While Some Push Abortion, This Mom is Blessed to Have Two Daughters With Microcephaly

International   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Feb 12, 2016   |   11:57AM   |   Washington, DC

A small but growing number of families and disability rights advocates are pushing back against abortion activists calls to legalize abortion for disabled babies in South America.

Several South American countries have reported unusually high rates of babies born with microcephaly,

a neurological disorder where a baby’s head is significantly smaller and the brain is abnormally developed, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition is not typically fatal, but it can cause health problems throughout the child’s life.

Because of a possible link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, some South American countries are advising women to avoid getting pregnant until the virus is under control. But abortion activists are targeting babies with disabilities instead, pushing women infected with Zika to abort even if they don’t know if their baby has the disorder.

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Families who have experiences with microcephaly are fighting back against the sudden eugenic targeting of babies with microcephaly. Wichita, Kansas mom Gwen Hartley is one of them. Hartley’s daughters, Claire and Lola, have microcephaly; and though she initially struggled when she learned about their diagnosis, today she believes they are a huge blessing to her family.

When Claire, her oldest, was born, doctors noticed she was very small, the stay-at-home mother told Cosmopolitan. Three months later, the doctors diagnosed Claire with microcephaly.

“They told me I should emotionally disconnect as much as I could, because she wasn’t going to live through the year,” Hartley said. “Well, I did the opposite. As a new mom, I knew I could do it. She deserved a chance to live, and I knew that doctor’s advice was wrong. Scott and I knew we could figure it out as parents that loved her so much. We decided we were going to optimize her life, and she is going to do awesome. We decided we were going to rock this.”

Her second challenge came during her pregnancy with Lola. When she was 26 weeks pregnant, her doctors told her that Lola also had microcephaly and hinted that she could have an abortion, the report states. But Hartley’s son Cal, who was 7 at the time, encouraged her to choose life.

“He said, ‘Mom, I just want to hold Lola, even if it’s just for a little bit, even if it’s just for a day,” she said. “I was so grateful to hear his perspective. I knew we had all the support, family, and resources we needed to make life great for Lola.”

Both Claire and Lola need a lot of care: They can’t feed or walk by themselves, and they struggle with sleep issues, visual impairment and frequent seizures, the report states. But the girls’ personalities still shine through, their mother said. Claire, who is almost 15, has the rebellious spirit of a typical teenager, and she loves to listen to rap music and watch her brother play basketball, her mother said. And Lola is unique in her choice of toys. Her mother wrote on her blog, The Harley Hooligans, that Lola’s favorite toy is a little rubber chicken.

A few weeks ago, Hartley addressed the Zika virus and its link to microcephaly on her blog: “It is sad to me that microcephaly is being vilified in the media due to Zika, and I hope that the general public realizes that though this diagnosis would not be something I would have chosen, I am NO LESS BLESSED by having two daughters with this condition than if they’d been born typical.”

Hartley is not shy about advocating for her daughters’ lives. Every year, she said she writes to Claire’s first doctor to remind him about how wrong his predictions were.

“New moms out there need to know they will have unanswered questions, and they are going to feel up against the wall,” she told the magazine. “But they can trust their heart. I write a letter to Claire’s first doctor every year around her birthday. I remind him that his prognosis was wrong, and I tell him to quit underestimating the strength of these kids that are fighting every day to be here. Shockingly, he never responds.”

She encouraged mothers in South America not to throw away their unborn babies’ lives because they are afraid.

“In the beginning, I was crushed,” Hartley said. “I’m sure these moms in Brazil are feeling that way. But if you open your mind enough, you realize your whole life is in preparation for this moment, and this moment will make you better. I don’t think I would have hung out with the me before Claire. I was so shallow. All I cared about was that I have this awesome husband, this awesome house, and an awesome kid.  Now, I am so glad I’m not that Gwen, because I took so much for granted. I’m glad the girls forced me to see the blessings I already had.”