This is going to be the one and only political rant that I’m going to make during this 2016 Presidential election. I’ve been hesitating over the last few weeks to actually put my thoughts into words about this topic but I finally couldn’t stay silent anymore. I hope I can adequately put all of my thoughts into something that can make an impact if you’re still on the fence about who to vote for on Nov. 8, 2016.
I’ve always been pro-choice. A woman should be able to make her own decision, along with her family and medical professionals, about what she does for herself and her unborn child. I always thought that people who had abortions were those who just didn’t want babies. Turns out I was wrong. It wasn’t until Brett and I were faced with the reality that we needed to make this decision about our pregnancy that we received a real-life crash-course. There’s all these misconceptions that swirl around about abortion and terminating a pregnancy. I hope I can debunk some of those myths or at the very least let you know what our personal experience was. I’ll admit, I’m not a medical person. I’ll do my best to explain things but scientifically 100% can’t guarantee I say everything correctly.
First, we wanted this baby. With all our hearts. If I could be holding Emmett right now, I would be the happiest person in the world. Instead, I grapple daily with the grief and pain of the decision we made. It wasn’t something we took lightly. I was answering a question last night in an online support group about doctors that we had seen. Until I typed out my response, it hadn’t really dawned on me how many doctors and specialists we really saw in the 18.5 weeks of our pregnancy. We saw no less than 8 different doctors and specialists about high-risk pregnancy and chromosome disorders. Because of what’s happened during this pregnancy and after, I don’t know if I’ll ever mentally be able to go through pregnancy again. Physically, I know I can have a baby. But, this experience has pushed me to the emotional boundaries that I wish no woman ever has to go through.
We went to an appointment around 12-13 weeks. The nurse practitioner was having issues finding the heartbeat using the doppler. She let us know it could’ve just been the way my uterus was positioned or where the fetus was located that she couldn’t hear the heartbeat. A totally common thing that we shouldn’t be worried about but we still asked her for a referral for an early ultrasound just to ensure things were as far along as we thought they were and to confirm there was a heartbeat. We went a week later for the ultrasound, our first ultrasound. We were giddy with excitement. When the tech showed us the little bouncing blob on the screen, we were elated. She let us hear the heartbeat. I was teary-eyed knowing that heartbeat was because two people loved each so much and created a new life. But, then things started to get silent. She kept doing more and more measurements, the ultrasound machine beeping and chirping as she marked sizes of various things.
She told us to go upstairs and that our doctor would be waiting for us to go over the results. Brett and I thought that was a bit strange but just went along with it. She handed us the photos of our ultrasound. The first pictures of our baby! We laughed as we walked through the hospital to the OB’s office, not knowing that in less than a half hour, our lives were going to change dramatically.
The doctor sat with us in a small office. The sound of construction equipment rattling away in another nearby office suite in the distance. She had this grim look on her face. She said to us, “Do you know what a cystic hygroma is?” We looked at each other and just said, “No.” She proceeded to tell us more about the findings on the ultrasound. How she suspected our baby had either Down’s Syndrome or Turner’s Syndrome and she recommended that we go to a larger medical facility for another round of ultrasounds and a consult with high-risk docs and genetic counselors. She left the room and printed out some information for us, saying that we should go online and start to do some research and read stories from other parents who have faced this. Two days later, we went for that high-risk ultrasound and consult. That first doctor’s assumptions were true. Our baby had a massive cystic hygroma and Turners Syndrome, a disorder where the baby only has an X chromosome. However, they also found fluid in the heart and lungs forming, called fetal hydrops. The OB, in a very somber tone, told us in the dimly lit ultrasound room, it’s a very grim prospect for your baby to survive full-term. Most babies who develop this don’t make it past first trimester due to the mother’s body naturally miscarrying. However, our baby was fighting hard. She gave us the option — we can just go on with the pregnancy and see how it goes or we could decide to terminate it now. We decided to wait a month to see if things would get better.
