“There is no heartbeat.”
The words rang hollow as I lay in the emergency room bed, slowly sinking into shock as the doctor explained the results of my ultrasound. I numbed, barely comprehending the doctor’s cold, clinical words. He handed me a pamphlet and discharged me, explaining I would need to wait for my body to expel the fetus.
Pete took me home in a blur and when we got there, I tried to read the pamphlet. It included instructions to look for “bits of pink tissue” in the toilet. As soon as I read that, I wanted to vomit. I was supposed to wait for the child I desperately wanted to show up as bits of tissue in the toilet? It could take weeks for this to happen? Was I living a nightmare?
My brain couldn’t connect the dreams of motherhood and my growing 11-week-old baby with the stark reality that this child would not ever exist. I sobbed endlessly, grieving, desperately wishing the doctors were somehow wrong. And then the pain started. What I now know were labor pains, brought me to my knees. I collapsed in the bathroom, bleeding and in agony. To this day, I’m not sure if I was experiencing a medical or mental health emergency. Probably a bit of both.
Pete froze. He had no idea what to do. He called my mom and we went back to the hospital. This began the healing process of my abortion.
Fortunately, my OBGYN was doing rounds when we arrived. He spoke compassionately and offered an alternative to the agony of waiting for my body to abort the fetus: A dilation and curettage, or D&C. This procedure would remove the fetal tissue from my uterus and allow me to begin working through my grief instead of waiting in emotional turmoil and physical pain.
It took some time to wade through the tsunami of emotions that engulfed me after the miscarriage. I felt like a failure. I resented women who were pregnant. I despised women with children whom my angry brain deemed “unfit.” I consumed every bit of information I could about the causes of miscarriage, desperately trying to understand what I did wrong.
What I found would change me forever. I learned that between 10 and 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.The number of actual miscarriages is most likely much higher because they happen before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Most miscarriages occur, not because something went wrong, but because the fetus wasn’t developing as expected. This is why the medical term for miscarriage, the loss of pregnancy naturally before twenty weeks of gestation, is “spontaneous abortion.”
The tissue the pamphlet referenced was not a baby, but instead a clump of cells that hadn’t formed properly. I did not lose a child; I lost a pregnancy. My grief was real and powerful, but I was grieving the loss of the possibility of motherhood, not the loss of a person. I understand that not all women feel this way, but for me, these medical facts allowed me to process my experience and move forward.
Around 50% of women who experience miscarriage choose to undergo the same D&C procedure that I did. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “For some women, the emotional toll of waiting to miscarry naturally is too unpredictable and too much to handle in an already challenging situation. Healing for them may start upon having a D&C procedure.” D&Cs are also used to treat women with medical complications who are at high risk of death or injury from pregnancy complications.
This is also the same procedure used in most early elective abortions.
It is also the same procedure denied to women because of anti-abortion laws.
After my miscarriage, I went on to have two successful pregnancies, bringing the most gorgeous, talented, smartest, compassionate children into this world. And then I chose to be done. I joked that I put a “closed” sign on my uterus, but this was a thoughtful and serious decision. A decision that I was able to make without interference.
I desperately wanted to be a mother, and it didn’t come easily for me. This is why I take the job so seriously. This is also why I adamantly and passionately believe in a woman’s right to choose what is right for her life, her family, and her body.
Every woman I know has an abortion story.
Some women had experiences like mine, spontaneous abortions, followed by a medical procedure to help them heal. Some women had spontaneous abortions and allowed the process to happen without medical treatment. Some women don’t know they had a miscarriage at all.
Some women lost children late into their pregnancies. Some of them brought those lost pregnancies to term and others chose to have medical abortions to help them heal or save their lives.
Some women were raped and couldn’t bear the physical and emotional trauma as the result of this violence. Some women are girls–children–whose tiny bodies are not prepared for the ravages of pregnancy.
Some women are trapped in violent and abusive relationships. Sometimes their partners threaten to kill them if they have the child. Sometimes their partners use the children as leverage to force them to stay.
Some women have medical complications that force them to choose between their own lives and that of the fetus. Some women are in emotional and mental distress, and a pregnancy could lead to death by suicide.
Some women aren’t ready for the challenges and responsibilities of motherhood…yet. Some women have no desire to ever be a mother.
I am ashamed of myself for judging other women. I never had the right to deem anyone “unfit” or “undeserving.” I have unfairly questioned whether women had too many children or maybe not enough. I’ve also judged women who’ve chosen to have abortions, questioning their judgment or morality, depending on the situation.
I was so very wrong. Who am I to judge any other woman’s choice? What right do I have to deem which exceptions or which choices are acceptable? What standing does anyone have to do this for anyone aside from themselves?
Almost 14 years after Mateo’s birth, it’s never been more clear to me that motherhood MUST be a choice. It’s a choice that every woman must be able to make for herself. It’s also something that NO ONE should EVER be forced to do.
We ALL have an abortion story.
Some of us chose to have abortions. Some of our bodies made that decision for us. Some of us chose not to have an abortion. Some of us chose to prevent having to make that choice. Some of us desperately want children. Some of us did and are done. Some of us will never want children.
Each one of us has our own personal abortion story. We’ve had to make choices based on our lives’ circumstances and what made the most sense at that particular moment in time.
We may not share our stories to avoid being judged. I was hesitant to talk about my miscarriage for a very long time. Unfortunately, our patriarchal society defaults to the stigmatization of women, especially when we do not conform to unrealistic ideals and standards. It can be terrifying to share our stories, and we can reasonably assess that we will be judged when we do.
It is also EXACTLY why we need to speak up.
It’s easy to judge women and their choices when we don’t know their stories. It’s also easy to form our beliefs based upon a limited set of knowledge and experience. The more we share with each other, the more we can understand that every woman has her own unique set of circumstances and no one else could possibly be suited to make decisions for her. To take away that choice is to strip a woman of her humanity and to desecrate the sanctity of motherhood.
And so I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s absolutely possible to be both pro-life and pro-choice. In fact, that is where I find myself on the spectrum. Motherhood is both my life’s struggle and passion. Giving life to and raising Mateo and Lucia is a privilege, a burden, a joy, a responsibility, and embodiment of all that is good in my life.
It was also my choice.
My daughter, YOUR daughter, and every other woman deserves that right too, whatever choice she might make.
If you believe that Ohio women deserve the respect and dignity of making their own reproductive choices, please check out the link below for information on signing the Ohio Reproductive Rights Ballot Initiative Petition.
Show Up and Sign to Protect Reproductive Rights