There’s a lot of chatter about Planned Parenthood right now as another government shutdown looms. And while the government funding doesn’t even pay for the abortions Planned Parenthood does perform, I can’t help but be drawn to the fight, as I am staunchly pro-choice in the first place despite never having had an abortion. This is likely due to the unique perspective I see cropping up from moms like me, who’ve had wanted pregnancies end badly. Since our voices are drowned out by the commotion, some of which is being created by people who don’t even know yet that they could be one of us one day, I’m here to share some thoughts.
I often hear people say things like, “I’m only pro-choice in the case of rape or incest, and I definitely don’t support it ever after ~12 weeks. What kind of monster has an abortion at 20+ weeks?” And while it’s not my personal stance, it seemed reasonable enough to me until I experienced what it’s like to carry a child long enough for him to die.
You see, the rhetoric currently being used as a fundamental platform for the conservative presidential race tries to convince us that women wake up one day at 30 weeks and just decide they don’t want to have that baby anymore. They’d have us believe this happens often (it actually only accounts for 1% of abortions), that it’s a method used as freely as oral contraception, that it’s a flippant choice made on a whim, and that the solution is for women to just “keep their legs closed” if they don’t want a baby.
But I wanted a baby. I wanted Benjamin. I still want him, four years after his death.
The women who have late-term abortions are not the monsters you’ve been led to believe. They are women who found out they have cancer halfway through their pregnancies, and if they don’t have treatments that will undoubtedly result in birth defects and possibly death to the fetus, the mother will die. And in case it isn’t enough that the woman dies, the fetus dies too.
The mothers who have late-term abortions are women who didn’t even know they had a life-threatening condition that worsened with pregnancy until they were halfway through that pregnancy. These conditions threaten the functionality of a person’s heart, liver, or kidneys, and friends…we need all of those to function normally. Sometimes a pregnancy is too much on a person’s system to continue.
Then there’s the possibility of conditions that develop during pregnancy. “But Eva, I had pre-eclampsia and my baby was premature, but survived.” While this may be true for you, that has to do with a variety of factors that worked out in a specific way. Not everyone’s experience is the same, and the assumption that modern medicine is foolproof is a foolish way to gamble someone else’s life.
And the final scenario (although my list here is by no means exhaustive–the rest fall under “none of your business”), our story.
We didn’t know anything was wrong at all until 33 weeks, and we didn’t know how bad it was until 37 weeks. We chose to let him come when he was ready, but that was OUR DECISION. We also found out how bad things were when he was full term. We were already at the finish line.
Those 10 days between learning how bad it was and his birth might as well have been years of torture. I can’t begin to describe the pain we woke up to each morning while we waited. It felt like my heart was on fire, burning me up from the inside out, but instead of consuming me, it just burned and burned and burned. I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering and wondering how exactly it would all go. Will he be alive when he comes out? Will he open his eyes? Will he be able to cry? Will he look at me? Will he know he is loved? Will he wonder why he’s suffocating to death and no one is helping him? That last question I asked myself over and over again still haunts me.
The parents who find out at 20 weeks? They have to endure around 130 MORE days of that. They can’t hide their pregnant bellies in a hotel room like I did. Weeks of people asking when you’re due. Is it a boy or a girl? Strangers asking if you’re excited, or ready for the sleepless nights ahead, not even knowing what kind of “sleepless nights” are in store for you. Wishing it would all be over immediately, then feeling bottomless guilt because it being over means your baby dying.
No, there are no good days. Each day is a horrible nightmare from which you cannot wake up. And then, with what’s left of you after months of waiting, you’re expected to grieve neatly inside the lines, which I can only imagine is much harder to do when you’ve been crawling to the finish line for four months.
I’m glad we didn’t terminate, although our options at that point in the pregnancy would have been quite limited anyway. Instead, we waited until he was born to let him go. We opted for comfort care, which meant no medical intervention except to relieve pain. I wouldn’t go back and change the way we did things, even if I sometimes wish we could have found a way to save him. For us, letting him go was about compassion. For him, for ourselves. He never would have left the hospital, and his hernia was so bad that he would have required ECMO, so he would have been heavily sedated at all times. And while they might have been able to fix his hernia, they can’t fix chromosomes, and the health issues associated with his translocation were horrifying. I know, because I spent entirely too much time those last 10 days making sure we were making the compassionate decision by researching and discussing with the doctors.
“But Eva, I know/have a child with unbalanced chromosomes, and his quality of life is so much more than you describe.” Once again, I’m so happy it worked that way for you and your family, but the size and structure of Benjamin’s translocation was extreme. It shocked our genetic counselor and the doctors at CHOP, whose jobs revolved around these disorders and their prognoses. Ben’s case was not minor.
Our two living children were highly monitored and tested early to ensure we wouldn’t face something like that again. But without the history we have, our doctors wouldn’t have known what to look for to rule out recurrence. There would have been no need to check their chromosomes at 12 weeks or pay extra attention to make sure their organs were placed correctly. That was how Ben slipped through–that was why we didn’t know until it was much too late.
When you seek to ban late-term abortions based on edited footage and fake stories, you are hurting families already in turmoil. You are looking at mothers, like me, and saying we shouldn’t have an alternative to watching our children suffocate in our arms. I already had to choose between letting him die at birth and letting him die in the NICU–there was no choice that resulted in more than that. When a mother terminates for medical reasons, it doesn’t matter how many weeks along she is: it’s about compassion. Have some compassion for the compassionate mother.
One final note, before I finish. I won’t be defending this stance. I am happy to clarify details, but to engage in defense of the right to terminate would indicate that the opposing side has a lick of merit, and it doesn’t. If your religious beliefs lead you to believe that abortion is wrong, that’s cool. Don’t have one. But until whatever deity you believe in stops causing spontaneous miscarriages and creating children for the sole purpose of letting them die while leaving heartbroken families behind, your beliefs have no place here.