Over those four weeks, I would be up late at night researching hospitals around the country to see if I could find a specialist, a medical center anywhere that had made breakthroughs to help us fight this and go full-term with our pregnancy. I could only find one example on a discussion board of a baby who had Turners Syndrome plus cystic hygroma plus severe fetal hydrops that survived. Most of the stories I read from families, echoed the exact same prognosis as the doctor’s provided us. Most of the families all decided to terminate the pregnancies because of the poor quality of life that the child would have to endure if they made it to full-term at all. I hoped and prayed that when we went to follow-up ultrasounds that things would improve, but they didn’t. They were getting worse.
If it was just Turners Syndrome or even just the cystic hygroma, Emmett probably could’ve survived. He would’ve been limited in some things and probably had some physical or mental disabilities but we could probably have gone full-term and be able to have our child with us today. The combination of those two things and the fetal hydrops made the prognosis more bleak, especially how early they found the massive cystic hygroma and the fetal hydrops developing in utero. The doctors also let us know that there was the possibility because I was 35 and with the fetal hydrops that I could also develop complications, including preeclampsia or a maternal version of fetal hydrops that would put excess fluid in my internal organs.
After our last ultrasound and consult with the genetic counselor, we finally made the heartbreaking decision to terminate the pregnancy. We had just made it to 18 weeks. That was a Friday. A doctor called us to go over our options to end the pregnancy. We had two options in the second trimester: 1) labor and delivery. They would induce me and I would give birth and be able to hold my baby. 2) D&E, also known as dilation and evacuation. The doctors would insert medicines that would dilate and soften the cervix, then, there would be an overnight stay where doctors insert a vaccum-like aspirator to remove the tissue in a surgical procedure. We opted for labor and delivery. I wanted to see and hold my baby. In the time since then, I’ve learned, not all women are given an option. Some doctors force their patients one way or another. Our doctors let us make the decision that was right for us. They didn’t sway us one way with personal commentary or judgmental tones. I’m very thankful for that.
One of the misconceptions I think that there are about abortions is where they happen. I think people assume they all happen at a Planned Parenthood office or in some shady back alley office of a doctor with a sketchy medical degree somewhere. No. I went to a hospital. A medical center that’s a teaching hospital associated with a large university. We checked in at 4 p.m. the following Monday to the Labor and Delivery unit. I was on the same floor as all of the other pregnant moms giving birth. They put us in a room with a large window, a sofa bed and a bathroom with a shower. The attending OB doctor, along with the three OB residents, met with us to go over what was going to happen. They said it typically takes anywhere between 18-36 hours to give birth.
I was allowed to eat dinner around 6 p.m. but after that just liquids. At 7 p.m., the doctors administered the first three tablets of medication, called misoprostol, to start the induction process. This would soften and dilate my cervix. I would be given up to three doses every 3-4 hours that night. Around 8 p.m. while we were watching TV to bide the time, I started getting crampy, kinda like my period but a twinge worse. I’ve always had horrible period cramps so I could manage through it. The nurse said if I wanted pain meds at any time, they could administer those through the IV port they put in my left arm when I first arrived. I was ok at that time.
Around 11 p.m., one of the residents came back to insert the next three pills for the second dose of medication. They checked and I was barely dilated so things looked like they were progressing pretty slowly. About a half hour later, I started getting extreme chills, my teeth chattering. Brett and my mom went to find more blankets to cover me up. The nurse came in to check on us and I started getting really nauseous. I was throwing up into a bed pan as my mom stroked my hair and Brett held my hand. The nurse placed a moist towel on the back of my neck to help ease it away.
Then, about 15-20 minutes later, the severe cramps came back, like big time. I was in too much pain to even realize my water broke and feel the trickle of warm liquid on my legs. I thought I just needed to have a bowel movement and was having gas pains. The nurse left the room and went to call the anesthesiologist so they could get me an epidural. While she was out of the room, I just started to push, thinking that would help relieve the gas. Three pushes later, there was our baby. Born sleeping at 12:50 a.m., less than six hours after the first set of meds were administered. I didn’t know what labor was supposed to feel like. I hadn’t made it that far yet in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” or to any child birthing classes. Looking back, I was having labor pains and contractions.
