Every person I came in contact with was not only a doctor or nurse or chaplain, but a counselor, with many helpful words to comfort.
I am not ready to talk about my baby yet, and all the things that went wrong, but I am ready for others who have to make that terrifying decision to know what I wish I had known.
I was 28 weeks pregnant, much too far along to terminate my pregnancy my home state. I’d never even considered the politics and how they would embed themselves so deeply into my own life. I think it is horrible that when families are told that their baby has a condition that is incompatible with life—that they most likely will die in utero, but if not, live only moments after they are born—that they are forced to travel out of state to end the pregnancy. So many states make us travel thousands of miles away, away from friends and family, from any support system we have. We’re forced to feel so shameful, practically exiled, just for wanting to give our babies some sense of peace and dignity.
Our doctor spoke highly of a clinic in another state, and of women he’d sent there, but he had never been there or met the doctor, so what did he know? I was so afraid I’d be the one woman who’d go there and have a terrible experience, or have something go wrong. .
When I made the arrangements, the woman on the phone was wonderful. She soothed me in a motherly way, promising me that we would get through our journey and find peace. She urged me to “Just get through the door.”
She talked with my sister too. She had wanted to go with us but I wouldn’t let her. I felt that this was something my husband and I needed to do—we had only been married two months—although we had been together for years. I wanted to make sure we were both able to feel what we needed to feel without having to be strong for someone else or put on a brave face.
We made the decision to go on a Friday and our procedure was scheduled for Monday morning. It seemed too hasty, but at the same time, I wanted it to end now so I could start healing.
We got there on a Sunday afternoon and checked into our hotel. The clinic had provide us the name of a nice travel agent who recommended our hotel.
We drove by the clinic and were horrified. There is some comfort in being in a hospital. This was truly a clinic. Flat, barren and ugly, it was shielded from the outside world by a brown fence. I kept thinking, “Couldn’t they have planted some flowers? Couldn’t it look more like a hospital? Couldn’t I stay there overnight?” I didn’t sleep that whole night.
The next morning as we drove into the clinic parking lot, we were met by protesters. The woman I’d spoken to from the clinic had warned us this could happen, so we were prepared. I was shattered driving through there, and so angry. I thought my husband would hit them with the rental car. How could they know what decisions we were facing? How could they, with their graphic posters and white crosses, know what we had to face? Why were they making it worse?
But she was right, all we had to do was get through the door. The security guard, God bless him, smiled and talked to me even though I was sobbing. I let him look through my bag and take my cell phone but I could barely see because there were so many tears. My husband, a saint, just tried to comfort me.
Once I got through signing in and they showed us to the group room, I was scared because there were some other people in there and I was still crying, but slightly reassured. I looked around at them wondering what they were here for. I bet they had no clue what I was am doing there and what we were going though. Unbeknownst to me, both women had similar situations and were in that same room for the same reason I was.
These are the things I am thankful for and hope that others will read and know before they go:
- Our doctor was a shining ray of hope amid all of this tragedy. She gave me comfort that no other doctor has. She spoke slowly and meaningfully and connected with us in a way that makes me believe that she won’t forget who we are, despite the hundreds of families that must cross her door each year. She even connected with my husband, as gruff and standoffish as he usually is. He felt comforted knowing that she was taking care of me and he felt free to ask her questions.
- We were forced to share our time there with one other couple who were farther along than we were, and a teenager with her mother. If had known we would have to do that before I went, it might have scared me to death and made me not want to go. But as it turned out it was helpful and comforting to know we weren’t alone. We didn’t bond with them—we didn’t exchange phone numbers or talk as couples when we were there waiting together, but we shared our stories in a group and sat with each other even in silence. While it didn’t make a big difference then, it does now.
- On the walls there are hundreds of letters from people just like me, in tribute to the wonderful people who work there. More importantly those letters provide hope for those sitting in those rooms. Read them, as many as you can. I think about them all the time and thank God they were there. I know that some day I will be adding my own.
- They understand that the situations leading to choosing to end our pregnancies at such late stages are highly personal and heart-wrenching. They make a point to separate us into groups with common crisis. We are not sitting among teenagers who made mistakes and are trying to keep control of their futures. They know that our babies were our futures and that we wanted them. They understand that this grief is different from losing a parent or an uncle: we are not mourning our memories of them, but all the hopes, dreams and expectations we had for them.
- Every person I came in contact with was not only a doctor or nurse or chaplain, but a counselor, with many helpful words to comfort. It was reassuring that I did not have to shield myself from the sort of unhelpful remarks I’d get back home. They also talked to us about how to handle hurtful remarks, what to say to people, how to mend.
- If you can afford it, it’s worth the money staying in a nicer hotel. I can’t imagine coming home to a dump. It would have added to my pain and shame.
- Everything that self-help books recommend you do in order to memorialize your baby was already taken care by the clinic. We just had to check the box for each item we wanted done. I would never have thought of footprints, hand prints, a baby blanket, pictures or being able to see and hold her. I am so thankful that they knew to do all this for us. I wish I had brought one of her own blankets that I had bought for her, but if that is my only regret in her last hours, that is OK.
- No matter how long I held her, it wasn’t going to be long enough. We spent about 45 minutes holding her and crying and telling her all they things we wished for her. Then the chaplain baptized her and said the Our Father over her. We had pictures taken. I hated letting her go and constantly wish that I would have held her just a few moments longer, but I know I would have felt that way regardless of how much time I’d spent.
- I was unprepared for how she would look, yet to me she was the most beautiful baby despite all of her birth defects. There was ones we were told she had that we didn’t even notice. Her footprints and hand prints are beautiful and make me smile.
- When I first knew we were going, I was scared I would be in pain, that childbirth would hurt, that I would bleed and sob. But when we were there, suddenly I wasn’t scared of the pain. I just felt so bad for my baby. I didn’t want her to suffer, but I did want her to know how much we loved her. I was scared she would never know that.
- I never dreamed that the moment I got home from an out-of-state clinic I would just want to be back there. Back home I felt so alone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone except my husband. I didn’t want to see anyone or call anyone. I just want to go back to that clinic because they wrapped me in a warmth and comfort that I never knew they could. They understood everything without me having to say anything, and it is horrible leaving that and face my grief alone.
Someday I will tell them what they did for us and for our daughter. Right now I just walk around the house aimlessly, not knowing what to do with myself. Even watering the flowers seems so pointless. I miss being pregnant, I miss feeling her kick inside me. I hate that my husband is back at work because I feel so clingy, as if he is the only person in the world who can make me feel better. I know I am at a low point. My milk has come in, and any day her ashes will arrive in the mail..
But I also believe that I have a strong spirit and that things have to get better. I am thankful I had the choice. No matter how much loss and pain I feel, I feel it mostly for us. We miss her and wanted all of these things for her, but the one thing I don’t feel is that I made the wrong decision. My baby did not suffer. She is a perfect angel who has a message to give and I am waiting to receive it.