Draw the Line

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North Carolina

Topics: Abortion, Pregnancy Care
Area of Life Affected: Family Relationships, Other Children

The Best Decision for All of Us

We were pregnant with our second child and very excited. Our 2 year old was finally going to be a big brother. The pregnancy seemed to be going well although I wasn’t gaining much weight. My prenatal visits were pretty uneventful and I chose not to have any tests because we didn’t have any risk factors and my previous pregnancy was fine.

“I honestly couldn't believe I was having to hear or face this bureaucracy at a time like this.”

I remember pushing the ultrasound screening as close to 20 weeks as possible in hopes of learning the sex of our baby. The nurse told me she didn’t want to go past 19 weeks due to state laws. At that time it never really occurred to me what she was talking about.

I took my son to a drop-in child care center while I went in for my ultrasound. I was so casual about it that I even told my husband not to worry about taking off work this time, and I would call him once I found out if we were having a boy or girl. Although it’s a bit of blur at this point, I remember the technician being very quiet and constantly zooming in on the screen. I could see the fetus on the monitor which didn’t seem to be moving much. I remembered how my son kept flipping around during that screening.

I began to get a bad feeling, which was only confirmed when the technician didn’t say another word and went to consult with the doctor. Once the doctor came in, she suggested calling my husband but by then I already knew something was seriously wrong. I began crying and asked what they could do to fix the problems. I kept thinking about all the heart issues that occur during fetal development and are repaired in utero.

But she explained there were multiple anomalies and wanted me to see the maternal-fetal medicine specialist that day. I called my husband, who immediately came to meet me and make arrangements for us to go to the specialist 30 minutes away for another evaluation. I could barely think straight and became very anxious about my 2 year old at the daycare. My neighbor was able to pick him up and keep him at her house for the day while we went to another appointment.

I was beginning to feel numb, like this couldn’t be happening to us. The specialist we saw was very calm and informative as he did the ultrasound. I didn’t get much from it though. He explained the prognosis which wasn’t good and believed the anomalies were consistent with Trisomy 18, but since I had not prior testing he could not say with certainty. I was offered an amniocentesis but there were further risks in addition to the likelihood that I would not have conclusive results until after 20 weeks gestation.

This is when the state laws surrounding abortion began to truly impact us. Both our doctors informed us we needed to decide how we would proceed because I was only 4 days from the 20-week mark which would make terminating a pregnancy illegal in North Carolina. I honestly couldn’t believe I was having to hear or face this bureaucracy at a time like this.

We came home that night and I hugged my little boy so tightly then laid in bed touching my belly. My feelings were so conflicted because my maternal instinct was to protect this potential life but I also realized how poor the prognosis was if I didn’t miscarry or give birth to a stillborn. Furthermore I was informed that we would need to begin arranging for delivery at a hospital over an hour away that is prepared for this situation and can offer perinatal hospice. I didn’t even know what perinatal hospice was until this experience.

It was the most miserable 3 days of reading about the diagnosis, consulting with the doctor and the genetic counselor. I had so much trouble sorting out what would be the best decision for all of us. My mom came up to help out over the weekend, and it was at this time after 34 years that she told me she ended a pregnancy a few years after my little brother was born. It was an eye-opener, especially for anyone who knows my mom.

My husband was supportive whatever my decision would be but he expressed his concerns about my health and risks if I continue the pregnancy in addition to the impact this will have on our family as a whole. We both work in the heath and human services field, and despite our inclination to help others who may be struggling with misfortune we were well aware of the difficulties and lack of resources that would be faced if I had this baby. We didn’t want to give birth to a child that we knew would be suffering from his/her first breath and possibly receive multiple surgeries or treatments during those first few days if s/he even survived. It was just heartbreaking to even think about.

I called the specialist again as I was just a day away from the 20-week mark and asked if he thought maybe the fetus was just small for gestational age since I was measuring only 17 weeks. I wanted so much to hear there was some simple explanation that was probably benign, but he explained there were too many other factors that indicated serious conditions that were not compatible with life.

I cried some more and finally asked how we can terminate the pregnancy because I was then sure I couldn’t go through another 4 months well-aware of the outcome. He explained there was a doctor who could schedule me the next day for an induced delivery in the hospital. Once again this was all new to me and I didn’t understand this method of termination. I hesitated once I learned about the process and asked the doctor what other options I had. He suggested going to Atlanta where there is a clinic that specializes in pregnancy terminations due to fetal anomalies until 24 weeks.

I was pretty much on my own doing my own care coordination at this point. I had to schedule my own appointment and get my records sent to this clinic. My mom took my son and dog to her house for a few days so we could make the 5-hour drive to Atlanta. As we drove there I couldn’t help but wonder if things had changed all that much since Roe v. Wade. It was a somber drive and we didn’t talk much. I remember seeing a truck with a bumper sticker “It’s not a choice, it’s a child.” I was hurt. We stopped in Augusta to have dinner because it was sadly also my husband’s birthday. We both tried to forget about the situation and just enjoy each other’s company.

The next morning I had to complete counseling with a social worker and nurse. There was one other woman there facing similar issues. I cried on and off, especially when the nurse did another ultrasound. I think I still hoped someone would say everything is ok.

Since I was further along I had to begin dilation that day and was scheduled to come back the next morning for the actual procedure. I was pretty uncomfortable and basically just slept at the hotel. When I returned to the clinic the next morning it was crowded, and I guess it was upsetting to me. It felt as if we were being herded like cattle and there was little bedside manner. I pretty much shutdown once I had to leave my husband and get prepped with an IV.

I remember sitting in pre-op with several other women. I was so angry at this point, although looking back on it I understand the mixed emotions. Once I was in surgery I remember the doctor holding my hand because I was crying, and saying “Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to have children.” After that I woke up in a reclining chair and the nurse gave me some pads to put on when I got dressed.

I was tired, hungry and things seemed hazy. My husband walked me out to the car and we got some lunch. I just remember being so hungry and just physically exhausted—like I was living in survival mode for days and finally could begin taking care of myself.

We drove home and picked up my son on December 23rd. Thankfully I had already done Christmas shopping and wrapped presents weeks in advance. It was a sad Christmas for us, and I still cry when I look at our Christmas cards with our family picture taken weeks before ending the pregnancy.

I struggled for a few weeks getting back into a routine with work and my little boy. My emotions fluctuated and over time I became more angry. I felt like my OB/GYN abandoned me at a time when I most needed them. I think I was surprised how disjointed reproductive care is when terminating a pregnancy comes into the picture.

Before this happened, I was naïve enough to believe that if the prognosis based on the ultrasound was incompatible with life that the OB/GYN would simply scheduled a D & C if that was what the patient wanted. I couldn’t believe the Kafkaesque process I experienced in order to end the pregnancy. I was disappointed to learn that although doctors state they practice reproductive health care for women, they don’t truly do so if they are unable or unwilling to offer pregnancy termination when needed.

There was some good that came out of that dark time in my life. About 3 months later I was pregnant. After a high-risk pregnancy, lots of tests, and worrying, I gave birth exactly a year later to a healthy little boy. He is now a thriving, inquisitive 3 year old who would never be with us had we not made the choice that we did. Although it was sad and I will never forget the baby we lost, I still believe we made the right choice for all of us and I am thankful for those medical professionals and activists out there who ensure we had the ability to do so.

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