“Your baby’s head is big. I don’t want to alarm you, but just be prepared.” These words from my sonographer changed my life forever. A few hours before the sonogram, l was anxious. I kept visualizing walking out of my 20 week anatomy scan with reports of a perfectly healthy baby. Little did I know that, instead, I would be frantically calling abortion clinics to schedule an appointment to terminate my pregnancy.
The baby that we thought would complete our family was diagnosed with hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis. The doctor showed me images of his large head, pointing out the fluid entering his brain. He looked me in the eye to say that he was very sorry. He explained that my baby’s brain was not developing well, and that the prognosis was very poor. He would need a shunt in his head to balance out the fluid in his brain and would need to be resuscitated at birth. He would not be able to walk or talk, would potentially require a ventilator, and there was a 90% chance he would have developmental delays and intellectual disability.
As the doctor continued down his list, I just wanted to yell at him to stop. How could the baby I wanted so dearly and fought so hard for through IVF fall so sick? I knew in my head that I could not carry on with my pregnancy. I did not want to welcome a new life into a world of pain and suffering. I asked the doctor what my options were, and he mentioned termination. I was secretly relieved. With the political climate surrounding abortion in Texas at the time, I asked him if it was still legal to terminate. He said I had seven days left to legally terminate, that when the new law passed the termination would be illegal at this stage in my pregnancy.
I rushed home and frantically called the abortion clinic in Dallas to schedule an appointment, but the earliest they could see me placed me out of the state’s gestation limits for termination at that time. I was devastated. After hours of searching and calling abortion clinics outside of Texas, I finally landed on a clinic in Colorado. Once my appointment was booked, I finally had time to let my emotions sink in. I was terrified for my safety and worried about the cost, but my nerves calmed after researching the clinic and speaking with the doctor beforehand.
The days leading up to the procedure, I struggled and wondered if I was making the right decision. I followed up to get a second opinion, and the second doctor confirmed that the findings of the anatomy scan were indeed devastating. I pored over scientific journals looking into the morbidity of a baby born with congenital hydrocephalus. My findings confirmed my heartbreaking decision to terminate the pregnancy.
The day before we were scheduled to leave for Colorado, I did not feel any movement inside of me. Since it was a weekend, I called the hospital to check for a fetal heartbeat. I was quietly hoping that nature would take its course and there would be none. The trip to the hospital was the most agonizing trip of my life. I did not dare tell anyone in the hospital that I had planned to terminate my pregnancy. When the nurse told me that my baby’s heart was beating as strong as ever, I was crushed. When the doctor came in to lecture me on fetal movements I almost wanted to run out of the examination room.
I am grateful for a husband who was supportive of my decision and did whatever he needed to to make the trip happen. When it was time to head to Colorado, we packed up our toddler and stuffed our belongings into our car and started on what seemed like the longest journey of our lives. I was relieved when we finally arrived in Colorado safe and sound.
On the day I walked into the clinic alone, I felt a sense of calm and peace. Everyone working there was so kind and compassionate. They truly cared about me and did not judge me for my decision. When the doctor took an ultrasound of my baby, my eyes started to well up. He asked if I had any questions but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Inside me I was yearning for a miracle, that somehow the baby was ‘normal’ but he only confirmed everything from previous reports.
So began the three day process of termination. I was given laminaria to help dilate my cervix and an injection to stop the baby’s heart. When I could no longer feel the baby inside me moving, I had a tidal wave of emotions. I couldn’t place my hand on my tummy without crying. I was guilty, full of shame, yet also relieved. I kept telling myself that there would be no more pain and suffering and that this was the most humane way to end my baby’s life. On the final day of the procedure, I returned to the clinic to ‘evacuate’ the baby. They gave me something to help with contractions and pain. I remember feeling the tiny baby inside me gently slip out into the world as the nurse held my hand.
I tried so hard to see my baby for the first and last time to say my hellos and goodbyes but I just could not bear to see his face. I was so scared of how he might look. I felt ashamed that, as a mother, I could not bear to look at my child’s face. In hindsight, I should have asked to at least see his hands and feet; however we got the most beautiful hand and foot prints of my baby.
As I write this, I know the days to come will be difficult. I am no stranger to grief and losing a loved one. I know that grief will never go away, but that each day I will get stronger. My hopes and dreams of giving my living daughter a sibling are now overshadowed by the trauma of having to terminate a pregnancy for medical reasons. I still don’t know if I want to get pregnant again but something inside me tells me that I want a happy ending.
I write this story so that other people navigating the challenges of termination will find their voice, will see that this is not a political choice but rather an intensely personal choice that belongs with individuals. Before this experience, I was neither pro-life nor pro-choice. I was quietly sitting on the sidelines listening to both sides of the story, naively thinking that I’d never be faced with this predicament. I hope that my story will help others understand why people might make the hard decision to terminate a pregnancy and help further make the case for safe and legal options for those who choose to end a pregnancy.