in denial. I wasn’t assuming the baby was fine. I wasn’t being naïve. My baby was a life that needed to be cared for, not killed. My mother’s instinct to protect this defenceless child, no matter what, rose up so strong it was almost overwhelming. This family doctor and this obstetrician weren’t going to get anywhere near my baby.
After discussing the situation with some friends, I was referred to a different doctor who was a Christian, and very much prolife. I still remember him looking at my quite-pregnant state and saying, “How pregnant are you and why don’t you have a doctor?” When I recounted all that had been done and said, he was shocked at the way the two other doctors had pressured me. Here was a doctor that valued life regardless of ability, and who was willing to help me do what I could to prepare myself and my family for whatever this pregnancy might bring. What a difference!
A second ultrasound showed one bubble had disappeared and the other had shrunk. The final outcome was uncertain, but I read all I could about Down syndrome to help me be ready. I even dragged out my old calligraphy set and penned verses 13-14 of Psalm 139, framed them and hung them over the baby’s change table to remind me that this child was also a gift from God, just as my other children had been, and God doesn’t make mistakes.
Two weeks early, ironically not even making it to that fateful 35th birthday, a beautiful baby girl was born. We were prepared to welcome any child with thankfulness and love, and we received, also with thankfulness, a perfectly healthy child. All the concern, all the pressure had been for nothing. I won’t pretend that we were not very relieved that all was well. We all pray for healthy children, both physically and mentally. But, we also all know that that doesn’t always happen, and it is important to recognize that all life is precious and all life is a gift.
When I told my first doctor that I would no longer be his patient, he very smugly asked me to let him know how the baby was after it was born. His attitude was one of ‘you’ll see I was right’, ‘you’ll be wishing you had listened’. Part of me wanted to throw the news of a healthy baby in his face, but would he see that as proof that I hadn’t really wanted a baby with Down syndrome after all? How could I have convinced him that I would have loved this baby the same either way?
When my little girl had her 25th birthday, I sat down at the computer and googled that family doctor’s name. There he was, still practising in the same place all these years later. I typed out a letter to him. I told him that my baby had been born healthy in every way. That she had graduated with honours from university. That she had a beautiful family of her own now. Look what you asked me to kill! Look at the life you so easily dismissed as not worthy of living! And if she had had Down syndrome, who knows what her life would have looked like? But it still would have been a life worth living. How many other potential Down syndrome babies have you ‘cured’ over the years? How much blood is on your hands?
I gave myself a time-out. Made a cup of tea. Came back and deleted the letter. The experience never leaves me. Maybe it would have if I had pushed the send button instead of the delete button.
Do some doctors pressure their patients to get an abortion? Do they make it sound like that is the only option, and even the more loving choice? Yes, without a doubt.