The thing that so many people oppose actually saved my life.
I had an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It was a perfectly legal procedure done in a hospital by a medical professional. And I don’t regret it.
Of course, that’s not the full story. I’ll tell the full story again, as I’ve told it over and over since the end of 2004. But as the #ShoutYourAbortion movement has taken off online, I’ve been rethinking how I talk about what happened to me.
I think about how I’ve told the story over the years; how I’ve softened my language and talked about “life-saving medical termination” instead of saying ABORTION ABORTION ABORTION.
While being softer with the language has helped some people see gray in an issue they previously viewed as black and white, I’m not sure I’ve done other women a service by not calling it what it was.
It was a late-term abortion, and it saved my life.
Here’s what happened.
After trying and trying, we finally sought help and got hard news: We could only get pregnant using IVF. After some weeping and gnashing of teeth, we underwent our first IVF cycle in April of 2004.
We were lucky: I responded like a college-aged egg donor and the doctors retrieved a whopping 35 eggs. Of those eggs, 27 were “good,” 17 fertilized, and four were transferred into my uterus with hopes of implantation, meaning those little eight-celled suckers would burrow into my hormonally-inflated uterine lining and stick.
Two did. We eventually learned they were both boys, and we named them Nicholas and Zachary. We were thrilled. Filled with trepidation, sure. Boys? Twins? It was a lot to handle. But we loved those little zygotes fiercely.
I sucked at being pregnant. I had crazy morning sickness, the kind that lasted all day, every day. I vomited constantly. I bloated a ridiculous amount, far more than most people in pregnancy.
I went up two and a half shoe sizes. You could press into my calves with a finger and leave an inch-deep dent. It was awful. Plus, my blood pressure kept going up, even though I’d never had problems with blood pressure before.
We saw a perinatologist who told me to reduce my salt intake, which didn’t help at all. We got kicked out of the midwife practice we were using because I was too sick for them to handle.
Luckily, we found our amazing OB and it looked like things might be getting better. But they weren’t.
It was at an ultrasound that the first shoe dropped. I’d had so many ultrasounds during the first part of my pregnancy that we didn’t rush the 20-week ultrasound (plus there was the whole problem with switching doctors), so we were nearly 24 weeks pregnant when we finally went in for it.
My husband and my best friend were with me. They realized quickly something was wrong when the ultrasound tech moved us from one room to another. Then she sent in the doctor and we were told the news: one twin had died, probably a week or two earlier.
We then went across the street to see the OB. Here, we got the second part of the bad news: My blood pressure was too high. My weight had jumped up over 20 pounds in two weeks. My urine was so full of protein it turned the stick black instantly.
I was admitted to the hospital immediately with preeclampsia.
You can read all about preeclampsia and its sister diseases, but these are the facts: 5 to 8 percent of women develop preeclampsia, ten million women per year; 76,000 of those women die each year; and half a million babies die because of the disease as well.
Most women who develop preeclampsia are farther along in their pregnancies than I was and are able to deliver their babies. In my case, my surviving son couldn’t live outside the womb. He was small due to both the disease and being a twin.
So my doctor treated the disease in an attempt to prolong my pregnancy for a bit longer so my son would have a chance at life.
But instead of either getting better (or at least getting stable from the treatment) I got much, much worse. I had a headache so severe it blinded me and wouldn’t respond to pain meds. My blood pressure continued to climb. My kidneys shut down and I stopped producing urine. My liver was also starting to shut down.
At 7am the next morning, I got the news: It was me and my son, or just my son. I had to terminate the pregnancy to live.
There’s no way to convey how awful it was. How I wept for hours as they prepped me for the abortion. How during the procedure I woke up and tried to run away. How I lay in a room in the maternity ward the next day, alone and with an empty room, I wanted to die. How in the months after, I vacillated between utter rage and utter grief. How it took me forever to heal. How much I still, 11 years later, grieve.
Now, of course, even the most hard-hearted pro-lifer is feeling empathy for my situation (although a few are probably shaking their heads sadly about how my doctors lied to me, and a few others are finding spurious links to send me about how my surviving son could’ve survived outside the womb and I was just misinformed).
Most reasonable people, even those who believe abortion should be illegal, see my situation as the exception.
And it’s true. Cases like mine are rare. You know why? Because hardly anyone gets an abortion after 20 weeks. About less than 1 percent of all abortions occur after 20 weeks.
But just a few weeks ago, House Republicans tried to pass a law that would’ve killed me and other women like me. They tried to pass a law that would prohibit my doctors from giving me the best medical care they could to keep me alive.
And incidentally, they would’ve also eliminated the existence of my glorious and amazing 9-year-old daughter, born from a frozen embryo from that same batch of eggs. The world is a better place with my daughter in it.
This is why I’m so damn tired of talking about my abortion. Because in 2003, the first partial-birth abortion (not a real thing) ban was made law. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007. But that wasn’t enough. The Republicans wanted an even tougher bill.
In 11 years, my life—and the lives of women like me—keep mattering less and less. I’m enraged but I’m also exhausted. Particularly now, a few short weeks from the anniversary of the worst day of my life, the day I was forced to say goodbye to my sons.