Ashleigh, Massachusetts

In early November 2013 my husband and I learned we were going to be first-time parents. I got the “big fat positive” on the little pee stick for the first time. Our first pregnancy. Our first baby. Everything went smoothly until 19 weeks. We went to our 19 week anatomy scan excited. We were going to find out the sex of our baby! Make big plans! Our life was never going to be the same! Well, only the last thought was right. During the appointment my OB told us she had concerns, and that we would need to come back the next day to see a Maternal Fetal Specialist. The kidneys – something didn’t look right with the kidneys. Also, was I leaking amniotic fluid?

The next morning we had our appointment with the Maternal Fetal Specialist. We learned that our baby had lethal abnormalities. The baby had only one kidney, and that kidney was enlarged, not functioning, and had cysts. I had virtually no amniotic fluid. The baby still had a heartbeat but it was irregular. The NT fold looked thick. Only a matter of time before the baby would pass. We never did find out the baby’s sex.

That moment in the doctor’s office, with the maternal fetal specialist, was the worst moment of my life.  I remember feeling a little last ditch of hope right before the specialist came in. Like maybe, just maybe this was a mistake. This wouldn’t happen to me. Hearing her confirm my OB’s suspicions took my breath away, and not in a good way.  Then feeling the gut punch and like the air had been sucked out of the room. The look on her face, the sad serious look. The tone of her voice, soft and sympathetic. It’s going to be burned into my brain forever. My face crumbled and I couldn’t stop the tears. My mind was trying to wrap around it all, and quickly, because there are laws that dictate when and how pregnancies can be terminated and I was already 19 weeks and 2 days. I could not believe that my baby was dying. I had just seen a heartbeat and had felt the kicks. It didn’t make sense that my baby wouldn’t live – I was past the “safe” mark! I was halfway there! My mind kept trying to come up with reasons why this was all a horrible mistake, but I knew. I knew it the day before when my OB said there was a problem, but we needed a Level II ultrasound to confirm. I knew, despite my husband’s best efforts to be optimistic and to keep my head above water the night before the horrible appointment.

They gave us our options – 1) wait it out. Wait for what? Wait for the baby to pass on its’ own. Don’t intervene. Just carry on. Then one day I would go in for an appointment and there would be no heartbeat. Inconceivable. 2) Induce labor. Go through the pain of labor to give birth to a child that would not live, or would be born sleeping. No chance for the baby to survive, even if born alive because the sole kidney wasn’t functioning. No kidney function meant no amniotic fluid. No amniotic fluid meant the lungs couldn’t develop. But then we could have a little autopsy that would, maybe, give us some answers. 3) Have a procedure. Have a dilation & evacuation, a D&E, the technical term for an abortion. It would spare me the pain and distress of going through a labor, but there would be no autopsy.

The decision to terminate came quickly after assessing my options. In the end, I knew that no matter what I did my baby would not survive. Whether I waited, or had a D&E, or was induced – I knew the end result would never be for us to take this baby home from the hospital to a lovingly decorated nursery. I knew the end result would not be long, sleepless nights with a crying, hungry baby. I knew that I would be left standing, left living, without my baby. And I knew that I could not be induced. I could not have that be my first experience with labor and delivery. After all was said and done I knew I would not survive that and the memories. And I knew I couldn’t wait it out. Knowing what I knew, I would feel like a ticking time bomb. Making this decision was the only agency I had in this whole awful experience. I could not control whether or not my baby survived, but I could control what happened to me. I could control how we dealt with this horrible, devastating, awful situation. And I chose to have the D&E.

