Kate Walsh | Assistant Principal for Students
#iStand4Life. These signs were distributed three years ago when I attended the March for Life Rally downtown, while the rest of our school gathered as we are right now. I'll be honest. I was a bit apprehensive about the whole experience. From the 4:00 am wake up call to be sure I was here at school early enough to meet the buses and students, the absolutely frigid cold predicted for the day, the idea of being responsible for such a large group of students in a less than controlled environment, to the very heavy subject matter at hand—one could say I was not looking particularly forward to the day.
This feeling of discomfort was eerily similar to the one I felt when Mr. Tamberino asked me to give this reflection today. I was honored, but I was also uncomfortable. The easy answer would have been to say, "I'm flattered to be asked, but I'd rather not."
In other words, I don't want to be uncomfortable. Knowing that much of what we ask you to do, to grow and mature as people, requires you to accept our call to be "uncomfortable," I agreed.
I asked him the intended purpose of the reflection. Should I just share what it means to me to be a mother? I could do that. Although, I'm not sure how meaningful that would have been to my teenage self. Next, I thought about why the LIFE issue is so important to us as a school community, a faith community, and to me personally. "Standing for Life" reaches far beyond abortion. I think there are few among us (literally here in this room) or our wider society who would really argue that abortion is a positive, regardless of where one stands on the political issue. There may be secular political debate on its legislation, but I think all agree abortion is not a good thing.
I want to focus on why "Standing for Life," on all fronts, is a mandate of our school mission and our faith and perhaps, most simply, our shared humanity. We proclaim our mission to inspire each of you to EXCEL, SERVE, and LOVE. If we, as a school, are going to claim we have achieved this goal, we must inspire our students to "Stand for Life"; serving and loving require it.
Look around you. The adults in this room chose the vocation of teaching to inspire you, each one of you, to EXCEL, SERVE, and LOVE. This is why we are here. Clearly, fame, glory and salary were not driving forces in our career decisions.
I am a mother. For many years, this is a statement I was never sure I would make. My husband and I met my senior year of college. He was a recent grad. Two years later, we made plans to move to DC, where he had landed his dream job, and we were married. That was 13 years ago this March. While we may have been the first of our friends to marry, we were far from the first on the baby train. I will spare you all the gory details, but I suffered from the shockingly common diagnosis of unexplained infertility. I lost TWELVE consecutive pregnancies to miscarriage. Every single one was excruciating. No matter how hard we tried not to get our hopes up and believe this would be the one, we always did. It was equally devastating every time it turned out not to be.
Those were very dark days; many times, I wanted to give up. After all, I have 1,257 adorable "little" children in my care every day. I was very happy being the school day mom to all of them. I truly was, and I still am. But a little part of me knew, not just for me, but for every other woman and family who suffered my fate—and maybe even for one of my students who someday might meet the same challenge—that I couldn't just give up looking for answers. I had to "Stand for Life." I couldn't just accept my experience of the commercial fertility industry which went something like this: "We don't know what is wrong or why, but if you pay us tons of money we'll try a few things and see if they work. Oh yeah, and insurance doesn't cover it and some of what we are suggesting definitely sounds morally questionable...but you want to be parents, right? There are pictures of adorable babies all over my office, right? Just fork over the cash, don't ask questions, and we'll get you a baby. Maybe." I kept thinking what happens to folks who can't afford this? Should I really agree to these types of extreme measures without really knowing they are necessary or ethical? Surely, there has to be some doctor, somewhere, with a slightly less commercial approach to this. It was far from easy but eventually after many, many doctors, I finally found my way to someone at the National Institutes of Health who was interested in looking for answers and knowing the why before the how. And the ultimate solution? Effectively, Benadryl. In simple terms, I was highly allergic to being pregnant. Tone down the allergic reaction, and the pregnancy should be fine.
First try, lucky number 13, and our Billy was born. We are so grateful every day for that little boy. And in a strange way, in hindsight, I am also grateful for that experience and for the opportunity to "Stand for Life," especially because I know there will be other women and families who will be saved the pain we went through because of what was learned through us.
