In the pre-dawn hours of a summer day, while most of the town slept, the surgical operating room was cold, stark and brightly lit. The surgeon placed the sharp edge of his scalpel against my mother’s skin. Without hesitating, he plunged the scalpel into her body and started to quickly slice through layers of skin, tissue and flesh. The womb was quickly penetrated and laid open. The surgeon’s hands reached in and rudely snatched me from my mother’s warm and comfortable womb. I loudly announced my entrance into the world as the consequence of an emergency caesarean section, one month before my actual due date. Perhaps this is the reason why, 18 years later, I despise being woken up or rushed.
A deafening silence descended upon the operating room and I was quickly whisked away. My mother saw me briefly, but was not allowed to hold me; she could only hear me crying. I was born with a serious disability called spina bifida myelomeningocele and hydrocephalus. It would be 24 hours before my mother was allowed to hold me briefly and put me to her breast, my head still unwashed and covered with a white crust. It was then three days later before she was permitted to regularly breastfeed me. During that interval, I had been fed absolutely nothing. Perhaps this is the reason I completely enjoy food and long baths. I cannot even stand the feeling of makeup on my face.
Six days after my birth, on the insistence of my parents, I was given surgery to close up my back and insert a shunt in the ventricles of my brain. My mother remained at the hospital with me then, and throughout my life. My parents suffered through all my surgeries. This must be why they know me better than anyone else, and why I can face whatever I have to in life.
Unfortunately, many disabled children have not been as blessed as I was. Life-saving surgery or even food is sometimes withheld to ensure that these babies perish. Every time something like this happens, or every time a Tracy Latimer is murdered, I take it personally. Every time I read or hear that the incidence of spina bifida is decreasing, I become outraged. The reality is not that the incidence of spina bifida has decreased, but rather the birthrate of these babies has declined. This is directly attributable to more search-and-destroy tests, which often end in eugenic abortion. We may be devalued in the eyes of many, but every night as I lay down to sleep, I know that God loves us and that we are beautiful in his sight, for He looks at the heart, not outward appearances.
We all have human dignity and we are valuable because of that. We all have potential: the aborted babies, Tracy Latimer, those left to die in hospital wards, and all who struggle to live our lives to the fullest, including myself. From a prognosis of despair and helplessness, I have struggled on to the point where I am completing my OAC year, making the honour roll last semester, and entering university in the honours bachelor of social work program. I take pride and comfort in that. Even though I have the most severe form of spina bifida, and use a wheelchair, I have proven wrong those who predicted doom for me.
Nevertheless, I have no more human value than does a person who is totally incapacitated, brain-damaged, blind and deaf. That person has as much human dignity as any other person in the world, even the most powerful.
We do not need sympathy, but we do need to have our rights respected, including the right to life. We need to be integrated, accepted and included in society. Unborn babies diagnosed to be “defective” have always been the target of abortion laws, even in countries where abortions are restricted. We are judged as a burden to society. We are executed as the worst criminals even in the most democratic societies, without any representation. Babies with spina bifida, Down syndrome, Edward’s Syndrome, and any other abnormalities that can be detected before birth, are the targets of the killing rampage. We are forced to remain voiceless before the judge, only to be condemned, and the verdict is death. Our only crime is a disability. In some countries, because I am female and disabled, I would be on the top of the “to kill” list.
I am alive! I have been blessed with loving parents and solid friends who love me and believe in me. They are the reasons I get up in the morning and continue to face each day with new determination. I look forward to summer, my favourite time of the year, because of the heat, nature, relaxing, friends, swimming and boating, etc. I look forward to Christmas, being with my family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, and the celebration of a poor baby’s birth 2,003 years ago. I love people and I love to hear their stories. Listening to individual stories is not difficult for me, because it seems some people are drawn to me. These people reveal life experiences, random facts, deepest joys, sorrows, humour, pain, and they can be themselves with me. I have been blessed with the gift of seeing good even in persons who appear to be distant from the world. It breaks my heart to think of some babies who will never be given the chance to witness such beauty in life.