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A Mother's Choice: Her Baby or Herself

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Ronda Kaysen: When one mother discovered, at 24 weeks pregnant, that she had a malignant brain tumor, she was faced with an unthinkable choice: treat her cancer and lose the baby, or wait until the baby could live on her own and risk her own life.

distraught mom

In a stunning act of devotion to her baby, she chose to delay treatment until she knew the baby was strong enough to live outside the womb. A recent Los Angeles Times essay recounts her harrowing tale.

Doctors told the mother, a young Indian woman in her 20s, that if she didn't treat the aggressive tumor immediately, she would likely die. But the fetus would probably not survive treatment. She decided to delay treatment and slipped into a coma within days.

"To our astonishment -- and joy -- the comatose woman 'hung in' until the 28th week," writes Linda Reid Chassiakos, a pediatrician who was involved in the case. "At that point, an ultrasound showed the fetus was probably over the 2-pound mark, and her doctors scheduled the caesarean. Gasping for air, the child was born at a size and weight that would give her a fighting chance of life."

The mother's surgery followed, and doctors removed enough of the tumor so she could regain consciousness and meet her tiny daughter. Although the baby developed lung and gastrointestinal infections, her long-term prognosis was good. The mother, however, was not so lucky. Two weeks before her little girl was released from the hospital, her mother died.

This story just about broke my heart. What a horrible choice to have to make. If I were given the same choice, I think my survival instinct would kick in and I'd opt for treatment. After all, I'd want my child to grow up with a mother. I'm truly amazed by this woman's act of bravery.

Moms, what would you do if you had to make a choice like this?

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48 comments so far | Post a comment now
N May 17, 2009, 11:31 AM

it was a bad choice now a child is motherless, she could have had another baby, that kid can’t create another mom.

Anne May 17, 2009, 12:45 PM

If the mom had opted for cancer treatment, there is a good chance they both would’ve died. The odds aren’t great for a full recovery in that kind of very aggressive brain cancer and chemo/radiation often renders the patient sterile. I think she did the right thing and it’s wonderful that she got to see the baby. I also greatly admire her husband for respecting her decision. That must’ve been very hard for him. I hope there is an extended family to help raise this tiny girl.

littlepeapie May 17, 2009, 2:33 PM

No question for me, the child’s life is more precious….save my son and throw me under the bus any day.

Marne Mahoney May 17, 2009, 3:20 PM

I would have done the same exact thing this mother did. It is very unfortunate that this mother died, however she brought life into this world. In my own opinion this act was very unselfish. I am sure she didnt expect to go so fast. Just because this child is motherless does not mean this child is doomed. There is some reason this event happened. This is the way it was meant to be.

C May 17, 2009, 7:07 PM

I won’t ever tell someone their tragedy happened for a reason. Even if you mean well, it’s callous and cruel.

It is lucky that the baby was able to survive this, as 28 week preemies are so fragile, and losing both would have been so much harder for the family.

mercaties May 17, 2009, 7:09 PM

Also, no question for me I would have chosen the babys life. The ultimate act of love. This woman would have died eventually this type of cancer is very agressive. Her poor husband would have been left without a child and a wife.

Vita David May 17, 2009, 7:16 PM

So brave and so sad. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family. That is an amazing thing to do. Her poor husband. I know he will make sure to tell the baby how brave her Mom was.

Jill (the other one) May 17, 2009, 8:36 PM

N, odds are this woman would not have been able to have another baby. Brain tumors are horrible things, and neurosurgeons almost never remove all of them because it can be hard to tell tumor from brain tissue. Odds are she would have died any way. What a lovely, selfless thing this woman did, saving her child.
I don’t know that any of us can say for sure what we would do in this situation, never having been there. I can’t imagine having to make that kind of choice. But I admire this woman for the choice she made. What a sad, beautiful story.

Dara S May 17, 2009, 8:41 PM

This is the definition of unconditional love. if i was told tomorrow i had to chose between my life or my unborn child’s, i would make the same decision.

Kristen May 17, 2009, 9:17 PM

I actually have to say that I have no clue what I would do in this situation and I’m very sorry for anyone having to make this choice but I will say that I am VERY thankful that she even HAD the option.

ame i. May 17, 2009, 10:47 PM

Neither of my daughters would have fared well if left in the care of my late-husband. I didn’t realize how selfish & self-centered he was until our daughters were born. I suspect he would probably have kept them from my parents out of spite if something had happened to me. Plus, he died in 2003.

abbi May 17, 2009, 11:05 PM

i agree with the first comment.
you can have another kid, the kid can’t make another mom.


Pansy Moss May 18, 2009, 2:18 PM

My motherly instinct would kick and I’d do what she did. Wouldn’t even consider anything else.

Jenn May 18, 2009, 2:19 PM

There is no guarantee the treatment would have worked, and for cancer that aggresive I doubt it would have. Therefore, I would have chosen the baby too. That would leave the father with a little bit of her

Heather C May 18, 2009, 2:19 PM

Please Lord, let me never have to face this choice. There is just no right answer… I have two other children, so another child would be my third… is there any OTHER treatment? Could I risk leaving my two other children childless? Could I really choose to let the child in my belly die? I have no idea what I’d do…

Tatiana May 18, 2009, 2:21 PM

I’d do exactly the same thing she did.

Laurie/Mobile Mommy May 18, 2009, 2:22 PM

That’s a very hard choice to make. I’d have to weigh it very carefully - like what the odds might be with immediate treatment (if low, would definitely want to give baby a better chance). Also, if in my current situation, would have my older kids to consider and would be more likely to treat myself so that they don’t lose their mother.

anonymouse May 18, 2009, 3:00 PM

I agree with N.

Chrissy May 18, 2009, 3:03 PM

If I have to face this decision today, already having two small children - I would have opted to save my life. I already made my commitment to my children and my husband.
The doctors said the baby “would probabley die” if the mother had treatment. Probablely isn’t definite.

Shannon May 18, 2009, 4:02 PM

Omggg! Break my heart into a million pieces! If I had to make the same choice I would’ve wanted to do exactly the same thing! Now my honey and father of our 9 month old may have a different opinion.

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