A story that I first heard 25 years ago is worth re-telling.
It was from Dr. J.A. MacDougall of St. John's, New Brunswick. It happened right after World War II before we had any effective treatment for tuberculosis.
Back in those days, when a person got active TB, we put them in a tuberculosis hospital and isolated them from the rest of the community, for they were contagious.
This story is about a 23-year-old woman. She was seriously ill with TB. Her husband had brought a mild case back home with him from the war and she had caught it.
She had literally no resistance and now was rapidly losing ground as the infection took its toll. The lower lobe of her right lung had an enlarging tuberculosis cavity in it.
She was weak and losing weight. The doctors had tried everything they knew and they had finally admitted that they were licked.
It was December. The doctor went in to tell her that medically there was no hope. The decision lay with God.
She asked just one thing: "If I'm still alive on Christmas Eve, I'd like your promise that I can go hom for Christmas." She had weighed 125 pounds, but was down to 87, and her fever ranged from 101 to 103. She looked terribly ill but always smiled.
The doctors had tried a new method of injecting aire into her abdominal cavity in an attempt to push her diaphragm up so as to collapse that part of the lung.
It was known then that if you could collapse the lung so that the cavity was compressed and closed, that sometimes nature would then take hold and the lung would begin to heal.
The attempt to inject air, a so-called pneumoperitonium, nearly killed her and they gave up for a bad try. With this, her last hope was gone, and they had told her that she was going to die.
But Christmas came, and a promise had been made, so, with great misgivings, they let her go home, instructing her to shield her mouth and her breathing from her loved ones. She came back to the hospital late Christmas Day. Every day there after her condition grew just a little bit worse and yet she didn't die. To the doctors' continuing amazement, she hung on. At the end of February, she was less than 80 pounds.
And then a new complication — she became nauseated, even without food in her stomach. And what did they discover? It was ridiculous, but she had become pregnant when home on Christmas Day. But she was so ill, so weak, she couldn't possibly have conceived — her body wouldn't have been up to it. But she was pregnant. The test was positive. There she was on the very outer frontier of life herself, and she now held within her body another life!
Legally, medically, an abortion could have been done back then, for it certainly imperiled her life, but she and her husband were against it; the doctors were against it. And, in this case, the abortion might well have killed her. Besides, the doctors thought her body would reject the baby.
But one week passed, and then another. Never once did the doctors doubt that she was dying. But for some totally unexplained reason, she kept living and she stayed pregnant. March became April, became May, and became June. And then a totally unexpected and incredible thing happened. Her temperature began to go down. For the first time, they noted some slight improvement in her condition, and then a little more, and a little more.
She began to eat. She gained a little weight, and then chest x-rays showed that the enlargement of the cavity in her lung had stopped. More than that, another x-ray showed why. Her diaphragm was being pushed up against the lungs, collapsing the lower lobe. And who was doing the pushing? The baby in her womb!
Nature was doing exactly what the doctors had been unable to do. It was pressing the sides of the deadly hole together — the baby was saving his mother. The baby did save her, and at birth the baby was normal and healthy. By then the tuberculosis cavity had closed and the mother was markedly better. A few months later, she was sent home.
Dr. MacDougall, who told this story and cared for her, said, and let me quote him: "That child didn't destroy his mother — he saved her. Call it the will of God, call it human love, call it the mystical quality of motherhood, the turning in upon her to fight still more because she still had more to fight for; call it what you will — it happened. I still wonder at what she did and at the unfathomable force it signifies." [Life Issues Connector, July 2008]