Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Keeping Elise

When Elise and I are out together in public, there’s one main question that is usually asked. In various forms of polite inquiry, people want to know -- what happened to her?

I took Elise to get her haircut today, and then decided to swing on over to get my eyebrows waxed. I usually wouldn’t take her along for such an errand, but if I wait too long to do this, I begin to look like Brooke Shields in the 80s. Not a good look in 2012. I wheeled her to a room in the back of the salon, and laid down on the table to wait for the lady to come in and inflict some serious pain on my eyebrows. Elise was in the middle of an adorable session of “how many times can I hit myself in the jaw in under a minute?” When the woman came in, I introduced her to Elise and told her that she was ok, and that she just liked to hit herself. There’s really no better way of putting it in a situation like that. As the lady was spreading on wax and peeling off what felt like my eyelid skin, she began to ask me questions about Elise. I welcome the curiosity, and love answering anything regarding her. Well, this question and answer session took an interesting turn. After hearing a brief summary of Elise’s story, she asked me, “You didn’t want an abortion?” In an attempt to end this painful and awkward moment, I told her no, that I don’t believe in abortion. She replied with “Oh, religion.” I politely let her know that God created Elise and that we wanted her regardless of her issues.

This is a common misconception. Religion didn’t hold me back against something that I otherwise would have wanted to do. I wanted her. I yearned for her. There isn’t anything that the doctors could have told me that could have changed that. A mother craves her child. Being a Christian, not mere religion, carefully guides my decisions led by the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:22–23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Believe it or not, this was not the first time I was asked this question. Early on in her life, I began to realize that there were people who looked at Elise and saw a child who should never have been born. (Thankfully, this attitude seems to be in the minority). This was introduced to me at a doctor’s appointment for myself. I was in the examination room with Elise beside me in her little wheelchair. She was around 3-years-old. The doctor herself was pregnant, so she was especially interested in what had happened to Elise. After explaining the whole story to her with the fact that I had knowledge of the brain injury while pregnant, she asked me with much concern, “I’m curious -- since you were blessed to know in your second trimester that Elise was going to have these problems, why didn’t you abort her?”

Knot in throat.
Stomach punch.
Heart racing.

I was so caught off guard that all I could muster was, “I don’t believe in abortion. I’m a Christian.” My thoughts were all jumbled up, still confused as to whether she actually just asked me that. Doctor or not, that little girl sitting next to her in that very room was my baby. She was my baby at conception. She was my baby in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimesters. She was my baby as soon as she took her first breath. She was still my baby -- brain injured or not.

I have held on to the memory of the first time that the subject of abortion was approached. I was lying on the table with a belly covered in jelly. The ultrasound had confirmed that Elise wasn’t getting any better. It was final. She definitely had significant brain injury. Not the worst they had seen, but close. I had prepared myself for the news, and I held my breath as my gaze searched the darkened room to find my mom. She was doing a good job of faking composure, and that helped.

My doctor, looking a bit uneasy, got right to the chase. He asked if I wanted to abort Elise or keep her, as if she was a puppy I was deciding on. “Well, she pees on the carpet, but she’s so darn cute. I think I’ll keep her!”

Not that it’s some defining moment that caused me worry and angst. It was quite the opposite. When I was given the choice for her to live or die, the ONLY choice I had was for her to live. It was a quick response that I gave and it was never brought up again. It was kind of an awkward moment, an experience that is hard to explain. It was never a dilemma of whether or not to “keep” Elise. She already had a name given to her by me, and a soul given to her by God. As a matter of fact, that one issue was the easiest decision that I have ever had to make regarding Elise.

Life. I continued with her life. I would go through and finish what God considered good enough to start in the first place.
Sure, aborting Elise would have meant that I might have had several more children by now, maybe even another girl. Aborting Elise would mean that the stress and anxiety that has come with her life would never have happened. Aborting Elise would mean that my family would not have to shoulder the burdens and hurt that accompany raising a child with brain injury.

Most importantly, though, -- Aborting Elise would have taken away Elise.

Elise- the little girl that I hear laughing her head off in her room as I type these words.
Elise- my daughter who enjoys baths, playing with her vibrating butterfly, and the feeling of wind in her face.
Elise- who can sit perfectly still in my lap with her hand on my mouth and jaw, feeling the vibrations of my voice, and even ask for more by vocalizing.

Keeping Elise meant that we trusted what God had planned for her life and ours.
Keeping Elise meant that we were willing to face the good, the bad, and the ugly, while still finding joy in her life.
Keeping Elise meant that we believed God’s word when it was said:

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that fully well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:13-16).
Not only do I believe that Elise should, in fact, have been born, I also know that anyone who questions that fails to see her as I do. People often lose sight of the fact that Elise is a real person. She isn’t just a brain injury. When we are at a party, at church, or on the sidelines at Lane’s soccer game, and Elise starts giggling, people’s reactions are sincerely surprised. They say, “Look! She’s laughing! She’s smiling! Look!!!” I understand their shock and I appreciate their excitement. After all, they don’t live with her and see all that she can do. It always reminds me of the Frankenstein movie where Dr. Frankenstein yells, “It’s Alive!!!!” People generally don’t see that she is far more complex than it seems at first sight. I love it when others see her emotions because it shows a more human side of her, not just the girl sitting in her wheelchair with a far away look in her eyes that is usually the case.

