In June of 1993 I was 5 months along carrying twins. My husband and I were notified that one of the twins, our daughter Mary, suffered from a severe neural tube defect. Mary's prognosis for life was slim, and her chance at normal development nonexistent. Her severe abnormality complicated the twin pregnancy and specialists encouraged amniocentesis and Mary's abortion.
Though severely disabled, we knew that Mary was a member of our family and was entitled to live out her allotted time without being assaulted by instruments or chemicals. When it became clear that Mary, whose brain had developed outside of her skull (an occipital encephalocele) would not survive normal labor, we opted for a Cesarean delivery.
Born December 13, 1993, a minute after her healthy big brother Will, Mary lived 6 hours cradled peacefully in her father's arms. She was with us long enough to greet her grandparents and our close friends. She also gave a special gift to other children: The gift of life. On the day of her funeral we received a letter from the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois. Our daughter's heart valves were a match for 2 Chicago infants, critically ill at the time of Mary's birth. We have learned that even anencephalic babies and meningomyelocele children like our Mary can give life, or sight, or strength to others.
The death of a child is the most tragic experience many of us will ever face. As parents, we can do only what we can--insure that our children do not suffer. As we now know, when their natural time comes it can be comforting that their short life has become a gift to others.
Our daughter, living less than a day, saved the lives of two other children. Which of us, even after decades of living, can make the same claim?
Jeannie Wallace French.
(House of Representatives - November 01, 1995)
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