*Trigger warning – This story includes detailed discussion of fetal demise and mental illness.*
We arrived (on my husband’s working visa) in Texas when my eldest was just a baby. I had been treated for depression, but found myself jobless, without the right to work, and with no car in a city where you can’t do a thing without one. I was put back on antidepressants, only to find out that I was pregnant with my second child, and I stopped the medication cold turkey because my husband didn’t want me taking them while pregnant. I survived the pregnancy with two to three therapy sessions a week, but I struggled through the whole thing.
When my baby was just 18 months old, however, I asked to be admitted into a psychiatric hospital because I was doing so badly; I had suicidal thoughts and feared I’d hurt my children. After a month of in- and out-patient hospitalization, we went back home. I felt much better, my marriage seemed to go much better, and I got pregnant with my third child.
I was extremely tired, but happy. I’d just explained to my three-and-a-half-year-old a few days before that the reason Mommy was so tired was because there was a tiny baby in my belly, when I started to feel very heavy down below and generally unwell.
I called the OB/GYN’s office to get an appointment. They were willing to prescribe antibiotics over the phone for a presumed bladder infection, but I insisted on being seen.
I’m glad I did go to the gynecologist. It turns out that I did indeed have a big bladder infection. But, as the doctor checked me and my cervix and tried to find the baby’s heartbeat through the portable doppler machine, he couldn’t find a heartbeat.
Not wanting to worry me, he explained that, at 12 weeks, I was at the threshold of where that particular machine could pick up the sound, so I got an ultrasound to check.
I am lucky that there was an ultrasound machine and technician on the premises, so I didn’t have to drive around. But I know enough of biology and had been pregnant twice already, so when the technician kept looking for a heartbeat in that tiny body and couldn’t find one, I knew.
I had to wait in the waiting room for the doctor to see me again. All the while, I knew exactly what he was going to tell me. That the baby whose heartbeat I’d seen on that very first ultrasound had now died in utero. I was by myself in that waiting room. It was the longest wait in my life.
The doctor saw me and confirmed what I’d been thinking. My baby had stopped developing. It was hard to tell since when. I asked what the next steps were. It was a Friday afternoon; he told me to go home and come back to the hospital on Monday night if I hadn’t had a spontaneous miscarriage, so that they could perform an abortion procedure. He explained what it was, and that, just in case they had a spot early in the day, I should come to the hospital fasting. When I asked why they couldn’t do it earlier, he simply said that since I wasn’t bleeding, there was no emergency, so they couldn’t perform the surgery over the weekend. That if I started to hemorrhage, I should go to the emergency room, but otherwise to wait at home until Monday.
I was devastated. I had wanted that child. I could feel her gender (I know it sounds silly, but I had confirmation, after the abortion and genetics testing on the tissue, of that deep knowledge). Now I had to go home with a dead child in my belly, grieving for her, knowing I would have to tell my eldest about the fact I wasn’t pregnant any more and that the baby was never going to come to life, and fearing I could start hemorrhaging in the middle of the night with two young children at home and no family anywhere near who could come take care of them if I needed to go to hospital.
THAT became the longest time I had to wait.
I don’t know how to describe the impact of knowing you’re walking around carrying your dead baby, especially on someone who is prone to depression. At no point in time was my mental health taken in consideration. Neither by the doctors nor by my husband, I must say.
That Monday, when I went to hospital by myself to register, they told me there wasn’t an opening to perform my surgery until later that afternoon, which then turned into early evening because the operating room wasn’t available. Eventually, I was taken to the prep room. By that time I had known I was carrying a dead baby for over three whole days. Almost 24 hours I had been fasting. My husband had made it by my side in time for the scheduled operation, but I’d spent most of that day struggling by myself through the red tape of a hospital registration. As they wheeled me out towards the OR, some medical personnel said, “Is this the missed abortion?” and that took me right back to my pain. I had very much wanted that baby, and to have it associated with the term abortion hurt.
The whole ordeal sent me back into a deep depression, as you can imagine. Taking care of my two living children was difficult; life went back to being a blur.
The reason I wanted to share my ordeal is because I find it important to let politicians know how important mental health is. How can we expect children to be raised properly if their parents are not available to them because they are lost in their depression? I also want to state how important it is for women to have the right to choose. Even though I had wanted that baby very dearly, I also realize that I was lucky the doctors were allowed to remove her decaying body from mine. If they hadn’t, I would have faced at best a hysterectomy, at worst death through sepsis.
The doctors were able to perform that surgery only because I had access to proper health care (albeit not without pushing for it). They were able to perform the procedure because they had the knowledge, practice, and freedom to do so. With very strict anti-abortion regulations, they might not have had the necessary equipment on hand, or they might not have had enough practice to perform this surgery without lasting damage. They might have feared being sued by the state because they had performed an illegal abortion on an already 12-week-old fetus. I might have had to wait even longer with that dead body inside of me, for them to prove to said state that it wasn’t an abortion, but a dilation and curettage to remove a dead fetus, during which I could have become physically sick or possibly die, in addition to being psychologically scarred.
This is why I believe abortions should always remain a choice between the doctor and the patient, and that politicians, especially male ones who have no idea what it is like to walk with a live or dead baby inside their bodies, should keep their noses out of it.
With stronger anti-abortion rules, I might not have been here today to testify, my two first children might have had to grow up without a mother, and my two later children might never have been born.