bryce is viable

As I sat in a local coffee shop with this family from Joni and Friends Family Retreats, this is the story that I was told that so moved me, I felt it must be shared. I had heard too many others like it. Each time I would hear from a family, how the doctor’s had pushed them toward the option of abortion of a child we had all grown to love, I felt the familiar mixture of anger and sadness welling up from my soul. Prenatal testing may reveal the presence of Spina Bifida, but I wish it could also reveal, the presence of a life which has the potential to bring so much joy, love, laughter, acceptance, pain, growth, maturity, faith, answered prayer, perspective, hope.

bryce is viable

Written by Bryce’s parents, Rachel and Brent

We were 7 plus months pregnant and blissfully naïve and innocent. We had piously turned down an ultra sound and the alpha feta protein blood test at 12 weeks because, after asking the doctor why we would need them other than for making a decision to terminate the pregnancy, he had answered, “If there is a neural tube defect we can sometimes deliver early to decrease the brain damage.” Of course, we thought, that would never happen to us; the odds were in our favor.

But they weren’t. Bad things do indeed happen to good people. I started spotting and went in for an ultra sound. After much poking, pushing, and prodding we discovered that our baby did have a neural tube defect – spina bifida. He had the largest opening in his spinal column the teaching hospital had ever seen. He had the most “remarkable” case of hydrocephalous they’d ever encountered. They gave our baby a 25% chance of survival, and if he did live through delivery and the ensuing surgeries to close his back, his brain damage was so severe that he would be in a “vegetative” state.

We were encouraged to terminate immediately. A genetic counselor assigned to us said it would be the smart, compassionate thing to do. Having a child like this wasn’t something we needed. We could spare ourselves the pain. The paranatologist told us our baby’s life wasn’t viable. We could deliver now and let him die. The genetic counselor repeatedly hounded us to make a decision, even after we told her we already had. We asked her to stop all contact. She didn’t respect our wishes.
We were firm in our belief that it wasn’t our place to make the decision to kill our baby. If God chose to take him, we would deal with it, but we knew it wasn’t right to end his life just because it wasn’t going to be “perfect” or because it would be inconvenient and painful for us. So we lived through the next five weeks with pressure from the professionals to terminate, being told the worst case scenario, yet not really knowing, of course, what the future was going to hold for us. We can honestly say that it was the worst five weeks of our lives.

Well, our baby was born, and he survived. His first year was spent mostly in hospitals undergoing surgeries, touch and go with serious infections and breathing problems. Over the next two years he was at home more, but still had lots of surgeries, was on oxygen, monitors, IVs, got hearing aids, glasses, and went to therapies constantly. But gradually his brain that hadn’t looked “viable” began to look better. The gray matter that had been smooshed against his skull by excessive cerebral spinal fluid started expanding. His brain MRIs were looking much better.

This life that had been deemed unviable by the experts was our beloved son Bryce, who apparently had never received the message. Bryce developed his own personality with a delightful sense of humor. He struggled with learning some things, but not others. His strengths far outweigh his weaknesses, at least in our opinion. Sure, he uses a wheelchair, stutters severely, and obsesses about certain topics. But what does that matter when he is such a contented young man?

Bryce loves Jesus with a simple, concrete faith. He’s never bored, always finding things to do to keep occupied. He has email buddies whom he emails up to 30 times a day. He knows how to use the computer by himself – he types with his left index finger without looking at the keyboard. Bryce knows everything there is to know regarding Native American Indians. He knows everything there is to know about Big Band Era music. He’ll tell you which songs are on which CDs, what number they are, who wrote them, who performed them, and which version is his favorite. Bryce is an accomplished drummer, drumming away to a swing beat with his CDs. Bryce gives an awesome head or foot rub to whichever family member happens to be sitting in the living room recliner. Bryce loves people and especially those with disabilities. He looks forward to church every Sunday where he’ll see the people who love him the most. And heaven is one of his favorite topics.

