Mother of Girls with Microcephaly: ‘Your Children Will Be So Much Stronger Than You Think’

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Gwen Hartley’s two daughters with microcephaly, which has stormed the headlines due to a possible link to Zika, live normal lives at ages nine and fourteen.

“My girls wouldn’t choose to have microcephaly, but I want to reassure parents their children will be so much stronger than they think,” she said.

Claire, 14, received her diagnosis at three months old. The doctors found Lola, 9, with microcephaly in the womb. Nobody expected them to live past their first birthdays.

“But they’re like any other girls, they like rap music and watch TV, and they have their own personalities,” continued Gwen. “Claire is laidback and goes with the flow, while Lola is feisty and needy. She wants to be cuddled all the time.”

Hartley Microcephaly

Fear of microcephaly or other complications due to Zika have pushed women to illegal abortions. Microcephaly occurs if the brain does not form properly in pregnancy or stops growing after birth, causing a small skull. Children can suffer from seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disability, and feeding problems.

Doctors indicate women in all social classes are seeking out these abortions “in despair over the possibility of deformity.” Some even go through with abortions without concrete proof of complications.

Hartley Microcephaly

Hartley urged families with children with microcephaly to connect with others.

“It will be hard, and everyone will have to band together,” she added. “They’ll want to educate themselves on it and a support system is really important. But their children will be the light of their family’s lives.”

After a difficult first year, the family threw a huge party to celebrate Claire’s first birthday. Hartley discovered her pregnancy with Lola when Claire turned four. They diagnosed Lola with microcephaly at 26 weeks.

Their oldest son Cal, 17, has embraced the girls and includes them in as many activities as possible. His basketball teammates fist-bump the girls before every game.

“When I was pregnant with Lola, and we weren’t sure if she’d survive, he said, ‘I don’t care if she lives long, I just want to know her, even for a little bit,’” said Hartley.

Hartley Microcephaly

Journalist Ana Carolina Caceres, 24, told the BBC she is a “full and happy woman” despite having microcephaly. Doctors diagnosed her after birth and said she would die before she turned one.

“Now I am a journalist and write for a blog,” she boasted.

She even wrote a book with five other adults who have microcephaly. she said the push for abortion in these cases “offended” her.

During a lecture, virologist Gubio Soares, who first identified the presence of the pervasive Zika virus in Brazil, suggested that legalized abortion in French Polynesia may have prevented scientists from uncovering a link between Zika and severe infant deformities sooner.

During a lecture, Soares claimed scientists do not know for sure if a link exists between Zika and microcephaly. This is mainly because women in places where Zika breeds often aborted children who showed signs of microcephaly.

Doctors cannot diagnose microcephaly until the third trimester or after birth:

In many cases, microcephaly may not be evident by ultrasound until the third trimester and, therefore, may not be seen on ultrasounds performed earlier in pregnancy. The diagnosis of microcephaly may be made at birth or later in infancy. The baby’s head circumference is much smaller than normal. During the physical exam, the doctor obtains a complete prenatal and birth history of the child. In older babies and children, the doctor may also ask if there is a family history of microcephaly or other medical problems. Sometimes the child is born with a normal head circumference but then acquires microcephaly because of a serious condition, such as certain genetic disorders, stroke, traumatic injury, or poisoning. The doctor will also ask about developmental milestones since microcephaly can be associated with other problems, such as intellectual disability. Developmental delays may require further medical follow-up for underlying problems.

Brazil outlawed abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. A judge must approve the case.