A young mother of five, a survivor of recent cancer surgery, develops a new tumor — and discovers she is pregnant. The cancer is aggressive; to survive she needs chemotherapy, but that would buy only a few years more of life, if that. And it will kill the baby she is carrying.
What should she do?
What Carrie DeKlyen and her husband, a Michigan couple who faced this dilemma, decided has been the topic of much public commentary, most of it empathetic but some of it shallow and cruel.
Despite exemplary efforts by doctors, and being tagged as a “miracle baby” by media nationwide, Life didn’t have very good odds.
She weighed only 1 pound, 4 ounces at birth. In early September, Baby Life was delivered by C-section as her mother lay unconscious from a stroke brought on by her inoperable brain tumor. Carrie, 37 years old, left five other children, ranging in age from 2 to 18.
Social media couldn’t hold back. What launched was almost a parlor game of “What would you do?”
Was Life’s mother selfish to deny her other five children their mother? Or was she a saint for giving her baby a chance at life?
The DeKlyens made their difficult choice in a manner consistent with their view that life starts at conception. Abortion was never an option. This view was obviously informed by the couple’s faith, and even their choice of name — “Life” — suggests perhaps a statement of principle, a political stand.
After the baby’s death, some remarked that the story would no longer resonate as a shining example of the pro-life ethos. The cringeworthy rationale was that the family no longer had the child to hold up as an emblem of the cause.
Wrong. Carrie DeKlyen is still a great example of a woman choosing life for her child.
The widowed father has been consistently quoted with the family’s view that God wanted them to choose the baby’s life over that of the mother.
“We’re pro-life,” Nick DeKlyen told the Detroit Free Press. “Under no circumstance do we believe you should take a child’s life. (Carrie) sacrificed her life for the child.”
After the baby’s birth, Nick DeKlyen also made the decision that his wife had suffered enough and asked that her feeding tube and breathing machine be disconnected. She died soon after. Others with more stringent views about what constitutes life might have argued against that decision.
The fact that the family sold sweatshirts to raise money and used an internet crowdfunding site led to some tut-tutting that the family was taking pecuniary advantage of their plight.
However, despite the sanctimony of some internet commentators, most who contemplated the family’s tragedy were sympathetic. People saw the mother as someone of faith and related. Or they viewed her as a mother, or as half of a loving marriage, or as a cancer patient, and related.
Wouldn’t it be grand if people were more compassionate in other instances as well? Yes, people questioned the decision to keep the baby. But what you didn’t hear was the sort of condemnation that befalls other women who, like her, have a lot of children, mounting hospital bills and a husband who isn’t able to provide.
People read these kinds of stories with different needs and agendas. Some want miracles. Some want hope. And, in their lesser moments, some want to validate their beliefs.
But if we read and hear these stories, putting aside our ego-driven need to be right, we recognize simply what they are: incredibly difficult decisions that families ultimately have to make alone, using their own understanding of what is right. And it’s not for any of us to pass judgment.