There is a litany of legislation contrived with no other purpose than to keep women firmly below men in society, hamper their ability to achieve financial equality, workforce equality and even educational equality. I can, and will, expose many of these laws and attempts to pass laws in coming weeks (and likely years, as this is not a problem solved overnight). However, I thought I would start with one of the most controversial topics, the one even many women are split upon, the one which feels so wrong to support because it angrily grinds against our very nature: Reproductive Rights. That is our right to control what happens to our bodies, whether to have a child or not. This includes so much, like birth control and its many various contraceptive options. It includes the morning after pill. It includes offering options for victims of rape and incest, which is such a horrific form of rape by someone a girl or woman should completely trust that we gave it its own name. And, yes, it includes that most contemptible of all procedures: Abortion. Make no mistake, it is a truly horrific medical procedure, not only because of its ultimate purpose, but also because of the situations which lead to a decision like that. Every woman, no matter her situation, no matter the legitimate causation, completely heals from it. Their body may heal, but a part of themselves will never be the same, even when it is absolutely the right thing to do, even when it is the only viable choice, even when they are raped, even if their life or another life hangs in the balance of that decision, even when they cannot save their baby were it born, they cannot remain unchanged.
Today I had intended to talk about specific attempts at legislation, expose legislators and show their pro-life stance has little to do with the care of an unborn child, but with a deeper motive to keep women chained to the idea that their value is in their ability to breed and they should not be aspiring to more. But I will save this for another day. Today I want to talk to the pro-life woman who would agree to take away my choice, not in an angry voice. No waving my hands telling you it is my body and my right to do with it as I wish. Not telling you that you have no right to your opinion. No. Instead, I’m going to tell you a difficult and very true story. I’m going to tell you something about that truth that I had to learn the hard way, the painful, heartbreaking way. I want you to see, for just a passing moment, from my perspective and then, perhaps, you will understand, if only just a bit, what we are fighting for.
My story begins in 2003. My then husband of three years and I wanted a child but I was unable to conceive naturally. We had saved money for the costly alternative of en vitro fertilization. I did everything by the books, followed all the directions, which meant so many shots, multiple a day, and a rather painful procedure for them to extract eggs. I did it all gladly. I wanted a child. But once the eggs were collected, the time moved in slow motion, waiting for the phone call each morning from the lab.
Day one phone call: We have 17 fertilized eggs, however (the word you really do not want to hear) five of them are the result of polyspermy, which means more than one sperm fertilized the egg, making them unviable. So, that meant we had twelve left. So, day one was good news, bad news. But mostly good news because twelve sounded like a lot.
Day two phone call: More good news, bad news. Only eight progressed to dividing properly.
Day three: we are down to five.
Day four: four.
Day five: three are expected to reach blastocyst and we should prepare for implanting them the next day.
Day six: We have two blastocysts which are healthy. Only two left because the third, while it reached blastocyst stage, is determined to be unhealthy and not viable. They take an enlarged photo of the two little potential lives, and show it to me. This was and still is the most amazing photograph I have ever seen. They were brilliant orbs of light surrounded by a purple fringe. They looked every bit like concentrated spheres of everything life has the potential to be. Instantly I loved them both, but all too well understood that they hung somewhere in the balance between conception and life. So much could still go wrong and the hope was that by implanting both into my uterus, at least one of the two would attach and become the child we dreamt to have.
The procedure done, I had only to wait and practically bathe in progesterone. In two weeks I would go to the follow up for a pregnancy test. Of course, we couldn’t wait that long. after one week I did the pee on a stick test and was delighted with the positive result. But six days later we had a turn of fear when I began spotting. The doctor had us come in and we did an ultrasound to discover two little, tiny babies and we were told mild spotting was not uncommon carrying twins. We were so excited. Two weeks later, we hear the tiny heartbeats. Everything is perfect. So it seemed. While it was still too early to tell, she believed we had a little girl and a little boy based on the heart rates, although it was not certain yet.
For three more weeks we continued absolutely happy. Then the real bleeding began. We had made a weekend trip out of town. At the emergency room they were able to see that both of the babies were still okay, but said my body may be attempting to abort the pregnancy. We went home and my obstetrician sent me to a perinatologist immediately. The news was grim and the recommendation even worse. Baby A, the one we believed to be our little girl, was situated high in the uterus, above Baby B, our little boy. But Baby A, my little girl, was not healthy. He diagnosed her with Trisomy 13, a type of chromosomal birth defect far, far worse than Downs Syndrome. Not only was her brain malformed, her organs were developed outside the body and encapsulated. It was not something that could be repaired because they would not be functional. She was only viable in the womb where my body sustained her, and even then, at best, I would likely not carry past 5 months even with all possible intervention. Also, my body had recognized she was not healthy and was attempting to naturally abort her. Yes, this is horrible enough. Devastating. The doctor tells us that Baby B, our little boy, is perfectly healthy. Then came that awful ‘however’ which sinks like lead into the bones. However, he is situated below her and if my body aborts naturally the little girl, it will take my healthy son with it. I will lose them both. If they can stave off by some miracle the spontaneous abortion, then my son will be born so premature he still had little chance of survival and at best would likely have severe health issues as a result. We were looking at a 18-22 week gestation. The doctor was honest that our son almost certainly would not survive. So what did that mean? Did that mean my only chance was to hope my daughter would not unintentionally kill my son before either could ever be born? I was devastated. The loss was something I could not wrap myself around, even as the tears ran down my face, the horror was so profound, the whole world looked like obscure shades of grey and every voice held a distant echo as if spoken from far away through a tunnel. I can only vaguely recall the doctor and his nurse, who had walked in holding tissues before giving us the news, looking even more apprehensive after telling us this. What else could there be? How could they destroy me any more?
