News broke last week of the survival of the world’s tiniest preemie. She spent five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego. There, the medical staff gave her the nickname of “Baby Saybie.” Since her parents wish to remain anonymous, that’s the only name we have for her.
She was born in late December weighing a mere 8.6 ounces. That’s about one fifteenth the size of a full-term baby. According to the Tiniest Baby Registry kept at the University of Iowa, that makes her a new world record holder. Previously, the tiniest baby to survive was born in Germany four years ago and weighed 257 grams (9 ounces) at birth.
Saybie’s mother was in her 23rd week of pregnancy when her husband took her to the ER. There she was diagnosed with preeclampsia. This is a pregnancy complication associated with high blood pressure that affects two to eight percent of pregnancies world-wide. This life-threatening condition is listed among the most frequent causes of maternal death. In this case, doctors were forced to perform an emergency C-section to save the life of the mother.
Saybie was born at 23 weeks and three days. While her mother was under anesthesia, her father was given the grim news that he should expect the baby to die within an hour. Nobody knows why, or how, but she has broken all expectations. Spring Birches is an RN at the NICU that cared for Saybie. She explained, “We do everything we can for each preemie, as well as we can, and after that, it’s really up to our babies.”
Premature babies (preemies) are those who are born more than three weeks before their due date. Anyone born more than twelve weeks early is called a “micro-preemie.” The Tiniest Baby Registry records 36 babies who have survived birth at 23 weeks or earlier. The earliest surviving micro-preemie was born at 21 weeks.
As soon as the hospital announced Saybie’s release, her story went viral. A Google search of her nickname finds celebratory stories published in every major news outlet worldwide. In our polarized news atmosphere, few stories receive such universally positive treatment. That alone is a reason to celebrate Saybie. She has brought the world together in a singular narrative of life, beauty and miracle.
The wonder of human life remains a mystery. The medical sciences have learned much and developed many tools to support it. But contrary to the armchair scientists who insist in blind faith that science controls all, doctors in the real world know that there is a spiritual dimension to life that is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Life — especially human life — is always a gift. It is not a production of mankind. It is not a function of random chance. It is certainly not a cursed cancer. In every case it is a blessed gift that we can only receive with thanksgiving or reject in contempt. We have the power to protect it once it is given. But to create it or preserve it directly remains beyond human power.
This is an important reminder. Often reproductive technologies, and medical advances generally, are simplistically told to give the illusion of control. But the actual doctors at the bedside either thank their God above or curse their unlucky stars for results that they cannot predict.
Saybie’s story illustrates something else as well. In popular debate, we are often told that abortion is sometimes necessary in order to save the life of the mother. This is simply false. Abortion is never done to preserve the life of the mother.
Saybie’s mother had preeclampsia. It’s onset in her 23rd week presented a life-threatening emergency that was off the charts. Her doctors did not prescribe abortion to save her. They prescribed an emergency C-section. This is the standard operating procedure because an abortion would have been riskier than a C-section.
According to one published study, even the safest second trimester abortion (dilation and extraction) is more than twice the risk of a C-section. Other abortion methods ranged from five to 30 times more dangerous. Third-trimester abortions can take up to three days. Saybie’s mom didn’t have that much time.
In the five months since she was born, all that medical science could do for Saybie was to provide an inferior, if passable, facsimile of her mother’s womb. Her own body has done the rest. Thus, she has given us a window into the womb. Saybie is a living, breathing example of everything that America has been discussing over the past four months.
While Saybie has been fighting for her life, America has been involved in a nation-wide screaming match about the status of the unborn and our responsibilities relative to them and to their mothers.
While some were alleging that the unborn are only a blob of tissue, the doctors who extracted Saybie at 23 weeks found a fully formed human being who could breath, eat, cry and move.
While Ruth Bader Ginsberg is claiming that a pregnant woman does not become a mother until the baby is born, Saybie’s mother was arguing with her doctors for the life of her child. She was afraid that a C-section at 23 weeks would not give her daughter the chance to survive. This, in fact, is the love of a mother, not the cold theories of an ideologue.
While politicians and pundits were asserting that non-viable children are not deserving of equal protection under the law, Saybie was proving that she, an 8.6-ounce bundle of life, was more than viable. She was living! She was proving that Wyoming’s current prohibition against abortions after viability, translates to 8.6 ounces, or as early as 21 weeks.
On the 46th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, New York passed a law that allows for abortions all the way up to the 40th week of gestation. Within weeks, similar bills had been introduced in Arizona, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Hawaii and Illinois. While many of these have failed, some are still advancing.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have blocked 50 separate attempts to bring the “Born Alive Abortion Survivor’s Protection Act” to a vote. This bill does not change any abortion laws. It only requires that “any health care practitioner present at the time the child is born alive shall exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”
In other words, it says that people just like Saybie should have access to the same health care that Saybie had. Medical science has the means to protect them. Federal law recognizes that they are citizens of the United States and “persons” under the U.S. Constitution. To deprive them of health care is unequal and unjust.
The whole world is celebrating the medical team that protected Saybie’s chance to live. News outlets around the globe are publishing the photos of her beautiful face and telling the story of her miraculous survival. It’s a story worth telling. It uplifts all of humanity by shining a light on the humanity of all.
Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at OnlyHuman-JL.blogspot.com.