The doctors and nurses took the baby away to do their measurements and wrapped her all up for us. Then, the doctor who was in the room with us asked, “What makes you think this is a girl?” Because it was Turners Syndrome, most babies are girls so we had picked the name “Emma” in advance of coming to the hospital. Due to all of the swelling of the cystic hygroma, Emma looked like a boy. Thus, why we changed the name for the baby to Emmett. We found out 6-8 weeks later after the final pathology report came back, the initial findings were confirmed. It was Turner’s Syndrome and we really did have a girl. However, we just decided to keep the name as Emmett going forward. We held Emmett and stayed in the hospital for almost another 18 hours.
The nurse called the Catholic priest to bless our baby since we couldn’t do a baptism. He came and prayed with us. He was an older man. I thought he would’ve been very judgemental of us and our decision. I had my own misconception about what I thought someone of the Catholic faith would think of us. However, I was wrong. He was probably one of the most calming and serene people I have ever met and his words stay with Brett and I to this day, and help us live with the decision we had to make as parents, as Catholics. He said to us, “You made the best choice you could’ve made for your son. You did the best you could as parents. You made the hard choice to give him to God instead of being selfish and having him live a lifetime in pain. Any doubts that you have about making that decision, that’s the devil talking.”
Every time I turn on the TV and see the commercial or the soundbite that women who have abortions should face legal action, I get this pit in my stomach. I personally take issue with that. I should be put in jail or face a monetary penalty for the decision my husband and I made for our son? I honestly don’t feel that it’s the government’s right to step in and declare that my decision is illegal.
For the first time in my lifetime as a U.S. citizen and as an eligible voter, I have found myself thoroughly disgusted with the words coming out of a candidate’s mouth. I personally think the entire two-party system in our country needs to be overhauled. It doesn’t work. We’re going to continue to have a backlog of important issues and cross-aisle fighting until someone has the guts to make a change and tear the whole system down and re-build it so we can unify our voice as a country.
The United States is not the same as it was when it was formed in 1776. Governments and the laws that they create need to evolve with the people and the times. Take the second amendment. That was written at a time when it look like five minutes to re-load a gun. In this day and age, rounds fire automatically. Gun laws need to be re-examined to change with the times, the technology. I’m all for people being able to bear arms but the semi-automatic rifles of today are not the muskets of yore. Laws. Need. To. Evolve.
This past Wednesday night, I hadn’t planned to stay up to watch the debate. However, I drowsily watch over Brett’s shoulder as he watched on his iPad. I was about to doze off when they started to talk about abortion. I found myself sobbing watching the candidates discuss this issue and how it’s being viewed by the two parties in the United States. It’s one thing to go along with party lines and take the Pro-Life stance but couple that with all the other abominations this election season. I just can’t anymore. Just how out of touch with reality and facts can one person be? Are we really going backwards in rights for women? Has nothing really changed in this country’s 240-some year history? I find myself disappointed to be an American right now. There are countries out there that would and do force women to carry to term even in the case of life-threatening issues or vice versa to terminate a pregnancy to help with population. It’s not right, it’s not freedom. Our country was built on the foundation that we should have certain rights as citizens to make choices that we see fit as human-beings.
This blog post by a doctor fact checks the candidates and it’s been picked up by HuffPost and other media outlets. There’s also this piece by a mother who faced a similar decision to us, and I agree with her sentiments whole-heartedly and her courage to share her story.
Please share my story with others. This entire blog is about what happens to a mother, her family after a second trimester abortion. I wouldn’t wish this kind of grief on anyone else. It’s not something I wanted. As I said earlier, I would give anything to have my baby with me right now. We were put in the challenging place and forced to make a difficult decision. Fueled by the emotions in our hearts and the information we were given by medical experts and research, we made what we thought was the best decision at the time for baby Emmett. We have to live with that.
Keep the laws as they are. Don’t push our country and our people into the past. Let us move forward and make decisions that we see fit for our personal lives and our families. Don’t judge me as a criminal because I thought as a parent I did what I truly believed was right. Until you’ve walked in my shoes and been through that physical and mental pain of having a second trimester abortion, you can’t throw stones and judge me. I punish myself enough with self-guilt, doubt and flagellation on a daily basis. I don’t need my country and those who lead it telling me I’m wrong.
I do plan on voting this year, and I’m voting early in my town next Saturday to avoid the crowds on Tuesday, Nov. 8. I hope you plan on voting as well. Make your voice heard on this and other issues. Help be the change that our country needs.