Sicily’s Window by Jeremiah Coburn
July 11th, 2008 would be the most extraordinary day of my life. My wife was being induced at Providence-Newberg, and sometime in the next twelve hours I would be meeting my daughter face to face for the first time. I had waited for this day for nine months. I had seen her through ultrasound scanners, dancing around in her mother’s womb and putting her hands in front of her face as the ultrasound technician tried to get a clear picture of her. At seven months, her small hands were wrapped around her feet as she gleefully sucked her toes (which she still does). I had talked to her through the layers of my wife’s skin and felt her jump and move with my voice. Yet with all of this excitement, there was a terrible fear that followed me from events that transpired many years ago.
In 2004 I left the occupation of firefighter-paramedic in Southern California. The prototypical burnout, I set out to find a peace I thought existed but struggled to find without my old friends and comrades. In the book “We were soldiers once…and young” by Lt. Colonel Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway, there is a quote that comes immediately to mind whenever someone asks me what it was like to be a fireman/paramedic: “We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night we will always hear the screams…” (Moore, pg.13). Unfailingly throughout my life, when I tell someone I am (or was) a firefighter-paramedic, I always seem to be asked the question, “What was the worst thing you ever saw?” The questioner, mentally salivating and rubbing their hands while preparing for some tale of gore and horror from San Diego’s highways, or maybe from a burning structure, is usually let down by my vague response: “Kids. Kids are tough to deal with.” I don’t go into detail with people; I don’t want to, and sometimes I just can’t. Some of the incidents I write about in this paper will be the first I have written or spoken of them for many years.
I have always been pro-life. That makes me no different that one hundred million Americans; but I can almost guarantee that my reasoning is different than many of them. When I was a teenager, my reason for being pro-life went along with my outlook on life: it was about responsibility and character virtue. If you were going to have unprotected sex, it was the same thing as playing Russian roulette…only while aiming the gun at someone else. If the gun goes off and kills someone, you’re going to jail for murder, or at the very least manslaughter. That was the consequence¬¬–the end game. If you were going to have sex, especially unprotected sex, and (*ahem*) your gun went off, you paid the consequences of your actions. As a sexually active teen, I understood that and was prepared to deal with it if necessary. Though my stance remained the same, my reasons began to change as I entered the only line of work I had ever dreamed of doing.
At the age of seventeen I became a cadet with a Southern California Fire Department, and two days after my twentieth birthday I got my first EMT job on a private ambulance that ran 9-1-1 calls Southern California. Two years after that, I graduated paramedic school and was hired on as a firefighter-paramedic in Southern California. By the time I was twenty I had seen more than most people see in a lifetime, and by the time I was twenty five I had seen it all twice. Everything you can imagine, from 12-member S.W.A.T teams emptying clips into violent men possessed with the superman strength that PCP offers, to a woman burning alive in her vehicle while she screamed for help that we could not give fast enough. The things I witnessed and took action in are things I will know and see forever. I learned two things at a young age while doing this line of work: 1) Life is cheap…it comes and goes quickly, and 2) death has many and faces; it can be silent, loud, surprising, expected, painless, agonizing, violent, terrorizing, or calming, and those forms are unbiased with gender, race…or age. But out of everything that I saw, nothing was more tragic than a child whose life was cut short before having a chance to experience life. The things I saw happen to small children and infants were haunting. For years my conscience screamed aloud at the unfairness of it all without being able to tell anyone about the things I saw.
The fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution states, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property…” (United States Const. Amend. XIV). Our founding fathers and those tens of thousands of Americans that fought for freedom two and a half centuries ago knew that the greatest thing on earth was to be able to live the life that God gave us. Without that value, there was nothing. Without the ability to have a chance–to get a shot at living in the first place–would have made the freedom of speech, the press, religion, or the right to bear arms, inconsequential. I mentioned above that I learned at a young age that life was cheap. Even with all of the rights we have been bestowed by this great nation, and the natural rights given to us by God, life remains cheap. Abortion makes it cheaper. You can disagree, that’s fine. But for those who disagree with me, I wonder if they would feel different if they have seen the same things I have. I wonder how people would view killing innocence before it has a chance to live if they were with my partner, myself, and four other fire-medics as we pulled the lifeless, limp body of a two day old infant out of a back alley dumpster. Mom didn’t want it. Couldn’t give it up for adoption, or drop it off on the doorstep of her local police or fire station. Nope. Instead the hour she was released from the birthing unit she tossed her baby into the trash can, no different than uneaten pizza crust or empty big gulp cups. I wish those who fail to value the very importance of life would have been there with me when Medic 18 and Engine 18 responded to a 9-1-1 call that came across as a “child with burns.” Upon arrival at what was a brand new upper-middle class home, we discovered the body of an infant placed in an oven by a father high on hallucinogens. The mother, returning home from work, called 9-1-1 in hysteria. The look of lifelessness on the mother’s face is something I will never forget; her heart and soul died on that night with her child, and she will live with it always. Later that night in a tearful rage, I screamed to myself with balled fists that the child “didn’t even have a chance.” No chance to love, to learn how to add and subtract, to eat dad’s Sunday morning French Toast, go to a baseball game, or learn how to fix cars. No chance to become the next Wolfgang Mozart, George Washington, Emily Dickinson, or Lou Gehrig. No chance to be the person that discovers a cure for cancer or ALS. I wish those who failed to understand could have been there for just one of the two SIDS calls I responded to, and I wish they could have been in my shoes when in our room at Providence Newberg, the survival of my not-yet born daughter was in issue. As her heart rate and blood pressure plummeted while in the womb, I held my wife’s hand tightly, telling her everything would be okay. Once though, I looked up to the sky, and holding back tears I pled quietly to God not to let all that I had bore witness to find its way into this hospital room and take the life of my defenseless child. It was there, at the birth of my daughter where I understood that without mom and dad–without someone to care and to love her–she would die. My life became attached to hers at that moment, and I would be lost without her now. That is what we owe to our children. That is what we owe to those who are helpless: a fighting chance, and the opportunity to be loved.
I could sit here and write all of the bible verses that condone abortion, and debate so-called “facts” that are used to justify abortion. I could go on about the scientific debate of when life begins, or recite the numbers that represent reckless infanticide. But it’s been done, and though that information is great and I have done it a thousand times, it’s also been read a thousand times. My focus on the issue is different: giving a fighting chance, a fair shake, to those who are helpless in an otherwise cruel world. Don’t just take my view points on it, though.
Four years ago my daughter interviewed Salem resident Donald G. Malarkey of “Band of Brothers” fame for a history project. Being as how this was a unique experience, and also being that I’m a history freak, I went along. The thirty minute interview turned into a five hour jab session of two men who had seen their share of horror. In our discussion, the subject of abortion arose. Mr. Malarkey sat back and stated, “I’m against abortion, period. And it’s not because I’m Catholic. It’s because in all those years of fighting in the war, and seeing all of the things that I saw…life is too fragile to throw away. It just isn’t right.” (Interview, 2006). Recently, ex-Florida Gators Quarterback Tim Tebow made headlines when a pro-life commercial starring him and his mother appeared during the super bowl. During Mrs. Tebow’s pregnancy with Tim, her survival was in doubt. “While pregnant, Pam suffered a life-threatening infection with a pathogenic amoeba…the fetus experienced a severe placental abruption. Doctors expected a stillbirth and recommended an abortion to protect her life” (Wikipedia). Had Pam Tebow listened to the doctors, as so many other women do, America would never have had the chance to see such a gifted athlete like the Heisman winning Tebow in play.
In July of 1991, a young woman was asked to break a fifteen and a half hand Appaloosa in Shasta, California. Things were going well until the horse bucked her off and fell on her, shattering her left leg. A cast went from her foot to her hip, and would stay there for nearly a year. The young woman was also two weeks pregnant. Doctors advised her repeatedly to have an abortion, as delivery was impossible in her condition and the life of her and the baby was in danger. The woman refused, and the following April, she gave birth to Destiny April Grandahl, now Destiny April Coburn, my step-daughter. The young woman was my wife Amy.
At 11:45 pm on July 11th, 2008, my daughter, Sicily Rose Coburn, was born in an emergency C-section. After six hours of her heart rate, blood pressure, and respirations cycling up and down, it was necessary to save her life. At 11:00 pm, as my wife and I tried to relax while watching an inebriated Cary Grant struggle to keep his car on a windy coast highway, her vitals went down again. The doctor came in, looked at me, and said, “What do you want to do, dad?” I responded with, “Get her out of there, doc.” Forty-five minutes later, I was motioned by nurses over to a warming table where my newborn daughter laid. I looked down at her and said, “Sicily…this is daddy.” She opened her big blue eyes and looked right at me. She knew who I was, and the nurses saw it, too. I had been talking with her for the past 9 months, and she knew my voice; she knew I was dad. It was then, after the fright left me, that I realized the effect this tiny, helpless being had on my life. Through her eyes, at that moment, I saw the light of those who never got a chance to see their time. It was like looking through a window. I saw that this was my gift from God to be reconciled with the past, and I also saw it as another message to me about the value of life. Even now I look at her and how full of character she is, and so often I think of the witness I bore to those still innocent beings whose lives were cut short; yet at the same time I count my prayers everyday for her. I guess that won’t ever change; I’ll probably always look upon her this way. I guess I will always be looking through Sicily’s Window.