The Child is All of Us: Gabriel Santorum’s Lesson Lives On

10 Jan

at Catholic Online

I had an incredible job once. For almost two years I worked at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, one of the best children’s hospitals in the country. (Think Baby Faye.) I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the Neo-natal Intensive Care and Labor & Delivery units as a resident chaplain. It’s one of the largest NICU’s in the country, with some of the sickest babies in North America. It’s the premiere pediatric heart transplant hospital, and a Level-I trauma center. It is an amazing place.

Life — and death — is around every corner at any given moment. As one of the NICU’s chaplains, I pretty much saw it all; the most severe birth deformities; the most serious diseases and illnesses; the most tragic circumstances; the most gut-wrenching grief. I was a young, single woman with no children of my own, so I could not even imagine what the parents around me were going through. I did my best every day to simply offer them support, prayers, hope, company, and when the darkest hours came, I learned how to witness their sorrow and not run from it.

I learned how to “sit with the pain” as one of the senior chaplains used to say. Death is a part of life, and as life should be treated with reverence, so can death be handled reverently and humbly. It’s not at all easy to stand beside people whose child is dying before your eyes, yet it truly felt like an honor every time I was there for a baby’s last breath; even as every heart in the room was breaking open, including mine.

On one such occasion, I was the only person there to cry. A baby boy had been born too soon, and he had multiple serious birth defects, and his shell-shocked parents could not bring themselves to hold him as he died. They asked me if I would. They named him Thomas. I sat in a rocking chair, alone in a surgical room, and cradled this baby as he slowly died in my arms. Thomas had almost no ribcage so I could see his heart clearly beneath his transparent, paper-thin skin. I watched it beat slower and slower, and he never opened his eyes.

For 45 minutes I rocked little Thomas, sang to him, and told him he was loved. I was sad for his parents, not just for losing their son, but for giving up the chance to spend those minutes with him, loving him. Theirs was a double-loss; I so wish I had done more to persuade them not to give in to their fear. I will never forget Thomas, and I will always cherish those 45 minutes. They were holy and a gift to me.

One of the things I did regularly was take pictures for the grieving parents. Many times I would dress the baby in a sweater that volunteers had knitted just for this purpose. A little hat, some booties, a soft blanket, and a beautiful picture was captured. I would also take some soft clay and make footprints or handprints. What a powerful and humbling task it was to press delicate, tiny feet into the clay to make a mold for parents who would never again hold their child.

I held in my own hands perfectly-formed babies who’d died at 16 or 18 weeks of pregnancy and marveled at their beauty. I learned how vital it was for their parents to see them, hold them, name them, and grieve their death the way they would any other member of their family. Indeed, that child was no less a member of the family!

For those who find something morbid or creepy about all the things I’ve just described, believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. Reverence for the human body, both in life and in death, is healing and elevating, and is one of our better instincts unless it is systematically choked off by an inhumane psychology.

We witnessed the latest evidence of this inhumanity in all the fretting and gasping aimed at Rick and Karen Santorum regarding the death of their infant son, Gabriel.

Isn’t it ironic that our culture of death, those who champion abortion and euthanasia, those who see nothing at all questionable about cutting to pieces a tiny child in the womb are so squeamish about actually confronting a natural death? These people are so troubled by a mother and father who choose to embrace their deceased child’s body with tenderness, awe, and kisses.

Their lack of reverence for life carries over into a lack of reverence for death.

They find it disturbing that parents would allow his siblings to see, hold, and spend time with their baby brother after his death because their narrative says the child is less than a person; less than fully human; less than you and I. They can’t allow the idea to creep into the “mainstream” that a prematurely-born baby is actually a human being with a soul and a body that belongs to him! Gads! What might happen if people thought that perhaps those little ones in the womb weren’t just parasites or insentient masses of tissue?

The Santorum family’s treatment of little Gabriel is “weird” to them because Gabriel had no value in their view. Alan Colmes made that quite clear when he launched into his despicable mockery of the hours after Gabriel’s death and the Santorum’s grief. Colmes taunted them on television for the sake of political points, referring to Gabriel as “it.” Gabriel was not an “it.” He was a baby boy, a son, who was beloved and precious in the eyes of God and his parents.

The abortion zealots are annoyed that Rick and Karen did not treat their son like an “it” or as merely a “fetus” and send him quickly to the morgue. Lest more and more people get the idea that there’s nothing wrong with holding and mourning their lost babies, they go into overdrive calling Rick “weird” and “outside the mainstream” and a man of questionable judgment.

