Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) opened up in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash about choosing life for her daughter after a devastating prenatal diagnosis.
In a profile as part of CNN’s “Badass Women of Washington” series, Herrera Beutler shared how she and her husband decided to “contend” with the diagnosis and give their daughter a chance at life.
Shortly after being re-elected to Congress in 2012, Herrera Beutler announced that she was expecting her first child. The couple went for what they thought would be a routine sonogram, only to discover that their daughter had Potter Syndrome, a condition that follows kidney failure. In Herrera Beutler’s case, her daughter had no kidneys.
"He just leaned forward and he said, 'I can't see any kidneys. I don't think your baby has any kidneys.' And I knew — and we knew it was — whatever it was was bad," Herrera Beutler said.
The couple was told that there was no chance their baby would survive.
"They took us into a back room and just said, 'There's nothing that can be done. Your baby's gonna die.' And we're at this point, just, you're weeping," she said.
She said that her doctor told her: "You know, a lot of women at this point would be across the street scheduling an abortion."
But the couple said they couldn’t do it.
"Being able to hear the heartbeat ... we had this gut feeling of there has to be something — I mean, a doctor may say it, but she's moving. That's pretty convincing. We know she's still alive," said Dan Beutler, the congresswoman's husband.
Herrera Beutler, who is pro-life, said that her political views were not the reason she decided to go through with the pregnancy.
"You're not thinking, 'What's my political stance on this?'" she said, adding that she did not want to be the one to "end the heartbeat."
“It was more of our gut. Like, there's — we, we gotta — and that was the word we used: contend. We're gonna contend," she said.
The congresswoman was told that she would likely miscarry, and her baby wouldn’t survive.
"What happens is your baby gets kinda shrink-wrapped," she said of babies without kidneys. "They get squished and their lungs are not able to develop."
The couple decided to announce their pregnancy — and their diagnosis. On Facebook, the congresswoman asked her followers to pray for a miracle.
Then, one happened.
A stranger read about Herrera Beutler’s story in a hotel newspaper. He reached out to her to tell her that there was an experimental treatment that might work. He said saline injections into her uterus would mimic functioning kidneys, possibly allowing the baby’s lungs to develop.
Herrera Beutler began searching for a hospital that could try the treatment, but most, she said, didn’t return her calls. A doctor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore did return her call, only to tell her that they couldn’t do the injections. But Herrera Beutler insisted.
"It was almost a sales pitch," Herrera Beutler said. "It's not new technology. It was a willingness issue.”
They ultimately convinced the doctor to try the injections once — and the results were immediate.
"Immediately, when that fluid was introduced, her chest heaved and she began to breathe that fluid in. And so you don't know what's happening, but you know that she's doing what she's supposed to," Dan Beutler said.
Herrera Beutler had to get regular saline injections for the remainder of her pregnancy. She drove back and forth from Baltimore prior to her workdays in Washington for the injections.
Their daughter, Abigail, survived. She became the first baby to survive childbirth without any kidneys.
"The one thing we have committed and we know is true is maybe it took this to break through, because now she's not the only. She's just the first. There are other babies who have survived because of her," Herrera Beutler said. "One just got her transplant last week, another, two weeks ago. ... Now, when I Google this horrible diagnosis, we know that there's hope."
Dan Beutler later donated a kidney to Abigail.
"I don't think there are many parents who wouldn't jump at the chance to help their kid," he said.
Herrera Beutler said that her husband also left law school to support their family and her work in Congress.
"He's the next generation of leaders," she said. "He's demonstrating that you can take on something as a team, and it ebbs and flows. He's showing my daughter, he's showing my son that a real man looks at a family and says, 'How can I help lead this family?' He's taking care of my baby, and he gave her his kidney, right? So he's quite an amazing person. And I hope to get the chance to do the same for him.”
The couple welcomed a son, Ethan, last year. Abigail is now 3 years old.
The full interview is available on CNN.