Dear pro-lifers: A late term abortion bill is proposed in Virginia, and another in New York. Your reaction is ignorant and atrocious, as usual. No, late term abortion, or third trimester abortion, even at full term, is not pure evil, murder, infanticide. It’s horrific, but for reasons you clearly have no clue about. Let me enlighten you with my own (first trimester) abortion experience.
(1-31-2019) Ben Shapiro wrote this article on The Daily Wire. Its title: “WATCH: Democratic VA Governor Endorses Murder of Born-Alive Infants”. You can’t watch a podcast of a radio interview, Shapiro. What you can watch, a little further down in the article, is a video of Fairfax delegate Kathy Tran presenting her late term abortion bill, one of the recent bills that would allow late term abortion (in the third trimester), up to the moment the mother is in labor. She did a piss-poor job. Maybe she was as unprepared as she seemed, or maybe she didn’t want to spell out why abortions during labor might be necessary, because it’s not for the faint of heart.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was a little less vague. He said that:
A third trimester abortion is done in cases where there may be severe deformities; there may be a fetus that is unviable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen: the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired…”
In order to have an informed opinion about women who have late-term abortions, perhaps even when they are in labor and about to give birth, you need to understand what Ms. Tran and Mr. Northam are talking about. So here’s my story.
I was thirty-five and my biological clock was ticking. My husband T and I wanted to start our family. Before even trying to get pregnant, we went to my physician, to ask her if there was anything we should do or know about. I had immigrated from the Netherlands only a year earlier, and this was my first visit to this doctor. She said: No, just go for it, and when you’re pregnant, come back and I’ll prescribe a prenatal vitamin. Have fun.
We did, and after about six months I was pregnant. My doctor prescribed the prenatal vitamins, as promised, and handed me over to Dr. B, a family doctor/gynecologist she recommended. When T and I went for our first visit, Dr. B explained that it was standard to have an amniocentesis at 18 weeks in cases like mine, when the mother is 36 or older on the baby’s due date. Amniocentesis is a prenatal test, a procedure where a specialist sticks a needle through the belly and into the uterus, to extract some amniotic fluid. This is then tested to determine if the baby is fine, or if it has any problems. At age 36, I had a higher chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome, for instance.
We didn’t really want the amniocentesis. There is a small risk involved, since it’s an invasion of the uterus, and we didn’t think we would have an abortion if the baby turned out to have Down Syndrome. But we compromised; we decided that at 18 weeks we would go to said specialist, who would do an ultrasound before the procedure, and we would decide based on the ultrasound if we felt we needed to go through with the amniocentesis. If I felt fine and if the ultrasound didn’t show anything strange, we would skip it.
We waited to tell anyone I was pregnant until the 12-week milestone, which is when the chance of a miscarriage normally gets much smaller. We were over the moon, elated to start our family. At 14 weeks I went back to the Netherlands for a vacation we couldn’t really afford, because I wanted to tell my parents in person.
I came back from the Netherlands in time for the amniocentesis appointment at the end of week 18. I was confident that I wouldn’t need the procedure; I was sure that I would somehow know if something was wrong with my baby, and I felt great. So we met the specialist, I lay down on the table, T sitting by my side, and I felt the cold ultrasound goo on my belly. The doctor turned on the screen; it was angled so we could all three see. Yep, there it was, head, spine, legs, arms, feet… We were oohing and aahing, of course. This was a much sharper image than the blurry 9-week ultrasound at Doctor B’s office. The specialist said: Hmm, let’s have a closer look at the head… Does it look a little flat on top, or am I seeing it wrong? I asked. Yes, it does, she replied. She started again from the feet. …And this is a leg… here’s the spine…
Looking back she was breaking it to us gradually, giving us time to change from elation to mild concern. “…The head doesn’t seem to be as round as it should be…” We got a little more concerned, but still, what could possible be wrong?
Well, my baby was anencephalic. The reason its head seemed flat on top was because there was nothing there. The skull was not fully formed. It stopped right at the brow line and, according to the specialist, there was no brain. The top of my baby’s head was missing and it had no brain. Without a brain — that’s what anencephaly means, that word neither of us had never heard before.
