We talked until we were exhausted, but always came back to the suffering our son, and then our daughter, would experience.
We’re the women politicians don’t talk about. Women who were pregnant with wanted and waited for babies, not birth control accidents, not rape, and not “irresponsible.” My story is now 24 years old but still relevant.
We always thought we would have three or four children. Baby number one was born in 1985 after an uneventful pregnancy, a healthy boy. In spring of 1988 I had my first miscarriage and was devastated. In 1990 I had a second miscarriage. I was told not to worry, that it was only after a third miscarriage that the doctors would be concerned. A few months later I had my third miscarriage.
After some genetic testing we were told no abnormalities were found and to go ahead and try again. In 1991, I was pregnant again. My routine 16 week ultrasound was scheduled and I took our son with me to see the heartbeat. He was so excited. My husband wasn’t present, after all I had made it past 12 weeks so no need for him to be there.
The heartbeat was located. The technician moved in for a different view and then got very quiet. She said I need to get the doctor and left the room. My doctor came into the room, started looking at the screen and said there was a problem with the spine and brain fluid. I’m still not sure how I got myself and my son to a friend’s house afterwards, but somehow I did.
I saw a perinatologist the next day and was given another ultrasound. Our son had spina bifida, hydrocephalus and a three-chamber heart. All were severe enough to be incompatible with life, if I managed to carry the baby to term. We were given our options: carry on and wait and see, or end the pregnancy. We didn’t have long to decide. After 18 weeks, which was the legal cutoff for abortion procedures in Arizona where we lived at the time, we would have no choice but to continue the pregnancy or leave the state to terminate the pregnancy.
The care our child would need after birth was explained to us and we were told he probably wouldn’t survive long. We went home and spent a long two days going over our options. All I could think about was the pain my child might be in.
We chose to end the pregnancy, and I made the call to the perinatologist. I don’t remember being given an option other than inducing labor and delivering, but that’s what I did. I was given something to soften my cervix and 24 hours later I was admitted to the hospital where I was given pitocin to induce labor. After about five hours of labor I delivered our son. The nurses took him away, cleaned him up, wrapped him in a baby blanket and brought him back to us. They also took pictures of him. I never felt judged, I only felt compassion, caring and sorrow. I was sent home the following morning and a week later flew home to my mother and healed.
We thought long and hard before trying again, but I desperately wanted more children. In 1992 I was once again pregnant, at the same time as the year before. This time my husband was present for the ultrasound and the doctor was in the room.
Lightening does strike twice!
You know it’s bad when you see tears in your doctors eyes. There was a good strong heartbeat and a perfect spine, but our daughter had anencephaly. It felt like the Earth had tipped off of its axis. As we left, the office the entire front office staff was crying.
Once again we were off to the perinatologist and given our options. They hadn’t changed from the previous year. I asked about the possibility of organ donation if I continued the pregnancy, after all her body was perfect and her organs could save other newborns. We were told that was not an option for babies with this birth defect at that time. It was thought that you would be having the baby just to procure organs. I was given the option of a D&C even though I was 16-17 weeks pregnant. I couldn’t do it and chose to have labor induced again. Same hospital, same doctor, same caring and compassion.
I didn’t make these choices lightly. We talked until we were exhausted, but always came back to the suffering our son, and then our daughter, would experience. We also gave a great deal of consideration to what our existing child would be put through. My husband was very supportive, but as he put it, “ultimately the choice is yours, you are the one who has to go through the procedure and live with it.”
I was done. We were done. There would be no more babies. We mourned the loss of all those dreams of having a bigger family and made peace with our choices.
Then sometime in 1993 the CDC came out with the findings on Folic Acid and neural tube defects. We spoke with my doctor and the perinatologist and they gave us all of the information we needed to decide, one more time. In September 1994 our second son was born …. healthy! He was delivered by my wonderful doctor who had told me that no one else was delivering this child but her.
Yes, I still see my son and daughter in young adults who are 23 and 24, but I’m not haunted by my choices. We have friends on both sides of the debate and I am always amazed when someone on the anti-abortion side hears my story and they say ” well we don’t mean you.” For some reason they think what I did is different, but it’s not.