Every so often there comes a story that cries for a faith element; wherein you strongly suspect that there are lots of religion ghosts floating about, but which frustrates because the reporter simply didn’t go there.
That's what happened, for me, when reading a lengthy story released by The Sacramento Bee on a Mexican-American family in which the mother becomes pregnant in her mid-40s with Siamese -- or conjoined -- twins. The story appeared on the one-year anniversary of the twins’ birth. As always, there are medical and ethical issues involved in this kind of pregnancy, as you can hear in the Bee video featured above.
The overture of the story:
ANTELOPE, Calif. -- Their mother calls it “the butterfly,” because its shape and symmetry remind her of a delicate winged insect.
The tiny foot -- a fusion of bone, muscle and skin with three toes on each side -- is attached to a third leg shared by Erika and Eva Sandoval, 11-month-old conjoined twins who also share a liver, some intestinal tract and much of their reproductive systems. Joined at the pelvis and sternum, they sit face-to-face at all times.
The sisters, born at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, in Palo Alto, Calif., last August, spent their first seven months in intensive care before coming home this spring, having trumped the slim survival odds for conjoined twins – a phenomenon that occurs about once in every 200,000 births.
The piece says the mother, Aida Sandoval, was encouraged several times to abort the pregnancy because she was 44 and that she would be risking her own life by carrying the pregnancy to term. It's not unusual these days for women in their mid-40s to give birth, so I was surprised to hear about such a high risk factor.
The couple were given the option to terminate the pregnancy several times. Art (the father of the twins) feared for Aida’s health, but Aida wouldn’t hear it.
“I’ve already lived a full life,” she recalls thinking. “I can bring two more into the world.”
Whoa, talk about pressure. Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, I wrote a number of stories how women were urged to abort children with birth defects because one, they might die anyway and two, there was this supposed threat to the mother’s health.
I learned the latter was bogus and the woman wasn’t harmed by carrying the child to term at all. In fact, there’s an organization called Isaiah’s Promise that encourages women to not abort such pregnancies.
It was mentioned in the story that the mother had high blood pressure because she was pregnant with twins, meaning she’d need to deliver early. And usually women with conjoined twins have their pregnancies induced at least a month before the due date by C-section with surgical teams at the ready for the babies.
Aida had three grown children, so this wasn’t her first childbirth. None of the medical sources I checked mentioned conjoined twins as being dangerous for the mom. The story is unclear as to why would such a delivery be considered so dangerous for the mom that she’d be urged to abort it.
The story does say Aida prayed and that:
As the twins’ September due date approached, Aida met with a spiritual healer to help mentally prepare for the birth. Though Art had already chosen “Erika” as one of the twins’ names, Aida decided the second one should be called “Eva” -- a name she felt signified life.
A “spiritual healer”? Was this a minister, a shaman, a priest or what?
The missing details leaving such a gaping hole. We're never told whether these folks attend a church, temple or synagogue and where they might have gotten their determination not to abort. In the Bee video of the now-1-year-old twins, Aida admits that "the prayers have gotten us through a lot of the hard times."
Prayers? Whose? And when the newspaper includes a headline about the "miracle" of the twins' existence, that points to something causing that miracle. Or one would think.
Surely some kind of belief system is getting this family through such a difficult time. Were these questions even asked? Good journalism means giving the readers a better picture of what that is.