Milo Evan Dorbert took his first and last breath on the evening of March 3rd. The unusual complications of her mother’s pregnancy challenged the interpretation of Florida’s new abortion law.
Deborah Dorbert found out she was pregnant in August. Her first dates suggested that the baby was thriving and she was eager to welcome a fourth member into the family. It didn’t occur to her that the repercussions of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn half a century of the constitutional right to abortion would affect them.
A routine mid-pregnancy ultrasound changed everything.
Deborah and her husband, Lee, learned in late November that their child had Potter syndrome, a rare and life-threatening condition that has catapulted them into a volatile legal landscape.
would not honor their request to terminate the pregnancy. The doctors would not say how they reached their decision, but the new law carries severe penalties, including prison time, for medical practitioners who run afoul of it. The hospital system declined to discuss the case.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-iPJLV-css mw-md pb-md white font–article-body font-copy ma-auto pl-sm pr-sm”>State ban on abortion after 15 weeks of gestation has an exception for fatal fetal anomalies. But as long as their baby’s heart kept beating, the Dorberts say, doctors wouldn’t honor their request to terminate the pregnancy. The doctors did not want to say how they made their decision, but the new law provides for severe penalties, including imprisonment, for doctors who clash with it. The hospital system declined to discuss the case.
Instead, the Dorberts should have waited for labor to be induced at 37 weeks.
For the next three months, the Dorberts did their best to prepare for the short life of their second child. They consulted with palliative care experts and decided not to try to extend her life with high-tech surgeries.
“The most important thing for us was letting him know he was loved,” Deborah said.
The day before Milo was born, the Dorberts sat down with their son Kaiden to explain that the baby’s body had stopped functioning and he would not be coming home. Instead, one day, they told Kaiden, they would all meet as angels. The 4-year-old burst into tears, telling them he didn’t want to be an angel.
But after Deborah’s 12-hour labor, Milo was revealed to be 4lbs 12oz of perfection, with tiny, perfectly formed hands and feet, and a head of brown hair.
“I thought I had worked my miracle,” said Peter Rogell, the baby’s grandfather, who witnessed the birth. He allowed himself a moment of hope until the obstetrician cut the umbilical cord that for 37 weeks had performed the functions Milo’s underdeveloped lungs and missing kidneys would now assume.
Milo remained blue, wrapped in a blanket handmade by his great-grandmother.
She never cried, or tried to nurse, or opened her eyes, investing every ounce of energy in intermittent breaths.
“That was the beginning of the end,” Rogell said, recalling the constant sips that he thought were hiccups at first but turned out to be his grandson’s strenuous efforts to inhale.
Lee read a book to his dying son — “I’ll Love You Forever,” a family favorite the Dorberts had given Kaiden for Valentine’s Day — and sang Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”
For 99 minutes that lasted a lifetime, they cuddled and comforted their newborn.
At 11:13pm, a doctor pronounced Milo dead.
The nurses took a few photos, trimmed a few strands of Milo’s dark brown hair, and made his hand and foot prints on the inside cover of Kaiden’s book before taking the boy to the morgue. Milo’s organs were either missing or too damaged to donate; his body was so small that not even his heart valve could be used to save another child.
Milo would be cremated, with some of his ashes set in a pendant for Kaiden and two spherical glass ornaments.
Deborah feared that the memories served as a reminder of her pain.
But gradually, she realized that she might want something to hold on to or as a teaching tool for Kaiden.
“He might have questions along the way,” he said, imagining how he might whip out an item to help explain “what I went through, how the laws dictated it.”