Jeni, Texas

I have been a pro-choice feminist since I was in high school. I drove my parents’ station wagon to my Catholic high school with a bumper sticker that read “Against Abortion? Don’t Have One.” I took feminist study classes in graduate school where I read articles documenting the effects motherhood has on women’s earning potential and the cyclical nature of poverty. I have had many friends and acquaintances confide in me about having an abortion and I have never judged them and I have always been glad they had a right to make that choice.  I never had to make that choice, until 2010, when I thought I was ready to be a mother.

I have been fairly open with my story with friends and family, but I have recently been sharing my story more publicly. I would like people to find this story, years from now, if they are facing their own difficult decision and I would like people who are against abortions to read yet another personal story, in hopes they might find compassion.

I’ll try to speed through the beginning of the story: Basically, I was a single woman living and working in NYC. I wanted to get married and start a family, but I was waiting for the right person and having fun in the meantime. Finally, I started dating Scott. We’d worked for the same company and run around the same circle, but it wasn’t until I’d ended another relationship and spent some time alone that I really noticed him. We fell in love quickly and started talking about the future. We just as quickly decided NYC was too expensive and moved to Austin, TX. We got engaged at our one-year anniversary. We married six months later. If all that wasn’t fast enough, I got pregnant on our honeymoon in Spain.

We were so excited! It had happened SO quickly, but I was 34 and felt like I didn’t have any time to waste. It was perfect! I didn’t even have a gynecologist in Austin yet, so I went to a doctor recommended by a friend.  At our first appointment (I say “our” because Scott went to every doctor visit with me) we got bad news. My hCG levels weren’t doubling.  I had never even heard of an hCG level before, but now all of a sudden I was failing at making them double. The doctor said we should prepare for a miscarriage.

So, we tried to “prepare,” but we also never saw any signs. I didn’t have any morning sickness (which the doctor thought was also a potentially bad sign) but I also didn’t have any spotting or cramps or any other signs of a miscarriage. We went in weekly for ultrasounds. The fetus never measured the right size, but the doctor seemed convinced I must have been mistaken about the dates of my last period. I KNEW that was not the case, but she brought it up at every (nearly weekly) visit.

Weeks went by and we started to relax. We thought if we could make it past the first trimester, we would be in the clear. Unfortunately, the doctor kept telling me I was going to miscarry. I called a friend in NYC who is an ob/gyn to ask her for advice:  I asked her if I was going to miscarry anyway, should I have an abortion? I thought making the outcome my choice would make me feel more in control of the situation. I also really, really wanted a healthy baby, so if this baby wasn’t going to make it, I wanted to get past this and try again soon. My friend advised me to wait – this was a very wanted pregnancy and hormone levels were only one sign of pregnancy. So, we waited and I switched doctors so I wouldn’t have to hear anymore about my imminent miscarriage.

My excitement couldn’t be contained to one pregnancy journal – I needed to have two!

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My new doctor’s practice was amazing compared to the first doctor!  The practice has doctors and midwives and they encourage low-intervention pregnancies and natural childbirth. So, the constant ultrasounds stopped and we relaxed and got excited about the pregnancy. We finally had another ultrasound at 19 weeks. My Mom came into town for the event and the three of us (my Mom, me and Scott) smiled and laughed at the image of what we learned was our little girl. We didn’t pick up on anything strange, but the ultrasound technician said she couldn’t see everything she needed to see because the “baby wasn’t cooperating.” Before we left, we were told we would have a follow-up ultrasound in two weeks at a specialist who had “better equipment.”

I was concerned after this appointment. We had a doula/midwife who would also be helping us during our planned natural delivery and we met with her after our ultrasound appointment. She tried to reassure us, but I got more and more nervous.

The ultrasound & journal entry from that week.

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At almost 21 weeks pregnant, Scott and I went to our appointment with the specialist upstairs from our regular doctor. Our little girl showed up on the screen and Scott started joking around. The sonogram operator asked us to be quiet, immediately changing the mood of the room. As soon as I looked back at the screen again, I noticed things didn’t look right.  The sonogram operator took the wand away from my stomach and said she needed to get the doctor to talk to us. She said she wanted to be honest with us–there were many severe issues with our baby. The brain was not developed appropriately, the heart had multiple defects, and none of the organs were in the correct place.

Scott and I were in shock–the tears came quickly and wouldn’t stop for days–gut-wrenching sobs of hopelessness and grief. We tried to be quiet so we could talk to the doctor. He said the fetus had issues “incompatible with life.” We had two choices: we could end the pregnancy now or wait for the fetus to miscarry/die. There was no way the pregnancy would end in a live, healthy baby.

Scott and I had discussed our feelings on abortion early on in our relationship and we both looked at each other and knew we wanted to end the pregnancy. The doctor offered the option of having an amniocentesis before we made any decisions, but once we found out the amniocentesis would tell us the possible “why” behind all of the issues, but not change the outcome, we opted to not take the test. The results would have taken 10 days and we didn’t want to wait.

We went back downstairs to our regular doctor’s office and waited for a few hours to meet with her (she was at the hospital, delivering a baby). Scott made a few phone calls and we talked to each other quietly, but there really wasn’t anything else to say.

Next we were reminded we were no longer in our NYC liberal bubble. The state of Texas required two doctors sign off on our medical need for a termination. I had to sign paperwork with medical inaccuracies about how an abortion would increase my risk of breast cancer and other nonsense. I don’t remember most of the so-called facts because I was in a fog of disbelief and my compassionate doctor covered the garbage with her hand as she indicated the spots where I needed to sign and initial my agreement on the form.

