Natalie Halson was 22 weeks pregnant when doctors in her native England began to tell her she should have an abortion.
After a regularly scheduled ultrasound, doctors suspected her unborn baby had spina bifida, a disorder in which the spinal cord doesn’t close properly during gestation. The effects can range from mild to severe, depending on the degree of deformation. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, partial paralysis, loss of sensation, incontinence, and brain damage.
The doctors were insistent that Natalie should terminate her pregnancy, assuring her that it was her best—or even only—option. In comments published in The Sun, she says, “They made out like an abortion was my only option, and explained that if I went ahead with the pregnancy, my baby would be wheelchair bound and have no quality of life.”
Fortunately, Natalie—an assistant radiographer, familiar with medicine—wasn’t one to be forced into a decision like this without doing her research. “When I got off the phone I went and did tons of research and found out that there were options for my little girl — I felt suddenly really angry that they’d made out I had none,” she says.
Indeed, surgery is possible to try to repair the spinal deformation, and treatments are available for many of the symptoms that might not be fully repairable. Children with spina bifida who undergo the operation and receive ongoing treatment may still have some difficulties or disabilities, but spina bifida isn’t necessarily a sentence to a miserable life.
Natalie chose to give her daughter a chance at life: she rejected the offer of an abortion, opting for reparative surgery instead. “Mirabelle wasn’t eligible for fetal surgery because her angulation of her spine was over the cut-off point. But there was still the option for an operation to re-fuse the nerves in her spine once she was born. It wasn’t a guaranteed fix but it was our best option.”