The Corner


Perfectly Human: Conversations With Cerian’s Mother

Signs at the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C. (Katie Yoder/National Review)

Many would say that Sarah Williams already had it all that day over a decade ago when she was told her unborn child would die just after birth.

She already had two children, was happily married, and enjoyed a successful career teaching history at the University of Oxford. Now, the British academic and mother was faced with an excruciating choice when physicians informed her that her daughter, whom she and her husband named Cerian, had thanatophoric dysplasia, which meant her chest was too small to support her lung development.

Those around Williams, physicians and her close academic friends, saw abortion as the logical choice for both mother and child.

“It’s the kindest thing to do, isn’t it?” she remembers asking her husband.

“I can only say we both felt God speak a message to our hearts as clearly as if he had been talking with us in person: ‘Here is a sick and dying child. Will you love this child for me?’” Williams writes in her book describing her experience with Cerian.

Williams carried her daughter to term, and Cerian passed away an hour before she was born.

Fourteen years later, on the eve of the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C., Williams re-released her ever more poignant story, Perfectly Human: Nine Months With Cerian, originally published under the title, The Shaming of the Strong.

“When I had this experience in my third pregnancy it opened my eyes to what was going on our culture and it was unbelievable,” Williams said in an interview with National Review.

A particular issue the book touches on is,“What does it actually mean to be a person and to be conferred with personhood by our culture?” she said.

“That issue seems even more topical today than it’s ever been,” she said, explaining that many people are unaware of Britain’s “discriminatory” laws dealing with unborn life.

Britain allows abortions up to 24 weeks in most cases, but through all nine months if the mother’s life or health is at stake or if the child has a fetal abnormality, as in Cerian’s case.

“That to me is such a blinding contradiction,” Williams said. “In Britain we’re talking all the time about accessibility and inclusion of those with different mental and physical challenges.”

“But people don’t know about it,” she said.“They don’t know.”

Prenatal screening in Britain is voluntary but state-funded, and it is expected that everyone gets screened at 20 weeks of pregnancy to check for fetal abnormalities, Williams said.

“From a public policy perspective, this is not random. There is an agenda,” she added. “The government’s policy is no different from eugenics.”

Williams faced her share of adamant critics, even among some of her closest friends, academics who had “spent much of their careers fighting to establish women in positions within the academy which were traditionally male-orientated” and could not understand her decision to continue carrying a child slated to die, she said.

The rage over the abortion issue appears to be “particular to third-wave feminism,” she said, adding that she is optimistic that millennials think differently.

“My generation is so driven by that agenda . . . that we consider marriage and family and children to be somehow the negation of being a woman,” Williams observed.

In her book, she attempts to “use language that doesn’t put anybody in any boxes so that we can get away from the tram lines of the language in the debate which polarize the debate.”

Although she tries to avoid speaking about her time with Cerian in terms of God, Williams said God was indeed present in an indescribable way through those nine months.

“It was an encounter with a God that was just so gentle, that wasn’t trying to negate my choice or negate my freedom, but he wanted to woo me into something that was just beautiful, a gift,” she said. “I felt freedom.”

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