It flashed through my mind that there must be something they could give me that would grow a brain — it could still catch up; there was still plenty of time. And when the baby was born they could then make a little lid, and we could keep getting a slightly bigger lid until the rest of my baby’s head was fully formed, and then we could get a permanent one, and then skin would grow over it, and then…
But there came next never-heard-before term: incompatible with life. My baby could continue to grow inside me, and the umbilical cord would keep it alive inside my uterus, but once outside — once it was born — it couldn’t live. Without a brain the rest of the little body couldn’t function on its own. My baby would suffocate and die. This is what the specialist was explaining to us, as gently as possible, while we were in a daze, trying to catch up with this reality. She recommended terminating the pregnancy.
No no no no no!
She explained that it would be our decision, of course, but since the baby was unviable, there would be an increasing chance my body would reject it and that I would miscarry, and the later in the pregnancy a miscarriage occurs, the bigger the risk for the mother. She referred us to Dr. M, a gynecologist who had done this kind of procedure a lot. She instructed T to tell Dr. M’s office our situation, and to pick up the paperwork in advance, so I wouldn’t have to spend more time in the waiting room than necessary on the day of the procedure.
T set up the appointment, explained the situation and picked up the paperwork in advance. Our appointment was for two days later. At first I thought I’d give the little body to science, but I changed my mind early on. We spent those two days looking for a nice little box we could use for the cremation. I wanted a cremation.
Somehow this became our main focus. Of course, the moment you really, really need a nice box of a particular size, there is none to be found. We crossed the border into Progreso, Mexico, searched in all the tourist shops. We fully expected to find a nice carved, wooden box there, but no. T’s carpenter ended up making one for us.
I also shopped around for a nice little blanket to put the baby on in the coffin, but I couldn’t find that, either. I was still so early in my pregnancy that I hadn’t even been looking at baby stuff yet, and it never occurred to me that the baby section of any department store would have a plethora of beautiful, soft blankets just the right size for a tiny baby. I finally settled for an extra plush white towel. Have a nice day, the cashier said as I walked away.
And then it was time. We drove to Dr. M’s office, where he would start the procedure of ending our baby’s not-to-be-had life. By now I was an exhausted wreck and T was also only just holding it together. At the office we found that the receptionist had made no arrangements for me to go straight to a separate room. We could sit in the waiting room. And Dr. M. was late.
We spent almost two hours in that waiting room. It didn’t matter where I looked: there were baby magazines and parent magazines and young-mother magazines on the coffee table in front of me; there were posters showing healthy Gerber babies and their happy mothers on every wall; and the other patients in the room were all heavily pregnant and rosy-looking, there for their scheduled check-in, and somewhat uneasy to see me sitting there, quietly crying.
T asked the receptionist several times how much longer we had to wait, and if we couldn’t wait in a separate room. No, we couldn’t — we could wait in the car if we wanted to, and they would call us when the doctor was in. It was August in the Rio Grande Valley. By now I was not only alternately crying and in a stupor; I was also getting really pissed off, so I was damned if I was going to sit in the car in a hundred and ten degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally a nurse led us to a little room, where she gave us our first and only apology for the delay. Dr. M. was coming back from vacation today; that’s why he was late. We waited for at least another half hour, and by now we were so emotionally drained that we got silly. Somehow it got to where T and I took turns scrunching each other’s faces into funny expressions. Upper lip so, lower lip to one side, one eyebrow down… By the time the doctor finally walked in we were both laughing so hard we had tears running down our cheeks. Weird, how the mind manages to create an escape valve for too much of anything.
Dr. M introduced himself, sat down, opened my file, saw it was upside down, turned it around, and without looking up he asked if we knew what anencephaly was. No apology for the long wait surrounded by joyful baby stuff when we were here because my baby had to die. Yes, of course we knew what anencephaly was! To be fair, looking back, it wasn’t such a strange question, considering we had both been laughing hysterically when he walked in, but we had instantly sobered up and at that moment it seemed an incredibly insulting and patronizing thing to ask. He then proceeded to rattle off a lot of information so fast and in such a routine and almost bored way that I didn’t catch more than a few words. At the end he looked up briefly and asked if we had any questions.
