Note: This is a guest post from Dr. Jacqueline Battistelli, who is a board-certified OB/GYN and has been practicing for 5 years. She served in the United States Air Force for 4 years as a generalist OB/GYN and is currently working as an OB Hospitalist and researcher in San Antonio, TX. She is a wife and mother who loves to cook, be outdoors, and run on her time off. At the time of this post, Dr. Battistelli is also pregnant with her third child, a little boy named Noah who was conceived with Trisomy-18. Below is a letter that she composed and sent to her peers in the medical community, where she humbly yet courageously shares her experience and perspective through the dual lens of a physician AND a mother carrying a child with a life-limiting pregnancy diagnosis. We are sharing it here with her permission, and we hope it will both challenge and encourage you.
“A Woman Without A Tribe”
by Dr. Jacqueline Battistelli
My name is Jacqueline Battistelli. I am a board-certified OB/GYN turned Laborist this year and have been practicing for 5 years. I have two beautiful children (ages almost 5 and almost 2) and a wonderful husband.
I am also 25 weeks pregnant. This has not been an especially easy pregnancy. It started with insufferable nausea, which could have only been eclipsed by shingles ON MY FACE (so gross), which has been eclipsed by *gasp* an already 25lb weight gain (I know, feel free to judge). But all jokes aside, however, this has easily been the hardest road I have had to walk…
A New Road
We found out at 10 weeks pregnant that my son, Noah, has full Trisomy-18. Yes, termination could have been an option based on my gestational age. But for us, Noah was already fully embedded into our family’s fabric. He’s our son, and we are excited to meet him. He already acts like his sister and brother, hiding his face virtually every time I get “doptones” (you know, the ultrasound check-in we do every so often on ourselves). He especially loves to kick my bladder—at night, while operating, or really anytime that would be most inconvenient for peeing on myself.
This group of physicians is one I am often so proud to belong to: snarky, smart-as-hell surgeon moms (and dads) who have a masochistic flair for working at 3AM, only to be covered in God knows what kind of bodily fluid, all in the name of delivering compassionate and baller women’s health care.
We, as a general whole, tend to be a group who support pro-choice. Typically, this conversation is framed within the construct of abortion. While I have my own personal views (just as each of us do), I very much consider myself an advocate for women. If I am unable to provide the highest quality care someone deserves, I make very sure she lands in the hands of one who can. With all of that said, I fully and completely realize that many or most of you may not “get” my choice.
A New Perspective
Since my son’s diagnosis, I have had the opportunity to get an “insider’s look” at the patient perspective. I regret to say I’m learning that my choice (the one to carry a baby who’s no longer “typical”) is often not advocated for. I am now listening in on all of these other mom’s conversations about how they have carried, raised, and lost their babies. It is not just a few moms…
I have realized very quickly that I am in a minority. While I have received incredible medical support, most others have not. Over and over again, I’m reading and hearing an unfortunately common thread of them having to relentlessly advocate for themselves and their child to their OB’s, MFM’s, pediatricians and hospitals in order to receive the care they need. Some travel hours away from their homes, their families and their other children. Some give up their jobs and financial stability in order to find a single physician that will help them care for their child and family. These families find solace together, and have had to educate themselves extensively because most physicians have sent them home with their “atypical” babies to die.
When did the “atypical” become worth less? And who are we to decide what is too hard for a mother/family to bear? Have you ever considered looking at your “healthy” children and considered what kind of mama bear would come forth from yourself if someone asked you if you’d like to feed your baby or not? Let that sink in. Everyone has their own road to walk, and every family ultimately has to make some hard decisions in this life, but could you even imagine the audacity of this?
How is it any different to be supportive of those moms who make a choice to carry rather than a choice to abort? These parents have chosen life for their children. Why should they parents be refused care? Where is the outcry on their behalf from us? Why must their voices stay muted? Because you don’t agree with their choice? How can this be rationalized?
A New Resolve
Over and over again these moms have had to give an answer as to why they aren’t terminating. They often feel they have been beaten over the head with the option of termination, but given very little information or more importantly, support, on making a different choice.
I ask you—I plead, really—that you open yourselves to advocating for these women, too. And by “advocate,” I mean presenting a full and comprehensive and non-biased counseling approach to these women. I mean educating yourself on updated research and information about life-limiting diagnoses. (For example, there are significant medical challenges with Trisomy-18, but it is not always fatal. In the not-so-distant past, Trisomy-21 was also considered “fatal” and look how medicine has changed in the treatment of our patients with Down syndrome). In any scenario, please give these moms your absolute best care and support—even if it means giving their care over to another provider, if needed.
Frankly, my road is, at many times, scary. To have the physical reminder of life’s fragility constantly displayed in my life is overwhelming. It is also empowering. It is a constant reminder that life is beautiful and precious. My son, who is not even wholly in this world yet, has taught me this.
Noah is already making me a better mother and physician. These fiercely loving mothers fighting for their children often feel the same way. Their voices, along with my son’s, have already forever changed me. Will you let them change you, too?
– Dr. Jacqueline Battistelli