In December 2006, after two normal pregnancies that filled their home with three boys including a set of twins, the Horvath's were thrilled to learn during a routine ultrasound that they were expecting a little girl. Then the shoe dropped. The ultrasound showed something else. "The doctor came in. She wasn't smiling. Her expression was grim....She went right to the point. Our new baby girl had a lot of fluid in her skull, a condition called hydrocephalus. The doctor told us that it could be just hydrocephalus, or, worst case scenario, it could mean that she had Spina Bifida (SB)" [Spina Bifida is a general term for a group of a neural tube defects where a segment of the spinal column fails to close resulting in a buildup of fluid in the brain.]
A second ultrasound showed that the baby had the most severe form of the disease, myelomenigocele spina bifida. While there was no way to know the severity of the outcome, the baby could end up mentally and physically handicapped, catheterized, and permanently unable to walk - or not. "Here was the brutal reality," Horvath says, "there was no way of knowing the future."
Like other families faced with similar bad news, the Horvath's went into mourning. "I descended into the depths of self-pity," Horvath says, "I had thoughts, some of which I will not dare to share here....Together my wife and I entered the grieving process although no one had actually died. But that isn't really true. Someone did die." He goes on to describe all the normal events of childhood and laments, "We mourned the daughter we would not have."
At this point, the Horvaths had a choice -- not abortion -- because as serious Christians the decision for life had been made years before, even if not verbally articulated. Killing this little one created by God was not an option for them. But how would they face the reality? "We passed through our despair and entered forcefully into resolve....We were going to love this child....We stood up under the crushing reality and decided we were not going to be slaves to it."
Horvath shares the details of the pregancy and birth and the challenges of the early days. Then he shifts focus from his personal story to the argument for life. Without glossing over the challenging realities he points out that doctors can be mistaken. The diagnosis may be wrong and normal babies have been aborted. But even if the worst case scenario occurs, Horvath argues, "the children can still bring you immense joy." He invites readers also to ponder the bigger questions: the personhood of the unborn, the rights and privileges due to human beings no matter how small, and the slippery slope that leads from abortion to atrocities such as My Lai. He also addresses God's role in our decision-making and includes thought-provoking ideas for non-believers.
This little booklet, less than 75 pages, is a testimony to life, even in its most difficult and painful circumstances. Horvath says, "I want the reader to know that it is possible to get knocked on your butt with devastating news and then stand up and refuse to allow circumstances to dictate how you will feel about the world. The pain, suffering, and grief are real, but there is no reason why you have to be enslaved to them." Pain, Horvath reminds us, is inseparable from love. "Our only alternative," he says, "is to shut out the world and all of the people in it."
It's important to remember that this dad speaks from experience. The testimony of fathers is a powerful witness. Millions have viewed Matt Mooney's video tribute (below) to his little son Eliot who was diagnosed at seven months in utero with trisomy 18 and died ninety-nine days after birth. His story, like the Horvath's bears witness to the reality of joy in the midst of deep suffering. But I'll let Horvath speak for himself.
As the father of a child who is disabled I can affirm that the joy of relationship easily surpasses the pain, sorrow, and and hardship that has accompanied it. If you can push yourself through the valley of suffering and doubt you find yourself in today...You might also gain an insight into the heart of God. It is something to consider.In our culture of death, fathers like Anthony Horvath and Matt Mooney exemplify the role of the Christian dad who stands up to defend the very life of his threatened little one. Other fathers facing similar circumstances can benefit from their stories. We Chose Life should be on the bookshelf of crisis pregnancy centers and OB/GYNs. When bad news comes, it offers a hope to move beyond the pain into the joy of new life, no matter how challenging. Thank God for the gift of life first, then thank Dad. He is the defender of the family, especially its most vulnerable members.