I have written over the past week about the number of women finding themselves triggered by the carelessness and callousness being displayed by the GOP nominee in regards to women. The hot mic video and tape of Donald Trump, coupled with his blatant denial of what he has spent decades proudly grandstanding - that of groping, grabbing, and making women grimace sent countless women reeling down the backroads of their worst memories. After 34 years, I liberated my own story of rape in writing about it here at DGMS. So many of you came forward sharing your own assaults in the comments, on FB, and in private emails.
And as always, I cannot express the deep sense of humility I feel at providing a safe space to do that sharing. Your stories are important. And the sharing of them makes us all feel less alone, allows us to take back some part of what was stolen.
Tonight a dear friend reached out to me with her story. I am humbled by the words she has shared, the brutal truth involved, and the staggering bravery at play in offering this piece of her life.
Triggered by the additional callousness displayed in the last debate, again by the GOP nominee, this time the topic being our right to control our decision making. The profound ignorance and carelessness of words like, "You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb..." in regard to late term complications, are as painful as they are moronic as they are offensive. Ending a pregnancy - at any stage - is a private, personal decision. But sometimes that choice must be faced when choice was not anywhere in the dreams, planning, and delighted preparation of the people involved. When the tests reveal the parents' worst nightmare; when the longed for baby is compromised beyond imagining, and when hope is extinguished by reality - this is why choice is paramount. This is why we cannot go backwards. This is why my friend, Jennifer, has bravely shared the most personal, painful experience of her life.
Because sometimes the only choice you have is mercy.
My husband and I have four living children. I have never spoken or typed that sentence before today. It hurts.
I met my hubby in college. It was truly love at first sight. We met on a Sunday evening. On Tuesday morning he asked me to marry him. I was already sure he was The One. But, being a sensible gal who didn't want to rush into anything, I waited three whole weeks before accepting. This was after I'd met his whole family, and after we drove six hours to introduce him to my mother. Yeah, we were not inclined to wait to start our lives.
I got pregnant right away. Before the wedding. We were frightened, of course. Neither of us were near graduation and we knew it would be hard. But we were so excited. We told everyone.
It was an easy pregnancy. Normal morning sickness went away after a couple of months. I felt great. I had that "glow". It shows in all my pictures from that time. Especially our wedding photos. That day was easily one of the best days of our life. So. Much. Joy!
My first ultrasound was normal and my prenatal appointments all went well. My belly was measuring right on target for gestational age. We were making lists of names. I declined an amniocentesis and my doc agreed. There was no glaring need for one. At 18 weeks my doctor scheduled the Alpha- fetoprotein(AFP) test.
The phone call with the results of that test is burned in my brain.
The doc called, all excited, and said "The results came back high, and usually that means twins!" I froze in fear. It took me a second to unglue my tongue from the roof of my mouth. "But Dr. ------, we already did an ultrasound and there's only one baby."
My husband heard the fear in my voice. He stopped what he was doing and stared at me. The doctor paused for a moment. I'm quite sure he forgot about the first ultrasound. It was done very early because my uterus was tipped back and it was hard to hear a heartbeat with just a stethoscope at that point. The doc thought he was giving me great news. He hadn't stopped to read my chart.
The doc's tone of voice was very different when he said "Well we better schedule another ultrasound then and see what's going on." My reaction was visceral. My gut clenched into a hard knot. It got hard to breathe.
I don't remember making the appointment. But I remember going to it. My husband almost didn't come with me. Several days had passed and we had talked ourselves into thinking everything was okay. At the last minute he decided to blow off work and come with me. Denial is a powerful thing but no match for instinct.
This ultrasound was very different from the first. The tech was all business. No smiles or chit-chat. I cringe to remember my husband and I trying to make small talk and not being able to break the ice. After a really thorough circumnavigation of my belly the tech asked to bring in some doctors. Plural. We said okay and four people came in. One of them pointed at the screen and said, "Well, there's the problem right there." I will never forget his voice. I had only a second to pray he meant something benign (I don't know what - a technical glitch in the ultrasound? A mistake in the AFP results?) before he turned to me and said, "Your baby has a problem."
I burst into tears. I've never felt so absolutely crushed. I was falling apart and my belly was still covered in goop. I reached for my husband and was stopped by someone in the room. I was given a towel to clean up and told that we needed to go down the hall to meet with the genetic counselor. Looking back, I can see just how skillfully they managed to prevent a couple of parents sobbing on the floor of a medical suite. We were whisked into an office with a couch but no windows and told the counselor would be there soon.