My husband asked if there was anything we could do, anything to save our son. That is when the doctor took a breath, as if he had some cue that it would be okay to proceed and then told us about a procedure called a ‘selective reduction.’ It was an abortion. Not a standard abortion simply to terminate pregnancy, but a procedure which selectively targets a single fetus when expecting a multiple child birth. He told us it was not a guarantee my body would not still attempt to reject Baby A, my little girl, but in most instances, it would prevent the spontaneous abortion. This was the only real option we had to save our son, otherwise he would almost certainly die.
My husband was right on board immediately. “Fine, let’s get it done.” I think I was too horrified to even speak. And then came the next problem. According to my doctor, due to the extremely religious nature of the area we lived, none of the hospitals performed any abortion procedures for any reason. The only place for an abortion at all was Planned Parenthood, and they were not capable of performing this very delicate and specific operation. My doctor was capable of doing the procedure but was not allowed to perform it at any of the facilities, nor would they allow him privileges if he performed abortions of any kind. We lived in West Texas, amid a huge epicenter of medical facilities, hospitals, clinics and even a medical school. It was the largest medical complex between Dallas and Los Angeles. Yet, due to the political and religious nature of the area, in my very delicate state trying not to miscarry, I was forced to fly hundreds of miles away, to Houston, to a specialist for the procedure.
I made the trip. The horrifying, awful, heartbreaking trip. We saw the doctor, who confirmed the original diagnosis. He also confirmed a selective reduction was the only option we had to save our son. My husband was right there saying we would do it. But, the doctor looked at me and said, “You have to make this choice. I’m sorry.”
I will never forget the sympathy in his eyes. This was not some evil baby killer. This was not a bad man doing the Devil’s work. This was a doctor willing to do the most emotionally difficult procedure to perform because it was something that must be done, must be available and it should be done with skilled hands and not butchers. He was offering me the only chance I had to save my son, but I had to kill my daughter to do it. It was a choice, no matter how right the decision, no matter how terrible the other options were, it was still my choice. I had to say yes.
Oh the decision seemed easy to the people on the outside. Most of them, by the way, even claimed to be pro-life. No one, not a single person told me my decision was wrong. But they sure wanted to keep it quiet. My husband wouldn’t even let us bill the examination to our insurance for the ultrasound and such. He didn’t want anything linking us back to the office. He paid in cash. So, it was the right, secret decision. But none of them had to say yes. Only me.
I consented to the procedure, which was done shortly thereafter. It was quick, an injection guided by ultrasound. I watched my daughter die. I knew I could not save her, I knew there was nothing that would make her better and that it was the right thing to do. I know there are some who think I could have “prayed her better.” But that would have been irresponsible. I would have killed them both just as surely as I killed her. How would that be right? How would that be just?
Even still, the pain lingers. I think of her often. I still cry. I will forever be anguished by the choice I had to make. Was it unfair? I don’t see life like that. Life is not fair or unfair, it just is. Every one of us face seemingly impossible decisions at some point in our lives. Sometimes our choices are not between good and bad, right or wrong. It is easy to sit back and say what someone else should do, but it is entirely different to stand in their shoes and make that decision. Some of the legislation being proposed recently would take away that decision. To some that might be a relief, they wouldn’t face a choice, remove their guilt, but to others it would condemn them. What if I could not make that choice? My beautiful, smiling laughing, happy, smart vibrant son would not be part of this world. Had I not been allowed to sacrifice that part of my soul which died with her, my son would be nothing but the memory of a loss. My daughter would die, no matter what I did, at least by my choice, her death was not in vain. Choice.
This is why I support choice. You cannot be sometimes choice and sometimes not, because you cannot place yourself in another woman’s shoes and truly understand the pain that comes with that choice, even when it is absolutely the right thing to do. You cannot judge her or make the choice for her because you cannot fathom the circumstances which lead her there. I walked past protesters who would have taken away the only chance I had to save my son because they could not imagine my choice. So, I challenge you to take a moment to stop creating ideas of what kind of women have abortions. Stop assuming they are morally defunct. Stop assuming I am somehow the exception, because I am not. The women who make this kind of choice do so for different reasons, but those reasons, for them, are drastic. No one aspires as a young girl to grow up and have an abortion. It is not part of the fairytale. I support choice because I could never be okay with someone else making that choice for me. How could I possibly make it for them? What choice would you have made for me? That should tell you what you need to know about yourself and where you really stand.
Help to keep women in charge of their decisions because they are the only ones with all the information about what brings them there. You would be surprised at just how many lives it saves. We are one woman, one world.