Friday, October 21, 2016

Necessary Choices

I wasn't going to say anything. There are other stories that are heartbreaking and realer than real. I don't feel like I have anything significant to add to the conversation. But other people are talking. And they're talking without having the proper information. Words like "murder" and "selfish" are being thrown around so I'm going to share my story. Take from it what you will.

I was 25 when I got pregnant. I was married. My pregnancy was planned and very much wanted. I was so excited and so elated that I broke the three-month rule. I told my friends, my mom, I called my grandparents. When I gloated to my doctor that I got pregnant the first month after I was off the pill, she gave me a blank look. I assumed she wasn't as impressed with my fertility as I was.

The first few weeks were uneventful. I had a checkup or two, the regular kind where my blood pressure was checked. I noticed other pregnant women and felt a kinship with them. I noticed tiny babies and started to dream about what mine would look like.

At 12 weeks we expected to hear the heartbeat. I went in on a Friday. There was no heartbeat. I was reassured that often the baby is positioned in such a way that the heartbeat can't be heard, but I saw the concern in my nurse's eyes. My doctor scheduled an ultrasound for the following Monday.

I spent that weekend praying and hoping and convincing myself that everything was okay. I ate a whole pizza. I slept a lot. I went to church and begged through the entire service that my baby be okay. That it be allowed to live.

During the ultrasound, the technician frowned. She rolled the wand across my belly and stared silently at the screen. She left to get the radiologist, a man I didn't know. He pressed the wand into my stomach, looked at the screen, stood up, and backed up to the door. "I can tell you now or I can let your doctor tell you," he said. Tell me what?? I looked at my then-husband for help. I knew it was bad and I didn't want this stranger to tell me, but I had to know.

The baby was dead. It had died at around nine weeks but wasn't expelled. It died and I didn't know. I didn't feel it. I never felt it.

I was sent to my doctor's office. They were ready for me, they took me back right away rather than having me sit in the waiting room next to pregnant women. Actively pregnant women with babies they could feel kicking. Babies that would be carried to term.

My doctor told me she was sorry. My nurse hugged me. They explained to me what would happen next. Laminaria was inserted; it's a type of seaweed product that causes contractions, which would make the next day's procedure easier. It would prep my body for what was to come. It hurt. I was also still in shock from the news and I couldn't process it all at the same time. I was sent home with extra-strength ibuprofen.

That night I laid on the couch and cried. My doctor said it wasn't my fault, but it felt like it. To the core of my being, I felt like I had failed. And not just me, not just my baby, but everyone around me.

The next day, the dilation and curettage, D & C for short, was performed by my doctor in the ER at our local hospital. It's one of the same procedures used during an early-term abortion. My mom and dad met me there, also heartbroken. I only know of two other times that my dad took time from work for anything I did, if that tells you how much this meant to us. Mom sat by me while I filled out insurance and consent forms. Her words, though well-meaning, cut into my heart. "You'll get pregnant again. I knew a woman when I was growing up who had five miscarriages in a row and then just as many children." I listened numbly as she cheerfully chattered on.

I cried throughout the procedure. I wasn't supposed to remember anything because of the anesthesia, but I do. I remember how kind my doctor was. How she told me she'd been through the same thing. How she put me first and only allowed my then-husband to stay in the room when he promised he wouldn't faint.

When it was over, the remains were sent to the lab and I was sent home. My parents walked with me to the car. I felt indescribably empty.

In the days and weeks after, I avoided everyone. This was in the days when the only contact I could have with the outside world in my house was the phone. I'm so glad social media didn't exist. I unplugged the phone and spent the long hours of each day in my bed, getting up and showering just before my husband got home. I talked to nobody. I slept and stared at the walls.

While my baby had no name, no sex, no recognizable form, and I never felt even a flutter, in those days I felt enormously lonely. In the weeks before I had imagined carrying this tiny person around with me. I loved that tiny, unknown person. And then it was gone. I was alone. I hated my body for betraying me. I hated the unfairness. The depth of my sorrow was lost on everyone around me because it just hadn't been tangible. At least it happened early, they said. At least.

That loss still lingers. It always will. I will forget it for months at a time and I can talk about it openly now. But there are unexpected moments - a song lyric, a scene in a movie, a line in a book - that will bring me nearly to my knees with the memory of that grief, that life that could have been.

Why tell you this? It was, after all, over 21 years ago.

I tell you because I want you to know what it was like to not have a choice. The decision was made for me and had been weeks before anything had to be done. We talk about choice like it's a good thing. And it is, but I'm grateful I didn't have a choice to make. I can't even fathom having to make a choice about a life in later stages of pregnancy. Having to make the choice between my life and my child's.

There are women who are asked to make that choice. They are kind, loving women who want to be and who are mothers. Who would do everything in their power to ensure the safety and health of their infant. There are fathers who are asked to participate in this choice. There are doctors who must knowingly end a life that is wanted. Nurses who assist and hold hands and treat everyone with all of the kindness they have.

I wish that these choices didn't have to be made. I wish that with all of my heart. But that doesn't change the fact that they do. I can't imagine being any of those people in that situation. I never want my own daughter to go through that kind of heartbreak.

But what I want even less is for anyone in any of these scenarios to be shamed by their choices. I don't want that choice to be taken away from anyone. These choices aren't made lightly. It's not folly, it's not freedom from an undesirable situation. The choice to end a wanted pregnancy where something goes horribly wrong is heart-wrenching. Let's not add to that pain. Let's not judge women who have to make decisions that we are so fortunate to not have to make.

Let's not take that choice away, hard as it is. Sometimes the alternative is so much worse and it's not for me to decide which side that weight falls on. It's not for our neighbors to decide and it's not for our government to decide.

I got sympathy because I had no choice. I wasn't anymore deserving of it than anyone with a choice. Let's honor that choice and love these women, these mothers and fathers. Let's help them through their heartbreak and their grief rather than condemning it.

And let's be so grateful every day that we aren't asked to make that choice.


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