The first time I miscarried, I bled for 87 days straight. That’s the equivalent of about 15 back-to-back periods. A year’s worth of periods all at once, complete with cramping but add to it bi-weekly blood draws to check hormone levels and never really knowing when the baby had passed. Emotional, bloody, depressive Hell.
When I found out I was pregnant, it was an orgasmic, blissful, “out of the movies” fairy tale event. This baby was REAL. He would be born, he would be beautiful, he would make me a mom, and life would be PERFECT. He caused my husband and I to engage in an instant and irreversible reframe of our worlds moving forward. Every thought was reconceived in terms of our bona fide baby. To lose this person was to lose our memories, experiences, and love. Sure we’d very vulnerably and naively prospectively written our future . . . and it hurt something awful to have that reality ripped away.
We hadn’t told anyone about the pregnancy. I found out that the baby was dead by myself – no heartbeat at a routine doctor’s visit. Because I couldn’t hold myself together enough to walk to my car, the doc let me cry alone in an exam room, and I ended up late to a meeting with my boss. When I finally made it to the car, I called to let her know my doctor’s visit ran over. She asked, “You’re not pregnant are you?” Frozen and numb, I very somberly vocalized my first admission to another person about my pregnancy, “No, no I’m not pregnant.” She sighed and said, “Oh good. Good. Because that’s something I would need to know about.”
I cried for the next 3 days straight and wouldn’t leave the bed. I’m not sure if my husband fed me, but he did convince me to call a friend. The best decision to have made, for this friend told me about her five miscarriages before successfully carrying a child to term. (Other people miscarry?! I didn’t know the stats.) She told me that it was OK to be uncontrollably sobbing. She empathized that it wasn’t fair. She said I could stay in bed if I needed to.
I don’t know if the doctor mentioned a D&C. I don’t recall if the doctor offered pills. I don’t remember him explaining “natural miscarriage.” I certainly didn’t want to do anything unnatural to my baby! So I waited. I waited, knowing my baby was dead inside of me, for weeks to start bleeding. And then I bled. For 87 days. A spontaneous abortion that my family and friends would not know about for years. This one I shouldered on my own.
The second time I became pregnant, I had an elective abortion. The baby was fine, it had just implanted outside of my uterus, on top of my right fallopian tube. (Way to go the extra mile, little sperm.) It caused excruciating pain, and I likely would not have survived without medical intervention. This was less emotionally traumatic because I had refrained from a reframe of my life – I had yet to believe I was actually having a baby. Still, I told no one besides a solitary friend. My family found out after the surgery, and my Dad lectured me about having life threatening procedures without telling anyone. Because CLEARLY this was about the emotional impact on him.
My last miscarriage was a little over a year ago. Because I’d miscarried before, because I already had a son, I could hear the doctor discuss options with me (albeit through tears). A D&C was expensive – about $1000 with insurance. Abortion pills were cheap, fast acting, and could be taken in the comfort of my own home. And Lord knows I did NOT want to bleed ambiguously for 87 days again. The doctor explained that 87 days was super abnormal – a natural miscarriage should only take a week or two. He wrote me the prescription in case I decided to use it.
Filling the prescription was super embarrassing. My head was filled with my conservative family’s spin superimposed on the pharmacist in front of me – was I killing a perfectly formed fetus with teeth and nails or was I helping along a verified dead baby? The pharmacist would never ask such a question, but I couldn’t handle the perceived judgment. I played it off by offering information under the guise of seeking clarity, “I’m miscarrying and have never taken these pills before – can you tell me what to expect?” “No. I’m a pharmacist – that’s between you and your doctor.” But I didn’t really expect an answer – I’d cleared my conscience of its right-wing ghost.
Still, I wanted to know the answer to that question. So I asked a couple of friends who had taken the pills before. “Get in your PJs and plan to hole up in your room for a couple of days.” “Do it over the weekend.” “Preemptively take the vicodin, you’ll need it.” “Oh yeah, I spent a lot of time in pain on the bathroom floor.” “World. War. III. But in your uterus.”
