A Modicum of Dr. Tiller's Courage

We kept the appointment. We had the abortion. It broke our hearts. The only thing worse would have been not to do it.
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Nazi, Al Qaida, Stalin, NAMBLA. These are only a few of the comparisons the likes of Bill O'Reilly have drawn when describing Dr. George Tiller. The women whom Dr. Tiller treated use other words to describe their physician. Compassionate, gentle, kind. And most of all, courageous.

The schlock jocks have a permanent bully pulpit from which to incite violence and hatred. But what about the women whose stories are never told? What about the women who confess only in secret their tragic tales of babies with genetic and developmental abnormalities, who turn to each other to heal because to say the words out loud is too dangerous?

There are hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of us. And it's time, now, for us to try to assume a modicum of George Tiller's heroism. It's time for us to come out.

So here it is. When I was seventeen weeks pregnant with our third child, our doctor told us that the baby was suffering from a genetic abnormality. That was on a Friday. We scheduled a D&E, a two-day procedure, for the following Tuesday and Wednesday.

The next five days were without question the most difficult of our lives, both separately, and together, as a family. We consulted our parents, our friends, our rabbi. We went to a therapist who specialized in helping parents make this kind of decision. Mostly, we sat together, crying, and talking and trying to figure out which choice would be less wrong.

We didn't hide from the facts. We felt our baby kicking, we knew exactly what would happen to him during the course of the procedure. He had a name.

We kept the appointment. We had the abortion. It broke our hearts.

The only thing worse would have been not to do it.

During those five awful days, there was one thing we never needed to think about. Because we live in California, in the Bay Area, we had an abortion provider, the wonderful, loving, competent and proficient hero of our unheroic story, a physician who had spent his career bringing babies into the world, and who had decided that what the world needed, what our community was sorely missing, was a doctor who would, with a sure hand, and a kind heart, ease them out. By the time we became his patients, he was exclusively performing abortions, one of those doctors like George Tiller whom pro-life advocates like to call mass-murderers, and whose homes they stake out, whose windows they shatter with rocks. The doctors who are shot in the back as they make their way to church on a sunny Sunday morning.

Sitting in my doctor's office, I couldn't stop crying. Finally, he reached behind his desk and pulled a large stack of photographs off his shelf. The pictures were of babies. Babies of every color, shape and size. For a moment, I wondered how he could be so cruel. Then he asked me,

"Do you know what these are?"
I shook my head.
"These are the babies born to women who were once my patients. Look at them."
I leafed through the stack. I wasn't the first to have cried over these pictures. Many of them were already marked with stains from other people's tears.
"Every one of these babies is healthy. Every one is wanted. Every one is loved," he said. "And you will have another baby. A healthy baby who you will love."
"Do you promise?" I asked, as if he had the capacity to grant the wish. As if he was the one spinning the awful Roulette wheel.
"Yes," he said. "I promise."
On our way out, he took my husband aside, put his hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, "I will take care of her for you."

And take care of me he did. With his sure hand and his good heart. And soon, I added my own photograph to that collection. I will never forget that doctor's kindness, just like the patients of the blessed Dr. George Tiller will never forget his.

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