Abandoned by the child's father, she didn't feel ready to support a baby ... but she gave birth and is still so glad she did.
Today I opened my book of memories and immediately an ultrasound slid out. For us at the Center for Helping Life Mangiagalli in Milan, Italy (Centro di aiuto alla vita Mangiagalli), ultrasounds are the order of the day, but this one was a memorable patient.
I want to have an abortion
One of our first mothers, about 32 or even 33 years ago, had come to us saying bluntly: “I’m pregnant and I want to have an abortion. I’m an artist — I act, I paint, I specialize in miniatures,” she said with a look of pride, perhaps to earn our respect.
“The father of the child I’m expecting abandoned me at the news of the pregnancy, leaving me alone with the rent to pay and without any resources to live on. How could I manage with a child? I can’t do it!” Gabriella went on to tell us.
At that time, I usually went to the Center for Helping Life in the afternoon, and Gabriella had arrived in the morning. My colleague Matteo was present all day, and hoping that I would arrive soon to speak with Gabriella. He began to offer her—in addition to his attentive ear—a nice salami sandwich.
Gabriella had many things to say; she told him about the company in which she had accomplished things I don’t even really understand even today. She also told him about two previous abortions. When I arrived, the atmosphere in the room was intense as Gabriella’s story had begun with the tale of very difficult family relationships.
The interview I did with her was challenging; it seemed her intent was to put the spotlight on herself without any place in her mind and heart for the child growing inside her.
Not just a lump of blood and cells
After an full hour in which I was practically silent, listening to her with great attention and sad about what she was telling me, I showed her the photographs from our booklet that depicts the stages of intrauterine development of a child.
She gave a choked sob.
“But, is it really already that formed? They’ve always talked to me about a lump of blood and cells, but this really is a child, and if you’ll help me, I’ll give birth to him.”
Months passed, and for Gabriella, the time to deliver her child finally came. She gave birth to her son in the Mangiagalli Hospital, but when we went up to greet her, she wasn’t there.
We started asking for news, and we were surprised to hear that she was in the infectious ward. She had HIV.
Naturally, her son Thomas tested HIV positive, but the hope was that growing up he would test negative. They tested him every two months, stating that the change would probably happen around the ninth month, but that if it were not so, he would grow up with this sword of Damocles over his head.
Fear grew within me, and after every test I hoped for good news. But no, the virus continued to be present. The doctors seemed not to want to give up, however, and sure enough, in the end Thomas eventually tested negative and went on to be healthy.
A surprise phone call
Many things have happened over the years, and one day the phone rang. I immediately recognized the voice of Gabriella. She, unlike her son, was coming down with symptoms of the disease.
“I’ve always felt close to you, Paola, even if I haven’t called you. But now, there’s something special. Tommaso got married, and graduated successfully from the school of anthropology. Now, he’s brought me something that I want to describe to you: the ultrasound of the child they are expecting. I have a strange joy in my heart. I’m also thinking of my unborn children, and I immediately felt the desire to share with someone that a baby, my grandson, is about to arrive. To whom could I say it, if not to you?”
(Slightly adapted from a Facebook post.)