This story was written by sophomore Nina Young, as a part of a series written by sophomores about moral dilemmas in our community.
Christa was 7 months pregnant when she heard the awful news. “Your son’s organs are out of his body,” the doctors told her. They left her the choice. Abort the baby or subject yourself and the child to unfair challenges. These could have included extensive surgeries, which are followed with extensive medical bills, digestive problems, infections, and consistent testing for both of them. Her child had omphalocele, a condition that affects 1 in every 4,200 babies in the United States. Most of these children are quickly operated on and live relatively normal lives. But this was 1986 in East Berlin, the country of Germany lay divided and torn, physically and politically. Christa’s choice seemed to have already been made for her.
World war 2 ended on September 2, 1945, after 6 gruesome years. Germany was divided between the allied forces into Soviet, American, British, and French zones of occupation. The capital, Berlin, was also split with the Soviets taking the eastern side and the western side belonging to the western Allies. On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) began to build a barbed wire and concrete wall to separate east and West Berlin. This barrier was intended to deter East Germans from escaping to the western side. Life in East Germany was governed by strict rules which dictated housing, work arrangements, free time, and even a woman’s reproductive choices. West Germany offered many more freedoms with open elections, freedom of speech, availability of international products, and the opportunity to choose one’s career.
Christa and Reinhard Stoll were relatively happy with their lives. They had one son, Tim, and were excitedly waiting on Benjamin to join their family. Christa and Reinhard had both grown up in East Germany and were used to the way of life. “Everyone dressed the same. We were all equal.” Reinhard says. Christa’s father was a religious man, which was unusual in the atheistic East German Society. In school, she would be called the daughter of a fabulist. She couldn’t join any clubs or groups.
She grew up believing that anything from West Berlin was infected with Polio, a deadly childhood disease. When she was older, Christa got a good job working for the government as a secretary. Reinhard enjoyed school and wanted to attend college. Because his grandfather had been part of the Nazi party he was told to join the army. He declined but was subsequently forced into military service. He worked as a border guard for 18 months, where he was directed to shoot anyone attempting to cross. Luckily his post was quiet and he was never in a situation where he had to shoot. After they were married they moved to a tiny, gray apartment in Berlin. They were eagerly waiting to buy a car, which usually took at least 12 years.
The problem with their second child was first noticed at a regular check-up. After an ultrasound, Christa’s doctor told her that her belly was getting too large too fast. She had to go to the hospital again and again. Then to a bigger one. She remembers “There I was just a science experiment, there were 20 doctors, the room was so full.” They did a fine diagnostic ultrasound to get a closer look at the baby. She had to lay uncomfortably on her back for over an hour as doctors studied and tried to understand what was going on. She remembered it being hard, and painful. She remembers feeling like a guinea pig.
When they got the pictures, She recalls “I didn’t want to look. Not at all. But somehow I turned my head and saw.” At 7 months the baby was already starting to get features. Reinhard noticed how much he looked like Tim. After that, the doctor sat them both down. He told them the problems. “The organs are out of the body, it is possible with an operation we could see if we could fix it. But the child will always be behind, his life will be hard and painful, that is if he survived. Maybe you are cursing your own son. Maybe in a few years, he would say look at me, no one wants to be my friend or play with me.”
The couple stood there. Christa got scared that she would make the wrong decision. Reinhard gave his full support in whatever happened. They aborted the baby. She was done being a guinea pig. She didn’t want that for her son either.
After the abortion, life was never the same. She wouldn’t leave the house. It impacted her more mentally than physically. Every time a baby in a stroller crossed the street, she thought of him. Every time a baby cries, she thinks of him. Every time someone brings up abortion she thinks of him. Because of the lasting trauma, they decided not to try to have any more kids. They still don’t know if they made the right decision. Years later though, they reflect “We let ourselves be talked into it.”
-Example of border guards