The personal testimony of a couple who refused abortion and welcomed their baby girl, knowing she would die.
Today I have the honor and the privilege of telling you the story of Imma and Giacinto, a married couple whom I thank for having shared with me their testimony of Martamaria, their baby girl, who lived “only” five days after her birth. That “only” was in reality an unexpected, abundant grace, compared to the physician’s unhappy prognosis. But let’s go in order.
I learned of Imma’s story through her beloved friend Titti, the young mother who refused therapeutic abortion in order to bring Benedetta into the world, although she was also afflicted with an illness that was incompatible with life. Benedetta lived only a few hours and was born at the Comfort Care wing of the Villa Betania hospital in Naples, Italy. I told you her beautiful story of “full joy” as she herself describes it. That is how I came to meet Imma, to whom I am grateful for having accepted this interview with great warmth and enthusiasm, although “interview” seems to be the wrong word for it. Because in reality it is a testimony, crystalline water that flows and nourishes the arid and dry soil that is often our heart. The words Imma gave me traveled with so much warmth from her end of the telephone line to mine, making us two new friends rather than two strangers.
Dear Imma, thank you for your openness. Tell me, how did you find out that the little girl you had in your womb was suffering from an illness described as “incompatible with life”?
In 2013, one year after the birth of my first child, who came after several miscarriages, I became pregnant again. I was very happy and I lived the early days of pregnancy with a much more serene state of mind than the first one. However, at the 12th week, on July 24, the doctor found that there was something wrong when he was doing the ultrasound. The baby was affected by acrania, a disease incompatible with life as it does not allow the complete development of the cranial vault. There was a high probability that the pregnancy would end before term, and then the gynecologist added that in these cases, it was customary to perform a therapeutic abortion. He said it with a flat, sad expression, because he knew the sufferings behind our story and it was not easy for him either. When I got home, I told my husband everything and then I said, “Giacinto, I was pregnant before, and I am still pregnant now.”
What did you and Giacinto decide? Did you consider the possibility of a therapeutic abortion?
No, we never considered the abortion. Never. We had asked the Lord for the gift of a child and that was enough. He knows when to give a life and when to take it back. I was the mother and it was unthinkable for me to kill my baby. My daughter’s heart was beating. So after two days we went back together to the doctor to tell him our decision to carry on with the pregnancy. My husband was very concerned about my health because I suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and spondylitis, but the gynecologist reassured him. Giacinto and I have always had the grace of being in agreement, of being united.
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What did you feel in those first moments?
At first it was hard. I thought that the happiness I had experienced during the first months of pregnancy would never return. I remember that when the doctor gave me the news, I said to God, “Lord, now only You can support me in these nine months.” I had the conviction that He would give me the gift of giving birth to my living baby. I felt this certainty in my heart and repeated it in my prayers: “Only You can help me; alone I cannot do it.” I cannot deny that at the beginning especially, I had wondered why me, why us. “After those other difficult situations, you could have spared me this, Lord.” That’s how we spoke to him, open-heartedly.
And then what happened?
My gynecologist supported us and followed up on me until the fourth month, and then advised me to look for a proper place where I could give birth. I chose the Villa Betania hospital in Naples. The pregnancy went well, aside from the usual nausea (as with the first child) and the traditional pains. I did not have any of the complications that are most common in cases like mine. For example, in these situations, there is typically an excess of amniotic fluid, but nothing like that happened to me. After the summer, I began to inform my family and friends about the pathology that afflicted our baby.
I also told Titti. We’ve known each other for 20 years and I knew what she had gone through with Benedetta. I sent her a message and she answered, “I’ll be there tomorrow for you.” The next morning she came to my house. She was inexplicably joyous and she kept telling me, “How beautiful!” and “Now you will also feel the full joy that I have experienced.” I cut her off immediately, saying, “Titti, I am not yet in the moment of full joy. I’m still climbing Calvary. It may be as you say later, but I do not feel this gratitude now.”
How was the Comfort Care experience? You were the first patient to have access to this precious service.
