Abortion is quite the subject du jour with half the people in the U.S. screaming that it’s an unborn child, you selfish murderer! And the other half saying that terminating a pregnancy is the greatest gift ever to women-kind. Before we get all wrapped up in the whole discussion (that will be tomorrow) let me tell you a story of what happened to me about twelve years ago.
I was pregnant with my fourth baby. At 17 weeks I went in to have my quad screen test where the doctor checks for chromosomal defects, abnormalities and such. I had had three perfectly healthy babies and no miscarriages (Ah, the hubris of a woman with no fertility issues!). A few days later the doctor called to tell me that my levels were alarmingly low. Low enough that it looked like my baby had Trisomy 18. Trisomy 18, as it was explained to me, meant the baby would be severely vegetative if it were even born. Pregnancy loss with a Trisomy baby is not uncommon.
My view on abortion up to this point was more of the “I would never do it but it’s not my business if somebody else wants to”. But here I was faced with the decision of possibly carrying a baby to full term that would never live much of a life, if it lived at all. To my 27-year-old brain this seemed unfathomable. I asked my doctor about terminating the pregnancy. Not that I wanted to, necessarily, but I wanted to know what our options were. Even though we have always been very devout Mormons, would an abortion be considered OK in this situation? Nobody is prepared for the tidal wave of emotion that hits you when you’ve been given a diagnosis like that. You imagine what you might think, what you might do, but you really have no idea.
My husband and I prayed and read words of the church leaders about the subject. It was all a terrifying mess. I certainly didn’t want to end my baby’s life, but what kind of life were we even talking about? The words “severely vegetative” replayed over and over. Who wants to be pregnant just to end up with . . . you know. A stillborn? A baby who never even has a chance? Up til then my biggest worry about my babies is that they would end up with my ugly chin. And now here we were facing this unbelievable diagnosis.
I just wanted the pain and indecision to end. While I couldn’t commit to an abortion–I really felt like it was baby not a fetus. And I wasn’t about to kill my baby–but I just wanted the torment to be over. I was young and foolish enough to think that maybe having an abortion meant an instant end to the emotional anguish. I hadn’t realized yet that no sort of pregnancy loss is a quick-fix. Whether you are having an early miscarriage, an abortion or are giving a baby up for adoption, there is pain. We are women. We are nurterers. Any time a part of us has that taken away, there is suffering and torment. Guilt and sadness.
Within a couple of days I had an ultrasound to see how severe the deformities might be. As I lay on the table my decision was made for me: the baby had just died.
I felt numb. But doctors are usually all business and mine had barely wiped off the gel before he started talking to me about my options. I would need a D&E (as opposed to the usual D&C) which is necessary for a larger fetus. And not just any place can do a D&E. I would need to go to the abortion hospital if I wanted it done over the weekend (It was the Thursday before Memorial Day) or I could wait a week and have it done at the big hospital downtown. (I don’t understand doctors and the big rush they’re always in. Why not just let me take my time and let my body do what it felt like doing?) Better to put this whole episode behind you, my doctor advised; the sooner the better. As if getting rid of the baby would get rid of the grief too.
So I opted for the abortion hospital. As I said earlier, “live and let live” has been–and still is–my motto. And I wanted this whole pregnancy over and done with. So Mister and I reported to the abortion clinic in Portland, Oregon where we were living at the time.
Have you ever been to a really seedy bar? One that just has a terrible, awful vibe to it? That’s how it felt walking into that place. “Stop being such an idiot.” I told myself. “A hospital is a hospital.” After getting into a squabble with the receptionist (“I’m not signing a paper saying I’m terminating this pregnancy. It terminated itself! What if I run for office some day?”) I was shown back into The Big Room.
I’m not sure how most clinics are set up but this one had a large room with about a dozen beds. The nurse informed me that most of the women in the beds were recovering from their procedures. She handed me my hospital gown and showed me my bed. As I changed into my gown the lady in the bed next to mine asked me through the curtain how old I was. I told her I was 27. “Same as me,” she replied.
And then she said the words that almost made me pass out, “This is my tenth time here. How about you?”
Ten abortions? What???? Had she never heard of birth control? I mean, I’m super fertile and I’ve never once had an ‘oops’ baby! What’s her excuse? They practically shower you with with condoms here! My head was still spinning as the nurse went over my health history and asked me what my future birth control plans were (“none. I want to get pregnant again as soon as possible.” Bet she didn’t hear that one very often.) After I met with the nurse I laid down on the bed and said a prayer, as I assume most people do who are about to have surgery. I asked God to bless the doctor to be guided to operate safely; and then I stopped. How would Heavenly Father be able to guide someone in this place? There is no way the Holy Ghost would be dwelling here. And if there’s no Holy Ghost, there’s no special help guiding any surgeons.
Not cool. Not cool at all.
So I got up, put my clothes on and apologized to the nurse. I’m sure they have women change their minds all the time so I didn’t really care. The nurse told me I’d probably miscarry before the other hospital could see me. I was willing to take that chance (I didn’t miscarry. I waited almost a week and there was never even a drop of blood.) As I walked into the waiting room I saw relief wash across Mister’s face. “I was praying and praying that you’d change your mind about being here. This place gives me the creeps!” He hugged me and I cried and we got Wendy’s hamburgers and I sobbed in my room for the rest of the week.
(To be continued tomorrow)