A normal pregnancy framed as a one with special needs

What if healthy pregnancies were treated like special needs pregnancies?

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, good afternoon. I’m Doctor Dumas, a visiting obstetrician in Doctor Kwak’s practice. It’s nice to meet you.

Look, there’s no easy way to say this, so at the risk of sounding blunt, I have some bad news.

The technician and I reviewed your scans and we found that you’re about ten weeks along with a human fetus. I’m not seeing any abnormalities as far as growth or bone and organ structure, but you’re very clearly pregnant with a human baby. In all likelihood, you’ll carry the baby for another thirty weeks until your amniotic sac ruptures and the baby exits your body vaginally. In some cases, your baby will be extracted via cesarean section. Either mode carries its own set of risks and is extremely painful. We’re so very sorry.

Your baby will be born, unless you suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth. After his birth, he will live, and then he will die. He will live until he dies. I’m sorry to say that life is terminal. The fatality rate for human beings is 100%. If he survives past birth, you’d just be living on borrowed time.

How long does he have? We’re not sure. Humans typically live until their mid-seventies, depending on where they’re born and a variety of other factors. But many die at age 5, or 15, or 30. We can’t predict with any certainty how long he has, but we know that death is an inevitability. You probably have a history of death in your family.

We’re also sad to say that your child has cancer. Well, not right now, but statistically it’s possible. You’re carrying a human child, and fourteen thousand of them every single year get some kind of cancer. In fact, the second leading cause of death between kids ages 5-14 is cancer. This is second only to unintentional accidents like a gun misfiring or some sort of collision. So if your baby doesn’t die in a car wreck first, I’m afraid there’s a chance he’ll get cancer. I’m so sorry.

If by some chance we prolong his life until age 15, the odds don’t look good then either. It’s not totally hopeless — I mean, never say never, right? — but teen mortality rates are climbing. There’s always a risk of car accidents, overdose, and particularly suicide. The suicide rate is particularly troublesome. I’m a numbers man, so I’ll give it to you straight: Thirty three thousand teenagers committed suicide in 2006. And being born is the leading cause of eventually committing suicide.

I know you have a lot to think about. Just try to breathe. There are a lot of options. It’s important to take care of yourself first, and your marriage. Children are a big contributor to divorce. Almost forty percent of divorced people have children at one point. Suicide, cancer, divorce … if the baby survives birth, you’d be bringing him into a pretty questionable environment. You’ve got problems coming at him from all angles. Multiple problems. Quality of life is important to consider.

This is the part of my job I hate. I can only imagine how shocking and upsetting this is for you. Unfortunately, we have even more difficult news. Your chorionic villus sampling test came back with some red flags. Our tests indicate that you’re very likely having  a boy. This occurs typically in half of all pregnancies, and nobody really knows why. We know the Y chromosome plays a part, and we know the father is the carrier.

These things just happen.

Risks? Well, males typically have higher testosterone, which could lead to anger issues. They’re more likely to abuse alcohol and much more likely to rape. Something like 90% of all homicide offenders are men, and the vast majority of inmates in the penal system are men as well.

You have a 1 in 2 chance of having another boy, should you choose to get pregnant again. You could also try for a girl, but there are risks involved with a girl as well. Girls are much more likely to be raped and make up the vast majority of sex-related homicides. 100% of people who die in childbirth are women. Women are less likely to commit suicide and rape other people, but they’re infinitely more likely to die of ovarian and breast cancer. There are significant risks, whatever you do. I’m afraid it’s inescapable.

Well, you have a lot of options. You can take your chances, or you can terminate. I can’t make that decision for you, but I will say that terminating now will let you start the healing process that much sooner. It’s early in the pregnancy, and it would probably be easier to do it now rather than wait twenty five years to see if he turns out to be a rapist.

On the bright side, he could be worse. Your baby is caucasian. Black children are three times more likely to grow up in poverty, and black men are twenty times more likely to be sent to prison than white men. The outcome is just very poor for people of color. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Just be grateful he isn’t a girl. Or black. Or a black girl, God forbid.

So. Talk it over. You two have a lot to discuss.

Sarah Watts is a parent of a child with special needs.  She blogs at wifeytini.

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