Swapping fear for faith, a Louisiana couple cultivated the strength to choose life over termination after learning their unborn baby had spina bifida. The journey they embarked upon 12 years ago has changed many lives and validated the virtue of “self-sacrificial love.”
In 2008, Chad and Ashley Judice, of Lafayette, Louisiana, were pregnant with their second son, and an unexpected diagnosis sparked fears. Talking to The Epoch Times, Chad, an award-winning author and national speaker, shared how his son Eli’s birth transformed his outlook on love, God, and parenthood.
“I had honored God all of my life, but I was never desperate for Him,” said Chad, the director of Catechetics in the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette.
“A routine ultrasound for a second pregnancy turned into my greatest fear becoming my reality. I prayed for God to change the situation, instead, He used the situation to change me,” Chad said. “God revealed to me my humanity and His divinity.”
When Ashley, an NICU nurse, was pregnant with Eli, the couple never expected any complications. Chad said his wife didn’t even want to know if it was a boy or girl until the medics could tell them the baby was healthy.
However, when the tech began the ultrasound, Chad recalled seeing a “concerned look” on her face and one on Ashley’s face. The tech left the room and returned with a colleague, who simply informed the Judices that they were expecting a boy. Then, an OBGYN delivered a painful diagnosis.
Eli was diagnosed with the “most severe form” of spina bifida. Chad said he used to believe that he was in control of his life. But Eli’s diagnosis changed it all.
“That day I found out that I didn’t control a thing, and God is in control of everything,” he said. “Initially, I believed that God sent me a child with a lifelong disability so I could care for him, but the reality is God sent Eli to our family so He could take care of me.”
Chad said doctors didn’t impose the option of abortion. However, the fear of the projected quality of life their son was going to have spurred Ashley in a “weak moment to entertain the idea.”
“What we read indicated that 80 percent of the people who receive this diagnosis choose abortion,” said Chad, adding if Eli survived, the medical literature implied that he would never walk, would be severely mentally disabled, and would have chronic health problems.
Yet Chad, “moved by supernatural faith,” reassured Ashley that Eli’s diagnosis was nobody’s fault and that God sent the child for a reason.
“Modern biology has shown that there is an irreplicable strand of DNA that defines a distinct human person from the moment of conception,” Chad said.
“To refuse to honor the dignity of one person is to dishonor that dignity in all persons. My son taught me that being a parent requires self-sacrificial love. Suffering without authentic love is unbearable and possessing authentic love without suffering is a fairytale.”
The Judices prayed for a miracle, bolstered by the support of Chad’s 1,100 high school students, their parents, faculty, and the greater Lafayette community. Eli was born in New Orleans by C-section on Feb. 17, 2009.
Chad chronicled his family’s faith-driven decision in his first book, “Waiting for Eli: A Father’s Journey from Fear to Faith.”
“Ashley’s mom, Ann, and I were asked to wear scrubs and to wait outside the operating room until a nurse called us in. It was a surreal moment; this long, emotional journey was reaching its climax,” Chad writes about the birth in his book.
“Ashley was crying and squeezed my hand so hard I thought it was going to break. Then I heard it, for the first time: Eli’s voice. He let out a scream. It was one of the most beautiful things Ashley and I had ever heard,” he wrote.
Relief flooded the room as medics realized the opening in Eli’s back, indicative of spina bifida, was only about “the size of a silver dollar” when it could have been the size of a saucer.
To date, Eli has undergone five major brain operations. Despite seizures and surgeries, he is doing better than doctors ever expected. Using braces and a frame, he is even learning to walk. Chad describes his happy son as “a life-long paraplegic who is above average intelligence.”
A lover of basketball, Eli is working with his grandparents to set up a wheelchair basketball team for kids his age, called Cajun Wheelers.
Meanwhile, Chad believes his nationwide pro-life campaign was not something he had planned. He always wanted to coach basketball and teach high school history. He said he never shares their story thinking that they are special, but because the “message is.”
The devout father has written two additional books to document their journey: “Eli’s Reach: On the Value of Human Life and the Power of Prayer,” and “Growing with Eli: Our Journey into Life and Light”—both of which have been turned into documentaries.
Chad says a special needs child is a “one-way ticket” to encountering self-sacrificial, authentic love. He affirms that we can experience “true fulfillment” in life not by pushing aside the needs of others for our own, but rather by pushing aside our own needs for others.
“God’s reach into the lives of others through Eli’s imperfections has truly been immeasurable and has made his story timeless.” he said. “A story that would have ended in the darkness of an ultrasound room if Ashley and I had not said ‘yes’ to life.
“[Eli’s journey] has transformed me from the inside out into the husband, father, and man I was created to be. He has taught so many people what authentic love is. That has been the greatest gift his life has given to me. He is a constant light in the darkness of a fallen world.”
(Courtesy of Chad Judice)
Arshdeep Sarao contributed to this report.