Claudine and Dave Fitzgibbon always planned for a big family. But after giving birth to a healthy girl in 2013, those plans went terribly awry.
Over the next three years they fell pregnant three times and each time their unborn baby was found to have spina bifida, a congenital defect of the spine that can lead to serious problems with mobility and brain function.
“To choose not to have a baby in your family because there's something wrong with her; I mean it’s awful.” - Claudine Fitzgibbon
“To deal with the decision once and then to deal with the decision twice and then to deal with the decision for a third time – it was just an exhausting time” - Dave Fitzgibbon
Australian Story followed the couple over the course of their journey, capturing moments of exquisite intimacy and high emotion.
Faced with a terrible decision and with little time to make it, they chose to discontinue the first two pregnancies. Sharing a strong Catholic faith, Claudine and Dave found the decision profoundly traumatic but there was no selfishness involved; only a dreadful responsibility to not bring life-long suffering into the world.
By the time they received their third diagnosis, they were shattered. In vain, they searched for answers. How this could happen so many times? And what could they do to avoid yet another termination?
In desperation they turned to their doctor, asking: “Is there nothing else that we can do?”
They were told of a complex surgical procedure that had just been performed in Australia for the first time at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital by Dr Glenn Gardener and a huge team of surgeons. It involved operating on the baby in the mother’s womb and, while not a cure, it had been found in the US to improve the quality of life for babies suffering the condition.
Now, after hours of delicate surgery, Claudine and Dave have their desperately wanted second child, Harvey.
While they won’t know his precise condition for several years, the early signs are good, and to Dave and Claudine, he is the miracle they prayed for.
The Hardest Choice premieres on Australian Story, 8pm Monday 13 February on ABC & iview