Since Kveller’s conception, we’ve held to a pretty strict policy against anonymous posts (the one previous exception, about being a Tay-Sachs carrier, can be found here). We’ve always felt that attaching real names to posts–especially those personal in nature–makes them even more powerful, and better allows for us to establish a real community and connection between our writers and readers. However, recently we were approached by a woman who wanted to share her experience with medical termination but did not feel comfortable attaching her name to it. We think this is an incredibly important and often overlooked topic, and decided to break our own rules and share it anonymously with you below.
This summer I was supposed to be welcoming my second baby home. I’ve always kept this kind of information quiet, but when I went to my 12 week appointment and everything looked good I started to spread the news to close friends and family, put myself on the day care waiting list, and started gathering maternity clothes.
I had taken the day off of work and was happily working out on the elliptical machine when the music cut out with a call coming in from my midwife’s office. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” she asked. I jumped off the machine and ran to an empty room down the hall. “Your first trimester screen came back abnormal,” she told me, “and your odds of having a baby with Down Syndrome is 1 in 36.” She paused to let me take in the news. “Obviously that’s not the direction we wanted it to go.”
It’s a phone call that I never thought I would get. Yes, I was just at the border of advanced maternal age. But a few weeks earlier my midwife had advised that any sort of advanced testing was not necessary. I did the standard screening and as far as I knew everything looked good. But here I was, phone gripped tightly in my hand listening to the instructions to call the Maternal Fetal Medicine group as quickly as possible to get a chorionic villus sampling test.
Three days later, I had a giant needle stuck in my abdomen twice to extract placental cells. My body cramped and I screamed in pain, but I told myself this is the way I would get my answers. The doctor assured me that our odds for a healthy baby were good; in fact there was a 97% chance that our baby was fine.
The thing about odds is that someone has to be that “one” and in this case it was me. My baby did not have Downs but likely had another rarer chromosomal abnormality. There was nothing that the doctor and the genetic counselor could tell me for sure: there was a possibility that this was only a problem with the placenta or the baby could have it as well. The only way of determining if the baby was affected was to submit to another needle in my abdomen with amniocentesis.
My husband came home from work that day, hugged me, and told me that, “I think we can do this.” I wasn’t so sure. I frantically searched the internet for every bit of information from peer reviewed research papers to message boards. While statistically there was a good chance this issue was confined to the placenta I read stories of women who continued to carry their babies and then discovered terrible defects at their 20 week ultrasounds. I imagined letting my belly grow, the whole world knowing I was pregnant, and then discovering heart problems, kidney problems, or any one of the hundreds of issues my child could face. If I was going to have to let this baby go, I wanted to do it as soon as possible.
I have always been “pro-choice” but in all those years I never thought that I was actually protecting my choice. In those days of soul searching, I knew that I did not want to have this baby. I worried about my own physical and mental health in facing this high risk pregnancy and in caring for a disabled child. I was worried about what it would do to the daughter that I already had, putting her in a place where so much attention would be sent towards a sick baby. And I worried about what kind of life this would be for my child. It was not a life I would have wanted for myself. I played with scenarios in my head of what the amnio results would be and I always came back to the same place: if the baby truly had the abnormality, we would terminate the pregnancy.
I received my third phone call with bad news in as many weeks: the amnio results confirmed that the baby had the condition and I scheduled the termination for a few days later. That night I was folding laundry when I felt wetness between my legs. And then it just kept coming. Whether it was due to the abnormality or the amniocentesis I will never know, but my water had broken. My baby was truly not meant for this world. By the next day I was no longer pregnant.
The hospital treated me with amazing kindness and compassion. All of the people over my two days there understood what I was going through: the nurse who held my hand and stroked my hair as the lamaria sticks were inserted to dilate me, my midwife who rearranged her schedule to be there even though there was nothing medically she could do, and the doctor who performed the procedure and told my husband that as I recovered he should to do whatever I asked of him.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel the same compassion from the rest of the world. I hide what I went through from most people, scared of the judgment because I had made the decision to have an abortion. There is no guidance on how to grieve this kind of loss. The loss of a baby I so desperately wanted but had a hand in ending her life.
I wish this was a choice that we did not have to make. I wish that this summer I would be nursing my newborn and buying my daughter a big sister shirt. But that dream involved a healthy baby and that dream already died with my test results. I think of my lost baby often but I picture her only as her ultrasound picture. I send her telepathic messages, “I love you and I’m sorry.” Sometimes my daughter picks up on my sadness and comes over and hugs me. I kiss her and hug her extra tight, thankful for the reminder that life is here and I am so lucky that I have a daughter that I can hold.
The author is a full time working mom and lives in Illinois with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. For anyone needing support on this issue there are online support groups available including Baby Center’s Termination for Medical Reasons message board.