Mom Chooses Life for Fatally Ill Unborn Baby Despite Doctors’ Pressure to Have Abortion

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Nov 2, 2021   |   6:05PM   |   Boston, Massachusetts

When Monica Canetta heard the words “incompatible with life,” she did not understand what her doctor meant.

Her unborn son Matteo was alive. She could see him and watch his tiny heart beating on the ultrasound screen.

In a column at USA Today, Canetta, a teacher from Boston, described the intense pressure that her family and many others face to make one and only one “choice,” abortion, when their unborn babies are diagnosed with fatal disorders.

“They are questions that get to the core of human suffering and the reality that there is so much of life we cannot control or escape,” she said. “We knew immediately that there was nothing we could do to save Matteo. We could have eliminated him. But was that a real solution?”

Back in 2015, Canetta said she and her husband were devastated when they learned that Matteo had Trisomy 18, which is often fatal. But they were determined to give their son the best care and medical attention that he deserved while he was alive.

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Their doctors had a different idea. Though they said they supported the Canettas, it quickly became clear that they really only had one “choice” in mind: abortion.

“In the weeks that followed, a parade of doctors pushed a slew of tests on me,” Canetta said. “For more choices – that was always their justification. Never mind that I had already made my choice, they only seemed determined to change it.”

She so desperately wanted to hear one doctor encourage and support her. Finally, Cannetta said their priest recommended Dr. Lucy Bayer-Zwirello, a high-risk specialist and the chief of maternal-fetal medicine at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston.

“Your baby is beautiful,” she remembered Bayer-Zwirello saying as she looked at the ultrasound screen. “I am happy to accompany you. Let’s see what the baby will do.”

At 34 weeks of pregnancy, Canetta said she was induced and their son was born, alive and crying. She and her husband named him Matteo, which means “gift from God,” and had him baptized. The family spent “two of the most precious hours” of their lives with Matteo before he died, holding him in their arms, taking photos, singing to him and letting him meet his siblings, his mother said.

“Matteo died surrounded by loving family and in the care of medical staff that helped to give him the dignified death he was worthy of,” she said. “And I, as his mother, experienced the grief of his death feeling fully supported.”

For too many other mothers, however, the same cannot be said.

Canetta wrote:

So many women facing a terminal diagnosis do so alone. They suffer greatly, unjustly deprived of a supportive community. Too often that injustice begins in the doctor’s office, where women are berated with so-called choices but in reality left feeling as if they only have one. I had to fight for respect for my choice to bring my terminally ill baby into the world, and until I found truly supportive medical care, the doctor’s office was the only place where I did not feel sustained.

Women deserve better than false choices shrouded in medicine. Matteo’s story is a testament to the truth that suffering and grief can deepen our love for one another. It only took one doctor willing to accompany me to open a world of love. It should not be the exception to the norm.

Babies deserve better, too. Matteo’s diagnosis, his level of development and his location in the womb should not have undermined his worth. The idea of killing a terminally ill newborn or toddler would be abhorrent to most people. Yet, abortion is justified, even encouraged, just because a baby has not been born yet. Matteo’s life was valuable and deserving of care, even though it was tragically short. He was a unique, precious human being, just like any other child.