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Black and white for the shades of grey

April 27, AD 2012 6 Comments

As he lay in his hospital crib, the newborn’s parents were warned that his mind and body would be limited because of cerebral palsy.  His mom wrote the following:

I can and will keep asking for a miraculous full restoration.  But in the meantime I also have to be prepared for God wanting my son to be who he is, not who I want him to be.  And who he is, is someone with brain damage.

Us pro-lifers like to say that every person has dignity, is made in the image and likeness of God, is beautiful.  We say that even those who seem to have lesser lives actually have lives filled with beauty, joy, love, and goodness.  We talk about the lessons they can teach us.  I know that all of this is true.

But where I stand right now, it all sounds like a bunch of bullshit.  I don’t want my kid to be someone else’s lesson.  I want my son to be normal.  I suspect that in the future I will know much more fully the truth of those pro-life statements.  I suspect that they won’t be rhetoric, they will be a part of my testimony.  But for now, for now, they just smack me in the face and rip out of my hands all the hopes and dreams I have for my son, my family, and myself.

We believe that children are gifts from God, made in His image and likeness, even if they have Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy or some other limiting condition.  Yet throughout the United States up to 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted, which adds to the total of 1.3 million abortions that happen each year.  A recent episode of Dr. Phil advocated parents killing their disabled children out of mercy.  The reaction many of us have when we read these things is a strong one.  We are disgusted, angered, frustrated and rightly so.  There is a definite right and wrong, and it is definitely wrong to kill.  It is definitely right to cherish each and every life.

It was so easy to know that Truth in my head but to not always believe it in my heart, especially when I suddenly found myself the parent of a special needs child.  Those italicized words up above, I wrote them.  That was me.  And eighteen months later I am still a little put off by some of the pro-life rhetoric.

There are shades of grey in our lives.  When my son was in the NICU I felt like I had been lied to by a group of well-meaning but clueless people.  The simple black and white that had always been preached didn’t seem to be true when I stood over my son with hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.  The blurring greys of my fears, heartbreak, confusion, and loneliness tried to take away what I had always understood.  Thank God I had my faith to look to, even if I looked with doubt.  Thank God I had already read, prayed, thought, and been convicted on the Church’s teachings on human dignity.  Thank God the Catholic Church has sifted through the greys to find the black and white and thank God I was given the grace to trust it.

Not everyone has it as easy as I did.

The woman who aborted her child because it was a crisis pregnancy or because she learned the baby had some issue should not be called a murderer or a killer.  The parents who look to mercy killing for their disabled children are not necessarily selfish monsters.  It is most likely that many times the better adjectives to describe these parents are scared, lonely, overwhelmed, tired, and even well-intentioned.  Instead of being attacked these parents could use our compassion and our prayers.  Instead of being told about how “everyone has special needs,” “every child is a gift,” or how their child will “show the rest of us what joy and love really are” – all things that are true but can seem so meaningless and even cruel to a suffering parent – these parents should be allowed to mourn.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have four children: one in Heaven and three wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She is the Assistant Director for Behold: A Catholic Conference on the Dignity and Vocation of Women and she blogs at Learning to be a Newlywed.[/author_info] [/author]

About the Author:

Bonnie Engstrom is a cradle Catholic and stay-at-home mom. She married her dashing husband in 2006 and they now have five children: one in Heaven and four more wandering around their house, probably eating pretzels found under the couch. Bonnie lives in central Illinois and gets excited about baking, music, film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and the Chicago Bears. She was a cofounder of The Behold Conference and she blogs at A Knotted Life.


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  • I understand your point Bonnie. The moral issue IS black and white-but the reasons behind it, the culpability of people who have misinformed consciences-it’s all very grey. We would do well to educate people with love and support-not call them names that will only make them close their ears to us.

  • Rick Evans

    Bonnie — In order to comment on what you wrote the commenter would have to be qualified. I’m qualified. My CP, 45 IQ son lived to be 24. I also had to listen to many well meaning but clueless people. I loved to hear you come right out and say “it all sounds like a bunch of bullshit.” Nick has been gone for 19 years now. His mom and I were very young when he was born. Through the grace of God, we’re still together. Through her wisdom we went forward and had another child who has now given us 3 grand daughters. Parents like us belong to a very small club and it’s not one that any body would ever want to be in. But it is a club whose members are qualified to comment to each other about choices they have made or are considering. No one else – and I do mean no one else is qualified.

  • Sherry

    It is not that every one of us would not or could not say, “Crucify Him.” because we all have that fallen nature, but that we have to teach those words. I know about the reality of living out raising a child with a disability. My son has Down Syndrome. There were 5000 or so born the year he was, there should be 45,000. But parents who felt overwhelmed, tired, and afraid well intentionally aborted their children. They should be prayed for by all of us, but they did do something terribly selfish. We are weak and so sin is understandable, but that does not make it less selfish. It may even seem reasonable. That does not mean the parents who abort their children because they are physically less than perfect, did not do an evil act. They may be misguided, misinformed, fearful, angry, defiant or completely terrified, but they still opted to destroy a child for being. We should pray for them. They robbed themselves of the opportunity to experience a deeper reality, one that comes from sacrifice, from loving despite the world’s declaration that such people are less worthy of love.

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    We come at this hard topic from different places, but the destination is the same…experience has taught us that there is murky grey in reality and those who pretend that it is all black & white have the luxury of living in neither of our worlds.

    I still believe in the sanctity of life from natural birth to natural death, but I know that there are plenty of prolifers who have never gotten any closer to a neonatal crisis or death than the screen of thier computers and they would surely tell me that no matter how hard I tried or what I did, I was surely NOT good enough (or prolife enough or Catholic enough) to suit them.

    Thank you for being brave and speaking the truth and being real enough so that they next mom might not feel like a failure. While we cant compromise our underlying principles, we can go a long way to be compassionate and kind and healing…unlike the stone-throwers who coldly and repeatedly throw out the “always” and “nevers” as if there is no human suffering attached to these situations.