Well, really, what else can we expect? Life that has no value while inside the womb will not suddenly take on value outside the womb. If they would destroy the body before birth, why show kindness after birth? Why hold lovingly that which you claim is a threat to your freedom and rights? Why risk gazing into the face of one whom you deem less human than yourself, less worthy of life?

Their reaction is only logical, but that is why I hope it alarms people. Those who have cruelly criticized Rick and Karen Santorum for revering the life and death of their son have unwittingly given us a clear view of what’s behind their curtain, so to speak. It’s a heartless continuum. Humanity denied to one can easily be denied to any or all. All that matters is the will of those who have the power to “choose.”

No one who has sneered their objection to what the Santorums did is actually afraid that they are weird or of unsound judgment. They’re afraid that respect for the life of a “fetus” might catch on. They’re afraid that a tiny baby’s body might be seen as sacred and dignified, and then heaven forbid, the baby himself might be seen as human. They’re afraid that if too many people realize that mourning the loss of a very small baby is appropriate and good and necessary, then folks may begin to question the narrative that killing a baby is a legitimate “right.”

And from there, the entire facade of “choice” comes crashing down.

Gabriel Santorum’s life was too brief a moment, but his impact will be felt for eternity. He continues to testify to the immutable truth that human life is sacred and the child in the womb is all of us.


Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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15 responses to “The Child is All of Us: Gabriel Santorum’s Lesson Lives On

  1. Mya Nameo

    March 8, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    This is lovely and heart-felt, but I feel it’s important that our side be factual. What Alan Colmes did was despicable, as are the disgusting baby killers who claim Karen Santorum had a second trimester abortion when Gabriel died.

    However, Gabriel Santorum died in October 1996. Karen Santorum wrote the book in 1998 (which just makes the attacks on the Santorums even more reprehensible, as the lamestream media KNEW about this book long before 2012). Colmes didn’t attack the Santorums hours after Gabriel’s birth, unless one calculates some 131,400+ hours, or a good 15 years+ after his death.

    • catholicmoxie

      March 8, 2012 at 12:38 PM

      Mya, what on earth difference does it make that Colmes didn’t attack them just hours after Gabriel’s death?

  2. BlestOne

    March 8, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    Thank you for your blog post. I can tell you about regret from not holding your child, I live with that regret every day. At 22 weeks I lost my son’s twin. I had to carry this baby to 37 weeks for the sake of my son. At the time of birth, the doctors were so focused on the surviving twin, as well they needed to be, that they just whisked by other baby away presumably so it wouldn’t “upset” me. The day after I was released from the hospital they called me up to the hospital to sign some paperwork, give my baby a name… then they finally let me see my baby. They did ask me if I wanted to hold my baby, but they warned that I absolutely HAD to wear gloves… I couldn’t bring myself to put on gloves to hold my baby and told them so. They said I had to because the baby had been preserved waiting for this day when they gave me less than 5 minutes to name my child, decide if I wanted an autopsy or a burial (because I couldn’t have both)…Still I couldn’t bring myself to put on gloves to hold my baby! I know it may seem trivial to some of you, but at that moment it was huge.. this was flesh of my flesh and I couldn’t bear something between us. I regret my decisions that day, even more, I regret that the hospital handled it the way they did. I cried everyday for a year…literally. When the first birthday came up, I finally faced the reality of my decisions and the circumstances that led to them. I still regret not holding my baby every day… and that was 22 years ago!

    I fully believe in how the Santorum family handled their loss and wish I had been that strong at the time.

    John, there is NO way an abortion is anything like natural death of a child. To say, believe or even infer that is just ludicrous. An abortion is not the natural end of a pregnancy, birth is.. Abortion is indeed murder, how could it be otherwise? It is a procedure to cause the death of a human being with a beating heart and unique DNA. HUMAN DNA that is. So by all accounts, a fetus is human and it is alive, therefore it is a person. Don’t get sucked into the misconception that because the baby cannot survive outside the womb, that it is less than human or less than a person. Newborns can’t survive on their own, and a good percentage of elderly can’t survive without assistance either. That does not make them less than human. Also, I wanted to point out that there is a purpose for every life, deformities and illness is NOT a reason to kill a child.

    As for your comment about reducing unwanted pregnancies, birth control and abortion have only served to increase not decrease these. Read up on the subject, there is this fine writing called Humane Vitae…. Like you, I believe we have a choice, but unlike you, I know that decision should be made at the time you decide to have intercourse, not when you get a positive pregnancy test. By the time that occurs, there is unique human life growing inside the woman, and that child SHOULD be afforded every right to life as any other human.

