I remember the day I decided not to love Annie. I didn’t want my heart broken by a broken hearted baby growing wrongly in my womb.
I named her that day anyway.
A baby should have a name, I reasoned. That name defined the life of a baby I hadn’t even felt move yet. I’d only seen her long legs kick, kick, kicking away on a screen in black and white while the technician searched for the other half of her heart.
It’s good to define a life the day before you have to fight for it. It’s also good that we wanted Annie so many days before someone told us we shouldn’t anymore.
“Yes, her heart is all wrong. See there on the screen?” He was asking the wrong person. Certainly, I had an untrained eye, but to a hopeful, expectant mother everything about her forming fetus feels just exactly right.
“You don’t have to do this, Mrs. Lane. And I’m positive you won’t want to. I’m not even sure your daughter will live to be born. You don’t want to put yourself through that. I’d advise taking care of it today. It’s very private and safe. We can do an abortion right here in this office.”
Hot tears stung my cheeks. Was he talking to me? About Annie? His words drowned in my delight of watching my baby girl flip and flop on the television mounted on the wall in front of me.
“I can see you need some time to consider it,” he pressed. “You don’t have to decide today. But I can assure you it’s your best option. And no one will fault you for it.”
I didn’t need time to decide. I needed time to catch my breath and find my voice. He waited impatiently and handed me a box of Kleenex.
“No. No. I want to keep her!” My words were chopped by gut wrenching sobs. “I want her. I want her.” I don’t know if I was telling Annie’s doctor or Annie’s mother, but we both understood.
Contrary to popular medical belief, choosing life for Annie has been our best option. And more than a few loudly inquiring minds have faulted us for it.
Each of those recommenders and inquirers were right. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t have to do this. It’s absolutely been life’s greatest challenge but equally humble honor to be Annie’s mom.
To be the mother loving a child who everyone knows will die too soon.
To be the mother comforting a child who knows all the truth of her condition.
To be the mother nodding and smiling, passionately thanking a discharge team’s recurrent announcement. “We’ll give her 6-8 weeks,” they say with smug, forced grins. “Enjoy your trip home.” And we were free for another day to wait for Annie to fail.
And somehow since we chose life five years ago today — while we all wait for Annie to fail– we just keep living!
I picture those 20-week-old fetus hands covering her face when I hold her thumb tightly to clean the red blot from a third-try finger prick.
I remember those skinny, unborn legs when I pretreat pink leggings discolored with brown sludged knee stains from digging for worms on a pre-k playground.
I remember the doctor’s warnings of Annie’s shortened life expectancy when she darts the entire length of the soccer field chasing her ball to the net.
Every three months when I’m scared to death in some cardiology waiting room, I close my eyes and picture preborn Annie that day. And I remember that we made the right choice to keep her, to want her, to love her. I’m going to keep making that choice every day I get to.