We had to decide if I was going to go to an abortion clinic for a two-part process to end the pregnancy or if I would deliver at the hospital under my doctor’s care. I decided I wanted to go to the hospital, in large part because I didn’t want to have to walk through a line of protesters at the clinic on “abortion day” when I was visibly pregnant. In my fragile state of mind, I wasn’t prepared to deal with protesters. I trusted my doctor would make sure I was treated with respect.

Next, we had to wait. Just go home and do nothing because Texas politicians wanted to make sure I had enough time to understand the seriousness of my decision. In my case, it was time to study my swollen belly and focus on the loss I was about to experience.  We invited over some close friends to try to distract me. We watched some silly movies and I tried to be normal and forget what was going on. At some point, I called my boss and told him I’d be out for the rest of the week because I was losing my baby.

The doctor’s office called. There was one more piece of paper I needed to sign, but it had to be signed in the hospital in front of a nurse. A close friend went with me to drive me and keep me sane. We went home and waited some more.

Finally, the day came. Scott, my friend, and I drove to the hospital to check in, very early on a Friday morning. The process of termination was difficult. My cervix needed to be softened and labor had to be induced. My plans for a natural birth were abandoned. My doula told us she was not able to attend the birth, but she advised me to get as much pain relief as needed.

I wanted to avoid an epidural, if possible, but the induction process was causing painful cramps and I wanted to be numb. We started with a pain reliever called Stadol via an IV. I started hallucinating and felt terrible, so we abandoned that approach and I acquiesced to an epidural.

I was now stuck in bed, unable to go to the bathroom, eat, or change positions easily. All of the medications and cramping gave me diarrhea, which had to be cleaned up by the nurses. I was mortified, but after a few hours, I gave up my embarrassment and realized there was nothing I could do to control my body until I got through this.

Friday turned into Saturday, and Saturday night my doctor said we’d have to talk about other options Sunday morning if I hadn’t delivered by then. I went to sleep determined. Early Sunday morning, I dreamed about waves crashing on a beach and receding, crashing and receding.  I woke up and threw a wet washcloth at Scott to wake him up. I was pretty sure I had delivered in my sleep. I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, so I’m not sure how I knew, but I couldn’t look and neither could Scott.

He paged the nurses who came quickly and confirmed I’d delivered and the baby/fetus did not live through the delivery.

I’d developed a deep respect and trust for the nurses who took such good care of me during my stay. One particular nurse had rearranged her schedule to be there for me during multiple shifts. She was compassionate and professional and I looked forward to her visits to the room.

I asked her to tell me if I should do as many of the grief handbooks advised and look at the baby and hold her and take pictures. She had told me she’d tell me the truth when the time came. So, after the delivery, when she told me she didn’t think I should look now, I trusted her. She and the other nurses took a few photos in case I wanted to look later.

I’m not sure about including the last part of the abortion process, but I think the story should be complete. Unfortunately, while I was stuck in bed with the epidural and my cervix was wide open for delivery, I managed to get an e-coli infection. My blood pressure had been very low throughout my pregnancy and throughout the termination process, but after delivery, it was suddenly alarmingly low.  No one could understand what was happening to me and multiple specialists were brought in to my room to try to diagnose my problem.

Suddenly, it was decided treatment couldn’t wait. Like a scene out of a TV show, I was quickly wheeled through the hospital to the ICU. My husband, Mom and friend had to wait outside and I was alone with the doctors. They couldn’t find any veins they could use for an IV for antibiotics and I was poked for a catheter to my jugular. I was breathing through an oxygen mask. Thankfully, I honestly don’t remember all the things that happened to me in the next few hours and days, but in the end, I spent 10 days in the hospital–two days in the delivery room, five to six days in the ICU, and two days in a recovery room.

Although I think my decision to end my pregnancy is one few people would disagree with, I’ve been surprised by people who have questioned my choice. Apparently, some people think I should have let “God” have the final word on when the pregnancy should end. When I searched online at the time, I mostly found stories of people who were determined to carry their fetus to term after getting a prognosis like mine, talking about needing to “meet” their “angel babies.” I’m an atheist and never considered putting my life in danger to deliver a baby who would only live a few hours and possibly suffer during her time on earth.

In case you’re curious, we found out our fetus had triploidy. This is an extremely rare chromosome disorder where every chromosome is tripled. Two out of three of these cases are believed to miscarry in the first trimester. It is a totally random event and is not related to any genetic defects or even maternal age. We were told an egg may have been fertilized by two sperm.

We have a very happy ending to our story. After a few months of monitoring to make sure I hadn’t had a molar pregnancy, we were given the green light to try again. Luckily, I got pregnant again quickly. The pregnancy was totally normal and we now have a smart, funny, cuddlebug of a toddler (delivered without any pain medication) and we are hoping for a second little one soon.

I can’t imagine how my story would be different if I had to go through my experience with the new Texas legislation in place. I was past 20 weeks. Supposedly, there will be a medical exception to the Draconian laws, but I honestly don’t trust these legislators. Who knows what they will deem medically necessary.

I’m lucky – if anything had gotten in my way when it came to ending my pregnancy, I would have had the money, support, and gumption to travel wherever I needed to in order to get the medical help I needed. I didn’t have any other children to arrange childcare for, I didn’t have to worry about losing my job (although it turns out I kind of did–which is yet another story), and I didn’t have to hide my decision from my family or friends. Considering my infection and ICU stay, I’m sure I would have died if I hadn’t had such excellent medical care. A late-term abortion isn’t easy and does carry risks for the mother.

I share this story and photos to try to get rid of a stigma we have about talking about abortion and late-term medical termination.

Footprints of the fetus

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The small, hand-painted wooden box we were given at the hospital with baby mementos, a signed card from the nurses, and pictures of the fetus (too graphic to share).

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