Abortion restrictions endanger lives. I know this because they endangered mine.
By H. R.
The pregnancy was very normal and everything seemed to be going fine. I had the free-cell DNA test and that came back normal, so didn’t feel the need for any second trimester screenings. I do sometimes regret that I didn’t have the second trimester screenings as they might have let me get this information sooner, and maybe the termination would have been easier physically. But I don’t know that, so I’ve had to let that regret go along with so many other regrets as I work through this grieving process.
The 20 week level II anatomy scan at the perinatologist’s took a long time but they usually do. The ultrasound technician went to get the perinatologist at the end. I wasn’t worried because when my perfectly healthy son has his scan, the tech also got the doctor for me at the end to go over everything. I knew that a sonographer couldn’t diagnose or even say if everything was okay.
I was nervous that it took so long to get the doctor, but surely the tech wouldn’t have given me ultrasound pictures with It’s a Boy! typed on them if there was any serious problem.
The perinatologist said the gestational dates were correct and then looked over the ultrasound. He explained the baby had spina bifida, club feet and several other brain-related birth defects. I had to have the nurses watch my son so my husband could come in and the doctor could explain it to him. I was very upset and afraid I wouldn’t remember the details.
According to him, the level of vertebrae where the hole starts generally dictates what sort of motor function the baby would have. The lower the defect, the better the prognosis. Our poor baby’s defect was extremely high on his spine. Because it was so high, there was no chance he would ever walk. There would be problems with breathing and digestion as well. There was also some swelling and other defects in his brain, so we weren’t sure how mentally damaged he would be. He would need many, many surgeries as a baby to keep him alive—but even the advanced fetal surgery wouldn’t fix any of the damage already done. It could only prevent further damage caused by the birth process.
Afterwards I was irrationally mad at myself and the sonographer. If something had been really wrong, why didn’t she get the doctor sooner? And why print all those happy words all over the pictures? For myself, I felt dumb for all the inane chatting I did about our son Jason and all the things I thought he could do and we would do together. I told the tech about the fenced in yard our Jason could run around in with his older brother. She didn’t reply to that one because she had probably already realized he wouldn’t walk. I asked if his head was big, because our son’s head was so big. She talked about baby clothes never fitting over heads. It was a deflection. She couldn’t, of course, give me a diagnosis. But later I felt so foolish for having said those things, because they weren’t going to happen. I had just assumed things were going normally.
My husband and I were just in shock. We talked about it and agreed we just couldn’t put him through that sort of suffering. We also had our family to consider. Our aging parents couldn’t care for this child if something were to happen to us. Our three-year old son would one day be responsible for him when we were too old to care for him. It wasn’t a fair burden for anyone. We decided it was best for everyone to terminate the pregnancy. We put a call in to my regular gynecologist to talk about our options for termination.
My gynecologist doesn’t do abortions and this touched off a long journey of anger along with my grief. And waiting. My gynecologist took a full day to get back to us with the information that although someone in her practice does abortions, she couldn’t do it because of gestational age restrictions. More anger. We were given a contact number for an out-of-state clinic. It was open only three days a week and had some really unreasonable counseling requirements. I couldn’t afford to wait long.
We asked for numbers for a different clinic in a different state. At this point something went wrong. Somehow, the name of the clinic my gynecologist recommended to me and the number I was given did not match up. But I didn’t find this out until I’d made my appointment and went to look up driving directions—the names were slightly different. This was one week past my 20-week scan and I was seriously worried about dating and weeks. What if the ultrasound at the clinic decided I was further along and I couldn’t have the abortion at all? Even though it was the wrong name, I went to that clinic anyway. I guess I should have canceled and found the correct clinic my gynecologist had recommended, but I was terrified of running out of time.
All this time I was furious with my state for making me do this. Abortion was supposed to be legal and safe, I should be able to have one in a hospital, and have it covered by insurance like any other procedure. Making me drive three hours out of state and then having to pay for it all myself—this was barbaric. I was so sad at the choice I had to make; having to deal with all this rage on top of it was just too much.
I don’t think I slept more than two hours each night the 10 days from the diagnosis to the first day of the procedure. The waiting was rough. I kept praying he’d stop moving—all his little movements had begun to bother me, especially as they were always in the exact same spots. He didn’t, I later realized, have the strength to move around much. I kept telling him that this was the wrong body for him, that he deserved a strong, healthy body instead and this one.
