Jen, Florida

The drive to the clinic felt surreal. Blissfully ignorant and naïve at the time, never would I have thought that I would find myself in the position of needing an abortion. Abortions were something “other people” had. The days leading up to this one felt like an eternity, and I had switched my mind and body to auto pilot. I was wracked with guilt, and with feelings of failure, and I questioned over and over again whether Emily’s anomaly was due to something I had done—something I could have caused.

In these days, I was numb with shock and disbelief. I washed and folded laundry. I planned and attended my living daughter’s 6th birthday party with a feigned smile, and without a tear. I shopped for a blanket to bury my unborn daughter in and dutifully made her funeral arrangements.

We had been warned ahead of time by the clinic that there may be protesters, and a wave of relief washed over me when I saw none. We proceeded to park in the back of building as we were told.

After the formalities of paperwork and payment were complete, we were called back to see the doctor and his nurse. We were given several prescriptions to fill—one to help me relax, one to help me sleep, one for pain, and two antibiotics. We could leave and check into the hotel we were to stay at for the night. After we filled the prescriptions, we were to come back, and they would start what was to be the first of a two-day procedure. On the first day, the nurse explained, they would insert the laminaria, which were sticks made from seaweed, into my cervix to force dilation. At that time, they would insert a needle into my belly, and then into the baby’s heart. The medication would stop her heartbeat. Emily would not feel anything, she assured me, because she would be asleep, just as I would be. When I came to, my face was streaked with tears. We went back to the hotel to wait until the next day, when they would take her out.

That night, I was in excruciating pain. I became aware of the stillness of my belly. I knew she was gone. For the first time in weeks, I no longer felt her little kicks. Then the cramping began. I could not keep any of my pain medication down. I had fever and chills, and could not stay warm. I was trembling uncontrollably, and I couldn’t get comfortable to fall asleep. When morning came, the cramping got worse. I got into the shower, just wanting to rinse the sweat off, hoping that we could head to the clinic, and that they might agree to take me early.  I heaved over and over again in the shower, but nothing came out. When I looked down, there were large clots of blood in the tub. I worried that I was in labor, and was terrified that I would deliver in the hotel room. I got dressed as quickly as I could and waited on my knees with my body bent over the bed until my husband could pull the car around. He tried to conceal his worry and fear, but his face was ashen. I was definitely having contractions now. When he returned, he helped me down the hallway to the stairs, where we were greeted by the concerned wide-eyed stares of a few of the housekeeping crew.

When we arrived at the clinic, they saw how much pain I was in, and took me back right away. As I went under, I remember whispering, “Please don’t let me die…”

When it was over, I asked to see her. The nurse petted my forehead and told me that because I had spiked such a high fever and was combative during the procedure, they had to work quickly. I had not dilated enough. She explained that I was thrashing and kicking, and had pulled my I.V. out several times. “We weren’t able to keep her intact,” she said, very slowly, hoping that would make me understand what I could not comprehend. Groggy from the sedation, I continued to sob and to beg to see my baby. I looked up and saw the face of my husband standing over me, crying. “Honey…please…stop…”

The doctor left the room and then came back from around the corner, holding his cell phone. He had taken pictures of her, with only her feet showing on the small screen. Her feet were tiny and red. One was considerably bigger than the other, and the smaller foot was not fully formed. He said that it was one of the more severe cases of skeletal dysplasia he had seen. “Textbook,” in fact. “I’ll make her footprints for you to take home,” the nurse said, nodding, still petting my forehead.

We left the clinic later that day, after sharing many tears and hugs with the doctor and all of the nurses who took care of me during those two horrific days. I appreciated their kindness and their compassion. A few days later, we buried our baby girl, marking her grave with a bronze butterfly.

I then began what was to be a very long, difficult journey of healing, and was fortunate enough to find an online community of women, (and some men), who had been through the same thing as I had been through. They would be the ones to support me, pull me, and sometimes carry me through what would be my darkest days. They would become my second family.

Losing a child is a life changing experience. Nothing could have prepared me for the way in which this experience leveled me to my very foundation. No woman’s choice to have an abortion is ever easy. No one anticipates or wants a crisis pregnancy. It is no one’s right to judge whether carrying a pregnancy to term is the right or wrong decision for any woman. Every crisis pregnancy, no matter the circumstance, deserves to be approached with the same compassion and respect. We must trust that each woman is capable of deciding for herself whether her pregnancy should continue. For every woman, abortion needs to remain legal, safe and accessible.

If the 20 week abortion ban were in effect in my state of Florida in 2006, I would not have had access to this procedure. I would have been forced to risk my life by carrying my pregnancy to term, and to risk leaving my husband without a wife, and my young daughter without her mother. Deep down I am certain that if carrying Emily to term did not kill me physically, psychologically it would have.

Terminating my pregnancy was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I did so to save my own life, and to save my baby from the needless suffering of being born into this world, only to slowly suffocate and die. I do not regret my decision, and given the same circumstances, I would make it again. Many fetal anomalies cannot be diagnosed prior to 20 weeks gestation. Women need to have the option of abortion available to them at any point during a pregnancy. I am eternally grateful that this right, who so many before me fought tirelessly and courageously for, was available to me.