Later that day we met with the surgeon. I had the cervical dilators put in that afternoon, and I had never experienced such pain. My state of mind did not help. I was crying the whole time, couldn’t keep still, and was very afraid. Worried that my constant shifting would mess something up and ruin me. Knowing that this was all happening because tomorrow my pregnancy would be terminated. The surgeon gave me a prescription for Oxycodone, which I didn’t want to take. I came home and took ibuprofen first, which made me sick and I vomited. The pain was awful and finally I sent my husband to fill the script. He got me a heating pad, too, to help with the discomfort. Not taking the Oxycodone right away, meaning immediately when I got home, was a mistake because I didn’t get ahead of the pain. All it did was dull the pain. It didn’t make it go away. My mother came over to stay with me while my husband went to the pharmacy. We watched TV and she spoke to one of my aunts for me, who had called to check on me after hearing the news from my grandparents.

That night I slept alone in bed, and my husband slept on the couch because I was so uncomfortable. Tossing and turning all night, petting my dog. Knowing this was my last night with my baby. Feeling the dull ache of pain, and then the pain would increase as the Oxycodone wore off. Being thirsty because I couldn’t drink after midnight. It felt somewhat poetic that I was in that pain, I felt like I deserved it for doing this. For creating a baby that was sick and couldn’t survive, and for ending my baby’s life. I don’t know when life begins – I don’t believe it begins at conception – but I’m not sure viability is the right point either. All I know is that I saw a little person inside of me. I felt that little person and loved that little person. And that was my last night with that little person. That last awful night. The worst of my life.

Four months later our second child was conceived. That pregnancy, although wanted, was not easy. I was constantly worried, on edge, and nervous. I couldn’t relax and enjoy it. I was cautiously optimistic, yet expecting the worst. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t help that I experienced early spotting and a trip to the ER. However, things were going well up until our 13-week NT screening.

I attended that appointment by myself, because my husband couldn’t get out of work. All of our other appointments had gone smoothly, so we weren’t expecting that to change. Or rather, if it did change, we were expecting it to happen at our anatomy scan (like with the first pregnancy.) I remember waiting in the room for a long time after my scan. Waiting. Waiting. Reading an article about Ray Rice on my iPhone as I waited. Looking around the room. My OB came in and asked how I was feeling. I gave her an answer, and then I could tell. She said that it was taking so long because they, unfortunately, found an abnormality on the scan. The voice in my head screamed “AGAIN!” My doctor had a specialist from Maternal Fetal Medicine at the hospital read the scans while I waited, so she would have an answer when she saw me. Anencephaly. The tears started immediately. I could not believe this was happening to me again. I took my vitamins! I didn’t eat deli meat! I didn’t smoke! I told her all these things. It wasn’t my fault, she told me. She told me how sorry she was and offered to call my husband. I couldn’t talk coherently so I let her deliver the news to him. Again, I would have an appointment the next day for a Level II ultrasound with a specialist to confirm. But I should start thinking about how I wanted to proceed, or terminate. The decision to terminate by D&E came easily. I had been through it once and knew what to expect. I knew the physical discomfort would be fleeting. I knew the surgeon. I had been through it all seven months prior.

The only relief was that, because I was only 13 weeks 4 days when I had the second D&E, I would not need laminaria. I would not experience that awful physical pain the night before. I remember meeting with the surgeon the day before – telling her that, after February, I never wanted to see her again, but at the same time I was so thankful for her expertise and for taking such good care of me during the first procedure.

I had never felt so bitter, so broken down, so emotional in my life. I was told the first time was an anomaly, and the chances of this happening again were so slim. Yet here I was again – making this terrible decision that I never wanted to make. I wanted, more than anything, to take my babies home. To love them. To teach them right from wrong, watch them grow. Instead I was creating sick babies that had no chance of survival. I felt like a failure.

I am not thankful for much about these experiences. But I am thankful that I got to choose what would happen to me. I am thankful that I live in a state where I could have these procedures and did not need to travel. I am thankful I got to have these procedures performed at a hospital – not a clinic where there would be picketing and people there that were having similar procedures for completely different reasons. I am thankful for the expertise of the doctor who performed my procedures and got me through them safely in one piece and with no complications. I have always been pro-choice and living it myself has made me even more entrenched in that position.