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Jun 18 2013

Finally Opening Up About My Medical Termination

By at 9:40 am

doctor doing ultrasound pregnantThe courage of the anonymous writer who recently told her story about medical termination on Kveller, and the positive feedback she received from grateful readers, emboldened me to now share my own story, which few people know about beyond my family and close friends.

My second pregnancy seemed fairly uneventful; in hindsight, my lack of nausea was a clue I completely missed and for which, after serious morning sickness during my first pregnancy, I felt immensely thankful for.

At the 12-week mark, it was time for the sonogram.

I remember it was a gorgeous summer day; the corny kind of day with a gentle breeze in the air and the warmth of the sun playing on my face. My generally pessimistic self dared to think a thought I typically try and avoid: I’m so happy.

That should have been another clue.

I remember getting weighed beforehand and feeling very proud that I had managed not to gain any weight. I remember smugly adjusting the coral headband I wore in the bathroom mirror before hopping onto the exam table.

The ultrasound showed a baby with cute little limbs curled up, I thought appropriately, in the fetal position. My husband and I oohed and ahhed and I just knew it was a girl.

I have to hand it to the sonographer, who could really consider an alternative career in acting because, if a shadow of concern or doubt crossed her face, I totally missed it.

A sick inkling in the pit of my stomach started to form when my husband and I were asked to step into the head geneticist’s office. But how could anything be amiss? It was gorgeous weather and she was sipping a freaking Frappuccino. Things like this just don’t happen to people like me. I try and play by life’s rules. I take folic acid for the recommended three months before trying to get pregnant.

The doctor bluntly told us she was concerned that there was something wrong with the baby. The way the fingers curled, the way the stomach was shaped–they weren’t “normal.” And right away, I knew it was true.

There were two weeks of hellish waiting: for appointments in a room where TLC’s “A Baby Story” played in an endless loop; to see a specialist who offered an optimistic “it’s too early to tell”; for a conclusive diagnosis, which the CVS test showed, that my baby had one of the rarer chromosomal conditions, one they called “incompatible with life.” A completely random and arbitrary occurrence, as further genetic testing showed. I barely slept those two weeks, crying constantly as I fingered the already-frayed edges of the ultrasound pictures, silently pleading with my baby to please just be healthy.

But he–and it turned out to be a he–was not.

I remember being struck by the normalcy that greeted me everywhere outside my inner orb of turmoil. Summer, the mail being delivered, my son wanting chocolate milk–regular life was all around me, just not inside me.

There was no question about what to do in my mind, and, though my equally stunned and more spiritual husband consulted with his rabbi first, we scheduled a medical termination for when I was just at 15 weeks. I was told that doctors sometimes salvage a footprint from the fetus being terminated as a keepsake.

I remember waking up from the surgery and, still hazy, automatically asking the doctor if she had to do a hysterectomy, which was a tiny risk of the procedure. “No,” she answered. “You did fine.” She was unable, though, to get a print of the baby’s hand or foot.

I remember starting to think about what that meant, and stopping immediately.

I knew instinctively that termination was the right thing to do for my family. My baby likely wouldn’t have survived to birth, and if he did, not for long afterward. I could not potentially endure an entire pregnancy, growing more and more connected to my baby, while knowing he would never make it to his first birthday, with clueless well-wishers constantly congratulating me. I could not put my baby through the experience of being born only to have a likely painful, definitely abbreviated life.

I wasn’t truly ready to tell many people, but there’s only so long one can act normal as she battles such tremendous anguish. So I began, tentatively, to talk about it: to my sister, a few close friends, a relative. At some point, I lost track of who knew exactly what.

But I am sharing my story now, here, and with my name attached, in the hope that I’m doing the right thing by adding another voice to the conversation, and maybe even by helping someone else who experienced a loss to feel less alone. Though I still harbor vestiges of guilt and certainly sadness over my termination, I am not scared of people’s judgment. I know I did the right thing then, for myself and my family.

Thank you for listening.

Know someone who’s experienced a loss of pregnancy? Check out Tova’s tips for what–and what not–to say.

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