Sabine’s Choice: When a Young Mum Dies to Save Her Baby

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Sabine’s choice

By Julie Boyd ·  2 min read · From 500 Words: How We Met

“I have to make a choice, the tumour or the baby, that’s what he said.” My friend Sabine had just seen her doctor to confirm her pregnancy. Her overwhelming joy completely destroyed the next moment by his cold pronouncement. She also had an abdominal tumour which could kill them both.

“I have to go on. I can’t let them take her,” she managed before heart-rending sobs engulfed her. Her husband’s face turned grey on the spot, and stayed that way for three years.

As Jacquie grew, Sab became more and more ill. When we brought her home from hospital to see her toddler son, conversations were always interrupted. She would turn her head to one side as she vomited discreetly into an ever-present bowl.

Sab was a beautiful Frenchwoman by birth. A fellow teacher, her elegant appearance belied her love for lunchtime Mars Bars sandwiches: a delicacy no-one else shared.

Jacquie was born by caesarian section at five months. The timing was carefully chosen to give her and Sab both, their best chances for survival.

For three horrific months Sab’s husband stoically refused to cry in front of her. He would break down daily at home as I watched over both our toddler sons.

At one point Sab lamented her inability to wear any of her gorgeous clothes. The tumour was all-consuming. We chose a good day for her, one where she was less ill, and I called together all her women friends. They arrived laden with champagne and her favourite foods in an attempt to whet her failing appetite. As I brought out her clothes, she chose for each of us and nibbled on her final Mars Bar sandwich.

The next day, we rushed her back to hospital. Her body wracked with spasms. Us, wracked with guilt that her special afternoon had been too much.

Jacquie was still in intensive care and making good progress. She had weighed just 400 grams at birth, the smallest premmie baby to survive at that time.

The next day I left our baby boys with the woman Sab had selected to become her family’s housekeeper. She knew there was no chance of recovery.

On that final day, she was awake, and happy. She had consoled her husband and despatched him to the pub for a beer with his mates. She asked for a wheelchair.

It took us ten minutes to get her into the chair, with all her tubes and drips and equipment. I thought she wanted to go outside and see the sun, but no.

“Take me down to see Jacquie please.” Her voice was strong.

Pushing her chair as gently as possible we made it the nursery.

In the country hospital Jacquie was the only bub in a humidicrib. Sab visited whenever she could get a nurse to take her. I pulled the chair as close as possible.

Sab put her hand through the access holes into the crib, and signaled me to do the same. Terrified I might be covered in germs I swallowed hard, and did as I was asked. Immediately Jacquie opened her eyes and grasped her mum’s wedding ring.

“Jacq, this is your Aunty. Say hello.” And a miniscule hand closed around my smallest finger.

Published 10 Nov 2013.