My mother-in-law happened to be visiting, and as much as I tried to avoid telling people about my miscarriages, it wasn’t possible to keep this one a secret. She went over the options with me – D&C, abortion pills, natural miscarriage – and made a kind offer, “Do the D&C and I’ll pay for it. If money is all that’s stopping you, realize that $1000 isn’t worth sacrificing your emotional health.” It was Thursday. I had already filled my prescription, I scheduled the D&C for Tuesday, and I sat in a depressive state, not knowing what to do. I didn’t want to spend the money for a D&C, I didn’t want the pain and loneliness of the pills, and I didn’t want to bleed for 87 days. Meanwhile, I had a dead baby inside of me . . . again. My hormones were wrecking havoc, and I fled to my room to cry.
I didn’t ask anyone to take care of my child while I wallowed all weekend. His grandparents picked up the slack without batting an eye and allowed me to limbo. The universe and my body were kind, and I had a natural miscarriage over the weekend that lasted a mere 4 days. I was able to cancel the D&C, and I still have my abortion pills.
What I want to tell you is that these experiences are common. I don’t have “extenuating circumstance” stories. They’re not even heartbreaking, really. They are routine events that up to 35% of pregnant women experience.
They are, however, experiences that are being rewritten in the State of Texas. The pharmacist’s words are now out of date – this is not between my doctor and me. Between my doctor and me are the State’s iron fists, up my vagina as well as down my throat. It’s actually NOT comfortable. My decision to fill a prescription, swallow some pills, and experience pain and loneliness in the comfort of my own home is no longer my decision. The State must put those pills in my mouth, and they must do it in a sterile, unfamiliar, and cold environment that costs me a lot more money – location and time decided by them. How wonderful for the 35% of women who routinely miscarry. Because CLEARLY that is safer for me.
Anecdotes are important. To my anti-abortion family and friends, I never expect your minds to change. I secretly hope it, but I don’t foresee it. Still, I know you care about me, and perhaps you can humanize women as a whole by keeping my personal experiences in mind. So, at the risk of losing you, let’s go ahead and broaden this discussion.
Rights. I read a perspective that I want to share with you. Let’s say you go into renal failure. For whatever reason, your kidneys are shot. Hey, we’re the same blood type, and I could give you a kidney to save your life. But I don’t have to. It’s my kidney, and I get to decide whether you can have it or not. If I choose to keep my kidney, you die. Corpses have the same rights – no matter how life saving their organs are, no living person has a right to those organs unless consent was given by the individual prior to his or her death. A fetus requires the mother to act as a host – putting her body and all of her organs on loan while he strives for viability. Without it, the fetus dies. Saying that a mother cannot choose whether to offer up her body as a life support system is saying that both that fetus and any corpse have more rights than a living, breathing woman. Let that settle in – Texas is pushing laws that strip living women of rights that we respectfully give to her corpse. She has more rights over her own body dead than alive.
Regardless of where you fall on the issue, currently in the United States of America, women have a constitutional right to an abortion prior to viability of a fetus. Viability is defined as between 24 – 28 weeks of gestation. Texas is passing a ban on abortions at 20 weeks, following the footsteps of a handful of other States. These laws are a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and are systematically being overturned by higher courts because they are blatant violations of women’s reproductive rights. Way to be an aggressive abuser of women, Texas. And I don’t say that lightly. This is an abusive relationship. There is no being respectful of each side’s opinions. Women will fight for their human rights, and this bill will be overturned, despite Texas legislature’s misguided dominance.
Safe Access. The second bill up for adoption in Texas severely restricts women’s access to *all* abortions, regardless of gestational age, by requiring clinics to adhere to expensive standards without providing funding. In 2011, Texas already forced the closure of the majority of the State’s clinics by refusing federal funding for women’s reproductive health services. (Realize that most of those services were not abortion related – they were preventative and health oriented services.) Of the remaining clinics, 90% will be forced to shut down with Texas’s new law.
I don’t understand why this is technically legal, as making abortions *effectively* unattainable seems analogous to an all out ban. Women who seek abortions will simply be unable to get them (safely) in their area. I say safely because they will still be getting abortions. History and research are clear on this fact – just like banning alcohol didn’t decrease consumption, neither does banning abortions cut down on the procedures. The procedures just end up killing women. Great. We didn’t save the babies, and we lost the women, too. Continued abortions – despite bans – is documented fact. Why then does an effective ban make sense? In the face of historical data, do anti-abortion activists believe in magic? That a ban will somehow do what they wish it would do rather than what it actually does? What it actually does is make abortions unsafe – abortions that will continue to happen.