This year we are focusing on the Xaverian value of Zeal. To me, this is what we mean when we talk about Zeal. Having that little fire inside of you and knowing when and how to access it. Sometimes, I wonder if humility or compassion and zeal are a contradiction in terms. Can one really exhibit humility and zeal at the same time? I'm not so sure zealot always has the most positive connotation.
But, how about a zealot for life? Obviously, we won't all have the same opportunity, or perhaps, to use a better term, occasion to be a zealot for life. Thankfully, not all of us will have as dramatic an experience. However, I'll share just a couple of other observations from my experience of motherhood which may be a little easier to imagine impacting you.
As if our road to parenthood was not exciting enough, less than 24 hours after Billy was born and laying in his bassinet in our hospital room, I noticed he was sweating. That's odd. Baby's don't sweat. Turns out he had severe hypoglycemia and was quickly whisked off to the NICU. Soon after that, the NICU at GW Hospital decided he needed to be transferred to Children's Hospital ASAP. On his second day of life, they came with a mobile incubator contraption that looked more fit for a scene from Star Wars. Off he went to Children's. We followed close behind. It was a Friday evening. I stayed with Billy EVERY night for those two weeks. I left the room only to eat and shower. Food wasn't allowed in the NICU. I couldn't imagine being ANYWHERE else.
On that first Monday in the NICU, I noticed something very odd—maybe it was because I was coming out of the fog of having a baby, or maybe it was really a Monday phenomenon, but I made a curious observation as I walked to Billy's room on my way back from showering downstairs. He was in the farthest room from the doors of the ward. Room after room after room, there were just babies—no parents. Like literally, zero. Okay, maybe there were two or three other families there. In chatting with our nurse Julia, I asked her if I was losing it? Was this typical? Sadly, her reply was "totally." You see, most people don't have the leave they need to stay with their baby in the NICU. They might be there for two or three months and the parents need to save their leave from work for when the baby gets to go home. So, the vast majority of the babies are all alone. A LARGE portion of the time. Many of these families live so far away even commuting to DC at night or on weekends is cost prohibitive. That walk down that hallway will stay with me forever. I have very, very different opinions on family leave after that experience. I cannot reconcile "Standing for Life" and accepting 100 plus premature and/or extremely vulnerable babies fighting to stay alive being all alone.
Billy struggled more with his hypoglycemia this past year. Perhaps some of you were aware of my recent extended absence. We spent 83 days in a variety of children's hospitals in 2017. I can tell you after 2017, my understanding of Standing for Life has expanded dramatically. From the first experience of picking up his lifeless body from his crib on January 14, 2017 and rushing him here to Montgomery General in an ambulance with little to no idea what was wrong, to watching the look of terror on the face of the young the doctor on call early that Saturday morning as they worked to get Billy back to life, I learned much about the fragility of life. Then there were the many, many days in the PICU and the severe and truly heart-breaking things you see all around you. Billy's problems paled in comparison. For example, not a day—not ONE day (and this last hospitalization was 20 days)—went by in that PICU when I did not see the police there investigating child abuse. EVERY day. I had no idea. Even in 2018, even in America's capital city...child abuse is very, very real. The kind of child abuse that lands children in intensive care.
Uncomfortable? Good. This is why we carve out a day every year to reflect on this issue as a school community.
My wish for each of you is that as you reflect on what "Standing for Life" means for you. Consider the many, many ways, big and small, even on a daily basis you can "Stand for Life." Whether it is making political decisions as a voter, or perhaps as an elected official one day, "Stand for Life." Will you "Stand for Life" when choosing your career path? Perhaps become a social worker who works with families in crisis in a NICU or PICU or work for social services trying to prevent child abuse. Will you "Stand for Life" when you have the power to make important policy decisions in your corporate or professional life that affect your employees and their families? Even simply in your everyday personal interactions, try to put into practice the values we've instilled in you here at Good Counsel, and try to make "Standing for Life" a part of what makes you, you. AND...do it with Zeal!