Next in the Media Myths series is the cruel claim that Fabiola was infertile. This issue impacted the couple in deeply profound ways, as one can imagine. It seems especially grievous that the trauma of their medical challenges were exploited to sell tabloid copy. The inferred image is of an infertile woman and an impotent man. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Infertility is the inability to achieve pregnancy. Being pregnant five times, should have quieted malicious whispers of infertility or any notion of the King lacking virility.
Covering this information illustrates vividly the sad axiom, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Both Fabiola and Baudouin exhibited inspirational courage of spirit, facing the public always with a smiling face and head held high. Reports are that each time her pregnancy was announced, the palace overflowed with the abundant generosity of the Belgian people, rejoicing at the special news of their King and Queen. Each time, a brief quiet announcement would pierce their joy.
Unscrupulous authors lazily cling to tired court rumours, one claiming Baudouin’s step-mother, Lilian Baels, received a letter reporting Fabiola never menstruated and was, thus, infertile. While laughable, the depths to which man will go for notoriety is immeasurable and certain writers and journalists have sold such nonsense to readership eager for a juicy detail. Earlier untruths cast Lilian as the apple of Baudouin’s adoring eye, being hopelessly in love with his step-mother. The proof is nowhere to be found in that pudding; Leopold and Lilian were as ignorant to Baudouin and Fabiola’s engagement as were all Belgian citizens.
The business of outsiders blaming Fabiola for the couple’s childlessness is cruel and unconscionable. I wonder at how it is journalists or palace “insiders” feel confident or even suitably emboldened to testify with authority to the queen’s personal medical details. Fabiola’s affirmation of suffering from miscarriages was widely reported by the Belgian press in 2008. Belgians, nevertheless, were surprised at learning Baudouin and Fabiola suffered the loss of five babies.
I certainly don’t know anything more about the details than what Fabiola said in 2008. I do know that often a spontaneous abortion/miscarriage is triggered as the body’s fail-safe way of stopping a non-viable baby. Most often, this is manifested due to chromosomal insufficiency or abnormalities. The baby receives chromosome material and markers from both parents. This is how diseases get passed down from generation to generation.
It was scarcely reported, but King Baudouin suffered from Barlow Syndrome. His physical characteristics are classic for Barlow. Tall, extremely slender, elongated features, requiring corrective lenses for sight… Another system impacted is the skeletal system. As people age, material around the skeleton deteriorates and leads to back pain. Baudouin suffered severe back-pain later in life that he attributed to his golfing passion as a young man.
One of the most serious complications of Barlow Syndrome is mitral valve prolapse, from which Baudouin suffered. Surgery was performed on him in 1990 in an attempt to fix the valve. Until the last 20 years or so, this often meant a patient’s life span could be cut by a quarter or even a third. There is an increase frequency of sudden cardiac failure in Barlow patients with valve problems – even if they’ve been successfully operated on.
Heart ailments were fairly common in the King’s family. Indeed, his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, died of heart failure. His father, Leopold III, died of a heart attack. His brother, Alexander, required heart surgery to correct a defect during his youth.
All of this makes me wonder if each time Fabiola conceived there wasn’t a chromosomal abnormality that triggered a miscarriage? It is exceedingly rare that a woman who has multiple miscarriages (3 or more) continues to have miscarriages. Statistically, after a miscarriage a woman has about a 65% chance of carrying the next baby to term. And yet Fabiola had miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage. She was checked by renowned Swiss doctors, so one might infer that she did not have a physical abnormality, which would have been seen and diagnosed by those physicians.
That leaves us back at chromosomal abnormality possibly being in play – in this case, each time you’re still working from affected genetic material which could possibly encode the child’s chromosomes incorrectly – thus triggering another miscarriage.
I thus present to the unscrupulous journalists and anonymous insiders this: Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out that perhaps a miscarriage was triggered by chromosomal biologic material incompatible with viable life? Now wouldn’t that just be interesting? Not an issue of everyone supposedly knowing whether Fabiola menstruates or not. Not an issue of Fabiola being guilty of knowing she had infertility and needing to sacrifice her marriage to go to a convent releasing Baudouin to marry again in order to gain an heir. Not an issue of Fabiola being “barren”. Not even an issue of any kind dealing with Fabiola.
It is not for us to know. In the end, the lasting lesson in this tragedy was the indomitable spirit of these two inspirational souls who lived as one. King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola bore their cross with grace and turned this adversity to triumph by welcoming all the children of Belgium into their hearts. I will follow up on that point in an upcoming post.
Let us find encouragement in the story of loss and hope from these two guiding lights.