I once had a friend who was facing a pregnancy with a baby who was developing with obvious problems. Her baby’s outcome was very shaky, and the parents were beside themselves. One morning at church, our Sunday school class prayed over this family and asked God for healing and strength for this mom and dad. Afterward, she sought me out and fell to pieces telling me that she just couldn’t imagine dealing with what we deal with every day. She was mortified at the thought of facing a future similar to ours. She didn’t think that she had the ability to cope and was truly desperate. I reassured her that whatever God’s plan was for her baby, she and her husband would rise to the occasion. Being a fellow believer in Christ gave me the confidence to assure her of the help He would provide. It saddens me to know that there are so many other families like that who are facing the same sort of situation that don’t have the gift of faith and God’s grace to get them through. Trusting in the Lord makes these situations so much easier on moms and dads that are desperately clinging to their own sanity while coming to terms with their future with a special needs child.
Some think it is selfish to bring a child into the world when they can’t live it fully like you or I. Others see it as cruel to give her life when it will be full of struggles. And still others see our lives as something that could have been avoided, resulting in an easier or happier existence. Implying that I am in some way to blame for her being in this condition can be shocking and hurtful. Thank goodness I have only come across this point of view a handful of times! I have written before of the heavy burden of responsibility I feel for Elise’s care, but I have never, even for one second, felt any personal fault for her being alive. You have to understand that for people like me, abortion is the taking of an innocent life by someone who doesn’t hold the authority to make that decision. It is that simple. Just as there are others who will say emphatically that it’s not, I say it is. There’s no two ways about it. I am thankful for this conviction, because it spared me from the trouble of having to make a decision for another life based on feelings, fairness, or a false sense of fixing something that is broken.

We didn’t use any extraordinary means to save her life. We allowed nature to take its course. She was born, and now she lives. She will die when God is ready to take her. What an awesome feeling to put that responsibility squarely in His hands!
Elise is most definitely a child of God, flaws and all. I’m heartbroken that she has to feel pain, and that she’ll never have anything close to a normal intelligence. I hate it that she can’t enjoy the beauty of this world and run through the house naked after a bath. No matter what brings me to my knees about Elise’s condition, I am secure in the knowledge that if nothing else, she deserves to live. And she’s doing a pretty darn good job of it!

Thank you, Jesus, for my beautiful, giggling baby girl, Elise Caroline.

4-D Ultrasound closeup of Elise’s face

Elise enjoying life!

(For anyone contemplating terminating their pregnancy with a child that is going to have any level of special needs, do me a favor. Go back to my very first post and scroll through pictures of Miss Elise. See that her life is full, and so is ours. Was this what we always dreamed of in a daughter? No. That’s just it, though. Life is not a dream. Tragedies will happen; hearts will break. But out of adversity, you will gain much love. And there’s no love stronger than that of a mother and her child.)

I had to sneak a belly pick in! Excitedly awaiting Elise's birth...

If you want to learn more about Elise's life and her personal struggles, check out "Elise in a Nutshell" here.


  1. Ashley. I have no words (and you know that doesn't happen to me often!!) This is a stunning picture of the abortion dilemma that even Christians find themselves in when faced with a "special needs" pregnancy. Your words that said "she is a person" speak volumes. She was then, she is now. Thank you Jesus for Elise. Thank you Jesus for giving Elise: Ashley, Chris, Lane, Ty and their grandparents. Precious.

  2. Ashley,
    I can't tell you how beautiful this part of your story is and how grateful I am to have found you and Elise in my life. I think and pray for you guys every day and wish we lived closer so we could spend time together with our girls. Nykkole's story, even though different in some ways, is similar in ALOT of ways. You just put to words many of my feelings about her challenging life also, but how blessed we are to share it with her! God IS good:)
    Thank you friend,
    Love Nancy

  3. You expressed yourself beautifully. I've never met you and hadn't read your blog until today, but I'm so thankful that you gave this child life. Life is precious no matter what. Elise is precious! It breaks my heart that people abort babies because they fear for an uncomfortable future for themselves and their child. You have truly risen to the occasion and you are to be praised!!

  4. thanks for posting this Ashley! I'll have to share for sure. Hope all is well!

  5. Ashley,
    I can't tell you how beautiful this part of your story is and how grateful I am to have found you and Elise in my life. I think and pray for you guys every day and wish we lived closer so we could spend time together with our girls. Nykkole's story, even though different in some ways, is similar in ALOT of ways. You just put to words many of my feelings about her challenging life also, but how blessed we are to share it with her! God IS good:)
    Thank you friend,
    Love Nancy

  6. Beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing. The fact that some people think abortion is okay because the baby won't be like everyone else disappoints me. God made Elise special and she is here to serve a purpose. Just like we all are. ALL of our lives have purpose and meaning and it's not up to us to decide who gets the right to serve out that purpose and who doesn't.
    I sent you an email about another special little girl and her mom. I'll put the blog address here as well.
    Have a great weekend!

  7. How great to clarify the confusion of abortion. Even better to remind us that truly we should just enjoy our children no matter what. I lost a son at 14 (asthma-but otherwise normal , sassy teen) I would have taken the 14 yrs no matter what. May I remember your words whenever I am lucky enough to be around an Elise. She is lovely and such a blessing.-Sister in Christ.

    1. Hello! I just saw your comment from several years ago! I wanted to thank you for your kind and inspiring words...

  8. Thank you for your post.
    I'm not sure how I got here! I am a nurse researching coping techniques in parents of children with special needs. I have my own special girl who is 9.
    We didn't know anything until my Miss decided to make a premature arrival and she was born with a complex genetic condition. We were asked about withdrawing care, turning off life support, etc... But my husband and I believed God made us her parents at conception, and parents should never give up on their children. So we haven't. And she continues to surprise us every day <3

    1. Hi! I found some old comments on several of my blogs recently. I have no idea how I have missed them :) I'm sure we would both have plenty of stories we could trade back and forth about our girls! Thank you for reading, and enjoy your girl!!!