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Perinatal Hospice

Posted by MDViews on July 25, 2009

Perinatal hospice, the brain-child of Byron Calhoun, MD in 1995, provides compassionate care to those couples found to have a baby with a lethal disability prior to birth.

Such conditions do exist, unforturnately, and are often found on routine ultrasound or genetic testing.

When such a condition is found, the pro-abortion maternal-fetal-medicine specialists (MFM’s) and genetic counselors often recommend abortion. (No hope, you understand. So, why not?) Of course, abortion, even of a disabled child, carries with it the guilt of killing your own child–your own helplessly sick child. How cruel is that?

As an OB/GYN doctor who has been around the prenatal diagnosis block a few times, I seen “non-directive counseling”, as the geneticists and MFM’s call it, relentlessly push patients who carry such a child into abortion on many occasions. Dr. Calhoun saw the same thing and came up with the concept of perinata hospice, a blessed process which honors life and which provides wonderful support  for such couples.

I’ve written a piece about this topic and WORLD magazine has graciously agreed to print it in their upcoming issues. You can access WORLD magazine on the web at http://www.worldmag.com. It requires an online subscription or a print subscription to see entire articles. (A bargain, I can assure you!)

I’ve also copied it and pasted it below. (This article is copyright by WORLD magazine and may be used with their permission.) Enjoy the read. Should our sovereign God deign such a circumstance for you or one you love, please, keep perinatal hospice in mind.

August 1 5 , 2009


A grief conserved


Perinatal hospice offers an alternative to the trauma of aborting a disabled child


Something’s wrong with this baby,” my ultrasound technician told me. She had just scanned Mrs. Jones (a fictitious name) at 20 weeks and went on to describe her findings, findings that surely meant little chance of survival for that baby. As I later spoke with Mrs. Jones to relay the findings, she wept. I arranged an appointment with a maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialist. The next day I received an urgent call from my patient. Through more tears, she described her visit in which the MFM doctor confirmed the grim prognosis. The baby would die, probably within a week or two. The MFM insisted on scheduling her for an abortion in three days. “Do I have to have an abortion?” she asked. I promised to call the MFM and assured her she did not have to abort.

When I called the MFM specialist, she immediately rattled off the severe abnormalities found, the fetus’ incompatibility with life, and the scheduling of an abortion. I interrupted: “If the baby is going to die anyway, why do you want to kill it before it dies a natural death?” There was silence on the other end. I went on to explain that the parents would not have to deal with the guilt of killing their child if it died naturally. There was a pause, then, “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said.

So much for nondirective counseling, as it is called. Sadly, I’ve had several similar experiences in my 27 years of practice.

My patient’s baby did die in utero about two weeks later. She labored and delivered a stillborn baby with all the grief and pain associated with it. She was thankful, however, for the love and support of family and friends during the process and the knowledge that she had not contributed to her baby’s death.

When a pregnant woman clearly understands the primary purpose of genetic testing—abortion of a handicapped baby—a majority decline testing in my experience and almost all pro-life women decline testing. Nearly every problem now identified by prenatal diagnosis has no treatment. David Grimes, a well-known OB/GYN, professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and a strong abortion advocate, spoke truth in a rare moment of public clarity when he said prenatal diagnosis would disappear if abortion were not available.

But what happens when a routine 20-week ultrasound shows a baby with a profound abnormality, possibly an abnormality that will certainly result in the death of the baby prior to or shortly after birth? Or when a genetic test is done and shows similar results and the patient then decides against abortion? What then?

Enter perinatal hospice, the brain child of Byron Calhoun, a pro-life maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

Perinatal hospice honors life. The woman carrying the disabled child receives extensive counseling and birth preparation involving the combined efforts of MFM specialists, OB/GYN doctors, neonatologists, anesthesia services, chaplains, pastors, social workers, labor and delivery nurses, and neonatal nurses. She carries the pregnancy to its natural conclusion. She and her husband are allowed to grieve and prepare for the short time God may grant them with their child while their baby lives inside or outside the womb. Such a process obviates the grief caused by elective abortion, killing the child before it could be born.

Doctors and nurses often withdraw from hopeless patients, and surely a baby with a lethal anomaly is a hopeless patient. Add to that, as my example above illustrates, the concept of natural death for babies with lethal anomalies perplexes those who advocate abortion and prenatal eugenics. For them, not terminating a hopeless pregnancy is stupid.

Perinatal hospice, on the other hand, allows natural grief and separation with the support of the medical community. Calhoun says parental responses have been overwhelmingly positive. “These parents are allowed the bittersweetness of their child’s birth and too-soon departure. Grief lessens as time passes and the parents rest secure in the knowledge that they shared in their baby’s life and treated the child with the same dignity as a terminally- ill adult.”

