As the birthday of our nation edges closer, I am drawn to a level of sadness. Fireworks, BBQs, parades, flag waving are all festive, and bring so much happiness and elation to most people, however the 4th of July brings bittersweet memories to me. 26 years ago, a little angel came into my life, and sadly went out almost immediately.
I speak of my son, Michael Ryan Burns-Gartlan, who was born and died on the 4th of July, 1984. He would have been the middle child. His sister is Eryn Corry and his brother is Bryan. He is my angel now, but still, I remember him every day of my life, and as his birthday approaches, I think back to the decisions I made 26 years ago.
Michael had so many birth issues. I can still recall the blank faces of the med students in the exam room, as they stared on the ultrasound monitor. At first, it was just my mom, the US tech and me in the room. The big clue that something was wrong was when the US tech left the room, and returned with the doctor and a little pod of med students. It was then that I learned what everyone saw on the screen.
Michael was diagnosed with a congenital heart anomaly, spina bifada, cystic hygroma right off the bat. Those were the maladies that could be seen on the monitor. Then came the amniocentesis. A large bore needle, inserted into the womb to drain amniotic fluid off, in order to conduct genetic testing. This revealed more problems - the most damning being that of Down's Syndrome. I was told that even if Michael survived his birth, the chances of me raising him at home were close to nil, as he would most likely need to be institutionalized.
The drive home from USC that day was long and very, very heartbreaking. All the specialists the USC had to offer couldn't change the fact that my son was in trouble. Some people suggested terminating the pregnancy. I simply couldn't fathom that. Murder is not an option. When we, as people, begin the systematic elimination of the human race based solely on a birth defect, we hover dangerously close to what Hitler and other monsters had done in our history. I would not even consider this abortion option. I had already felt Michael move, heard his little heart beating and bonded to him, in utero.
Michael's father and I decided to go forward with the pregnancy. We had the support of our families, and knew that we faced some very daunting days ahead of us. Our main concern was that Michael was in no pain, in the womb. That would have killed us - to imagine a baby in any pain. Thankfully, we were assured by the genetic specialist, that Michael did not suffer at all.
Weekly visits to USC began after the initial diagnosis. With what was considered an extremely high risk pregnancy, it was also a learning opportunity for the medical school. At times I felt like an experiment, but I truly believed, and still do, that if just one of those students monitoring my pregnancy could help discover a way to prevent this ever happening again, to another mother, than it was worth it to me.
Every week brought another test, another poke, another ultrasound. Every week I was blessed with the sound of Michael's heart beating. I could feel him moving. It brought me great comfort to feel him inside of me, safe from the world...safe from a world that would soon judge him based upon his diseases.
On July 4th, early in the morning, I went into labor, and was sent to USC to deliver. The labor was painful. Physical pain, which I could deal with, still was uneasy. However, it was the mental anguish that was ripping me in two. I delivered Michael. He had severe physical deformities. He was wrapped in a blanket, and then died in my arms. If ever one questions as to the presence of a holy spirit, or soul, I can attest to the fact that I felt the presence of God in that delivery room, and felt the little soul of my son, as it passed through my body, and went to heaven. I held Michael for quite a while. I did not want to let go. What other people might have considered hideous, I saw a beautiful blond baby boy, with a little nose and chin. I saw little fingers, little toes. In my opinion and in my heart, I held the epitome of perfection.
How lucky Michael was to be born. How lucky he was to have died. He would not have to face the pain of people staring at him, because of his deformities. He would not have to face painful ridicule. He was so blessed to enter heaven and live among all of his relatives that had gone before him. A life full of grace.
There are some days when I can feel my son's presence around me. I have even had the rare, but blessed chance to encounter his spirit near me during a particularly trying time in my life. I imagine and dream of what he would look like now, as a young man of 26. I daydream about what his life might have been like. When my daddy passed away, one of the statements he made to me was that he was going to see his grandson. This brought me such joy. I can't even imagine the spectacular amount of jubilation as someone enters heaven, and they are greeted by family. Michael is there now... with so many people I loved in my life.
So, as the 4th of July draws closer, i am reminded that I was given a gift 26 years ago. I was and remain Michael Ryan Burns-Gartlan's mother. I love you dear boy!