The following is a true story I shared with my radio audience while hosting Life Issues. These are the words of the physician involved. We had such a positive response from listeners; I thought you would also be moved by his account.
This fragile young woman was in labor and the baby was breech, coming out both feet first. The death rate for breech babies is comparatively high, so everyone in the delivery room was tense.
I gently drew down one little foot, I reached for the other, and to my consternation, I saw that the entire thigh from the hip to the knee was missing, and this leg reached down only to the opposite knee.
Then followed the hardest struggle I have ever had with myself. I knew what a dreadful effect this would have on the nervous system of this unstable mother. Most of all, I saw this little girl sitting sadly by herself while other girls laughed and danced, ran and played, and I suddenly realized there was something that would save all this trouble, and it was in my power.
One breech baby in 10 dies in delivery because it is not delivered rapidly enough. If I could make myself delay only a few short moments, she would be brain dead. No one would ever know. The mother, after the first shock of grief, would probably be glad she had lost a child so sadly handicapped. She could try again. A small voice within me said,”Don’t bring this suffering on them. This baby’s never taken a breath; don’t ever let her take one. You probably can’t get her out in time anyway.”
I motioned to the nurse for a towel to conceal from the attending nurses what my eyes alone had seen. With the touch of that pitiful little foot in my hand, a pang of sorrow for the baby’s future swept through me, and my decision was made.
I glanced at the clock. Three of the eight minutes had already gone, after which fatal brain damage occurs. Every eye was upon me and I could feel the tension in their eagerness to do instantly whatever I asked. Two or three more minutes would be enough. I drew the baby down a little lower to deliver the arms and, as I did so, the little pink foot on the good side bobbed out from the protecting towel and pressed firmly against my hand.
There was a sudden convulsive movement of the baby’s body, a feeling of strength of life and vigor. It was too much. I couldn’t do it. I delivered the baby with her pitiful little leg.
All my forebodings came true. The mother had a nervous breakdown and was in the hospital for months. I heard of them indirectly from time to time. They had gone to Rochester, Minnesota, to seek help for the girl. They had been to Chicago and Boston. Finally I lost track of them altogether.
As the years went on, I blamed myself bitterly for not having had the strength to yield to my temptation. But that was then, and today our hospital was staging an elaborate Christmas party. In came the nurses in uniforms and caps, their capes tossed back on their shoulders, showing the deep red lining. Each held high a lighted candle, while through the auditorium floated the familiar strains of Silent Night. And then a great blue floodlight at the back was turned on very slowly, gradually covering the tree on the stage, brighter and brighter, until every ornament was almost a flame.
On the opposite side of the stage a curtain was slowly drawn. There sat lovely musicians, all in shimmering white evening gowns. They played very softly an organ, a harp, a cello and a violin. I am quite sure I was not the only old sissy there whose eyes were wet. I was especially fascinated by this young harpist. She played extraordinarily well, as if she loved it. Her slender fingers flickered across the strings. Her face was made beautiful by a mass of auburn hair; it was upturned as if the world at that moment were a wonderful and holy place.
When the program was over, I sat alone thinking, when running down the aisle, came a woman I did not know. She came to me with arms outstretched. Oh, you saw her, you must have recognized your baby. That was my daughter who played the harp; I saw you watching her. Don’t you remember the little girl who was born with only one good leg 17 years ago? We tried everything first, but now she has an entire artificial leg on that side but you would never know it. She can walk, swim and can almost dance. But, best of all, through all these years when she couldn’t do those things other girls did, she learned to use her hands so wonderfully. She’s going to be a great harpist. She’s my whole life, and now she’s so happy and here she is!
This sweet young girl had quietly approached, her eyes glowing. She stood beside me. This is your first doctor, dear. Her voice trembled. I could see her literally swept back, as I was, through all the years of heartache to that day when I first showed her daughter to her.
Impulsively, I took the child in my arms. Across her warm young shoulder, I saw the creeping clock in the delivery room 17 years ago. I lived again those awful few minutes when her life was in my hands, when I had decided on deliberate infanticide, and then changed my mind. I held her away from me and looked at her. You’ll never know, my dear, you’ll never know, nor will anyone else in all the world know, just what tonight means to me. Go back to your harp for a moment and please play Silent Night for me alone. I have a load on my shoulders that no one has ever seen, a load that only you can take away.
Her mother sat beside me and quietly took my hand as she played. Perhaps she knew what was on my mind. And as the last strains of Silent Night, Holy Night faded again, I found the answer, and the comfort that I had waited for so long.