(Photo: Photo Courtesy of Kate Sark)
After five years of marriage, in November 2019, my husband and I decided we were ready to try and conceive (referred to as TTC in the fertility app chat groups). A little over a year later, I finally got my first positive pregnancy test.
Because of some spotting and initial jitters, we were able to get an early ultrasound and at around seven weeks we saw a peanut-sized blob with a blinking dot, indicating a heartbeat. Although we knew the advice to refrain from making announcements to the world, we shared the news with our parents, who shared in our joy and excitement.
At our 12 week appointment, the sonographer was less talkative and there were no images on the screen. Armed with only one photo, my husband and I were sent back to the lobby to wait for the doctor.
As soon as we sat down, I whispered to my husband, “Something is wrong.” After what felt like hours, but was actually less than 20 minutes, we were seated in the doctor’s office as he explained to us that no heartbeat could be located.
While we knew this was a possibility, it didn’t soften the blow. It had only been two months, but we were already beginning to envision our life as a family of three. I had started a private registry and researched car seats, strollers and baby monitors. We were talking about names. We had Christmas cards printed and addressed, ready to go in the mail to announce our new addition. Within minutes, all those dreams were crushed. Our baby was gone.
After several blood tests to confirm the miscarriage, I was scheduled for a dilation and curettage, or D&C, at the local hospital within a week. Although the experience was heartbreaking, the procedure went smoothly and after a few months of healing, both physically and emotionally, we tried to conceive again.
In July 2021 I noticed I was pregnant again. Timing allowed me to tell my husband on his birthday. What a perfect gift! Although we knew from our first experience that we had to try to contain our excitement, it was difficult.
Because of our previous experience in combination with more spotting, we were able to go for an ultrasound early again, which provided confirmation of a pregnancy and heartbeat. Our 12 week ultrasound was also different, with the tech showing us the flickering dot and sending us back to the waiting room with multiple ultrasound images. We heaved a collective sigh of relief as we waited for the doctor, unaware of what lay ahead.
When we met the doctor, he got the ultrasound on his computer and started pointing out excess fluid behind our fetus’ head. He explained that this fluid was just about to become irregular and could potentially signal hydrops fetalis, a condition often caused by a chromosomal abnormality and indicative of genetic or developmental problems. He warned us to remain optimistic and gave us options, including additional testing and a visit to a specialist.
Within days I had a blood test for genetics (which would indicate the possibility of a chromosomal abnormality) and an appointment with a specialist in a major city about an hour from home.
The specialist performed a high-level ultrasound, which confirmed the initial findings that there was an abnormal amount of fluid in the fetus’ head. I also had chorionic villus sampling, an inconvenient procedure in which a small piece of the placenta is removed and sent for chromosomal testing.
And then we waited. Fourteen days felt like years of trying to stay optimistic and realistic. The blood test results came in and reported no abnormalities, with chorionic villus sampling results confirming the finding. This meant I was not a carrier and we could pretty much rule out chromosomal issues.
At our second appointment with the specialist, another ultrasound revealed fluid in the lungs and abdomen, as well as in the head. At that point, we knew our baby had a serious medical problem, but we didn’t know why.
After discussions with both the specialist and my primary obstetrician, and extensive independent research, my husband and I accepted the reality that our baby was unlikely to make it to term. We also knew that if we had a successful pregnancy, our child would most likely be born with a serious medical problem. Together we decided that it would be cruel to risk bringing a child into the world who would suffer and end up living a short and unsatisfactory life. For us, the right decision, albeit a difficult one, was to terminate the pregnancy.
While I had hoped that the hardest part of this process—making this impossible decision—was behind us, scheduling an abortion proved challenging. Unlike my D&C, because my fetus had a heartbeat, I couldn’t have the procedure done by my regular OB at a local hospital.
Instead, I had to make an appointment with a medical facility that performed abortions. My doctor was incredibly supportive and helpful throughout this process, working with me to make a recommendation about a facility, which eventually became Planned Parenthood.
I was able to make an appointment, but due to demand and limited availability, I was forced to postpone it for more than two weeks. This meant that for an additional two weeks, despite knowing our fetus was not viable, I remained mentally and physically pregnant.
I continued to experience the symptoms of pregnancy and felt irresponsible for making choices that would harm my fetus, despite knowing it was not viable. On the one hand, I looked forward to the day of my appointment, while also looking forward to moving forward.
The day of my procedure required a day off, an hour of driving (luckily with the company of my mother and husband), and a payment of $1,115. (I have received compensation from my insurance company, but many do not have this luxury and have to pay a high deductible.)
After pages of paperwork for the intake, an ultrasound, and a consultation with a doctor, I underwent surgery preparation and spent four hours in a pre-operative room. Being more than 16 weeks pregnant, the process was more intensive and clearly more uncomfortable.
When my body responded to the drugs, I was taken to the operating room. While heavily medicated, I was awake during the procedure. Lying in the cold, sterile room, aware of what was happening, I couldn’t help but doubt my decision. This was not the experience I conjured up when I imagined having a baby. The practitioners in the room tried to distract me and gave me extra medication when I expressed my discomfort, but the reality of what happened could not be ignored.
The surgery didn’t last more than 15 minutes, but it’s a memory that will be burned into my memory forever. Relief mixed with heartache when the doctor finished and I was taken to the recovery room. There I rested for half an hour, mad from the meds and drinking my ginger ale, before being released to my loved ones. While the process was both mentally and physically exhausting, I cannot praise enough the staff who provide these services to women in need.
It took my husband and I some time to share our experience. We have a great support system and are confident in the decision we have made. That said, our choice was and remains controversial. But it shouldn’t be.
in 2019, 629,898 legally inducedabortions were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention† The fact that we are trying to conceive and have chosen to have an abortion comes as a shock to many, but on hearing our full experience, they are beginning to understand the gray area in an issue previously considered black. white was seen.
And while I hope sharing our experience will help change perceptions, no pregnant woman should justify their decision. The world should not be playing judge and jury in such an intimate and personal experience.
As fate willed, I am writing this just hours after learning that I am pregnant again. After two failed pregnancies, those two lines on the pregnancy test bring both trepidation and joy. The excitement of the opportunity to grow our family cannot completely overcome the worry and fear of “what if.”
What if I miscarry? What if there are medical problems? These are rational concerns, but they cannot be answered; Time will tell. What I don’t have to worry about is that I don’t have the right to make the decision that’s best for myself and my family should complications arise. I shouldn’t worry about losing autonomy over my body. I don’t have to worry about losing my voice. I don’t have to worry about losing my choice. No pregnant person should do that.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.