A True Story About Loss and Making Hard Decisions

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It’s one thing to debate the fine points of feminism, such as the insistence on protecting a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. It’s quite another thing to have a real-life situation come up which tests your convictions.

I found this out over the last few weeks, starting with my daughter’s phone call telling me the results of her ultrasound.

The news wasn’t good.

She ended up having a second ultrasound and then a more invasive test (CVS) where cells are taken from the placenta to be examined for some forms of birth anomalies.

The results: her baby—a girl—had Down syndrome and Turner syndrome.

Now, Down syndrome alone is not a death sentence, although the defects associated with it can be life-threatening. And there are cases of girls with Turner Syndrome functioning just fine (except for infertility). But if the chromosomal mutations are severe enough, the baby will not survive and that is exactly what my daughter was told by the doctors.

Sure enough, around the 11th week of pregnancy, the baby died and my daughter had to have a procedure to remove the baby’s remains (including the placenta) from her uterus.

But in the weeks between the initial diagnosis of a birth defect and the actual miscarriage, my daughter and her partner were haunted by the question of whether or not to go ahead and terminate the pregnancy.

I am pro-choice. I adamantly reject the idea that a woman should be forced to have a baby under any circumstances. As it is right now, most states only allow abortions in the case of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s health. I would hate to think that any woman would be denied the right to terminate a pregnancy that was going to kill her, or where she would be having the child of her rapist, forever tying her to the man who raped her, or where her child would also be her half-sister or -brother, for instance.

But I am also pro-life. I firmly believe that all life is sacred. However, I also happen to be against capital punishment and war, when, strangely enough, many pro-lifers are not. I also fail to see where the life of the mother is not as important as the life of her baby, maybe even more so if she has other children who need her.

And yet, there is a part of me that believes that sometimes a person has to make a hard decision, one that would normally be left to God, and that is to terminate a pregnancy when the results are going to be traumatic.

One thing that makes me crazy about people who are anti-abortion is their refusal to admit that some babies are not wanted, not loved and not cared for. What good does it do to force a woman to have a severely handicapped child when she doesn’t have the resources necessary for her to care for the child properly? Is someone going to step in and take over the responsibility? Not likely. (And those resources can be physical, psychological, mental, social, educational or economic.)

What if a woman with Down Syndrome gets pregnant? Are we supposed to force her to have a baby she can’t raise by herself (if at all)? And what about a woman who already has other children whose lives would be negatively impacted by the arrival of a severely handicapped brother or sister? (In other words, why would the fetus’ rights take precedence over children’s who are already born?)

The thing is, there are not clear-cut answers for these questions. Every woman’s situation is different and she has the right to decide how much she can handle. And, most importantly, she should not be made to feel guilty if she chooses the alternative that people who don’t even know her think she should.

My daughter was spared from having to decide whether or not to have an abortion because the baby died naturally. But if she had decided to have an abortion, she would have been branded by some people as a “baby-killer.” People who are anti-abortion say no matter what the problem, the baby should be carried as long as possible, even if it dies in utero or at birth. Anything less and you’ve committed murder.

I say that’s nonsense. And it’s cruel.

My daughter had no way of knowing that her baby would die on its own. All she did know is that its (her) chances were not good. She would have had to wait until the baby had grown more before the doctors would know the extent of the damage. But then she would be out of her first trimester, which complicates the situation.

If a woman is fortunate enough to know about her baby’s condition before the end of the first trimester, she can terminate the pregnancy with much less risk to her own health. A dilatation and evacuation is a much safer and less complicated procedure than having to induce labor and making the woman go through delivery. You could also argue that it is less traumatic. (Can you imagine having to deliver a dead baby?)

Abortion opponents like to quote statistics that abortion is more deadly than childbirth. Those who are for the right of a woman to have an abortion cite statistics that say that abortion is much safer than going all the way through a pregnancy and delivery. It is true that the longer a woman is pregnant the more chance there is of her developing health problems. Also, the chance of maternal death is higher for women who go all the way through labor and delivery.

These are factors that abortion opponents refuse to consider. They persist in thinking that life is all neat and black and white. They want all the answers to be either yes or no. And they most certainly do not want to have to make decisions that have uncertain consequences. It’s much easier to think that something is all bad or all good than to admit that it could be both.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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