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Emily's story

My husband and I wanted to have two children. I had a healthy and easy first pregnancy and birth, and when our son was about 2 years old, I became pregnant a second time. About 16 weeks into that pregnancy, the genetic screen revealed that the baby had a genetic anomaly. I remember sitting with the doctor in a private room at the OB practice at the hospital after receiving confirmation of the baby's condition while he explained our options: extraction or delivery.

When I heard the word 'delivery' I burst into tears. It was totally unconscious. It was immensely emotional, but for me, the decision felt clear. I knew that for myself and my family, I needed to terminate the pregnancy.  Though my husband and I fully agreed, and felt confident about the decision to terminate, going through the process was incredibly difficult for each of us individually and put a strain on our relationship. This is something that isn’t often talked about. Women so often feel isolated in their experience and it’s hard to know where to turn. More than making the decision to terminate, the most challenging part for me was the physical and emotional experience of what that meant, as well as the ongoing aftermath of emotions. It’s something that will always stay with me. It’s a lot to go through. And yet it felt fundamentally important that I be able to make the decision I needed to for myself and my family.

Up to that point, I hadn't really felt the baby move yet. But the week before, I started to feel a sensation like bubbles popping in my stomach. My belly had just barely started to pop. In all honesty, it looked like I had a slight beer belly and not a growing baby. I took a picture of myself at 19 weeks that I keep on my iPad. I also have a voice memo of the baby's heartbeat from its first ultrasound that I keep on my phone. By the time we had the full results, I was 20 weeks pregnant. The timing made the termination process longer and more involved. We made the decision to have an extraction procedure as opposed to a delivery. I just couldn’t imagine the emotional toil of going through the birth process and didn’t want any physical memory of the experience.

To begin the procedure, I had to be artificially dilated two days before surgery. I called my mother, who lives in another state, to come and be with me and my husband. At first, I did not know that I would want her there, but as soon as we made our decision, I knew that I did.  She was in the room with me for the second dilation, and she almost fainted. I always remember that. On the morning of the surgery, my husband, mother, and I spent a lot of time waiting in our little pre-surgery cubicle. I felt a lot of discomfort from the dilation. It felt like early labor pain. Finally, they wheeled me into the operating room, and I remember that it was white and bright, not what I expected from seeing depictions of surgery and operating rooms on TV. I remember how roughly the people in the room handled my body, hoisting me up off the rolling bed onto the operating table, and shifting my body to properly position me. And then I remember a swell of emotion right before I fell asleep. My doctor, the surgeon, had his hand over mine. The last thing I remember is crying.

I woke up from the surgery crying. I don't think it was intentional in that I did not feel particularly sad at that moment. But my whole body was confused and out of whack at that point. I had a catheter in me, and I went home with my mom, husband, and my mother-in-law who came up to watch my son. The surgery was on a Tuesday, and I took the rest of the week off from work. I remember thinking before the surgery that maybe I wouldn't need to take the week off from work. I was wrong. Immediately, my breasts swelled and were rock hard and incredibly tender. Someone told me that frozen cabbage leaves would reduce the swelling. I don't think it made a difference, and it felt ridiculous and smelly to have thawing cabbage leaves tucked into my bra.

I went back to work the week after, and my colleague who I'd gotten somewhat close with, who was also pregnant, came to check on me, asking about my absence the week before. I immediately burst into tears again and we hugged. She cried too and eventually told me that she and her husband agreed they would have made the same decision. I remember feeling so angry at people for coming into my office and asking me how I was doing. They were too afraid to ask me what happened but were clearly curious. People I barely knew came in and said that they were sorry. I wish now that I'd had the strength to tell them to leave my personal life to me. It’s an incredibly difficult experience to go through and it’s not something that just goes away. It took a long time for me to come to some place of resolution about what happened. It was a lot emotionally for my husband as well. I felt incredibly supported by my doctor throughout the process and once the physical recovery had ended and the doctor, understandably, stopped checking in, I was left with processing on my own. 

I am happy to say that eventually, we had another baby, a girl. She is now 4 years old. The pregnancy was easy, though I struggled initially to bond with her. I realize now this was connected to my experience with the termination. I was still thinking and processing what had happened a year and a half before her birth.  I never named the baby or really bonded with it but removing it from my body was absolutely wrenching. I won't ever forget it, and it will always be a part of my, and my family's, story forever. While it was incredibly painful to go through the process and the aftermath, I believe that I did the right thing. I had the opportunity to steer my life in the direction that I wanted it to go and we have two wonderful healthy children. I only wish that other women have as easy a time, and as much support, as I had if they face similar circumstances. I did not face any logistical roadblocks in making this decision. I was presented with options and felt supported in my choice, something that I had the luxury of taking for granted. While the process was inevitably hard, the decision felt clear, and it was fundamentally mine to make. This is how it should be. The decision to terminate a pregnancy when faced with a difficult situation feels just as important as the decision of when to get pregnant.

Due to stigma, this is not something that we talk about often, but statistically it is more common than we think. I want to talk about it, to share my story, because that is an important part of processing. I share all of this because I want other women to have the same opportunities that I did -- to exercise control over their own bodies and their lives and to have children when and how they want to have children. My doctor said multiple times that it was not fate, just simple bad statistical luck. That comforted me. I knew that this was not any kind of moral or existential situation, but something that just happens to people because statistically it's bound to. My husband and I were confident that we wanted our life to look a certain way, and this child would have made that all but impossible.

For me, reproductive freedom means the ability to control what happens to my body the whole time it is mine. It means being able to treat my body the way I want it to be treated and to have emotional and physical ownership over my own bodily experience, 100 percent. I feel this in the core of my being. It’s as deep as anything that is in my body or a part of it. Reproductive freedom should just come with being human. It is a fundamental human right.


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