I became a mother at the age of 19. I had been married for only 5 months to my Marine when we found out. I was terrified. But quickly, I fell in love with this little life that was growing inside of me. How could I not? At about 4 months along, we made a move 3 hours north. So, with no friends or family nearby, I spent my days preparing for this new baby that seemed to pop into our lives out of nowhere. At 7 months, I went in for a regular check up with my OB, she measured me and said she was referring me to a maternal fetal specialist because she thought that my measurements may be off. She told me that they would do an ultrasound and check things out. All I heard was “ultrasound”. We had not yet learned the gender, so I was ecstatic to have the chance to find out. I knew nothing about measurements or what ones that were off could mean. After about an hour long scan, we were told that our baby was a girl and that we needed to come back in two weeks. I don’t even remember the explanation they gave us for the return visit. I was so naïve. At the second appointment, we were told that our baby had a big head (if you saw my husband, you would understand why I never thought this was a big deal) and that would probably need a c-section to deliver. I was a little confused when the specialist requested us in his office after our scan and gave us the “all clear”. I had no idea that we were ever not “all clear”.
Between our first daughter and our last child, a son, I learned a lot. As you’ve read before (if you’re a regular reader), I did a research paper in 2010 on abortion. The things that I uncovered shook me to my core. A few months into my research, I came across an online support board, Terminations for Medical Reasons. The stories that I was reading were not the kind of things most people would expect to see when reading stories of abortion.
You see, when most people think of someone having an abortion, they envision a young girl sneaking into her local Planned Parenthood, hidden behind dark glasses and baggy clothes. It seems despicable that a young girl would be making such a life changing decision without her parents knowing, and even that she would be partaking in such dangerous adult actions. They hear the word “abortion” and they think: irresponsible, careless, heartless, murderer. But beyond that, people aren’t giving this conversation much thought. The pro-life side is imagining these young girls leaving their local clinics relieved, and in good spirits. But no one is thinking about the devastated women who are sitting inside of those walls. For some women, this option is no “choice”. As a mother myself, I can sympathize. My daughter starts to wobble on her bike, and I immediately have the instinct to dash towards her to catch her before she falls. My son skins his knee, and seeing him cry is enough to put me in tears. My youngest son stirs in the middle of the night, and I am on my feet and beside his bed. It’s a mother’s instinct to protect her child. So when a mother goes in for a routine ultrasound and her doctor starts throwing words at her like Spina Bifida (a spinal defect), Arnold’s Chiari (a brain malformation), myelomeningocele (where the spinal cord and back bone do not close before birth), and enlarged ventricles, a mother goes into protective mode. This was the case for Carol and her daughter, Nora.
Carol went in for her anatomy scan at 19 weeks, 1 day. As she lay on the exam table, watching her sweet baby girl, she had no idea that in a matter of minutes her doctor would come in and inform her of his devastating suspicions. Just a few days later, at 20 weeks, her doctor confirmed the suspicion that Nora had Spina Bifida. How does anyone digest such news? Carol and her husband decided to terminate the pregnancy out of love for their baby girl. What kind of life can a child have under such circumstances? The termination took place at 21 weeks, 2 days. As ironic as it may sound, Carol’s experience was one of the best that a woman in this situation could hope for. She was able to terminate at a hospital in Detroit, with no protestors and compassionate healthcare professionals.
Other mothers, like Nicole, aren’t so lucky. They have to face angry protestors, which only make the act of letting their child go even harder. And one has to wonder, how is it possible for someone to judge another so harshly when the situation is one such as this? Nicole’s baby, Hannah, was diagnosed at around 20 weeks with Trisomy 13. In cases of Trisomy 13, a patient (in this case, Hannah) has an additional chromosome 13, which can cause problems in development such as heart and kidney defects and more than 80% of children diagnosed will die within the first year of life.
Nicole describes her situation as “cold”. Unlike Carol’s hospital experience, Nicole was sent to a clinic and forced to share a waiting room with girls who were there to terminate unwanted, unplanned pregnancies. She even described some as “happy to be there”. And on top of the uncomfortable waiting room and protestors, the care she received from the staff was lackluster, at best. It is interesting to note that Nicole’s cold experience took place just 4 short months ago. Women are still receiving this heartless, disconnected kind of care.
For some reason, the pro-life side sees these cases (terminations for medical reasons) as no different as a woman just deciding that she doesn’t want to be a mother. And while I am about as pro-choice as they come, the situations are drastically different. You have one woman (or girl) who has an unwanted pregnancy and needs to end it. And you have another who has tried for this baby, wanted this baby, and loved this baby since day one. These mothers are choosing to live in pain every day for the rest of their lives so that their sick babies won’t have to. As a mother myself, I look at these women with complete admiration. How brave would a woman have to be to make that choice? How would you go into that decision knowing that people would judge you so harshly, that your family and friends may not approve, and most importantly, that you would be losing this little part of yourself? I read these women’s stories and the only thing that comes to mind is “selfless”.
In closing, I cannot imagine being in this situation. I’ve had my own scares with each of my pregnancies, and each time, it felt like my world was crumbling…but everything always turned out to be alright. These women don’t get the “all clear”. They get a terrible decision thrown in their faces: carry your sick baby to term and watch them suffer and/or die. OR, terminate your pregnancy and spend the rest of your days trying to heal. Neither choice is easy. Neither choice is black and white. In fact, there seems to be a gray haze over the entire issue. It is a terrible decision to have to make, but one that needs to be made. And it is an option that women and their families need to have. No one ever wants to have to use the option, but everyone needs it in place. To expect women to carry pregnancies to term that may have devastating effects on their own health, their marriages, their finances, and even their other children is wrong. That is the one simple thing about this debate. It is wrong for a woman to not have the option.