Even those mystified by a patient choosing life have recognized the value of Calhoun’s idea, as perinatal hospice programs now dot the nation. But this mystery is no mystery to us. As Job 1:21 states, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

18 Responses to “Perinatal Hospice”

  1. I enjoyed reading all these comments. I firmly believe in choosing life no matter how short or hard it may be. I was diagnosed with a tubal pregnancy and advised to abort immediatly. My husband and I returned home, prayed and cried out to God. The following ultrasounds showed the fetus was out of the tube in the uterus. I bled most of the pregnancy but was blessed with a full term healthy baby girl. If you think I’m living in a fairy tale land know that I have also experienced great loss. One miscarriage and fullterm stillborn twins. I am not in control of my life. I choose to let go and let God. I have learned a lot from the miracles I’ve witnessed and the losses I’ve suffered. A special thanks to my friend Randy Morris for the beautiful photos he took of my twins and the rest of my family on the one day we shared.

  2. Shirley Bulen said

    Thank you for a very timely and important article. I was labor and delivery nurse for many many years. I implemented a perinatal loss program and have helped start others, as well as started and facilitated a support group. After leaving the hospital I have written a book… “Forever Remembered: when your baby is in Heaven”. If you are not aware, you may be interested in looking into PLIDA, Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Alliance. A National organization of professionals and lay persons who are supportive of compassionate care. I was 2 years on the board and remain a member of this great organization. It’s great to associate with other professionals with like minds and concerns. Thank you for being there and speaking out!

  3. Jeanne said

    I’ve never blogged before. But your article in World Magazine drove me to this website.

    I’m very blessed to be a grandmother – 2 times to date, TTL (Thank the Lord!) 🙂

    However I wrote a poem for 2 of our children.

    The poem is something the kids very much appreciated and very much helped in my loss. Other than my husband, immediate family, and one friend, I haven’t shared the poem. But I am willing to pass it to you on a personal basis, with the hopes that in your hands, the poem will have the opportunity to minister appropriately to those suffering the same pain we had.

    The poem is clearly Christian and encourages prayer.

    May God continue to bless you and your efforts.

    – Jeanne

  4. MDViews said

    Thank you for your comments and I am sorry about your loss.

    Matt A.

  5. My wife and I were urged to abort our child in September of 2008 at 23 weeks because our son would not live for more than a couple of hours outside the womb. We rejected them and went to another hospital that respected our wishes. We enjoyed 2 amazing hours with our son that we wouldn’t trade for anything. Many parents of stillborn infants can’t say the same.

    I believe that God has used this to mold me for a new purpose – infant bereavement photography. In fact I took photos this week for a family that had stillborn twins at 38 weeks. I am happy to volunteer my services for this purpose since I know it helped me and my wife.

    You can read our story about our son and see photos of him at…
    http://www.littleonescalledhome.org

    Thanks so much for your article. May more parents stand up for their rights to carry to term whether 40 weeks or 40 days. God is our eternal physician and the only one to decide the beginning and end of all life.

  6. MDViews said

    You are exactly right, induced abortion increases the risk of preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies, a fact generally ignored by the medical community and the March of Dimes. (One must not speak ill of abortion!) It is safer to allow nature to take its course. Thanks for asking. Matt A.

  7. MDViews said

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your loss underscores the vast power doctors hold in influencing patients. But just because “MD” is behind their name, they have no more moral authority than anyone, and, given the very liberal and amoral training doctors receive, they should be accorded less moral authority in my mind!

    Blessing to you and your wife. Matt A.

  8. I read your article thru the blog on http://www.str.org. My wife had two pregnancies during her first marriage. The first pregnancy realized a fetus with thenatathoric dwarfism. The chest cavity was undersized and the internal organs were not, if I recall correctly. She told me the story a long time ago. Through conversations we had, I know she was treated just as you described. “Nothing you can do, the baby will suffer and die anyway: I’ll schedule the abortion.” What’s more, it was second term and the doctor sent her to Missouri to have it done (she was in Minnesota at the time, as we are now).

    She took solace in that, according to the doctor, the process would be far less painful for the child than going to full term and delivering. I know she still felt horrible for ending her child’s life when we talked about it. She never knew about anything like perinatal hospice. Who does?

    Thank you for sharing. Please continue to share. More people need to hear this and more people need to speak up. God bless you!

  9. Molly Crocker said

    Isn’t there another reason for continuing the pregnancy rather than choosing an abortion? You’re the physician, so your comments are desired. Isn’t an abortion rather like ripping the door off of the safe? We wouldn’t expect the safe to be able to hold its contents securely after that! Isn’t an abortion a pretty severe assault on the cervix and womb? I recall with both of my kids the doctor asking how many pregnancies I had. I thought it was because an abortion in the history of the mother automatically puts her subsequent pregnancies in the ‘at risk’ category. Isn’t it safer for those pregnancies to allow the anomalous pregnancy to end as naturally as possible?

