I was little more than life support for her and within minutes or possibly hours from birth, she would die, without any sense of me or anything around her.
This is my story of ending a wanted pregnancy. I’m putting in lots of details because it’s what I was looking for when we first decided to terminate, but couldn’t find a story like mine.
The Anatomy Scan—The Diagnosis
My husband and I and our two-year-old live in Japan. My husband is active duty and got stationed here about three years ago.
In late July, I was about 21 weeks along with our second child when we had the anatomy scan. The doctors saw that our little girl had anencephaly, which means her brain never formed beyond the brainstem. It’s a rare condition and 100% fatal.
The cruel trick that comes with it is that everything else is usually completely fine. The pregnancy was going very easily. She had a perfectly healthy heartbeat and I occasionally got some strong kicks. But anencephaly starts developing at about four weeks in utero, so pretty much right when we found out I was pregnant we had already lost her.
She never had, and never could have had, any sense of feeling, smell, taste, sight, or hearing, or even the ability to swallow. I was little more than life support for her and within minutes or possibly hours from birth, she would die, without any sense of me or anything around her.
We were quickly taken up to the OB floor of the hospital to talk to a couple of doctors about our options. I could stay pregnant and just let things run their course, possibly giving birth to a live baby or possibly not, or I could terminate the pregnancy. The choice was obvious to both my husband and me right away; we wanted to terminate.
Not Covered by Insurance
Being in the military and overseas, my husband and his dependents (our daughter and I) only had the option of Tricare for health insurance. Normally Tricare a wonderful thing because it’s affordable and covers everything. But all they cover as far as abortions is in the case of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger. After looking further into it I also saw that they won’t cover any mental health needs after an abortion. This care is the very minimum amount of compassion.
The doctors seemed used to and sympathetic to our situation and had information and resources ready for us. They were willing to help me have it done in a Japanese hospital, but out of pocket it would be about $8,000 USD, and I was only two days away from the Japanese limit of 21 weeks. The other option was Planned Parenthood in California. The doctors were very accommodating getting addresses, phones, and fax numbers.
Deciding to Go Out of Country
We got our diagnosis on a Wednesday. Early the next morning (because of the time difference) my husband made me an appointment for the following Tuesday at a Planned Parenthood in California. As you can imagine, last-minute flights from Japan to the U.S. are very expensive, so I went by myself. Luckily, all my family is in California so I wasn’t actually alone, but many times I imagined other women in my position having to do all this on their own, as I’m sure many have.
Covered by California Insurance
I landed late Sunday and my appointment was early Tuesday. I thought there would be a lot of forms to fill out but there was just one paper for a program called Presumptive Medical, which will temporarily insure children and pregnant women. Luckily(?) the military doesn’t pay well so we were well under the limit for a family of three and the entire procedure was covered. My emotions were already at the tipping point and this news practically brought a tear to my eye. We had already blown through our savings buying my ticket and paying for this procedure would have been another two or three thousand dollars.
Beginning the Procedure
Abortion in the second trimester is a multi-day process. The first day is dilating the cervix. When I got in the room at the clinic the staff asked a few questions about my medical and family history. I had blood drawn and they gave me 400mg of ibuprofen and an antibiotic. The doctor was extremely kind and personable. She showed me a picture of a uterus, told me how the procedure worked, and explained the risks. She asked if I understood, if I felt pressured, and if this is what I wanted.
It started out like a pap smear—I stripped from the waist down, had a blanket to cover me, and put my legs up in stirrups. The doctor warned me that the speculum was small but I’d feel a lot more pressure than with a normal speculum. That part was actually pretty painful. Earlier, after reading about the procedur,e I was worried about the shot they’d give me to numb my cervix, but I barely felt it and might not have even noticed if I hadn’t known it was coming. It also temporarily caused a weird feeling in my ears like I was under water.
I started shaking uncontrollably, which can be a side effect of the numbing shot. Either way, it was impossible to control my legs, especially with the position they were in. Other than that, I wasn’t having any issues. These little things called laminaria that look like really small tampons had to be put in my cervix. The doctor said sometimes they can only get about half of them in because for some women it gets to be too painful, so then they have to come back four hours later for the rest. I really didn’t want to have to do that and luckily I didn’t have to because until the last four or five, I didn’t feel a thing.
By the last few laminaria, I started feeling some strong cramps and pressure. Getting all of them in is important though because it makes the next day easier and safer. When the doctor was done she put in a little bit of cotton as well as some gauze coated in some liquid that was either anti-inflammatory or antibiotic, I can’t remember, but it looked gross and reddish.