I sat down and bawled. My husband began to cry so hard he got a nosebleed. He spent the next hour in a bloodstained shirt while we listened to the explanation of what was wrong with our first child. It was surreal.
Anencephaly. Neural tube defect. No frontal lobe, just a brain stem controlling basic bodily functions like heartbeat. No chance of life outside my body. Dangerous pregnancy. Dangerous delivery.
This was in Utah. At an LDS hospital. I figure 99% of the staff had to be Mormon as were we at the time. The word "abortion" was never uttered. Instead the term used was "pregnancy interrupt". We were counseled to go home and discuss our options with our "spiritual advisor" (in Mormonland this means Bishop) and our doctor. It's still funny to me that she listed them in that order.
The doc explained that without a functioning brain our child would not produce the stimuli my body needed to start labor and delivery. The pregnancy would likely last 10 months if we waited for nature to take its course and they still might have to induce me. The delivery would be traumatic because the baby would be so large and the damage could impair any future pregnancies. Assuming I could deliver at all. I'm 5'3" and weighed 115 lbs. I was not a great candidate to deliver a huge baby. And the baby would most likely be stillborn. Any survival would be measured in hours. The child's neural tube had never closed. There was no top of the skull. Literally nothing there. No brain, no skull, no protection, nothing keeping anything in place. It was perfectly hopeless. Absolutely black and white. No chance of survival.
The choice was obvious. We were devastated, but resolute. We knew we wanted a family and we were not going to jeopardize our future children to avoid a stigma. Even our Bishop, when we discussed it with him, knew what we had to do. Not that his opinion otherwise would have swayed us at that point, but it was comforting at the time.
And still no one said the word abortion. I was to be induced. I would deliver the baby.
It was not an easy process. My body wasn't ready and it took drugs and interventions to make me go into labor. The nurses were so kind. All of them said how sorry they were for me. I was at the end of the hall. Well away from any mothers who would get to go home with a baby.
When my daughter was born they carefully wrapped her up and covered her head in a knitted cap. To hide the mess. She never took a breath. In all my life I think I will never be as thankful for anything as I am that she died before she felt the pain of her head outside of my womb.
We held her. My husband and my mother cried. I was way past tears. I was so emotionally destroyed I responded only to direct questions. I looked at her perfect, tiny body. Her long and graceful fingers. And I lifted her cap. I saw how her forehead did not rise up from her eyes but sloped back at an angle. I saw how the back of her head stuck to the blanket because there was. no. skull. And I wondered for the umpteenth time why this had happened to her. To us. I didn't know why she wasn't okay. But I knew that I - we- had done the right thing for her. As her mother. As her parents. We did the right thing for her and for her as yet unborn siblings.
And so, at 22 weeks, I said hello and goodbye to my firstborn. I had a late-term abortion. And as hard as that day was; as hard as losing my child was, I know it could have been so much worse. There is no pain greater than the death of your child. But at least I did not have to explain to a judge, or an ethics committee, why I should be ALLOWED to act in her best interests. To save her a pain-filled exit from our world. I did not have to defend my future children's right to exist. No, my doctor and I made the decision. Alone. For her. And for my family. Alone.
The well worn pink envelope from the hospital is everything I have of her. Three bracelets. Her hat and blanket. All the cards from the hospital staff and our family. Her hand and foot prints. The hand prints don't do her justice. The nurses must not have been able to get her hands to lay flat on the paper. Her fingers were longer than that. I remember.
I have opened that envelope so many times in the last two decades. On her due date. On her birthday. I am sad both days. But I don't look at her picture often. Despite the photographer's best efforts the full extent of her birth defect is very visible and is so very painful for me to look at. I wish, with every fiber of my soul that I had five living children.
But I don't. I have four. And the memory of the worst day of my life is why I will fight for all of them to have the right to do what is best for their own children.
Jennifer Maw is a forty-something (she stopped counting) wife and mother. A former stay-at-home mom with a slew of volunteer stints under her belt, she now has a full time gig making gardens pretty. She can't believe people pay her for that. She's still learning and growing everyday. She's raising / raised four kids to know their own worth and is madly in love with her husband. There's a milestone anniversary coming up but they're both unsure exactly which year.