Faced with the prospect of bringing a baby into the world with three heart defects, and a condition with her liver and abdominal organs growing outside of her body, a couple leaned toward faith to summon the strength to refuse abortion. Today, their baby girl is thriving.
Mary-Christine and Ryan Robeson of York, Pennsylvania, both 31, first became aware of their unborn baby Arianna’s devastating diagnoses at Mary’s 20-week scan.
“The ultrasound technician noted some significant issues with her development and said she would be back with the doctor,” Mary told The Epoch Times. “We sat and waited in silence … the only thing we said to each other, as we waited, was that we knew they would ask us if we wanted to abort her.”
Arianna was then diagnosed with a “giant omphalocele,” a condition in which her liver and other organs were developing outside of her body. She also had atrial and ventricular septal heart defects (ASD and VSD), a larger-than-normal heart valve, a possible genetic disorder, and measured too small.
By this time, the couple had already become aware of the baby’s gender and had seen her face, feet, and hands. Their then-1-year-old daughter, Lucia, even exclaimed, “baby!! Aww!” after seeing the ultrasound.
The doctor offered the parents abortion.
“We responded saying, ‘That’s not an option,'” said Mary. “She told us that [Arianna] would probably be very ill if she survived the pregnancy. She then stated, ‘If you do decide to terminate, we would have to make that decision quick, since we would run into legal issues if we wait much.'”
Mary politely cut her off again. Later, at home, she broke down over the shocking news and cried for the remainder of the day.
“I repeated aloud, over and over, ‘Thy will be done,’ while I sobbed,” she recalled. Her husband and her daughter Lucia held her and they cried together.
“We call Lucia our ‘bringer of light,'” said Mary, “That day, and for the remainder of the pregnancy, she lived up to her name.”
The stay-at-home mom, a former speech-language pathologist, and Ryan, a York City firefighter, then had to refuse abortion a further five times, twice more with doctors at their clinic in York, and three times with nurses at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) after referral.
“I look back and wish I put them in their place for offering something so evil, for making us feel that we weren’t compassionate unless we ended her pain for her,” recalls Mary.
A nurse at their first appointment at CHOP even shared “truly devastating stories” of those who survived with omphalocele diagnosis.
“We received a lot of bad news,” she said. “They told us they’d ‘never not intubated a baby with the severity of her diagnosis,’ we ‘wouldn’t be able to hold her for at least a month,’ there was ‘no chance I would be able to breastfeed her,’ she ‘would require breathing support and have long term pulmonary issues,’ [and] we ‘were looking at a minimum of three to six months in the NICU.'”
Arianna would also “likely need open heart surgery in her first month of life,” said Mary. Yet, while heartbroken, Mary and Ryan remained positive, finding comfort in praying for a miracle and in the prayers of their friends and family.
Mary claims that their conviction in choosing life for Arianna owes to their understanding of science and faith in God.
“Ryan and I knew that her life was not ours to take,” she explained. “As practicing Catholics, [we] believe in teaching our children that life is filled with hardships and crosses, but it is never acceptable to quit.
“I did not have the right to end her life, nor will I ever,” she said.
Mary further shared that, prior to being parents, she and her husband were “cradle Catholics,” but after giving birth to Lucia, they felt a strong calling to truly dive into their faith.
“We thought we felt this calling because God wanted to equip us with the knowledge and strength to raise our children to know and love Him, but now we see that God’s plans were even greater,” Mary said.
During her pregnancy with Arianna, Mary strengthened her faith and educated herself on how to care for Arianna and her symptoms.
Arianna was born on the morning of July 1, 2020, in CHOP, through a scheduled Caesarean section. She cried, something that her parents were told wouldn’t happen, and continued to cry for the next 30 minutes.
After a brief moment to welcome their baby girl, Mary and Ryan watched as her belly was wrapped, noting the miracle of her breathing on her own.
“We were told by more than one neonatologist that they ‘have never not intubated a baby in the OR, and if they didn’t, then they would in the NICU.'” Arianna’s medical team then whisked her away to the NICU for the next 4–5 hours.
Having prayed fervently to the patron saint of hopeless cases, St. Jude, Mary and Ryan gave their daughter the middle name Jude as a mark of gratitude.
Mary described Arianna’s NICU journey as “incredible, painful, overwhelming, uplifting, inspiring, and exhausting all at the same time.”
She and Ryan refused a PICC line, convinced that Arianna’s breathing, rooting, and passing bowel movements were signs that she was ready to eat on her own. On July 3, doctors agreed.
Unable to hold her baby yet, Mary breastfed Arianna by leaning over her crib and the baby latched easily. “A nurse later told me, ‘In my 20 years of working as a nurse, I have never once seen anything like this,'” Mary recalled.
Bolstered by prayer, Mary and Ryan continued to push for less medical intervention. News from Arianna’s cardiologist proved their hope was well-founded; her ASD stood a 50/50 chance of needing surgery later in life, but would not cause problems, the VSD would resolve on its own, and her bloodwork returned no genetic disorder associated with her diagnosis, said Mary.
“We knew it was a miracle, it didn’t have to make sense!” she said. “During the remainder of the NICU stay, almost every doctor and nurse expressed that they had never seen a baby with her diagnosis thrive like this.”
Mary and Ryan had Arianna baptized on her eighth day in the NICU. She was discharged two days later, and the family of four began their life happily.
After discussing treatment options with Arianna’s doctor, Mary and Ryan opted to treat her at home, delaying surgery for the displaced organs until her body was bigger and the procedure carried less risk. They dressed her omphalocele in the medicated wrap and wrapped her belly to compress it and allow it to flatten over the months until she had surgery at 9 months old.
“She healed beautifully,” said Mary. “Arianna is living a completely normal and healthy life! She has met all developmental milestones and has the strongest, fiercest personality … but also this contagious, irresistible smile.”
Mary and Ryan have since made it their mission to share Arianna’s story, to bring glory to God, and to help other parents who may be suffering as they did.
“We were always pro-life, but never really expressed that, given how sensitive the subject is,” Mary reflected. “It wasn’t until we were hit with a tragedy that we opened our hearts to the cause and decided to act.”
The couple now offers their support at a local women’s center, donates to causes to help mothers and babies in need, speaks out against abortion, and plans to foster.
“We educated ourselves, and armed ourselves with faith and knowledge to do what we can to fight for this worthy and necessary cause,” she said.