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Dealing with the unexpected

May 29, 2009 - John and Eileen Anding received quite a shock when their daughter Morgan was born in 1988. Despite all tests showing her to be a healthy baby, Morgan was born with an omphalocele, a congenital birth defect.

John said, "Nothing showed up on the ultrasound to suggest a problem."

Fortunately for Morgan, babies with omphaloceles have a good prognosis if there are no other birth defects. Morgan has been healthy ever since her surgery the day she was born. While the Andings will never forget the shock after Morgan's birth, another shock many years later about her condition causes them more grief.

Several years ago the Andings planned a trip to see Morgan at school in Rhode Island. With the school so far away, they had not been able to see their daughter for months at a time. Right before they left, Eileen said they read a magazine article about aborting children with omphaloceles. They said they were both shocked and appalled at the idea of aborting a child like Morgan.

Eileen said, "Reading that, I just cried and cried. How could I imagine life without her? It just crushes me people would consider that."

Eileen said the thought of aborting a child with an omphalocele had never occurred to them before reading the article. She said that prenatal testing is good, but sometimes too much information in the hands of patients without good advice can be a bad thing. In her case, Eileen said they wouldn't have had the choice anyway.

They had planned to have Morgan through natural childbirth in a comfortable room at St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. Eileen said there was nothing that led them to expect any problems. They even brought an audience for the birth including Morgan's two older siblings and a friend to chaperone them.

Eileen said the labor went very quickly, and as soon as Morgan was born the defect was very visible to those watching. An omphalocele is a rare congenital type of hernia where a baby's intestines or other organs stick out in a sac through the belly button. In Morgan's case, she was born with parts of her intestines, liver and gall bladder exposed.

Eileen said, "Our daughter Leigh asked what was wrong with the baby, and then the nurse told them 'you need to go.'"

Despite the shock of the defect, John said they did not panic because her condition was treatable. John said Morgan was fortunate that her omphalocele was small. Some are large enough that they require months of care before the organs can be put back in the baby's body.

They quickly transferred Morgan to another hospital for surgery to put the sac inside her body. John said the doctor there had performed his first omphalocele surgery just two weeks before, so they felt confident in his abilities despite his slightly comical look.

John said, "The guy was going to do the surgery on the little tiny baby with his big huge hands."

Morgan's surgery lasted about five hours and everything went well. Despite concerns about damage to Morgan's digestive tract, John said that they were blessed there were never any related health problems for her. Morgan, now 20, said the only side effect she had was a small bubble in her stomach that was repaired by plastic surgery when she was 16.

Morgan said, "I never felt self-conscious about it. I couldn't wear a bikini, but I never would, and Mom would never let me anyway."

With greater technology available today to detect birth defects in the womb, John said doctors must do a better job giving patients life-affirming advice and information. Eileen said she was thankful their obstetrician was respectful of their wishes and didn't push them to take any invasive prenatal tests to detect disabilities. Many parents choose to abort children diagnosed with birth defects, including correctable conditions like club feet or cleft palettes. About 90 percent of Down Syndrome babies who are diagnosed in the womb are aborted, according to an English study.

John said, "In today's environment, it makes you wonder if some doctors would ask after the birth 'Do you want to keep this baby?'"

Morgan is currently a student at Franciscan University. Morgan said she appreciates the sacred value of human life and is involved with prolife student groups and sidewalk counseling. She said that any mother expecting a child with a disability should not fear giving birth, but welcome any chance to be given the gift of life.

Morgan said, "Don't be afraid. Go through what was given to you because you've been given this child for a reason. Mothers will be better people for it."

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