During this election cycle, we have seen a continuing onslaught of attacks on women’s reproductive rights. This has infuriated me as a woman, but also as someone who has recently relied on those reproductive rights. The idea that those rights are being chipped away frightens me.
So, why are reproductive rights important to me? Here is why: I am a mother who had a second trimester abortion.
We were living in California. Our son was 2, and we were ready to add to our family. I became pregnant after our first try, and we were very excited.
We’d passed all the chromosomal tests for my advanced maternal age and appeared to be in the clear. Once the first trimester was over, we announced the news to our family — we were having another boy! I’d had some spotting, but everything looked good on the ultrasound. To be safe, the doctor told us to get another ultrasound at 16 weeks. The spotting had stopped by then, and I expected another good ultrasound.
It was not. The ultrasound tech was a little quiet during the exam. The doctor came in, but that’s common. I still expected the all-clear. Instead she said, “I have serious concerns for this pregnancy.” I started to cry, not quite understanding what I was hearing.
The diagnosis was bilateral multicystic dysplastic kidneys. That meant neither kidney had formed correctly — they were just balls of cysts. As a result, my unborn son was not producing amniotic fluid. There was none.
I waited for the doctor to tell us the solution. There was none.
One cystic kidney can be managed, but two is very rare (1 in 10,000) and is fatal. Because there were no kidneys, he could not form amniotic fluid and would not develop lungs. Our options were to end the pregnancy then, wait to see if the pregnancy ended itself, or wait to see if the pregnancy went to term and he was stillborn or lived for only a short time on dialysis awaiting a kidney transfer that would almost certainly not be successful. That day my husband and I decided to end the pregnancy.
We had a voluntary follow-up ultrasound to be sure we were making the right choice for us and to see what they were talking about. I am glad we did that. I’m also glad we were given this choice. His kidneys looked like clusters of grapes. Also, the doctor did not see a bladder or stomach, and the deformed kidneys were so large that his heart was displaced. If the pregnancy went full-term, our son would not live, and if he somehow did, it would be a short life in pain. I could not do that to my son. This was our first and last parenting decision for this child.
Waiting over a week for the next available hospital slot for my D&E was the most emotionally draining experience of my life. I continued to be and feel pregnant. When my baby kicked I would feel happy, then I’d remember that I would never meet him.
While dealing with this emotional turmoil, a doctor said to me, “Feel lucky you live in a state that allows you to do this.” And then it dawned on me: In other states, on top of the turmoil I was feeling, I would be faced with many more obstacles that would make the experience even harder, or I would be outright denied the ability to make this decision for my family. I could be forced to carry my unborn son to term, at risk to my health. I could potentially have to watch my son die a painful death while trying to explain to my living son why his brother was dying. The burden that would have inflicted on me and my family would have been unbearable.
At 18 weeks, we terminated the pregnancy and said goodbye to our son.
While I would never wish the experience of terminating a wanted pregnancy on anyone, I am grateful to have lived in a state that allowed my family to do so in a safe environment and with dignity.
That is why reproductive rights are important to me.