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The Beltway’s ‘Iron Baby’
A child whom doctors were ready to write off, and the parents who wouldn’t give up.


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Kathryn Jean Lopez

‘They’re literally a murderers’ row.”

Disgusted with herself and her world, Olivia Pope, the character Kerry Washington plays on the ABC show Scandal, was sitting in the White House chief of staff’s office laughing hysterically about the dire choices the latest fictional presidential election affords. It was the only thing she could summon herself to do as she felt herself drowning in the swamp in which the “fixer” perversely seems to thrive.

Part of the point of a show like Scandal is the intense absurdity. But the next day,  at  a morning Mass at St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill packed with congressmen being preached to about radical Christian conversion, love, hope, and the dignity of the human person, I couldn’t help wishing this side of Washington, instead of the darkness of Scandal and the chic of the twisted Netflix hit House of Cards, was making its way more into our culture. Why do we not only tolerate but indeed celebrate and surround ourselves with and drown in such darkness?

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And we don’t have to, because there is light and there are people throughout this country, and even in and around the Beltway, who are beacons. I got to know Kathy and Paul through mutual friends in circles involving faith, family, and some of the highest offices around the nation’s capital. We share a healthy New York Yankee fans’ aversion to Red Sox Nation (and we remember when you could afford to buy tickets to the old stadium in the South Bronx) and have attended together a Pet Shop Boys concert at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall (which is just the strangest combination, isn’t it?). They’re good, fun, unassuming, kind, and generous people. They’re also heroic, as is their youngest, Margaret.

Ever since August 15, my favorite news from Washington has been pictures of Maggie. She’s one of those children who shouldn’t be alive by our modern “quality of life” standards; her condition was deemed “incompatible with life” by some doctors early on. Her parents had to fight so that her life would be valued and given a chance despite adverse diagnoses (some of them misdiagnoses). She was born with her intestines outside her and a whole host of other problems that suggested a short life. But, six months on, she is thriving.

“She was selfless when she was pregnant,” recalls Kathy’s good friend Casey, another mom who has had her scares and challenges. “She was nervous and not sure how things would turn out, but she kept going. Some doctors wanted her to give birth early, not really giving Maggie a chance. No way! Kathy fought for Maggie — the ‘Iron Baby.’ Maggie fought, too.”

“Kathy is amazing because of the way she goes about caring for Maggie, just doing what she knows is right, in a quiet, selfless way,” Casey tells me. “Selfless — that’s Kathy.”

About Maggie, she observes: “I find her fight to survive and persevere amazing. Never really understood or believed the term ‘she/he’s a fighter’ until Maggie came along. Her old NICU [neonatal-intensive-care unit] nurse believes strongly in this — if parents have a positive, hopeful attitude, it seems the baby feels that too.”

Kathy has had her own medical problems in recent days. She won’t tell you, but her good friend will — she has been in intense pain. The D.C. medical center where Maggie is still living (going home soon!) is a haul, but Kathy “went to see Maggie each day for two, three hours, despite her pain, the traffic, the 30-plus-minute commute. She is not complete unless she sees Maggie each day — sometimes even twice a day. She’d always return in time for carpool at St. Mary’s School. When we had a snow day, she didn’t look at it as ‘a free day to snuggle near the fire.’ She thought about those who care for Maggie and prayed that they could get to her safely. And she saw snow days as days that she could potentially not get to Maggie. That was hard for her.”

But Kathy — like so many courageous mothers and fathers, people we pass by everyday who are bearing heavy crosses — won’t stop fighting against a culture that often looks to solve problems with quick solutions instead of valuing self-sacrificial love and the joy we can be surprised by even in adversity.

Casey has dubbed Kathy’s husband “nothing-is-a-problem Paul.” As Casey puts it, “He stands by his wife, who he adores, and always puts some humor into things. Devoted to his kids, his wife — he takes care of them without asking questions. Duty.” Paul and Kathy both have a sense of duty and emanate joy.

Maggie had a fighting chance because her brave parents insisted and because some doctors are now fighting back against a medical culture increasingly comfortable with giving up on life for reasons of efficiency and resources and even regulation. In this family’s case, Dr. John Bruchalski is among their heroes; the Tepeyac Family Center he founded and its perinatal hospice program has been a Godsend for Maggie and her parents.

Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear the first challenge to Obamacare’s abortion-drug, contraceptive, and sterilization mandate. The runup has included Twitterfests insisting that the case, and the surrounding debate, is about women’s access to birth control and busybody businessmen trying to trample on women’s freedom. But the fact of the matter is that nearly a third of the 45 cases filed by for-profit businesses involve women plaintiffs; amicus curiae briefs have been filed by several public-policy groups led by women, including the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America, and a coalition of women in elected office across the country. Talk to plaintiffs Mary Frances Callahan, Mary Clare Bick, Mary Patricia Davies, Mary Margaret Jonz, and Mary Sarah Alexander at the St. Louis–based Bick Holdings company about the war they are supposedly waging on women.

If Americans can get over both our cynicism and our ridiculous expectations about Washington (never look for a politician — or any human being — to be a savior), and start expecting better and encouraging the good, the media might not fall back on manipulative, patronizing scare tactics so much. Reporters and commentators might instead look in the eyes of inner-city schoolchildren who are endangered by the HHS mandate, which threatens the future of the schools that make all the difference in many of their lives. Or they might think of a girl like Maggie and be inspired.

We talk about “choice.” We can choose the good and choose always to err on the side of life and flourishing — in our own lives, in our politics, in our medicine, in our culture.

– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

 



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