Unsung Heroes: Catherine MacMillan
Posted by Isaac Spencer on 17 May 2016
Catherine chose life and love for her daughter Sara despite everything that was thrown at them
There are all kinds of pressures pushing pregnant mothers towards abortion.
Especially if they’re young, still in full-time education, unmarried – or if there’s any risk that the baby might be disabled.
This is the story of a brave young woman facing all of those pressures, and of the love that shone through for her daughter.
Unexpected but not unloved
In the summer of 2009, Catherine MacMillan was just 18 years old when she found she was pregnant. She had a place to study music at Glasgow University, and the course was due to start that September. Catherine says:
"Of course I did not feel ready to be a mother. I felt I was too young. I worried that I might not be able to cope with being so young and a mother. I had so many plans and I didn’t have a great relationship with the father.
"I had actually booked an abortion and this fact has filled me with such guilt that I’ve only started openly admitting it this year."
Dandy Walker Syndrome
Catherine ultimately chose life for her baby, but it was a life she had to fight for. In her 26th week of pregnancy Catherine was told that her baby had serious brain abnormalities due to a condition called Dandy Walker syndrome, which meant that three parts of her brain had not formed correctly in the womb.
Medical staff piled on the pressure for Catherine to abort her baby girl. From her 27th week of pregnancy right up until her 35th week, Catherine was repeatedly put under pressure to abort her unborn baby by various medical staff. As she says:
"It is becoming more and more rare for young people to hear the truth about abortion and it can be disheartening when the only advice you hear from people around you is ... the opposite [of the pro-life message]. It is a counsel of despair."
But Catherine clung to her pro-life principles and joyfully welcomed her daughter, Sara Maria, when she was born on 31 March 2010. For nearly six years, Sara was the centre and joy of her mother's life.
Catherine accepted her daughter for the person she was. But while their love was never in doubt, Catherine says they sometimes felt abandoned by the very medical professionals whose job it was to help Sara:
"I had to file complaints against doctors for neglect and bad practice. I had constant rows with some of her doctors about whether they had her best interests at heart. Some of them did not view Sara as a human being; they viewed her merely as a medical problem that they could not solve. Instead of trying to make her life the best it could be, some of them acted as if they could not be bothered, because unlike other children’s conditions, such as cancer, they couldn’t be the hero and cure Sara’s."
A life lived to the full
Catherine was having to fight on all fronts to try to ensure the best for her child.
But her efforts paid off. Catherine had feared that she would never be musical, but Sara was a pianist and a drummer – with "an eclectic taste in music already, ranging from Rachmaninov piano concertos to lots of different folk and rock music."
And when she turned five, Sara was treated to a special performance from her favourite singer, Jackie Oates, who came to sing at her birthday party thanks to the generosity of the Make A Wish Foundation.
Heart lost to heart
Sara wasn't able to talk – but she learned to quack like a duck! Catherine fondly remembers that one of her favourite things to do was to visit the ducks at the pond and have little conversations with them.
Despite all the difficulties and the heartbreak, Catherine and Sara shared nearly six wonderful years together. Then unexpectedly, on 5 January 2016, Sara passed away.
Catherine’s father, the composer Sir James MacMillan, wrote that those who witnessed the relationship between his daughter and granddaughter saw how "Catherine’s life changed forever when she said yes to new life, and we saw in this relationship an astonishing love and devotion; we saw rapture gazing at rapture, tenderness embrace tenderness, devotion build upon devotion, worship meet worship, the cherisher lift up the cherished, the enchanter astonish the enchanted, and heart lost to heart."
Youth conference videos
Some of you may remember Catherine from our Youth Conference in March, where she bravely shared her story with the delegates there. You can now watch her talk and all the videos from that weekend by following this link.
I can’t think of a more fitting way to end than to repeat what Catherine told us on that day:
"The pain I am experiencing now, and will experience for the rest of my life, is worth it. Worth it to have those almost six years of joy, love, heartache and extreme pride. Worth it to have the happiness, the smiles and everything that Sara taught me.
"What we had is the alternative to the guilt and the pain of being pressured to end something that is not our choice to end."
That’s why Catherine is one of my unsung heroes.