T and I looked at each other and asked if we could have a moment alone. The moment he closed the door behind him I started to cry again. It was bad enough that our baby had to die, and I’d be damned (again) if I was going to let that jerk do it. So we walked out, telling the receptionist in passing that we’d call. Which we didn’t.
Dr. B couldn’t do it because he was in the hospital himself, undergoing neck surgery. So we spent the next week looking for another doctor who would terminate the pregnancy of a new patient, but nobody would touch it. Afraid of lawsuits, we’d realize later. Eventually Dr. B heard about our predicament, and he said he’d do it. He was just out of the hospital and still heavily medicated, but he didn’t want us to have to wait any longer than necessary. So he inserted something that would start dilation, told us to go see a movie and have a few drinks, because the next day would be hell.
We did go see a movie, but we skipped the drinks. The next morning at four we were at the hospital. As we walked in the elevator a nurse followed us in, and, seeing that we were on the way to the maternity ward, she asked me if I was excited. No, not really. (She heard later why I was there and she looked me up in my maternity room and apologized profusely.)
Dr. B met us in my room — soft green walls with a cute teddy bear wallpaper border up against the ceiling. He checked my dilation and gave me something that would start contractions, explaining that it would be very gradual, so I would probably be there for most of the day. T and I read, watched stupid stuff on TV, dozed, until I woke up with a contraction. As I was being rolled into a delivery room, I had another one, quite violent, and my water broke. The umbilical cord came with it. The baby would be stillborn, which was for the best. I was too numb to really register that my baby was dying inside me as the doctor spoke.
That was the last of the contractions for a long time, so Dr. B. came back to give me a little more of whatever it was that induced them, because it was important that the baby come out now. Later I realized this was because the little body would start going bad and my uterus could become necrotic. To spell it out for those pro-lifers who don’t know what that means and think a woman can just walk around with a dead baby in her belly: no, she can’t; the baby will start to rot.
I was rolled into the delivery room a second time when the contractions started up again, eight hours later. Dr. B. was accompanied by a nurse who was extremely hard of hearing. It made for several almost funny moments that I don’t recall exactly. She also wasn’t that smart. When the baby was finally born she said: Oooh, Dr. B, this is a really bad case of anencephaly! I almost laughed, wondering what a not so bad case of anencephaly looks like.
In the moment of birth I cried out in pain, because it felt like Dr. B was accidentally hurting me inside with his nails or some sharp instrument. He said nothing, but I saw that he didn’t have any instrument, and his gloved hands were well-manicured. Later I realized that the sharpness must have been the edge of the little skull. The nurse cleaned the baby and showed it to us in a shallow plastic container.
It was a girl. Our daughter. We named her Thomasin.
She was about as long as my foot, from head to tiny little toes — she had my nails, so much was already clear at 19 weeks. No fat on her yet. Bony knees and inch-long feet. Her little face wasn’t fully formed; her nose was still rather flat, her lips vague. Her pink tongue peeked out one side, like you would imagine with a stillborn puppy. She wore a little wool cap the size of an egg warmer above her closed eyes; it was striped, with a tiny pompom. It covered nothing.
The nurse asked Dr. B. if he wanted her to make a footprint and take a picture, but he snapped at her: No, they don’t want a footprint or a photo! This was no fun for him, either. He was pissed that she was so socially clumsy throughout the whole thing, and this was the last drop. He said it to protect me, to shut her up. (And his neck was probably killing him, too.) I didn’t know beforehand that a footprint and a photo were a thing, so I was taken aback, and though I would have dearly loved to have her little footprint and a photo, I didn’t contradict Dr. B, worried that it would seem morbid.
The nurse took Thomasin, after we made sure we’d get her back once I was in the maternity room, because the undertaker was going to deliver the little coffin the carpenter had made. After spending a hour in a recovery room, another nurse and my husband walked me back to the room, through a hallway that was now bustling with excited visitors bearing gifts and flowers, entering doors festooned with balloons, streamers, cheerful cardboard cutouts: It’s a Girl!