    Life is sacred, it is precious, it is our legacy… Nobody in their old age regrets having children, many regret their abortions and their lack of children. God bless you John, I and many others will be praying for you.

    • catholicmoxie

      March 8, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      BlestOne, I am so sorry for your terrible loss and the horrible way the hospital handled it. You and your baby deserved so much more. There’s no taking away the ache in your arms, except to remember that your child lives in Heaven, waits for you, and one day you WILL hold and kiss your child. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and bravely testifying to the sanctity of LIFE. God bless you.

  3. Barefoot Momma

    March 5, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    I’d like to know what John’s definition of baby is. The accepted definiton is “the youngest of a group.” By scientific definition (check any biology text) life begins at conception. Ergo, the youngest John ever was, was at conception.
    At any rate, to say abortion is somehow justified because death also occurs naturally would infer that murder is justified since death is inevitable. With that argument, we can quickly thin our our jail population!

  4. John

    February 6, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    I appreciate your response but you are making some very poor and inaccurate assumptions here. Unless you are willing to let some women die, there can be no complete ban on induced abortion, ever. The reason they ask you to save the so-called “products of conception” after a spontaneous abortion, of which there are millions each year but most go unnoticed, is to look though the fetal body parts to see if anything was left in the womb. If it was it might very well go necrotic which can lead to infection, sterility, and even death so they often recommend a D&C. And there are plenty of times when carrying a child to term can be a deadly act. If we ban all induced abortion, women will die who could have been saved otherwise. That is a medical fact and while you are entitled to your own opinions you are not to your own facts. What you are most bothered by it seems, and most would agree with you, is induced abortion in the place of effective birth control or sexual practices that do not lead to accidental conception. I’m not a fan of that either which is why I support all forms of birth control, even those you wouldn’t because a conception is still possible. To me the phrase Planned Parenthood has real meaning. That is how I would like the world to work which is why I send them money and when I was younger, girlfriends.

    In my own case, I would not have been born had my mother not spontaneously aborted my older brother. He would have been her second child and there would have been no third. Abortion does not always take a life, it sometimes opens the door to one. And you can say that nature does not treat conceptions and fetuses casually but it absolutely does. Millions of them are aborted every year so what that does is show us that while we may value them, nature or God does not, at least when based upon the vast numbers of those who are lost in the process. You believe that a woman’s body is designed to protect a fetus but it is actually designed to nurture a healthy one and expel a deformed one. That is why there are so many millions of spontaneous abortions. If your philosophical view was correct, we would have millions of deformed and stillborn births which we do not, they get aborted without our intervention in most cases. What isn’t growing inside the womb correctly usually does not live. There’s no way of looking at that and seeing it as anything but a test, a test many will fail or fail to even start. Your religious object to induced abortion seems to be because you value human life beyond both nature and humanity. We take life all the time and for many reasons. Millions will starve to death this year, and next year, and the year after that but we have plenty of food to feed them. Dozens of small children are dying in the brutal winter of Afghanistan right now but I don’t see the church or you fighting to save them. Humans, by our very nature, play God on this planet. We save life and we take life. Either way we are playing God. Induced abortion outrages you and war, the death penalty, and famine outrage me.

    As to induced abortion being murder, you would have to be willing to send women to prison for having an abortion. To do anything less would breed disrespect for the law. Let me know if you are willing to do so, to put a young woman behind bars for 20 or 30 years simply because she had an abortion or did, there are methods, all that she could to induce an abortion. And you’d have to be willing to require rape and incest victims to carry their small number of pregnancies to term as well. Most people will not sign up for a complete ban and if the ban is not complete then at some level we are placing a value on that fetus, even if it is as simple as saying “save both if you can but if you cannot then save the mother”. That is playing God and only the most dogmatic will refuse to make that call and leave it in God’s hands. You may be one of those but I am not and I am not worried that someone one day might decide I am not worth saving. That is a scare tactic and a poor one at that because at some point I won’t be worth saving, can’t be saved, and that will be true for all of us since it is our collective fate.

