On January 10th I was 20 weeks pregnant. Visibly pregnant. I had been wearing maternity clothes for some time. Everyone I worked with knew I was pregnant. My office is a special place in the way that a pregnancy is an office issue, not a family issue. My bosses knew I was pregnant the same day I found out. I had been to two ultrasounds by myself and had seen my baby waving and kicking all around. I had been feeling kicks and tickles for some time. I had taught my toddler to say “baby” and to point to my belly to show where the baby was. This pregnancy felt a little different though. I always had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. But I was happy and excited for my toddler to be a brother!
January 10th was the exciting ultrasound when we were supposed to find out the sex, so of course my husband came. The ultrasound was going great. “It’s definitely a boy, a very active boy” the ultrasound tech said. Every part was perfect. The last thing the ultrasound technician looked at was the heart. Ultrasound technicians must be excellent poker players. She maintained a straight face. She spent a lot of time looking at the heart. She said that we weren’t able to get a good look at the heart because of his position. Our doctor came in and said he was going to send us to a specialist with a much better ultrasound machine because the way the baby was positioned we didn’t get a good look at the heart. In the back of my head I was thinking, hey why doesn’t he just have me come back later when the baby is in a different position?
At the time my doctor must have known what was wrong but decided to spare us a few days of pain by not telling us. The doctor made us an appointment with a perinatal doctor on January 15th. Between the 10th and 15th I was a bit nervous, not sure whether they really just wanted a “better view of the heart” or if there was really something wrong. So on January 15th, me and my husband went to the specialist and another ultrasound tech went through the same exam. Everything looked great. By that time we had pretty much decided on a name for our new baby boy. I had spent the weekend looking at ridiculously expensive nursery furniture online and my husband had been a supportive voice of reason as to why a Restoration Hardware crib for $1500 might not be the best choice. Again, the ultrasound tech saved the heart for last. She looked at it for a while. Again, with the ultrasound tech poker face. She said she was going to go get the doctor because he usually likes to take pictures of the heart himself. She left and we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the doctor came in and began looking at the heart. He kept switching from the black and white view to the colored view showing blood flow. Complete silence while he stared at the heart. Finally the doctor spoke. “Ok guys, there’s a problem with the heart.” I burst into tears. He said he was going to send us to a pediatric cardiologist. Immediately.
The pediatric cardiologist looked at the baby’s heart again and diagnosed severe hypoplastic left heart syndrome with mitral atresia. Before modern medicine a baby born with this condition would have died within hours or days. With modern medicine there is hope. Fly to a specialty hospital and try for a surgical repair in utero. Or deliver the baby in a special hospital where he will have series of three operations which he may or may not survive. If he survives he will not have a full life. The oldest HLHS survivors are 30 years old and so there is hope. But not for our baby boy. He was not a good candidate according to the cardiologist. So the choices were to terminate the pregnancy or carry him to term and watch him die over a day or two.
If I carried the baby to term I would be a complete basket case until his birth. I would no longer be effective as a mother to my toddler. The trauma of carrying and delivering a child just to watch him die would have been too much. I also could not imaging putting my baby through that. How could I bring a baby into this world to take a few breaths and then die? Other people might carry the child for religious reasons. But to me this just seemed like a cruel and absurd idea.
We went home and had 24 hours to think about it. I Googled every single page on HLHS. I saw pictures of HLHS survivors. I remembered the things my doctor had said indicating that my son would not be among them. My baby was still kicking inside me. Those were the worst 24 hours of my life.
I’m not going to go into the details of the medical termination. Let me just tell you that in more civilized countries women in my position are allowed to deliver their babies in special bereavement rooms in labor and delivery wards. They aren’t sent to rundown medical offices in bad neighborhoods where the last brave doctors are willing to perform medical terminations. They aren’t forced to pay for the entire procedure themselves because their military insurance only covers medical termination when a mother’s life is at risk. I just wish that pro-life advocates could put themselves in the shoes of someone who had to make a decision that I did. I am a good mother. I love my son. I was so happy to be having a second.
The days and weeks following the termination were very difficult. I cried endlessly. I kept researching my son’s condition, second guessing my choice, wondering if I did the right thing. The doctor told us we had to wait two cycles before we could try to conceive again, and we were lucky to become pregnant as soon as we started trying. Unfortunately, we learned at 10 weeks gestation that our third baby’s heart had already stopped beating. On the day my second son was supposed to be born, the day that I had planned to plant a memorial garden for him, I was instead at the hospital having surgery for the miscarriage of my third child.
I still have hope to become a mother again. I love all of my children, living and dead. Like any mother, I have a fierce drive to protect my children from any pain. I believe I made the right, moral, although heartbreaking choice in terminating my pregnancy. I did what was right for me, right for my family, and right for my baby. As terrible as this choice was I do not regret my decision.
I cannot imagine why any politician thinks they have the right to force a woman to carry a baby to term just to watch it die.