Because we love you –
holding down my arms.
They said everything smiling –
as they pressed on the pillow.
It was like gagging on a mother's breast.
22 March 1980
I don’t say who’s narrating this poem. The term ‘assisted suicide’ wasn’t commonplace in 1980 but I wasn’t thinking about an older person who might well have given informed consent. My wife would’ve been five months pregnant when I wrote this poem and I clearly had a child in mind. Not that we had been led to expect anything untoward. We knew nothing of what was to come, not even the sex. I never gave a second thought when my daughter was born that there might be anything wrong with her so it wasn’t even a deep-seated fear. The only truth that was revealed that day was how much I wanted a daughter. Up until the moment my wife was actually giving birth I’d maintained that I was happy no matter what but as the child was slipping from her I found myself thinking: Please let it be a girl.
I can’t imagine smothering my daughter no matter what. That’s not what dad’s do. And yet there are parents faced with that decision daily. An amniocentesis test examines the amniotic fluid surrounding the developing baby. The test is not offered to every pregnant woman and we certainly were never offered it but what if we had been? And what if it revealed that our child had a 99.4% chance of being born with Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Cystic Fibrosis or Muscular Dystrophy? What then?
What would we have done? I don’t know. I really don’t know. There are some things you simply cannot plan for. And this is one of them. I’d like to think I’d have done the right thing. But what’s the right thing?