By Daniel J. Vance
Allison (not her real name) lives near Phoenix, Arizona, and reads this column in the Desert Advocate.
Thirty years ago in New Jersey, a doctor performing a sonogram on Allison's womb uncovered a birth defect, anencephaly, which meant her unborn baby boy was missing most of his brain.
“I still remember it to this day,” she said in a telephone interview. “The doctor said, 'Your baby will either die or be a vegetable.'”
At the time, her obstetrician was totally “astounded,” having never before seen anencephaly.
Allison said, “I gave birth by C-section because emotionally I couldn't handle a natural delivery. Later that night, I was awakened by a nurse shining a flashlight in my face, telling me that my child was no longer compatible with life. That was the exact terminology she used.”
Allison remained in the hospital six days. Her doctor purposely released her the day after her baby's funeral. All her traumatic experiences soon brought on a disabling major depression.
The National Institutes of Health website estimates that about 18 million Americans annually deal with major depression. It exists clinically when five or more symptoms of depression last at least two weeks. Symptoms may include feeling hopelessness, sadness or worthlessness.
“What kept me going emotionally was I had a 6-year-old daughter,” Allison, now 58, said. “My husband buried himself in his job. At the time, I'd been socially active and president of a 250-member club. I tried putting on a happy face. It really affected our marriage.”
She soon lost her will to live and abused alcohol to mask inner pain.
“For therapy, I tried speaking to other moms who'd lost newborns,” she said. “I tried bonding with them, but their grief was so different. We were empathetic to each other, but I wasn't at their point of acceptance. And that depressed me more.”
She said that eventually having another child helped pull her out of depression, but not before damage had been done to her marriage. In time, she and her husband would divorce.
For people sharing her experiences, she advised, “Everything happens for a reason. What happened made me a more compassionate person toward disability. After giving birth to my son, whenever someone would say the word 'retard' I'd be upset. There is nothing to be ashamed of for having a child with a disability.”
For more, see www.nlm.nih.gov or danieljvance.com. (This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com)