It took me a few minutes to stop shaking, and I was feeling a lot of pressure and pretty dizzy. After a while, I slowly stood up but then went right back to lying down again. The doctor went and got me Sprite and a granola bar. She even went out of her way to have me lie back and put my legs up on her knee to help with my lightheadedness. I tried slowly walking down the hallway but felt lightheaded again so they took me the rest of the way in a wheelchair.
While making the appointment for the D&E the next day, they said it would be better if I had a hotel room for that night so I could be close by. If I had any emergencies during the night I could easily get back and they could take care of me.
It wasn’t too long before I took the ibuprofen and codeine they prescribed because I was getting pretty bad cramps. It felt just like a really bad period. There was also a lot of pressure so it was hard to walk around, but they recommended not walking anyway. I kept a heating pad on all night and that helped a lot. Luckily the medicine kicked in after a couple hours. My appetite returned, which I was hoping for because they said no eating or drinking after midnight. Despite everything, I slept quite a lot between about 2 or 3 p.m. through 6 a.m. the next morning, probably thanks to the medicine.
The Day of the D&E
My second appointment was at 8 a.m. the next morning. They’d had given me two dissolvable tablets the day before to put in my cheeks right away when I got to the clinic. These tablets were going to help efface my cervix, basically starting labor. The tablets tasted like chalk and took a really long time to dissolve, but after they dissolved they made me feel cold and made me shake a lot, which is a common side-effect. There were two other women in the waiting room with blankets, shivering like me.
I was waiting a long time, three hours I think. During that time I broke down crying once or twice, and there was at least one other woman doing the same. I knew that Planned Parenthood has some long wait times, but part of it might also have been the fact that they needed to give the medicine time to kick in. In the last hour, I started to feel some slight contractions.
Once they took me back I had to first strip down and put a hospital gown on. They had a container there for me with a blanket and hospital booties and said I could leave my clothes in it. The nurse came in and saw my gown was on backward and helped me fix it. She tried to maintain my privacy with a blanket but I really didn’t care.
I also had an I.V. put in and was given a small amount of clear liquid that looked just like water but tasted pretty much like straight lemon juice. The nurse said the liquid was to neutralize my stomach acid and would help to make the general anesthesia safer. Then she helped me get to the bathroom one last time since I wouldn’t be getting a catheter (you only get knocked out about 20 minutes). I asked if the same doctor that did my procedure the day before would be doing the one today, since I liked her. She said no, adding, “But your doctor today is also kind and very experienced and passionate and one of the most inspirational people I know.”
After getting a few seconds alone in the bathroom I broke down crying again, and kept crying as I was led down the hall to the final procedure. There were three people in there with scrubs and a much softer looking bed with supports for my knees to be up. I had no fears or regrets but I knew this was the end to the time with my baby that never had a chance.
They gently instructed me to open the back of my gown and lie back on the bed, and they helped me put my knees up. One of the nurses was wiping my tears and said, “It’s okay honey, you’ll go to sleep and not feel a thing,” and I said I wasn’t worried about that. Then the doctor walked up and introduced herself and asked if I wanted to talk about what I was feeling. I said, “It’s a baby that we wanted but she has anencephaly.”
My memory is fuzzy after that point but I think the doctor expressed sympathy. She asked whether I had other children and mentioned we could also try again in a couple months. I answered and the nurse dabbed my tears, then I mentioned my arm was burning.
When I woke up I was in the recovery room feeling groggy. My tears started flowing again. The doctor was there. I asked her if my baby had anencephaly. She said yes. I asked if my baby had passed away inside of me. Again she replied yes. I asked what would happen to her body now and she said she’d be cremated. Then the doctor asked if I wanted footprints and I said yes. A couple minutes later she came back with a really nice square envelope, with “Baby (Last Name)” written on it.
Once my tears were done I felt pretty much fine and with little discomfort. It did burn when I peed though, and upon further inspection the next day I think I did tear just the teeniest bit, which was probably due to the use of forceps.
As sad as the whole situation was, I did feel a sense of relief to have it over with. Physically I was feeling pretty good, with very little bleeding or cramping. Just like it said online, I felt almost back to normal after a day. Like one of my friends said, it’s not the physical recovery that’s tough after an abortion, it’s the emotional recovery.
Mourning My Baby
In my situation, I was also still recovering from the news we got on the day of the anatomy scan from the week before. Starting from that point I already missed my baby, who we had planned on, and extended our time in Japan for, and named. But afterward, I missed my pregnancy, and my belly, and mourned the fact that despite my body doing everything right, the baby never had a chance. I was reminded of that again three days later when my milk came in too, although luckily not strongly.
Image CC0 Creative Commons thanks to Pixabay