    As to your faith, smarter people than you or I have rejected it for the same reasons that I do. Your religion requires faith, requires childish beliefs, requires apologetics, but mine does not. I deal with what I can touch, and see, and feel, and test, and I stay open and humble before the wonders that might be or that are beyond our human capacity to understand. Your God is welcome in this house if he shows but not your dogma or your egotistical belief that you know the one true faith., but you will never win the abortion debate, win enough people over to your views, as long as you continue to use such inaccurate language. Abortion does not kill a fetus but it certainly ends its chance to live, and abortion does not kill a baby nor are we baby killers. Even the Bible sees a difference between a fetus and a child. The distinction matters just as it does between a chick and an egg, even a fertilized one, and we don’t say that a woman has a child unless she gave birth to one and it lived. We say that she is “having” a child or is “with” child, which means given time and luck, she will have a baby. BTW, if it is sick enough or in pain, like the one you were holding, I have no problem at all “putting it to sleep” as we like to say when dealing with an old dog since that is the humane thing to do. Notice how the language is inaccurate there, we don’t put the dog to sleep, we kill it, we help it die. It’s not murder since our motive is to end its suffering but we do end its life. For a gravely ill infant I would do the same since anything less, letting God decide, would be cruel when we are the gods here. Now I know that you hate that fact but realize that your God could change all this in a fetal heartbeat if he wished to and he does not. Since he doesn’t, we make the rules here and while you may find the rules brutal, I find the situations brutal and do what I can to make the best of it.

    There are many times when killing a baby, ending the life of a profoundly damaged or deformed or sick infant is the right thing to do. That is the reality here. When you approach it as your do, trying to wash your hands of having to make the tough choices because your religion says all human life is precious when that’s so obviously not true, you make yourself a moral coward, willing to let another or time and circumstance decide what we are forced to. In my ethics, abortion can be moral. In my studies of human reproduction abortion, both induced and spontaneous, will always be with us. In my ethics, your morality is both naïve and immoral, lacking the willingness to seek the lesser evil which your church has done many times before and will continue to do so.

    If you wish to understand why there is a debate over induced abortion, then you need to know that the first thing to do is to understand what gets aborted, it’s a not a baby, by whom, by what, and under what conditions even humans cannot play God with the brutal but natural process of human reproduction. I didn’t make up these rules, I don’t like many of them either, but I deal with them realistically like your church deals with war. The “evil” will not go away, cannot be put away, it will be with us as long as humanity walks the face of the earth. If you wish to make any serious progress, like making the number of induced abortions because of unplanned or unwanted pregnancy head towards zero, then you need to jettison the view that a conception is a person for if it is, then only God could tell you why he allows so many millions of “people” to “die” ever year and why there’s not a thing man can do to ever stop it. Life on this planet is anything but sacred. You can blame God for such a thing if you wish, the problem of evil is the one question Christianity can never answer, but all I see is what is. When you start to deal with what is instead of what you wish was, then you will be able to see that the lesser evil is much better than doing little but praying and calling others baby killers and getting nowhere. The fetus, much as you want it to be, is not sacred. Making it so means you will be proved wrong millions of times a year, year after year, and that will never stop. The path forward is not the one you are on but the one that says yes it’s brutal and sometimes necessary, and we want to do it as little as possible. That is a train of thought nearly everyone will ride, even me…

  5. John

    February 5, 2012 at 2:00 AM

    Those of us who support abortion rights know what dies in the womb naturally, what might have been, and what might have been had we not induced an abortion. Don’t kid yourself that we are unaware of the brutality of life and death, both inside and outside the womb. Most conceptions, these tiny people as you like to think of them, will never see the light of day and that is not in any way man’s doing. I will explain that and you are free to look up the numbers for yourself.

    For those who are curious, take the number of all known pregnancies each year, then add 20% of the original number for those lost in the first three months, and then add another 10% of the original number for those lost after that. Regardless of what we do, that will be the number of abortions, many millions each year, that we can do nothing about. And some induced abortions, no matter how we feel about it, will still be required to save the life of the mother which will always matter more than the life inside her that might have been. Some abortions are needed to do nothing but clean out what is left in the womb after a fetus dies naturally. This is the reality of human reproduction, which you can blame God for if you wish but I see it as nothing more than what is, nature in action. Like induced abortion, it is certainly brutal and no one I know of on the pro-choice side would be unhappy if we never again performed an abortion that wasn’t necessary. That is the goal of birth control, and family planning, and a supporting factor for laws against rape and incest after all.

