Abortion is one of the most controversial topics in America, with the pro-lifers and pro-choicers debating whether a woman should be the one in charge of her body, or if zygotes and angry men in suits should be the ones calling the shots. As bitter as the debate is, almost all Americans agree that abortion should be limited after a certain date—unless there are health risks meriting an exception. Jia Tolentino, a writer at Jezebel, interviewed a woman who called herself Elizabeth (not her real name) about her experience of getting an abortion at 32 weeks after finding out that her son would not be able to survive outside of the womb.
Elizabeth, a 35-year-old professional, lives with her husband in Brooklyn. The couple suffered a heart-breaking miscarriage at 10 weeks with their first pregnancy, but wanted to continue to try to conceive. Eventually, the two did, but there were minor complications with the pregnancy early on.
It was around 16 weeks, I think, when we got the scan that looked like his feet were turned in—like club feet. Our doctor said he was OK, that we’d just keep watching it. Then, also around that time, we found out that I had a weird umbilical cord, or velamentous cord insertion. Normally, an umbilical cord is implanted in the center of a placenta; mine was way on the edge. That affects blood flow, affects how blood and nutrients get to the baby, so they put me on rest. And, unrelated, I was also bleeding—these huge bleeds that looked like I was having a heavy period.
Trusting her doctor's word, she continued cautiously with the pregnancy despite the complications. Elizabeth and her husband were nervous, and chose not to really tell anyone about the pregnancy except for close friends and family members. The news bad news kept coming, but each time, doctors assured them that the pregnancy was viable. That is, until they visited again around 31 weeks:
We went back to get a growth scan, and we saw the growth had fallen off a cliff. And this was the first time that we had been presented with this idea that there was something deeply wrong with the baby that had nothing to do with me. Until that point, all the really bad news had been with me, and my weird body. He had been thriving despite the environment.
But on this scan, he’d gone from the 37th percentile to the 8th. And he wasn’t swallowing.
That is when doctors knew that something was very, very wrong. After a week of talking to specialists and running tests, doctors told Elizabeth that her son was "incompatible with life," and would die after being born because he would be unable to breathe outside the womb.
To be clear, if the doctors thought there was any way he might make it, I would have taken that chance. I truly would have put myself through anything. What I came to accept was the fact that I would never get to be this little guy’s mother—that if we came to term, he would likely live a very short time until he choked and died, if he even made it that far. This was a no-go for me. I couldn’t put him through that suffering when we had the option to minimize his pain as much as possible.
Adding to the heartbreaking decision facing Elizabeth was the fact that she had undergone brain surgery a few years before conceiving. This meant that even had she carried the pregnancy to term and tried to give birth, she ran the risk of something "popping in her head" and killing her in labor. Alternatively, she could get major abdominal surgery to deliver a child who would likely not survive longer than a few minutes after being born. Instead, Elizabeth and her husband flew to Colorado (where third-term abortions are legal) to receive a shot that would stop the baby's heart.
Then they do the sonogram. They put the screen behind your head so you don’t have to look. And then it’s time for the shot, and this was the only time my husband wasn’t with me throughout the entire eight months. He couldn’t come in. I felt like maybe they are really careful about people being forced to do this; you can tell they are conscious of all the possible scenarios.
Finally, she received the shot.
Even after all this, Elizabeth still wants to become a mother and has thought about trying again.
I don’t want to wait too long, I guess. I don’t have that many years left. I don’t want to do it so soon that we’re not ready emotionally, but I also know we’re going to be freaked out the next time we try to do this no matter what. I’ve let go of the idea of a happy pregnancy. That’s just never going to happen for me. And that’s fine.
You can read the interview in its entirety here.