I knew the family all my life. One of the sons in this family was a childhood friend, and schoolmate. This son went on to marry a lovely woman, and I officiated at their wedding. Soon after, they became pregnant. Friends and family were elated and filled with the usual joy that comes with the anticipation of a new life.
One day, I got a call from this couple. They asked me to come over to their home for dinner later that week. I was able to make it, and the three of us sat down for a wonderful meal. We laughed, reminisced, and made fun of each other. It was a wonderful time.
After dinner and a few glasses of wine, we began to speak about the pregnancy. "Well," my friend said to me, "We've got some bad news this week. My wife had an amniocentesis test, and our doctor told us that the baby is likely to have spina bifida." My heart sank for a moment, and I was overcome with sorry for them both.
"Oh, I am so sorry, so very, very sorry," I said. I looked at my friend's wife, and her eyes were blank. I watched her place her hand over her belly.
My friend went on, "I know, it's terrible, and we never expected this. We've cried all week, and talked about nothing else. Thant's why we wanted you to come over. We need the support. Oh, and we haven't told our parents yet. They'll take it the worst." Then he turned to me and said, "You now this means a hard life for this child. I don't think God would ever want that to happen, do you? We don't want our child to suffer that way. The doctor told us this was the most important thing that we have to consider." There was an awkward silence. After a while, he went on, "What a terrible life that would be for someone. I don't think God would want that."
I knew deep down that something deeper was being said; a dark point below the surface. Slowly it dawned on me - this friend of mine wants me to say that it is all right to terminate this pregnancy! This, my lifelong friend, whom I care about and love. As a friend and priest, he wants me to agree with him!
I prayed quickly about how to respond. I felt pressured to agree, since they were such a deep part of my life. But, how could I? It came to me that I should bring the subtext of the conversation out into the open.
I said, "Jack, are you talking about terminating this pregnancy?" He replied, "Well, we know God wouldn't want a kid to suffer like that; we would be awful parents to let that happen."
I gulped. I suddenly knew what was at stake. I was a priest, and he knew the teachings of the Church. He surely knew that life begins at conception, in the very depth of my heart and soul. But, I loved my friend and his wife. They were decent, good people, and they helped me to carry my load. I didn't want to lose their friendship. I also knew him to be a strong man, who didn't like to be opposed. I knew that what I was about to do would be the end of our friendship.
I swallowed hard, and simply said, "Jack, you can't do that. It is a baby. Maybe you should get a few other tests, or a different doctor. I can even help you find someone willing to take the child if you don't want it."
He snapped, "We have the best doctor already, and we wouldn't do that!"
I saw his wife gently stroke her belly again. I also saw the fright in her eyes. I could tell that she was wavering. This was her first child, and she was in her fourth month. But, she was also feeling the need to be at peace with her husband.
Then, my friend suddenly changed the subject, and we muddled through ten minutes of awkward conversation about other things. I soon left with perfunctory goodbyes, the gauntlet having fallen. I left so distressed that I only slept a few hours that night.
I did not hear from my friends until several months later, when a relative told me that their baby girl had been born. I was surprised that they had not had the abortion. I had prayed every day that they wouldn't. The strange and wonderful thing about this story is that the baby was born perfectly healthy. She was a beautiful and healthy baby, and I have seen her many times over the years at family functions. I always had a special love for her, which I've kept deeply buried. I thought maybe I had some influence about her parents' decision to let her be born. When I am with her, I also feel recurrent rage for the doctor who advised her parents that she be aborted in light of that one flawed test.
Her parents rarely speak to me this day, and only when they have to, in social situations. No more invites to dinner. No more Christmas cards, or occasional check-in calls. Just courteous distance.
A short while ago, I bumped into their daughter again. She is now grown, and a professional, working woman. As I spoke to her, I felt a tear falling from one of my eyes, even though I was focused on what she was saying about her life and work. I guess I couldn't control the pain I've carried for such a long time - my joy that she exists, and my sorrow about losing a friendship that meant so much to me.