So, there’s this lawmaker out of Kansas who has lots to say about abortion. He’s currently best known for saying that women should plan ahead in case of rape and not expect their regular insurance to cover an abortion if they want one after being assaulted. And we could spend a lot of time going around about the flaws in his logic, or even hashing out when life begins, but really this post isn’t about any of that. This post is about the idea that anyone besides the pregnant woman should get a vote in what she does with her body after finding out about a pregnancy. For a host of reasons we as a society seem incapable of accepting bodily autonomy in women. This is reflected in the existence of street harassment, rape culture, and the million efforts to dictate whether or not women can control their own reproductive health. This attitude that women are shirking responsibility by opting out of having unwanted children has always boggled my mind.
But then I’m a mom, and I would never want my kids to grow up an unwanted child like I did. I love my kids more than I could ever explain & I do my best to give them the childhood I never had. Because I love them I had an abortion at 20 weeks. It was my 5th pregnancy (I had two miscarriages while I was trying to conceive my sons), and as it turned out my last. It was troubled from the start, I didn’t experience any of the normal indicators of pregnancy, so I found out when I was already 10 weeks along. No missed periods, in fact I was seeing an OB/GYN who specializes in treating fibroids and endometriosis in part because of the increased heaviness of my cycle. When we found out (that standard pregnancy test before surgery is necessary after all) I talked it out with my husband and we debated aborting (I got as far as the clinic), before ultimately deciding that we would try to make it work. My doctor advised me right off the bat that she wasn’t certain of a good outcome and that my pregnancy would be very high risk. I did exactly what she said in terms of taking it easy, because I wanted to give that child the best possible chance. But the intermittent bleeding wouldn’t stop and I knew that there was a high chance that I would not be able to carry to term.
I was taking an afternoon nap when the hemorrhaging started. Laying in bed with my toddler napping in his room, and waking up to find blood gushing up my body is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The placental abruption that my doctor had listed as a possibility was happening and I was going to have to do my best to take care of both of us. Mind you, my husband was at work and my not quite 2 year old sure couldn’t dial 911 for me so I had to make it to the phone & make arrangements for the sleeping toddler as well as his older brother before I could leave the house. I’ll spare you the gory details of my personal splatter flick, but suffice to say by the time I got to the hospital I probably needed a transfusion.
We all knew the pregnancy wasn’t viable, couldn’t be viable with the amount of blood I was losing, but it still took them hours to do anything, because the doctor on call didn’t do abortions. At all. Ever. No one on call that night did them in fact. A very kind nurse risked her job to call a doctor from the Reproductive Health Clinic who was not on call, and asked her to come in to save my life. Fortunately she was home, and even more fortunately she was able to get there relatively quickly. But by the time she got there I was in bad shape. Blood loss had rendered me borderline incoherent, an incredibly ignorant batch of students were fascinated by my case and more interested in studying me than treating me (one had the audacity to show me the ultrasound of our dying child while asking me if it was a planned pregnancy), and then there was the fact that I was on the L & D floor listening to other women have healthy babies while I bled out and the baby I had been trying to save died in my womb.
When the other doctor got there she had me moved to a different wing, got me painkillers (we were many hours into my hospital stay, and no one had bothered to give me anything for the pain despite my screams every time they decided to push on my abdomen or examine me for student edification), and then after checking my labs told us that I would need two bags of blood before she could do anything. Her team (a cadre of students who should all go on to run their own clinics) took turns coming in to check on me and my husband. They all kept assuring me that soon it would be over, and I would feel much better. My husband had to sign the consent for surgery (there was no question of me being competent enough to make decisions), and they took me away along with a third bag of blood to be administered during surgery.
What I didn’t know until much later was that the doctor took my husband aside while they were taking me back. She promised him she would do her best to save me, and then she warned him about the distinct possibility that she would fail. See, that doctor who didn’t do abortions was supposed to have contacted her (or someone else) immediately. He didn’t. His students didn’t either. Because I was their case and they weren’t done with me yet. Or something. Ostensibly there was a communication breakdown and they thought she had been notified, but given the talk about writing a paper on me that I do remember happening over my head? I doubt it. I don’t know if his objections were religious or not, all I know is that when a bleeding woman was brought to him for treatment he refused to do the only thing that could stop the bleeding. Because he didn’t do abortions. Ever.
My two kids at home were going to lose their mother because someone decided that my life was worth less than that of a fetus that wasn’t going to survive any way. Mind you, my husband told them exactly what my regular doctor had said, and the ER doctor had already warned us what would need to happen. But, none of that mattered in the face of this idea that no one needs an abortion. You don’t know what a woman who decides to abort needs, and you shouldn’t need to know in order to trust her to make the best decision for herself. I don’t care why a woman aborts, all I care is that she has access to safe affordable healthcare. I don’t regret my abortion, and I will never extrapolate my situation to mean that the only time other women should abort is when their life is at stake. Why? Well after the news hit my family that I’d aborted I got a phone call from a cousin who felt the need to tell me that I was wrong to have interfered with God’s plan. In that moment I understood that the kind of people who will judge a woman’s reproductive choices are the kind of people that I don’t want to be.