Friday, January 31, 2020

The size of families

My great-grandmother, Angelina, died in childbirth.  She left eleven children.  My grandfather, Frank, was just four years old.

My grandmother, Jane, also had a large family.  After her eighth child was born, her husband Frank moved out of the marital bed and slept on the verandah. 

My mother, Ella, gave birth to seven children.  She then had a hysterectomy and pelvic repair.

I ponder the realities of death, abstainence. sterilisation.  
 
My forebears were fertile.  From the time of marriage they expected to welcome a new baby, sometimes two, every couple of years.  Most mothers were busy with the work of feeding and caring for their families. 

My generation, born after the Second World War, had new contraceptive options.  Women were no longer expected to stay at home looking after children for the rest of our productive lives.  My husband Noel and I joyfully welcomed our four children, and decided that four was enough.  We did not question the fate of the potential babies that we carried in our bodies.  We sought to care for the four children we had, and to be satisfied with them, and with each other. 

I remember when I was pregnant saying, "I don't mind if it's a boy or a girl.  As long as it's healthy."  
What right did I have to demand or expect a healthy child?  How ignorant!


The size of families, and whether or not to have children at all, is a topic that should concern the present generation of potential parents.  We face a social environment in which many women are unwilling to submit to pregnancy, childbearing, and the nurture of the young; where both men and women protect their freedom and don't want to be tied down to a family, or women leave their run so late that they face infertility.  The failure of today's generation to be willing or able to become parents is no less a societal disease than infectious diseases that wiped out babies and children of previous generations prior to vaccines and a scientific understanding of infection.   


In reflecting on this topic, I was drawn to a well known Biblical passage, written at the very dawn of the Christian era.  The Apostle John wrote: "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God; children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband's will, but born of God."  (John 1: 11-13) 

The point that is clear in this statement is that John identified decision-making processes that were recognised as the norm.  In our day, we can add "a woman's choice".

unsound ultrasound

From time to time I have faced a challenging situation, in which the report from a prenatal ultrasound leaves the pregnant woman and her husband with more questions than answers.  Prior to the ultrasound scan, there was a tiny person inside her womb, growing, constantly taking nutrition from her blood, and causing the nausea and other physical effects that come with hormonal changes.

They looked forward to the scan.

... an opportunity to confirm life and wellness.

... their child; welcome and already loved.

Then a phone call.  "You need to make an appointment to talk to the doctor about the scan."

The science behind prenatal diagnosis is significant, and developing constantly.  Risk assessment, especially for Down (or Down's) Syndrome is fairly standard in today's maternity care.  This includes measurement of the translucency or thickness of the nuchal fold, and identification of soft markers.  Most women (or couples) undergoing ultrasound scans in early pregnancy have no idea that they may be expected to make the chilling decision to abort or not.

Ultrasound is not essential to maternity care.  If a pregnant woman knows she does not want ultrasound she can decline the test.  But most would say that they want to 'see' their baby.

Our world today does not acknowledge the Judeo-Christian principles about the sanctity of human life.  When I see  the familiar images from ultrasound screening I see a person who is created in God's image.  A person for whom the 'You shall not kill' principle of the Ten Commandments applies.

When unprepared women attend ultrasound screening they love to see the movements, especially before the time of quickening, around 17-20 weeks, when they can feel movements.  They love to see the tiny thumb going into their baby's mouth.  The heart beats rhythmically, and the rate is recorded. 

The technician makes other routine measurements, and notes them down.  She or he is looking for anomalies: the unusual or abnormal.  These matters then become reasons for further testing, and, frequently, reasons for terminating the pregnancy.

Ultrasound is a serious medical test.  It has been used for protecting the life of a baby who would otherwise have died.  It can be the beginning of an unpredictable and unplanned journey through new terrain.  For example:


  • The baby's heart had not formed properly.  He had an under-developed Right atrium.  He probably will not survive, and if he does, he will need open heart surgery.  The parents are advised to abort their baby at 22 weeks.
  • The measurement of the baby's head is small.  She will probably have microcephaly, and brain damage.  Subsequent ultrasound measurements lead to confusion about the baby's condition.

Many women today in our society are entering motherhood for the first time at an age when the risk of Down Syndrome is already increased, before they consider the results of ultrasound scans.  A woman is told that at 40 her risk of conceiving a baby with Down Syndrome is *high*, at 1:100.  Then she is told that there is a *small* 1% risk of spontaneously aborting following amniocentesis.  1% is also 1:100.

Our world is subject to disorder, disease, and corruption - even down to the genes that we carry and pass on to our children.