At a crematorium in May 2008, a 35-year-old woman and her 38-year-old husband bade farewell to their unborn baby boy, Yuki, whom they dressed in blue clothes and a blue hat.
The baby’s bones were so thin and tiny the parents, who declined to be named, were not able to gather the ashes.
“I am sorry that I could not make you into a healthy boy. I am sorry that we had to make this decision when you didn’t do anything wrong. It was your mother’s fault,” the woman wrote in a message to him.
The cremation took place only a week after their obstetrician first told them the fetus may have abnormalities in the brain. The mother, who was almost 21 weeks pregnant at the time, could feel her baby moving and believed everything was going well.
“Why do these things always happen to me?” she asked, devastated by the diagnosis since she had already had a miscarriage and lost another baby in an accident during delivery.
The couple had hoped the obstetrician’s diagnosis would prove to be wrong and went to see another doctor, who then confirmed the genetic abnormalities in the baby’s brain.
They were advised to see Ritsuko Pooh, a specialist in fetal treatment at the CRIFM Clinical Research Institute of Fetal Medicine PMC in Osaka, for a prenatal test and further examinations.
Pooh’s diagnosis was even worse than the couple had expected, telling them the baby would need nursing care. But she added, “Whatever decision you make — whether you decide to give birth or not — I will entirely support you.”
During three hours of consultations with Pooh, many questions came into the mother’s mind, including: “What is the cause of the impairment?” “If I abort the baby, can I still conceive another?” “If he doesn’t have any desire to live, wouldn’t it just be selfish of us to keep him alive?”
She recalled thinking at the time: “The baby’s being born into this world might not make him happy or any of us happy.”
Yet the couple could not make up their minds.
In the end, the woman asked Pooh: “If I kill the baby after he is born, it will be murder. What about aborting the baby even though I wanted to have one?”
Pooh responded, “I believe the baby knows that his mother was so happy when she got pregnant with him and he understands the feelings of his mother, who has cared so much about him.
“So I am sure that he would never blame you,” she added.
The doctor’s words finally prompted Kudo to say, “I will give up on the baby.”
Two days later, the mother was admitted to another hospital for an abortion.
On that evening, she wrote in her diary: “I am sad, of course, and I feel sorry. I don’t even know if we made the right decision. But your father and your mother came to this decision after having thought deeply (about what would be best for all of us).”
The woman has no siblings, and long hoped to have many children to create a lively and happy family.
When she had a prenatal test at Pooh’s clinic, the doctor explained to her that studies have shown it is more likely that boys have disorders due to genetic factors and that she should not give up on getting pregnant.
After losing Yuki, the woman became pregnant again in September 2008, but was afraid that the fetus might have similar disorders. But she gave birth to a healthy boy in May 2009.
On a cupboard in the kitchen at their home stands a small doll in blue clothes looking over the family. The mother bought it thinking of Yuki.
The couple and their son, now a kindergartner, often talk to the doll, saying such things as “I’m home” and “Good night.”
In an event held in Osaka on March 1 that Pooh organized for families who have undergone prenatal tests, Kudo told participants, “I can keep going as I know that Yuki continues to protect us.”
The mother named her aborted boy Yuki, which means “courage” in Japanese with the kanji meaning “hope,” as she believed she did not have to abandon her hope and because “he gave me courage and I thank him for teaching me a lot.”
She is currently pregnant again.
Having seen many couples giving up on their babies after prenatal tests, Pooh said, “I am sure that their babies will accept any decision their mothers make if it is one they have struggled desperately to reach.”