Elijah’s gift: Member of Parliament grateful for brief life of stillborn son with Trisomy 18
OTTAWA, Ontario, November 1, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – When Canadian Member of Parliament Kyle Seeback and his wife learned in the summer of 2011 that they were expecting their third child, they had mixed feelings. While the pregnancy was unplanned and, given their ages, unexpected, both Kyle and his wife had also nurtured feelings that their family of four “wasn’t complete” yet. So, they welcomed the news with joy, albeit not unmixed with some apprehension.
But that apprehension soon turned to dread when preliminary tests came back showing that their child was at high risk for Trisomy 18 – a condition characterized by a wide variety of severe developmental abnormalities. Most babies with Trisomy 18 won’t survive pregnancy, and those who do will rarely live to see their first birthday.
When further tests confirmed that their son did indeed suffer from the condition, Kyle and his wife Liana were “devastated,” Kyle told LifeSiteNews.com in a recent interview.
A medical system stacked against life
But even worse than learning about their son’s health problems, he said, was the relentles pressure put on the couple to abort their baby – pressure that began even before the diagnosis was confirmed.
“The first thing they said was, ‘You should consider aborting this child,’” Kyle recalls when the first tests came back. And it didn’t stop there. The doctor and the ultrasound technician who later confirmed the diagnosis also strongly urged abortion, and assured the couple that they could get an abortion at any point during the pregnancy.
“We don’t consider this to be a live or viable child,” Kyle remembers that doctor telling them. “So, we wouldn’t even have to go to the ethics committee if you decide to have an abortion later on. You can have one at any time.”
Kyle himself knew from the first that he didn’t want to go with an abortion. While he hasn't always been actively pro-life - “It wasn’t an issue that I ever put much thought into,” he admits - he traces his own commitment to the pro-life position to seeing his first-born during an ultrasound at nine weeks.
However, his wife Liana “struggled” with what to do in the circumstances. But even when she finally decided that she didn’t want to go the route of abortion, a new form of pressure began – to dissuade the couple from taking any extraordinary steps to give their son a chance at life.
While the couple was told that some interventions, such as a C-section, could be taken to reduce the stress of birth on their child, and that there were surgeries that could extend his life, they were strongly urged against making use any of those options. “All you’re doing is prolonging its agony. You should just let it die,” the grieving couple were told.
“Every step of the way was set up that we would not give life a chance,” says Kyle. “Everywhere you turned the whole system was geared towards either you should have an abortion, or do nothing to enable this child to have any life.”
Terrible but beautiful: Elijah’s birth
Ultimately, the couple followed some of that advice, and when Liana went into labor, they allowed nature to follow its course, without any interventions – a decision that Kyle says ranks among the greatest regrets of his life.
Their son, Elijah, was stillborn, on January 23, 2013.
Kyle and Liana had kept Elijah’s health problems a secret from their other two children, but had arranged for them to be at the hospital during the birth. It wasn’t until Liana went into labor that Kyle told his children that that Elijah was sick. When he was stillborn, the other children were brought in to meet Elijah and to hold his body.
The experience of the birth was “one of those absolutely terrible moments in your life,” Kyle says, his voice growing hushed. “But it was also beautiful as well,” he adds quietly. “I don’t know any other way to describe it. We were all there sharing this terrible grief together. But so happy for the moment that we got to hold him and be with him.”
When asked what they would have missed if they had chosen abortion, Kyle responds, “That moment in the hospital.”
“I just never could have forgiven myself,” he adds. “Elijah deserved a chance at life, no matter how brief that life would have been. He deserved it, and I’m thankful that we gave him that opportunity.”
Kyle says that Elijah still plays a part in the life of his family. They often talk about Elijah, and his daughter sleeps with a photo of her brother under her pillow.
‘Who are you to judge?’
The Member of Parliament, who has become one of the legislature’s most outspoken pro-life MPs after being elected in 2011, has little patience with those who would argue that Elijah’s life was meaningless because it was so short.
“Who you are you to judge the quality of somebody’s life, or their right to it, no matter how brief?” he asks. And to those who receive a similarly devastating prenatal diagnosis, his advice is clear and unequivocal: “Don’t succumb to the pressure. Because even if you get to hold your child for ten minutes, that is so valuable and good for you. Those moments, as difficult as they are, they are so healing as well. And if you deprive yourself of that, you would be forever haunted by that decision.”
Elijah’s life was valuable, he says, even if just for the way that he brought their whole family closer together.
“Even if we were to say, what kind of a life did Elijah have? Why did you do it? Sometimes it’s the unintended consequence. Elijah has really affected our family so profoundly that we’re a changed family,” he says. “Not that there were any problems before. But we are a much closer family because of it. And so he did give us a gift, even in the brief time that he was here. He gave a really lasting gift to our family.”
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