    I support legal and safe abortion, most Americans do depending on the situation, but I’m not a fan of it. Like death it is a part of the human condition but don’t fool yourself into believing that we don’t know what really happens here, what lives and what dies. The people in the Bible treated the fetus as less than human. Nature treats the fetus as less than human. And people who believe as I do, who look to nature for guidance, treat the fetus as less than human as well and until God changes the human condition we always will. If you didn’t know better before, you do now and while it may seem impossible that we would support a fetus of the same developmental age being aborted in one case and buried with human dignity in another, it isn’t because while that may seem horrible and brutal, that is the situation we find ourselves in on this planet. In the end what we discover is that life in the womb is a test most won’t survive long enough to become one of those amazing little things we hold in our arms and cherish. Even with induced abortion outlawed but for the most extreme cases, there’s nothing we can do about that. I don’t like those rules any better than you do, I just deal with reality better and it’s a brutal reality at that. And while many see this situation as unjust, murderous even, we are just as much playing God when we try to save a fetus as when we abort one, so, you want a world without abortion and I agree, A world without abortion, spontaneous or induced, would be wonderful, it just will never be. When you can accept that you will be on your way to seeing that as brutal as it is, it’s not nature’s fault, or our fault, or even God’s fault, it simply is what is.

    BTW, there’s one thing to keep in mind here. I rejected Christianity not because I didn’t study your faith but because I did. In the same way I support legal induced abortion not because I don’t know what happens but because I do. You can’t win us over by telling us how brutal it is, we already know and it is what it is.


    • catholicmoxie

      February 5, 2012 at 6:09 PM

      John, as a woman who has been blessed with 4 pregnancies, I’d like to point out to you that a natural miscarriage is in no way, shape or form similar to a procured abortion. I’m well aware that many, many newly conceived babies die naturally in the womb very early on in pregnancy. What has that to do with the reality of abortion in the U.S. today? Absolutely nothing. You claim to understand the brutality of abortion, and to know what goes on, yet you still support it as a “necessary reality.” I’m sorry, but I fail to see how it is necessary to rip an unborn child limb from limb; or stab an unborn child in the heart to kill her before ripping her from the womb. I fail to see how it can be considered “good” or “necessary” or “right” to destroy a helpless child simply because an adult “chooses” to.

      Nature does not treat the fetus as less than human, and neither does God. In fact, our Creator designed the female body to protect the child in her womb with everything in her. The mother’s body will protect the life of her child at all costs naturally, unless unnatural and violent interventions are made. It is us, in our so-called enlightenment, who have declared the fetus to be less than human, because we want the power to kill the fetus — the CHILD — without restriction or consequence. It is the strong destroying the weak simply because they can, and that it is not what God made the human person to do. We have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the child in the womb is our neighbor.

      Abortion is not necessary. It is murder. What is necessary is that we begin to recognize the truth. Human life is sacred and not disposable at our whim. What is necessary is that we stop butchering our children for our own convenience and selfishness. If you know so well what really happens in abortion, then admit it out loud: “It’s okay to kill a child just because I choose to. It’s okay to dismember and brutalize a baby. I decide who is “less human” than me.”

      Just be careful: someday someone else will decide that YOU are less human, and YOUR life is not worthy anymore.

      I will never believe that it’s “necessary” to kill a baby. It can never, ever, be anything but evil.

      I’m sorry to hear that you believe you have studied and then rejected Christianity. I suspect what you “know” is not enough, for the truth about Christ, who He is, why He came, why He died, and the depth of His love is absolutely irresistible once it’s truly known.

      God bless you.

    • Esme

      May 2, 2012 at 1:38 PM

      John I think your very Ignorant!!!!!

  6. Angela Petrash

    January 18, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    A couple from our Church knew that their son would not live through his birth. They had a photographer there at his birth to take family pictures. This child was and is a part of their family, in life and in death. There is nothing morbid or weird about this. What is morbid and weird is Alan Colmes reaction to Rick and Karen Santorum’s love of their son, Gabriel. May God bless Alan Colmes in his ignorance.

  7. Michael Long

    January 14, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    Thank you for your compassion and beautifully insightful story. You have enriched many lives with your words and deeds.

  8. Ryan Kantor

    January 11, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    Oop, you weren’t the one who subscribed to my blog. You got a really nice blog link from:
    which was how I stumbled upon your post. I think you’ll really enjoy the blog post that I pasted into my last comment anyway.

  9. Ryan Kantor

    January 11, 2012 at 5:37 PM

    This was a pretty tear-jerking post. Thank you for writing and thank you for subscribing to my blog over at:

  10. Anne Hemphill

    January 11, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    I was born to an unwed mother, and although it was tough at times, not to have grown up with my father, I thank God every day that my nother didn’t abort me. NOt only did she give me a chance to live, but my children and grand-children have a chance to grow up and contribute as they were meant to.

  11. cbiagi1963

    January 11, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    THANK YOU! Words cannot express what this post means. You are so right about the culture of death in this nation. I can tell you that even if I did not agree with you already, even if I had differences of opinion your moving piece would have melted the ice of my heart and I would be a better man. I do not know that I will ever tire of reading this particular blog.


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