He didn’t build a chapel, but eventually he built something even better in her honor
SW: Could you describe your first encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe? Were you deeply religious at the time?
JB: In the summer of 1987, between my internship and residency, a friend invited me to go with him to Mexico City. We were there strictly as tourists, but after one long day, we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe while Mass was being celebrated. I was standing behind people, watching the Mass. When it ended, I heard a very feminine voice, a very loving, very direct voice saying “Why are you hurting me?” It was spoken directly to me and very penetrating. I looked around but didn’t see anyone near me who looked like an English-speaker. Of course, I was shocked by the experience, but then filed it away in the back of my mind. I had no desire to think about what she may have meant. Back then, she may have been recognized as Patroness of the Unborn, but I certainly didn’t make the connection.
Was I religious then? Not at all. I had put "the myths" behind me by then. I grew up in a great Polish family, all of us were devoted to the Blessed Mother. My parents had dedicated me to Our Lady of Częstochowa. I went to Catholic schools, served as an altar boy and attended a Jesuit college … where I began to lose my faith. During medical school and internship, I bought into the prevailing medical and cultural attitudes that contraceptives and abortion would free women from the shackles of their fertility. Contraception, sterilization and abortion were seen as the solution to poverty. It started with Planned Parenthood, of course, but by the 1980s, the Catholic Church was alone in rejecting that approach.
SW: What impact did that first encounter have on your life?
JB: I wish I could say it changed everything, but it didn’t. I had started attending an Assembly of God church which ran a crisis pregnancy center where I volunteered, but they wanted nothing to do with the Blessed Mother so I didn’t speak about it. After one year of general internship, future OBs do intensive OB practice, including terminations and IVF work. Then, in my first year of residency, I was working in a public health clinic in Portsmouth, Virginia and continued to hand out contraceptives, sterilize women and abort babies.
As part of my infertility elective during second year of residency, I was working at the pioneering Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine, helping create IVF embryos. Jones was on the cutting edge of IVF technology, creating the first American-born “test tube” baby. Left-over embryos were just tossed out. Jones Institute hadn’t yet built the first cryopreservation unit to freeze and store “excess” embryos. While I was there, we even coined the term “pre-embryo” to dehumanize pre-implantation embryos as a way to make what we were doing to them seem more acceptable, and I didn’t have a problem with any of this. We thought we were practicing infertility medicine in a way that was morally superior because, for example, by adjusting hormone levels, we could achieve pregnancy and live birth for women after inserting only 2-4 embryos, while other IVF clinics would insert 8-12 and they were endangering the lives of women and children by getting multiple fetuses and very preterm births.
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