I rolled by in my wheelchair, tears streaming down my face. Memento mori, coming through.
A nurse brought us Thomasin in a little Tupperware box and explained that the darkness on her back was the blood that had settled in the lowest areas in her body at this point. The undertaker delivered the coffin and waited out in the hallway. I had the white towel ready on my lap and I carefully lifted Thomasin out of the container. Her yellowish skin felt as delicate as wet paper — I was afraid she’d tear if I moved her around in my hands. I looked at her, looked and looked and looked, because I had to remember.
I wanted to talk to her, tell her how sorry I was, and how much we loved her, but I didn’t. T started crying at that moment; I didn’t want to make things harder for him than they already were. And I worried it might be too crazy to talk to my dead baby. After a minute or two, not having anything left to do, I placed her carefully on the towel and put her in the box. T gave it to the undertaker.
The next day we went to the funeral home with my mother-in-law. The undertaker had placed the coffin on a little table. My mother-in-law had thought to bring three roses. We each placed one on the little box and then stood looking at it for a moment, me wondering what the hell to do now. There must be something else I should-could still do. My mother-in-law must have felt something similar, because she said: She’s with the angels now. I headed for the exit.
At home the grief hit me hard. For a week I had kept myself busy — preparing. I searched for just the right box; I bought a soft towel; I chose the cards and mailed them; I packed my hospital bag; I gave birth to her, named her, held her; I seared her image on my brain; I put her in her tiny coffin and placed a rose on it. Now there was nothing left to do. I felt acutely that I was a mother without a child.
We took five days off and drove to Big Bend National Park. We intended to spread Thomasin’s ashes there, but, though beautiful, it is a harsh, prickly, unforgiving land, inhabited by way too many rattlesnakes and tarantulas, so we brought her back home. I found a small wooden box with a rabbit on it. That’s where her ashes are, on a shelf in our bedroom.
At the time I worried that people would think it weird and overly dramatic that we named her, that we sent cards, and that we had her cremated. I’m glad we did. I wish I had spoken up and asked for that footprint and a photo, and I regret not having said a word to her. To be clear, pro-lifers, I’m not saying that every woman should have a funeral for her aborted fetus, like some of you propose. Everyone deals with death, especially a loss like this, differently. Nobody gets to decide what’s right or wrong for someone else in these circumstances.
A few weeks later we went to see Father of the Bride Part 2 with friends. When the daughter gave birth I had to leave. During the next few evenings I watched every baby movie I could find, even that one with Arnold Swarzenegger as the pregnant one. Once I had worked through those and had become sufficiently desensitized, I started watching every blow-em-up movie I could find. I had never been that interested in the genre before, but now they couldn’t be violent enough, the explosions big enough. It was an outlet for my anger and pain.
A year later, when I was visibly pregnant with my second child, strangers would ask if it was my first, and I never knew what to answer. I’d say yes, but it was a lie. It did gradually get easier. One day, as I walked across the parking lot to the grocery store, my three-year-old holding my right hand and my baby on my left arm, an older woman walked toward us, and she boasted in passing: I had three. So did I, I answered. I felt strong in that moment, savoring her perplexity.
Why was our baby anencephalic? We’ll never know for sure. It could be genetic; it may have been the crop dusting I witnessed over the cotton fields I drove by every day on my way to work; it may have been corn tortillas. It’s a neural tube defect that occurs on average once in every ten thousand births; however, it had happened several times within a few years in the Rio Grande Valley, and it was considered a spike. While scientists tried to determine the cause, all the Valley doctors were informed by the State Health Board, and told to prescribe pregnant women folic acid.
A genetic counselor visited us in my maternity room before we went back home. She told us that taking folic acid supplements six weeks before and during the first six weeks of pregnancy decreases the chance of a neural tube defect by about 75%. The problem is that by the time you learn that you’re pregnant, that 12-week window is usually closed. That first doctor we went to, before we even began trying to get me pregnant, knew this; she had been told by the State Health Board about this folic acid window. The vast majority of births in the Rio Grande Valley were unplanned; this was one of the few times, probably, that that doctor had the opportunity to actually prescribe folic acid supplements six weeks before a patient got pregnant, and she forgot.
