Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog for Choice Day: my abortion

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007I don't talk about abortion much on this blog. I guess because I am more interested in birth.

That said, I am strongly and troubledly pro-choice. Strongly because I do believe women have the right to decide whether or not they will bear a child. Strongly because the mother is in the best position to decide what is best for her and her child, including ending its life.

Troubledly (if that's a word) because abortion is NOT easy. The woman contemplating abortion is not free to make her decision in a neutral, objective environment. She cannot escape the moral judgments and political charge around it. The procedure itself is often treated casually, even by those who perform it, rather than as death or something akin to it. And though abortion can be the best way out of certain situations, that is not the same thing as it being a resolution to the situation. Its aftermath can last a long time.

In the interest of both honesty and education, I will say a bit about the abortion I had.

I was 27 and pregnant for the first time. This was a much-anticipated baby, conceived, as planned, the summer after I graduated from law school. I endured 8 weeks of hyperemesis in my first trimester. Only the knowledge that it would fade kept me from being suicidal. And it did fade. I entered my second trimester able to eat, eager to gain back some of the 15 pounds I'd lost, and amazed at the potential growing inside me.

At 18 weeks we went for our regularly scheduled ultrasound. You can see it coming, can't you? The happy ultrasound, the sight of our baby's profile, his beautifully beating and four-chambered heart, his jabbing fists and legs. And then the phone call the next day. Our doctor asking me "Do you have a few minutes to talk?"

Turns out I hadn't seen the black spaces inside my baby's skull. Fluid where there should have been gray matter. It was Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving. The next four days were spent getting more detailed ultrasounds, meeting with perinatologists, taking long walks with my spouse, feeling a doomed baby kicking inside me.

We could carry the pregnancy to term, we were told. The baby would likely be born living. Then would start the learning phase for us. Could the baby breathe on his own? Could he digest food? Could he swallow? Not would he run with a limp or would he need surgery when he was two or would he be able to live independently some day.

We had a few weeks to make a decision. After that we would be in the third trimester. Fetal viability would be possible. Without saying it directly, the doctor conveyed that we were approaching the time when abortion would be a more complicated situation, politically and ethically.

We decided, broken-heartedly, to terminate the pregnancy.

Using prostiglandin gels applied at regular intervals to my cervix, the doctors induced labor. Roughly twelve hours later I delivered my tiny son. We held him while he died.

Throughout that time I was also very aware that we were doing something culturally taboo. We were killing our son by birthing him early and denying him life support. It was a secret and shameful something. Which is why I felt the need then and now to tell people about it and call it what it was. No euphamisms. It was aborting a pregnancy that would otherwise go to term.

I was so very thankful we had that option. That I did not have to see my son possibly condemned to existence in a bed, tied to tubes. That subsequent children could have more of my time and attention for not having a severely disabled sibling.

Of course, there is a chance he could have been just fine. Or if not that, at least able to interact with and get joy from the world. It didn't seem likely, but the doctors couldn't rule it out. Just like we don't know whether the pregnant teen might finish high school with a baby and go to college. Just like the college student might find an adoptive family to raise her child.

Abortion is complicated. Regardless of how you feel about it, you have to admit that. But complication does not justify elimination. It would be simpler to say, categorically, no abortions. It would spare women a lot of agonizing decisions. It would give more fetuses a chance to see the light of day.

But it would take away our control of our bodies. I cannot think of anything that justifies that.

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Anonymous naomi dagen bloom said...

had to wait a few minutes after reading to compose myself. thank you for the courage to tell your story in this unadorned way.

thank you also for raising the often ignored issue of how painful psychologically our abortions are. though mine was in 1956, illegal, along, desparately sought, it was still an experience that haunted me for many years. even now at 73, it is a difficult memory.

recently a friend, long active in Planned Parenthood, disagreed when i said that the movement had been too focused on the utility of abortion, not enough on the pain.

came by today to thank you for thoughtful comments on grandmotherhood at my blog. not sure i'd have been here as i am without that illegal abortion. yes, we have to change this in my lifetime.

2:45 PM  
Blogger mm said...

No words can be typed to express what this post has said to me.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing such a painful piece of your personal history. I hope that those who read your story will come to a fuller understanding of birth and death and abortion....

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Spincerely said...

I'm so glad that you were allowed to make a choice and with all my heart I hope that we never loose that choice However we choose to use it, and as painful as it may be -- it is one of the most important things for women to have in whatever situation they may find themselves in.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, it was very generous of you.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

It is one of the most difficult and painful decisions a mother can make. I'm both sad and glad that you were able to make the decision yourself, and that you have been able to share your story. Thank you.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Bekah said...

I'm so sorry for the wrenching decision you were faced with. I think the above commenter is on target with her observation about utility versus pain. But I don't see entirely how the conclusion about control of your body relates to your experience?

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a terrible choice to have to make but thankfully it was you and your husband who got to make it.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Dylan Emrys, MA, pre and perinatal psychology said...

Oh my. I am moved, touched and in awe of your experience and how you tell of it here.

Thank you.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous LeAnn said...

Just an echo, but worth the repetition: thank you for what you have said.

2:19 PM  

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