Expense. With insurance, my D&C would have cost $1000 and would have been performed in my doctor’s office. With insurance, my abortion pills cost under $50. Without insurance, those prices proportionally skyrocket. Under new Texas laws, the fees go up because both procedures must be done in an ambulatory surgical center. Filling your own prescription is far more economical than being required to check into a surgical facility and have a pill administered by a doctor. Likewise, D&Cs are cost prohibitive for most when done in a surgical center. Not only does this make abortions financially unattainable, it creates disparity in options for women experiencing miscarriages.
There is no data showing self-administration of pills at home is unsafe. Nor is there data that D&Cs in a clinic or doctor’s office put a woman’s health at risk. Those are made up ideas in an effort to pass legislation that renders options in health care financially inaccessible. We’ve essentially accomplished putting women at risk while feeding more money into the medical system (for those who can afford it). We have not solved any real problems. And we have not lowered abortion rates.
Lowering abortion rates. No matter how much you want to save unborn fetuses, banning abortion does not lower abortion rates. I’m not saying this because I have a belief that it’s true or because I wish for it to be true. I’m stating a fact based on historical data collected by unbiased researchers. And not just data in the United States – statistics are consistent world wide. Banning abortion has never lowered abortion rates, anywhere, at any time. It simply makes them unsafe. Safe and legal go hand in hand.
So if legality does not affect abortion rates, what does? Ironically, the very thing many conservatives actively fight against. Sex education. Abstinence-only education does not lower teen pregnancy – accurate information and access to birth control DOES. Does it not make sense to lower unintended pregnancy rates? These are proven statistics – accurate information about sex and pregnancy coupled with access to birth control pills and condoms reduces unwanted pregnancies and hence abortions.
The real issue here is that many conservatives want kids to not have sex. But just like banning abortions does not lower abortion rates, teaching abstinence only does not lower sexual activity among youth. Again, I wonder about the magical thinking of parents pushing abstinence only with no other option. And I ask how the fear of your child having sex can translate to restricting their access to information about how to be responsible and safe.
Saving lives. When I’ve had discussions with family about abortion, we usually make our way to an immovable stone – saving the life of that innocent baby. You and I would both like to save the life of that child. No dispute. But we have a very different underlying assumption about that child’s mother.
In theory, we both value her life. In theory, we both see her circumstances as difficult. In theory, we both love and respect her. In practice, I trust her experiences, I do not fear her choices, and I reverentially defer to her humanity and autonomy. In practice, you do not trust her experience, you fear her choices, and you try to control her humanity and autonomy. Why? Because you believe her to be a mythological creature. A heartless soul, devoid of maternal instinct, who has no remorse about killing a baby she refuses to acknowledge as living. A woman who aborts her baby without feeling or regret. Sometimes repeatedly. Your fear of this mythological creature translates into an unconstitutional control of real women, facing emotionally challenging and life changing decisions about their personal property – their bodies. In your effort to control a person who does not exist, you sacrifice the health and well-being of all fetuses and women alike. And you lose lives in the process.
If anti-abortion advocates truly cared about saving lives, they wouldn’t discriminate against those actually living. As a society, we would care for the poor, we wouldn’t execute criminals, we would eat less meat (not necessarily to save the animals but to feed all humans), we would live within our means, we would act more as givers and less as takers of the world’s resources, we would team with other countries to solve poverty, hunger, and oppression, and we would care about the homeless. But no. Instead there is such intense focus of energies on saving those unborn babies by creating laws that kill those babies and their mothers. I remain in absolute awe of this short sightedness.
Is it possible that our efforts are misplaced? Is it possible that in the quest to save unborn babies, far more lives are hurt? Is it possible that we are missing out on opportunities for common ground? To truly save lives and keep babies and women safe, we need accurate and accessible education as well as geographically attainable and affordable health care services. We need social services for impoverished families. We need to meet the basic needs of the living.
I don’t expect you to change your mind. I expect you to keep fighting the good fight against those mythological mothers. I expect you to say my experiences are sure unfortunate, and so are the experiences of all women who have miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, or difficult choices to make about abnormalities of their *wanted* fetuses. But they are worth the sacrifice in your mind.
The good news? You won’t win the legal battle. Just as women gained the right to vote, just as racism is being eliminated, and just as marriage for all couples is gaining legal equality across the country – so too will women fight for and gain back the right to control their own bodies. Rather than being forced by fear and control, women will be free to parent by choice – their choice and their constitutional right.