My procedure had complications. I would like to emphasize that these are extremely rare, but they were part of my experience. I think this makes it even more clear that instead of further restrictions, states absolutely have a responsibility to allow abortions to be done in hospitals and covered by insurance. Abortion restrictions endanger lives. I know this because they endangered mine.
The clinic was terrifying. It was in a downtown area, very run down. The waiting room was crowded. Even when I was sent back for blood tests, counseling, ultrasound, etc. there was more waiting at every step. It was a two-day procedure and I had laminaria inserted at the end of the first day—after 10 hours of waiting in the clinic. I was worried about these causing an infection but this part went fine. It hurt a bit when they were inserted and I had some cramping, but I was otherwise fine and they started me on antibiotics.
We went to a hotel, ate some crappy fast food and pretended to sleep.
I was told to be there early in the morning. The second day of the procedure they gave me pills to aid with dilation. There were other people ahead of me, and I was there at least six hours before they gave me the IV. I was awake for the procedure, just local anesthetic and then some IV pain medication. That was pretty difficult because I was aware of the whole thing, making the procedure both physically and emotionally more difficult. They say ” it doesn’t hurt, there’s just pressure.” I’m not sure if this is true for some women, but in my case it was painful because the pressure was so great at some point it became pain. I also had pain with the nerves along my hips, legs and lower back—sciatic pain. I was again mad that I couldn’t have it in a hospital were at least I would be asleep. It took a long time and was extremely stressful. The nurses had to hold my legs like I was in labor.
When I thought it was over, they spent a long time looking at the ultrasound only to find out there were missing a part of the fetus. It might be imbedded in the uterine wall or it might be inside me somewhere else. I had to be taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance. The doctor at the clinic tried to convince the ambulance driver to leave off his emergency lights! But the ambulance driver insisted.
This is the only time I had some negativity from medical people on what happened. When I told the driver what had happened he said that his cousin had spina bifida. I don’t think he meant anything by it but it was hurtful even so. It was a careless comment. I learned then that it was better to not tell all medical personnel every detail of my abortion, which was pretty counter-intuitive. We’re always told to give doctors more information on our health, not less. This was especially true in the hospital. Some of the later nurses or health aids had no idea of the details and I stopped describing it.
I was in the emergency room and I think for a lot of it I was too drugged to really be as terrified as I should have been. I was oddly relieved to be in a real hospital where I was sure they would take care of me better than at the clinic. At one point there were literally a dozen different people around me taking readings, starting an IV, getting information. They were having trouble contacting the clinic and kept asking what time the procedure started. I honestly didn’t know because I’d had to wait for it so long in the prep area.
They thought at first they would have to do exploratory surgery with a camera, but I was given a CAT scan instead. They found the piece stuck in the wall of my uterus, leaving me with a perforated uterus. The emergency room gynecologist explained I would need a C-section bikini incision, and they would go in and try to repair the damage. If I hemorrhaged too much they would need to do a hysterectomy.
This procedure was done under general anesthesia. The gynecologist who did my surgery was able to repair the perforation, leaving my uterus intact. I learned later that the perforation had been quite large: two inches! If the fetal tissue hadn’t been blocking a major artery I could have bled to death. Before I learned that, I’d had irrational thoughts that the baby was punishing me. I realized that instead he had actually saved my life. Later I ranted for almost a full hour at one of the residents about how mad I was about all the hoops I had to jump through the get this abortion, only to end up in a hospital after all of that. The doctor was very understanding and morally outraged as well, which made me feel better.
After all of this I had to recover from major abdominal surgery. It was pretty awful to be in the hospital on C-section care and restrictions without having the consolation of being able to hold the baby.
I’m still pro-choice. I am more pro-choice than ever. These restrictions don’t prevent abortions and they only endanger the lives of women. It’s been hard to work through all this anger over having to come to a terrible decision like this one, and then have so much go wrong. Worst of all, it’s really interfering with my grief process. I’m so sad about losing Jason, but I’m also so mad that it was so difficult to obtain an abortion. I ended up in a terrifying situation that shouldn’t have happened. No one should have to make this decision, and no woman should ever have had to go through what I did.