So, this is the story of our first child. Her birth was induced with the intent of terminating the pregnancy — also known as abortion. It had to happen. We didn’t want this to happen to our child, but we had no choice — it had to be done. This was not infanticide, it was a heartbreaking loss.
Mine was not a late term abortion, but if we had found out a week later that she was anencephalic, I would have had the abortion in week 21, which is already illegal in some states. If I hadn’t been 36 by the due date, we might not have known until much later, because I wouldn’t have had the amniocentesis that’s standard for mothers 36 and older. If we had been a little slower in facing reality and insisted on carrying her to term, she might have had to be aborted at any time, even in the third trimester. If I had indeed carried her to term, and we didn’t find out until I was in labor, her head would probably have had to be cut in places. Because, to spell it out again, the edge of her empty skull was so sharp, being fully grown it could have torn my insides apart. Thomasin wouldn’t have felt anything, not having a brain, but my mental anguish would have been unimaginable.
If her lifeline hadn’t been ripped away when my water broke, and she had been born alive, Thomasin would have been made comfortable, like Governor Northam described, not “left to die on a table”. The same would have happened if she she’d been born alive at term. If we only found out at the moment of birth, they would have put her on an oxygen machine until we were ready to accept that she was “unviable”. With no brain, her body could do nothing on its own. She would have died within two minutes.
I googled images of anencephaly for the first time today. The nurse was actually right — Thomasin’s was indeed a very bad case. Apparently many anencephalic babies do have somewhat of a brain, and can live without machines. (I didn’t look up for how long.) Those “not so bad” cases are much harder to come to terms with, I imagine, because the parents are forced to decide what to do and when to do it. And losing a baby after any time outside the womb must be infinitely worse than losing a baby you never got to know.
TMI? Too much information? Oh, no it’s not. If you want to judge a late term abortion bill or any woman who needs one, this is exactly the information you need.
In this article in Lifezette , which showed up hours after the article by Ben Shapiro, Ed Perratore admits that:
More than 91 percent of abortions took place at or before the 13-week mark, the end of the first trimester. according to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 7.6 percent were done at 14-20 weeks of gestation.
So only 2.3% of abortions take place in the third trimester. The number of late-term abortions that happen at term has to be minuscule. There’s a reason for that, Ed Perratore — nobody wants this kind of abortion. It occurs only in highly unusual cases, mostly when the infant is “not viable”, also known as “incompatible with life” and/or when the risk to the mother is serious, often life-threatening. Yet in the same article you call these abortions murder “of infants lively enough to move around and kick in their mothers’ wombs”.
Pro-lifers, you don’t get to conveniently ignore the terms “severe deformities” and “unviable”. This is a horrific experience in the life of any woman, of any family going through this. You don’t get to bully these women and families by claiming, like Ben Shapiro does, that this is “murder of a born-alive infant”, “infanticide“, “letting an infant, born alive, die on the table if [the mother] decided she did not want the child”, while at the same time protecting your own delicate sensibilities.
My case wasn’t a late-term abortion, but it could have been. It happened twenty-four years ago, and I can write about it while hardly crying at all. I have never talked or written about this in public, though I have thought about it often. So here I am, doing it, rubbing your sanctimonious faces in the facts. Somebody has to do it. Late-term abortion is a medical term, fetus is a medical term. Infant is a medical term. When you throw these terms around in your theoretic, self-righteous zeal, what you actually do is rip a heart-rending experience, some real person’s very real, dead infant from their memory and you slap it back in their faces. That’s disgusting.
The fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about doesn’t let you off the hook. Accusing women who are going through this as I write and as you read this of infanticide is inexcusable, cruel, mentally lazy, and just plain ignorant. Anyone’s political opinion about another’s abortion at any stage is per definition uninformed and completely irrelevant. It just underscores the importance of leaving these decisions up to the parents and their doctors.
So, pro-lifers, please curb your theocratic tendencies — just enjoy your own live children if you have them, and mind your own damn business.