Message from Dr. Evita’s desk

Whatever the odds may be, whether the mother herself is ill or there is a possibility of the baby being born with a deformity, most women choose to go ahead with the pregnancy.

As an institution, DR EVITA FERNANDEZ writes, they are committed to the founders’ belief that all life is God-given and sacred.

My parents Leslie and Lourdes Fernandez, the founders of Fernandez Hospital, believed that life is from God, sacred and precious and that life begins at conception. The belief was carved in their hearts when they began their journey together, and later carved in stone as a non-negotiable value built into the foundation of the hospital. As a result, the hospital, from its inception, has refused to terminate a pregnancy unless there is an immediate threat to the life of the mother. This has stood the test of 70 years. What does this mean for women who walk through our doors requesting an abortion? What does it mean to us as an organisation that supports a woman’s right to make a choice regarding her own body? Can such contradicting absolutes co-exist? This is what I wish to talk about today. Over seven decades, we have treated with respect the privilege of walking with women who continued their pregnancies despite the enormous challenges they faced. These included unmarried women, divorced/separated, unprepared, financially unstable mothers-to-be and victims of rape as well as women whose unborn child had a lethal abnormality, and the young mother whose body was riddled with cancer. I have remained in awe of these brave women. Every single woman reinforced my belief that a mother can never forget the child in her womb. A woman’s instinct – regardless of her age, education and socioeconomic status – is to protect the life in her womb. Even the well-educated career woman – who confessed she had no idea who the father was – decided to continue her pregnancy. The ultrasound scan at 14 weeks displayed a well-formed foetus and that tore her apart. She decided to continue her pregnancy. I can still recall the face of the 23-year-old who refused to terminate her pregnancy despite being diagnosed with widespread cancer. The oncologists urged her to remove the unborn foetus in order to begin her treatment. The young mother opted to save her baby even though her own life was at risk. I remember the brave young mother who had her first scan at 20 weeks of pregnancy and was informed of her anencephalic foetus (a congenital abnormality where parts of the skull and brain are absent). These babies die within a few hours or days of birth. The young couple was counselled and informed of their options, which included termination of pregnancy. Yet, they chose to love that life and accept the outcome. What is it that influences a woman to continue her pregnancy in the face of what appears to be insurmountable odds? Some have no choice because they seek help long after the legal limit when an abortion can be performed. The women I described were within the legal limits, and yet they found it difficult to terminate the pregnancy. These experiences have given me an insight into a simple truth. No woman wishes to destroy the life within her. Every woman I know who has made a choice to have an abortion has done so under great emotional and psychological turmoil. The majority of these carry a burden of guilt. They find it hard to forgive themselves and attribute any illness or mishaps that may occur later in their lives as a manifestation of god’s anger. I have spent hours counselling women in the aftermath of an abortion, urging them to forgive themselves. Women experience emotions varying from guilt and anger to fear, with guilt overruling all aspects of their lives. Anger destroys relationships, especially if the spouse/partner had coerced the woman to end the pregnancy. Fear surfaces every time she, or the family, faces a crisis. When a woman enters the doors of our hospitals to seek help to have an abortion, I spend time understanding the reasons for her choice. We discuss all options and side effects, if any. We also discuss the risk of the burden of guilt she may experience. This part of the conversation is the most difficult and invariably draws tears. My heart aches for the woman as she struggles to work against what is natural. I see her struggle to stay fi rm in her resolve. I do not want her to justify her decision. She does not need to – but I listen as she talks, accepting my role as a listener, a sounding board and confidante. Most times the woman, after she has unburdened herself in an environment where she is not being judged or coerced, decides to continue the pregnancy. Another important truth – no woman I know has ever regretted her decision to continue with her pregnancy. This includes a mother I met last week, who has a 29-year-old son with Down’s syndrome. When I asked her if she would have terminated the pregnancy if she had had a choice, the answer was a fi rm no. Her son, she said, had taught her many lessons in life. His unconditional love and pure heart have been her treasures. If a woman wishes to end a pregnancy, I respect her decision and caution her to seek help in other health-care facilities where safety is a given. A silent hug at the end of our conversation helps convey all that my heart wished to say. I believe very strongly that it is important to listen and to respect every woman’s choice, no matter what our own individual beliefs may be. We have no right to judge, condemn or coerce any person into making a decision which is essentially hers, and hers alone, to make. I wish to share with you what a famous Italian actor, Andrea Roncato (80 years and childless), told the host in a recent television interview on the Italian entertainment show Verissimo: “I miss having a child. It was the mistake of my life. When I was very young, I had the chance to become a father, to have a child, but I had him aborted. Now, I’ve become very strong against abortion. I even wrote a book for this child who was never born, titled I Would Have Liked You [T’avrei voluto in Italian].” Here is a translation of a poem he wrote for the unborn child, published in the book mentioned above. “I would have liked you to be small, so I could hug you. I would have liked you to be big, so I could lean on you. I would have liked you to be looking out the window in winter, watching the snow begin to fall. I would have liked you to be lying under the covers during a storm, silent so you could hear the sound of the rainfall. I would have liked you to be kind to dogs, so you could pet them, and be affectionate with the elderly, so you could love them. I would have liked you to be handsome, so I could brag about you, with big eyes, like your mother’s. I would have liked to sing to you, to make you fall asleep, and continue the dream that woke you up. I would have liked you to be shy, so I could see you blush, and stubborn, so I could argue with you. I would have liked you to be at my side, so the two of us could walk in silence, trying to understand what the other was thinking inside and couldn’t manage to say. I would have liked to teach you all the things I don’t know how to do. I would have liked you to leave someday, so I could have the pleasure of seeing you come back home. I would have liked you to experience your fi rst love. I would have liked you near me on the day I must leave this world. I wish I had wanted you, that time when I didn’t want you …” Our work brings us into contact with women/couples who struggle with the decision to continue a pregnancy. May Andrea Roncato’s reflections help us understand what they go through as an aftermath of the termination. May we have the courage to talk about the guilt and the regret they may experience. May we always be guided to help, with compassion, understanding, respect and without judgement.

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