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|40 Years Ago, Things Changed|
Jan. 22nd, 2013 at 8:34 pm
I was listening to the radio show about the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the US. The radio commentator were discussing the politics of abortion in our country and I found my interest drifting away. After all, I am a Mormon woman. I have no need for abortion access laws.
Then, out the deepest recesses of my mind, I remembered something I haven’t thought of since I was 8 years old. I got interviewed for my baptism by my first ever bishop, Bishop Jones*. He was a nice man and talked warmly to me the first time I went to the Mormon church after I was adopted.
Bishop Jones was probably in his late 30’s, with three girls my age and younger. His wife, also in her late 30’s, was pregnant with their fourth child. They lived in a modest starter home but they had an impressive toy collection for their kids. I saw the brand new Barbie Dream House with matching Barbie Van, dolls, clothes and Barbie furniture in their family room when I accompanied my adoptive dad on an errand to their house. I made a vow to make friends with the Jones girls so I would be invited to play Barbie’s. I lusted after their Dream House, something I always wanted but knew I would never get.
I don’t know any of the details of Sister Jones pregnancy other than she was already pretty big the first time I met her. She and the bishop made a handsome couple and their three girls were the most popular kids in the congregation.
What I remember is the day Sister Jones went into labor. My adoptive mom and grandma were on the phone tree that spread the word her baby was coming. As the hours went by, my mom was on the phone getting updates on Sister Jones’s progress. My mom used to be a nurse so lots of people asked her for medical advice. It is amazing to realize how clumsy and time-consuming communication was before computers, emails and cell phones.
I remember the phone call that announced the Jones’s baby arrival. I remember my mom saying over and over, “Oh my. Oh my. Oh…my.” And then commenced a flurry of phone calls and the cancelling of a upcoming baby shower for Sister Jones. I think my grandma got tears in her eyes. I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew it wasn’t good.
My adoptive parents explained that evening at family prayer time that we needed to pray for the Jones family. Their baby boy was born without a brain and was very misshapen. The doctors said the baby wouldn’t live more than a day.
The ward fasted and prayed. The phone rang off the hook and over time, as the days went by, the more complete story came out. The Jones’s knew early into the pregnancy that something was wrong with their baby. The doctor had recommended terminating the pregnancy but because the Jones were faithful Mormons, they wouldn’t consider it. They prayed for a miracle of healing for their forming son. The miracle didn’t come.
After he was born, the baby was so horrific looking no one wanted to show him to Sister Jones. When she insisted to see him, she fainted. The doctors gave her strong sedatives to help her cope. The bishop and his wife were devastated. They decided the best thing to do was to not prolong the baby’s suffering. They decided to withhold feeding so it would pass more quickly. The doctor was confident it would be over in a day, two at the most.
The baby lived for 10 days. Ten whole days. That is a lifetime of suffering. My mother and lots of people in the ward began questioning the wisdom in withholding nutrition. What if the baby was meant to live? Yes it only had a brain-stem, no brain and not even a whole head. But the baby was still alive. Lots of people have severely handicapped children who live. Maybe that is what Heavenly Father expected from the Bishops family.
When the baby finally passed (and there was lots of details of the baby’s shrunken, starved condition at death), the ward was stunned. The funeral was private, immediate family only. I don’t remember seeing the bishop and his family again. All I know is very quickly there was a For Sale sign outside of their house and it was empty. I felt sad for the Jones and wondered why the baby was born that way. I felt sad for my 8 year old self, too. I didn’t get a chance to play with their Barbie Dream House, which was the closest I would ever get to one in my childhood.
I don’t know anything else about the Jones, no one ever talked about it. I don’t know what I would have done in their situation. All I know is the stories I read in the Ensign are the miracle ones, where the baby turns out to be alright, not the ones where the unthinkable is reality.
The other Roe vs Wade story I thought of was from my high school years. When I was a sophomore and I was the Mia Maid President at church, a funny family moved into our ward. The mother and father struck me as odd, and they had a passel of equally odd children. I didn’t know what the problem was, I just knew my gut was nervous around them and they weren’t right. The dad especially gave me the willies. The oldest daughter in the family was in my church class. I learned she was mildly developmentally delayed, about the emotional age of a 6 year old instead of a 15 year old girl.
It happened quickly. One day the family was in the ward and then within three months, they were gone. I found out what was going on because I was in the habit of reading the evening newspaper and the father’s picture was on the front page. He had been arrested for having sexual relations with his 4 daughters and impregnating his oldest daughter. He had forced her to have an abortion. Knowing the limitations of the girl, I was so sad for what had happened but was secretly glad she wouldn’t have to suffer through a pregnancy she wouldn’t understand, then have to deal with either giving a baby away or try to raise it herself, an impossibility I couldn’t imagine.
What I realized today as I was listening to the radio talk about the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, is that I am glad the technology and expertise is available to help women and families in situations that no one would ever want to be in.
*Named changed to protect a family that does not deserve to have their private story told on the internet. I am conflicted and regret telling the story, but I think there is value in examining our knee-jerk opinions of political issues within the framework of real life.