The Santorums’ Grieving

Jan 7, 2012 8:06am
ap rick santorum family nt 120106 wblog The Santorums Grieving

Winslow Townson/AP Photo

Another liberal commentator has criticized the way Rick and Karen Santorum mourned the loss of their newborn son Gabriel in 1996.

Earlier this week, liberal radio host Alan Colmes referred to the Santorums as having showed “a certain unusual attitude toward taking a two-hour baby home who died to play with his other children.” Colmes later called Santorum to apologize.

Continuing that line of criticism, on Wednesday, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that “some of his positions he’s taken are just so weird, that I think some Republicans are going to be off-put. Not everybody is going to be down, for example, with the story of how he and his wife handled the stillborn child whose body they took home to kind of sleep with and introduce to the rest of the family. It’s a very weird story.”

The story first gained notice in 2005 after a New York Times Magazine story described it this way:

“The childbirth in 1996 was a source of terrible heartbreak — the couple were told by doctors early in the pregnancy that the baby Karen was carrying had a fatal defect and would survive only for a short time outside the womb.

According to Karen Santorum’s book, ”Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum,” she later developed a life-threatening intrauterine infection and a fever that reached nearly 105 degrees. She went into labor when she was 20 weeks pregnant.

After resisting at first, she allowed doctors to give her the drug Pitocin to speed the birth. Gabriel lived just two hours.

“What happened after the death is a kind of snapshot of a cultural divide. Some would find it discomforting, strange, even ghoulish — others brave and deeply spiritual. Rick and Karen Santorum would not let the morgue take the corpse of their newborn; they slept that night in the hospital with their lifeless baby between them. The next day, they took him home. ‘Your siblings could not have been more excited about you!’ Karen writes in the book, which takes the form of letters to Gabriel, mostly while he is in utero. ‘Elizabeth and Johnny held you with so much love and tenderness. Elizabeth proudly announced to everyone as she cuddled you,”‘This is my baby brother, Gabriel; he is an angel.”‘”

But the story may not highlight the cultural divide as much as it illustrates the importance of personal experience. Today’s Boston Herald features a powerful defense of the Santorums by columnist Jessica Heslam.

“At first blush, the way Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum handled the death of his newborn son almost 16 years ago may seem a little bizarre to some,” she writes. “But it’s not. I know because I’ve gone through it, too.”

Heslam tells her story and concludes: “I was sickened this week when liberal pundits mocked Santorum as ‘weird’ and ‘crazy,’ and tried to use the tragedy to highlight his extreme right-wing views. Some may not agree with Santorum’s ideology, but to ridicule a grief-stricken father for grappling with one of life’s most agonizing tragedies is the dirtiest of politics. My hope is that none of his heartless critics will ever have to walk in his — or my — shoes.”

-Jake Tapper

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