Stories from Real Families

We Chose Hope

Gemma Gianna Perpetua with her parents Andrew and Jacquelyn

Speech originally give at the 2024 Texas Rally for Life. Text generously provided to Ablaze for Life by Jacquelyn Smith.

Hello friends!

Thank you, Joe Pojman and Texas Alliance for Life, for this opportunity to share my story. I actually have two stories to share.

In 1977 there was a married woman who came down with a serious case of double pneumonia.  She was in the hospital, taking strong medications and having tests done.  And in the course of her illness, she discovered she was pregnant.  Her doctors said her weakened condition made the pregnancy high risk and the baby would not be born healthy.  Her team of doctors recommended that she terminate the pregnancy.  But the woman was stubborn, told her doctors no and in October of 1977, I was born!

I am here because my mom chose life when her doctors had advised her to abort.  My 12 children; 6 on Earth and 6 in heaven exist because my Mom chose life for me.

Choosing life matters and sometimes the doctor’s diagnosis is wrong.

But sometimes the diagnosis is right but guess what, the baby is always a blessing and HOPE is always an option.

Summer of 2019, we discovered we were pregnant with our 7th child.  We had a scavenger hunt to announce the news to the kids and the obligatory Facebook post to announce it to the world.  We loved this child from the moment we knew he or she existed, and we nicknamed the baby Gold Bug.

Then on October 1, 2019 it was 20 week sono day.  The six kids, 3 girls and 3 boys, joined us and they were so excited to see if Gold Bug was a sister or a brother.

Everything was going ok but the sono was a little long and the kids were getting a little wiggly and Gold Bug was shy and would not reveal boy or girl.

Baby had other things to reveal on that day.  The doctor came in and proceeded to share a list of things that were wrong with the child that our family already loved.  The list included minor things like the shape of baby’s head and the way baby held her hands.  Other things were more serious like a hole in the heart. 
These discoveries didn’t change my love for little Gold Bug.  But the doctor continued.  These were signs of a chromosomal abnormality, and she recommended termination or comfort care. 

I said to her, “Ma’am, in this family we deliver our babies, and we don’t know enough about baby to discuss comfort care.” 

But the doctor continued and with my family in the room she once again recommended termination or comfort care.  I told her again that we give birth to our babies.  My husband Andrew straight up told her “We don’t kill our kids.”

October 1, 2019 was a difficult day. With the news of a possible life limiting diagnosis for our youngest family member we had to mourn the loss of the healthy pregnancy and baby we thought we had and come to understand and fall deeper in love with the challenging pregnancy and special baby that we had been blessed with.  We chose to focus on Hope.

Tests revealed baby had trisomy 18 which means our baby was blessed with an extra 18th chromosome.  The most common trisomy conditions are 13, 18 and 21.  You are probably most familiar with Trisomy 21 also known as Down Syndrome.  Basically, baby gets extra instructions during formation resulting in a spectrum of possible medical challenges. 

The test also revealed that Baby Gold Bug was a GIRL.

We gave her the name Gemma Gianna Perpetua Smith.

Knowing this was a unique pregnancy journey we requested help from Be Not Afraid.  An organization that offers support to families carrying to term following a prenatal diagnosis.  They are just one of many beautiful organizations dedicated to walking with families on the journey of caring for both mom and baby during a difficult time. 

And make no mistakes, our journey with Gemma was not easy.  I was an emotional wreck, I stopped wearing mascara because crying was a common occurrence, there were lots of extra doctor’s visits, and we had to find a life affirming care for me and for our Gemma.

But quoting a fellow Trisomy 18 Mama, while the journey was full of difficult moments, at no point did I find it difficult to not kill my baby.  Abortion would have made me the direct cause of Gemma’s death and taken away the opportunity to spend precious time getting to know her. 

At 37 and a half weeks, we got to meet our little Gemma.  I was at a regular doctor’s appointment but the doctor was having trouble hearing her heartbeat so to the hospital we went.

We had an emergency c-section and just after 2:00pm Gemma Gianna Perpetua was born.  They held her up for me to see through the little window in the surgical drape and rushed her over to the team of doctors who were ready and waiting.  Our sweet girl was having trouble breathing and so doctors paused care to allow her Daddy to baptize his little girl and then they returned to working on her.  By the grace of God, they were able to stabilize Gemma.

But things were not looking good for our baby.  One of her lungs would not inflate, they couldn’t get a feeding tube inserted and her heart was weak. 

But she was so beautiful y’all.  4 pounds 10 oz of the cutest baby ever.  My heart was so full of love as I held her finger and prayed for a miracle. 

The family was assembled, we took a family photo, told her how much we loved her, and said good night praying God would keep her safe.

The next day, our Byzantine Catholic priest and deacon came and administered the sacraments of Holy Communion, Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick.  There was joy mixed with anxiety, but the moment was filled with grace.

It wasn’t long until Gemma’s body couldn’t fight the challenges anymore and we had to say goodbye.  In that moment she was removed from all the wires and machines.  Daddy, sisters and I got to hold her. 
We only had 28 hours with Gemma outside the womb, but those hours were filled with love.  Gemma only knew love during her lifetime, born and unborn. 

I have no regrets about our choice to carry Gemma to term.  She is my daughter, and I was just being her mom, protecting and caring for her the best way I could.  Because every baby is a blessing.  I Stand with all Trisomy Babies!

My friends, Texas is a special place.  In Texas we protect all our babies.  And we need to protect the laws that protect babies like my Gemma.  Every baby deserves that protection.

Thank God for the Human Life Protection Act. 

Y’all in that sono room I was only offered 2 choices.  To kill my baby or to let my baby die.

We rejected those options and instead we chose HOPE.   Hope is always an option.

Thank you. 

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