  10. Silva said

    I greatly enjoyed the article in World; your views and perspective show that there is always another side of “conventional wisdom.” A related question I have for you as a doctor regards “non-directive” counseling about contraception. I don’t know any doctors who will stipulate that chemical contraception can potentially cause abortions. Is it accurate to say that all chemical contraception is also potentially abortifacient even if the probabilities are small? Or are there some that don’t?

  11. MDViews said

    I’m glad to hear other comments about the “non-directive counseling”. When I speak with prenatal eugenic and abortion advocate (pro-choice) coleagues, they are quite offended to be told their “non-directive counseling” is not non-directive at all. They really believe what they tell people is value neutral. Amazing!

    Matt A.

  12. I just read the article as published in WORLD magazine, and had to chime in, just in case anyone out there is looking for a resource.

    As a professional photographer, I am associated with a group called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. We provide photography for parents/families at a time of extreme grief and loss. Either upon being stillborn, or during the precious moments of life these children experience, NILMDTS photographers gently appear in the shadows, capturing the precious memories with professionalism and grace. These photographs validate the life of this precious one, and help the grieving families through their grief and loss. Go to http://www.nilmdts.org and search for a coordinator in your area, who will take care of everything for you when needed.

    Now, on the flip side. Personally, my daughter experienced a teenage pregnancy, and at 20 weeks, the ultrasound showed some “major problems”. They weren’t sure what exactly, but they saw a shortened femur and concluded that this baby would have something terrible. They were thinking it would be very bad and we got the whole “non-directive counseling” speech you spoke of. My daughter, who attended a private Christian school her entire life, was shocked. When we left his office, she told me “Mom, did you here that? He pretty much just told me to get an abortion! And they don’t even know the facts yet!” It was later determined through an amnio that she would not be a Trisomy or Downs baby, but would not live because her lower jaw just was not developing. The more she grew, the scarier the sonograms got.

    Instead of listening to those doctors, she chose life for her child, and we began to pray. Her response was “It’s not my job to decide how long this baby is to live. If He wants her to come home, He’ll have to take her in His time.” Very mature for an 18 year old.

    Today, my precious 15 month old granddaughter not only has survived, she is thriving! She has had craniofacial surgery to bring out her lower jaw, which cleared her airway and allowed her trach to come out when she was just 1 year old! They said she’d never have teeth, because of the Pierre Robin Syndrome … but she now has 9 teeth in that little mouth of hers! While a bit behind, she is catching up fast! She rolled over for the first time by herself yesterday and we are absolutely thrilled!!!

    We are so thankful to the Lord …. He knew this precious girl He was creating in the secret place. He knew she had a message to bring the world.

    Thank you for this article, and for continuing to fight the battle for the unborn.

    Every life matters.

  13. Bike Bubba said

    I thought there was a reason the doctors were so evasive when I asked them “if the test shows something interesting, what can be done besides abortion?” Now I know….sigh.

  14. MDViews said

    Thank you for your comments.

  15. Karen Joy said

    I just finished reading your article in my copy of World, which just arrived today. I read it with great interest, and… a sense of beautiful sadness. I had never heard of perinatal hospices, and I am struck with the extremes of the ugliness and guilt aborting vs. gentle, kind palliative care for babies who will certainly not survive long outside the womb, if at all. Words fail me.

    I know this isn’t identical to what you describe, but in Dec 2007, I blogged about the atrocious rate of abortion in expectant parents who find that they are carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome — 90%… When I wrote it, I mentioned that my husband and I would like to have a fifth child; we eventually did, and I declined all genetic testing. (Read it here, if you’d like.)

    And, I’m sure you’ve viewed the 99 Balloons video — a powerful account of a young couple who carried to term a baby who was likely to not make it through pregnancy due to Trisomy 18. Their baby lived 99 days, and the testimony of their short time of parenting that baby is powerful and beautiful.

    My OB is stridently pro-life, as well. Too few of you out there, for certain!

  16. it’s very nice post
    Thanks to assists students improving their studies by providing useful articles related to education or others.

  17. MDViews said

    Of course, that’s how it used to be. Now, ACOG’s new recommendations say screen everyone. No more age requirements. Also, the risk of miscarriage from chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which is actually a placenta biopsy, is 1-2%. Then, there is the absent limb syndrome that pops up every now and then with CVS.

    None of that knowledge changes any of the arguements prenatal genetic diagnosis (PDG). It is still eugenics. Prenatal eugenics.

  18. The generally accepted guidelines for eligibility of pregnant women for prenatal diagnosis by amniocentesis or CVS are based on evidence that the risk that the fetus is abnormal is at least as great as the risk of miscarriage from the procedure itself.

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