At the beginning, doing Comfort Care at Villa Betania was not easy. It was the first time and many people were against it. I remember that when I visited the psychologist, he asked me why we had chosen not to do the therapeutic abortion. I replied that I was pregnant and my baby was alive. He wanted to make sure I was lucid and sure of my choice, and he wanted to know how we’d ever discovered Villa Betania. My response was that it was the hospital closest to home and therefore more comfortable for delivery, but this answer seemed too rational to him and he took it as a sign that I was not well. I could not be completely well because I knew my daughter was going to die, but I was still rational because I wanted to receive her in the best way. The Comfort Care project was just getting underway and many were not yet in favor of the initiative. I remember that the neonatology nurse told me during my last visits that I was a very selfish woman because I had expressed the wish to let my family see my child. In her opinion, I should not have done so because the baby would look like a monster. I replied, “You heard me, this is my wish. I want to let our daughter be known, but do not worry. Even if she is born as ugly or as monstrous as you say, none of us will look at her with your eyes. She will be looked at with the eyes of love and all this ugliness will pass away.” I also asked them not to do any over-the-top therapeutic work on the baby girl to keep her alive after birth.
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Who was with you at this time that was so delicate and difficult?
My family and my husband’s family have always been close to me. I was never alone, not even for one day. My sisters were always with me. Prayer helped me a lot. I am part of a charismatic group so my community came to my home to pray with me. We clung to faith. When I did not feel Martamaria moving, I was afraid for her life and I lived on the hope of seeing her born. And to think that immediately after the diagnosis of her malformation, I had hoped that the baby would not reach childbirth! But I had immediately realized the sin I was committing when I was crushed by sorrow.
Where did you find the strength to face this great test?
When they tell me, “You were strong,” I answer that it is not true. No one was strong. We embraced the cross because we could not do otherwise. I did not passively accept this situation. I kept asking, “Lord, change the water into wine!” We persevered in prayer, in asking for prayers, hoping for the miracle of my daughter’s complete healing. I was on a pilgrimage to Collevalenza, and I put the blessed oil on my belly, the holy water of Jerusalem.
How was the delivery day? What memories do you keep?
On the day of the c-section, I entered the operating room filled with everyone’s prayers — my pastor’s, the community’s — and the love of my husband and my family, plus the warmth of the medical staff. Things went better than I had imagined. Martamaria was born on January 17, 2014 at 12:30. I woke up to the amazement of everyone and remember that the gynecologist exploded with joy saying, “Imma! I feel like crying!” The diagnosis was unfortunately confirmed but my little girl was alive! She was born! And here is the first miracle: she was breathing on her own and crying! Her crying was a hymn to life!
Then I remember that they washed her, made an imprint of her hand and her foot, took photos, and took her to her dad, who was waiting to meet her. The three of us remained alone and then we celebrated Baptism with the full rite (which I longed for) in the room they had reserved for us, surrounded by the love of family and her godmothers, Titti and my sister Anna. A beautiful rite! I was also able to experience the joy of holding my daughter to my breast, keeping her with me, making her see her relatives. It was a great gift!
And then, Imma, the real surprise: Martamaria lived for five days…
Yes, Martamaria lived for five days surrounded by the love and pampering of everyone. I keep the photographs of when she held out her finger to me and my sister. It is not true that these children feel nothing, that they do not experience anything.
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I remember one day Assia, the obstetrician, came to visit me with a doctor. I was in the room with my sisters. Martamaria was with us, and we were laughing and chatting. When he came out, the doctor said to her, “Assia, they are laughing in there! The little girl is dying and her mother is smiling; she irradiates such joy!” At that moment we were celebrating life, the grace of knowing the little girl, having welcomed her, embracing her.
Every time they took her from me, she turned frozen and weak, but as soon as I took her back in my arms, her strength returned. And it was like that up to the last night. But when she began to need more and more time to get her strength back, I realized that her time had come and I called my husband. There was Franca with us, the nurse that had always been with me. It was just the three of us. Finally, I found the strength to tell our daughter that her dad and I were ready, that she could go because we were happy to have known and loved her, that we thanked God for having had her for 5 days. And at eight o’clock in the morning, Martamaria was born to heaven. The next day, she was even more beautiful. She had the face of an angel.
How was her funeral?
Her funeral was a party, animated by the songs of my charismatic community and by everyone’s prayers. The church was full of people, and the Lord also gave me the strength to read a letter that I had struggled to write for the occasion.
By refusing therapeutic abortion for my daughter Martamaria, I was able to give both Giacinto and our dear baby love and care. We made her feel welcomed, wanted, loved, protected. She received Baptism and the funeral. We gave her the dignity of being human, which belongs to everyone and that abortion atrociously eliminates. I am grateful to God for all this, for making me experience the full joy my friend Titti told me about, God’s immense consolation, the certainty of eternal life. My daughter was born, lived, died, and now lives in heaven.
This article was originally published in the Italian Edition of Aleteia.