Do we ever regret, even for a minute, the decision we turned down regarding terminating Bryce’s life? No way, not even for one second! Bryce has blessed our lives in so many ways. And not just ours – there are literally hundreds of people who have been touched and affected by him, all for the better. God had a purpose in creating Bryce exactly the way he did. We’ve had the benefit of seeing some of it, but we’re sure the best is yet to come. We didn’t choose this life for our son or ourselves, but we wouldn’t change it or have missed it for anything. Thank you, God, for creating Bryce and blessing us with his presence. We truly believe he is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

When Bryce graduated High School at the age of 18, his father made this speech to their home school group:

“Graduations are usually a time of looking forward. Graduations are often a rite of passage when young people become adults and anticipate a life filled with possibilities. While aspects of this anticipation are true for Bryce, this occasion, at least for me, is cause to remember. Remembering is certainly a Biblical principle. Joshua set up stones of remembrance, Jesus told us to remember Him every time we take communion. We are to remember those followers of Christ we find in Hebrews 11. So allow me to remember. I remember the great sadness we felt when we were told the news of Bryce’s spina bifida, but also the incredible joy upon his birth. Even though he was hooked up to every conceivable piece of equipment, we saw only the precious gift that God blessed us with. I remember the time I was videotaping him when he was just a few months old. I tried to sit him up in a rocking chair and as soon as I turned on the video camera, he promptly fell over and started crying! I remember the strength God gave Bryce to endure many surgeries, over 30 of them. I remember his first laugh, his first expression of sadness that his legs didn’t work, his first piano lesson, his loss of hearing robbing him of the beauty of music. I remember God’s miraculous healing of his hearing, so he once again could relish each note of his jazz music. I remember his joy and glee upon arriving at Joni and Friends Family Retreats.

There are so many things I remember and time doesn’t allow me to express them all. But one remembrance that stands out is the sentiment of a certain doctor who told us it would be best to abort Bryce because his life would not be viable. What makes a life viable? Would having a great sense of humor count? Would belly laughing at the 3 Stooges count? Would the ability to play drums and not only enjoy, but analyze jazz music count? Would loving the company of people and relishing the fellowship of friends count? Would having a heart that loves people unconditionally count? Would having the gift of encouragement and mercy count? Would loving the Lord with all your heart, strength, and mind count? I certainly think so. So I remember all God has done in Bryce and through Bryce. I remember the many lives he has touched through his courage, strength, and love. And as I remember these things, it reminds me that Bryce is indeed more than viable. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, because God created his innermost being. God knitted him together in Rachel’s womb. God created Bryce to be wonderful. I now look forward to the days that God has ordained for Bryce.

Bryce, we love you. We are proud of you, because school hasn’t been easy for you. You had to work extra hard, but you have done well and beaten the odds. We look forward to the days God has ahead for us.”


About Rachel Olstad

Rachel is a wife and mother who is devoted to ministering to her family as she keeps putting one foot in front of the other in obedience to Christ's calling on her life. She is passionate about loving families affected by disability and accelerating inclusion in the Christian community. And she likes coffee. A lot.


By submitting a comment below, you agree to stick to our comment policy

  1. Great Story

  2. Thank you! It gives me more courage and conviction to stand up for the silent unborn. So often they have none to speak for them. And in many places, people see them as expendable until their birth. I’m grateful for Bryce and glad to know him over the years as a friend.

  3. What a BEAUTIFUL story God has written, beautifully told by you both, Rachel and Brent!!! Your speech brought tears to my eyes, Brent. Truly, Bryce is fearfully and wonderfully made!!!!

  4. Had some computer problems and just got to view this page. Bryce was beautifully and wonderfully made absolutely. It has been a joy to watch this family as they have walked and grown in the Lord. Not only was Bryce beautifully and wonderfully made….his family was, as well!

  5. What an encouraging story. we went through the same thing with our son;I would never abort.” we all have imperfections, some are a little more obvious than others” doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be born. They do bring so much joy to our lives; I never regret having my beautiful boy.

  6. I remember that speech and the tears it brought to my eyes. I surely know that Bryce has touched my life!

  7. He is a true Joy, Loved meeting him at JAF!!

Leave a Comment