On a cold October morning, before the sun rose, my husband and I stood beside a drawn play in the hall of the children’s hospital, waiting to be called. I am 23 weeks pregnant and my world has just been shattered.
They call us and take us back to a waiting suite just for us. It may be the hardest day of our lives, but at least we can cry in peace. I see a plaque next to the window overlooking the city. ‘The Window of Hope’ was donated by a family who now welcome us to a club we want nothing to do with.
I am called to my first appointment of the day, an MRI of my abdomen which will take about an hour. Because of the pandemic, I will have to go alone.
I’m in a giant metal tube that looks like a construction site. A movie is on in the background to distract from the noise of the machine. It’s a movie I’ve seen many times, but it seems completely alien and I just watch.
The technician kindly says to me: “This next image that we will have to take with you while remaining completely still.”
“OK.” I think I’m saying it out loud, but I’m not sure.
A recorded voice plays, “take a deep breath…now exhale…now hold…” and I do. I am a statue ― no breathing, no moving. I think maybe if I have enough left, they’ll be able to see the part of my baby’s brain that they think is missing. Maybe if I’ve had enough, they’ll come running up and say, “We got it wrong!” Everything is fine! Finish planning your baby shower! But they don’t.
The rest of the day is littered with cameras and wires and dark rooms with bright screens. It’s overwhelming and uncomfortable and there’s an unspoken tension in the air. Something is wrong, but we have to wait for the big reveal at the end of the day to find out exactly how wrong it is. We put a movie in our waiting room and I fall asleep.
Then it’s show time. We walk slowly to a socially distanced conference room. A team of very smart doctors and specialists – thankfully all women – explain what they know and predict what they can.
I hear snippets of what they say, phrases like:
“The structure of the brain is missing”
“Liquid in the Ventricles”
“More than one abnormality can mean a genetic disorder”
“70% chance that… 45% chance that…”
“There’s no way to know…”
I waver between sobs and questions, then sit silently waiting for them to tell me what to do…until I realize they won’t.
Seeing the anguish and confusion on our faces, one of the doctors asks if we want to talk alone. It explains the termination process and what we can expect.
Then she gives me the advice that allows me to move forward. She says, “Think about it, review it, talk about it, and make a decision. Once you’ve made the decision and it’s final, don’t go back. Don’t try to renegotiate the past. Decide and never look back.
The next day we are in another hospital. It is difficult to navigate and far too crowded for a pandemic. We stand in a taped circle on the floor. Someone asks me if I want to sit down and smiles at my pregnant belly. I start to cry.
We’re called back to a small room and I lie down on the table like it’s another ultrasound. A doctor and his assistant can’t look me in the face, or maybe that’s how I feel. We are all deeply respectful of the grim reality of what is to come. I see a giant needle and bury my face in my husband’s chest and we cry.
And just like that, it’s done. His heart stops instantly.
“Ultimately I thought about what I would choose if it was me and I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t choose a life of pain for myself so I wouldn’t willfully inflict it on someone. another. I have no regrets and I would make the same decision if I had to do it again.
It was the saddest moment of my life – I can spot it and still feel it. I can see what I was wearing and hear the beeps of the machines. I feel like a part of me never left this room.
It took the hospital two days to deliver. The doctors and nurses were amazing. I will never forget the compassionate understanding and care I received from these amazing humans.
Every day we live with the decision we made, a decision that was only made after experiencing unimaginable heartache and making desperate phone calls, seeking out and consulting with experts, and crying with our parents. In the end, I thought about what I would choose if it was me and I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t choose a life of pain for myself, so I wouldn’t willingly inflict it on someone. another.
I have no regrets and I would make the same decision if I had to do it again.
And, while my story is heartbreaking, I think it’s important to point out that abortions performed after 21 weeks represent less than 1% of all abortions. Yes, my choice was devastating, but at least there was a fairly clear path for me. The same cannot be said for many other women who are considering an abortion. Often their decision is complicated by factors beyond their control.
I have been very fortunate to live in a state where abortion laws aim to empower women instead of seeking to deceive, hijack and deprive. Many women don’t. But abortions don’t stop when access is restricted, and with fewer providers, waits are longer, forcing women to continue with a pregnancy they try to end as soon as possible.
In some states, a woman must undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound and then wait days before she can have an abortion, increasing the risk to her health. Kentucky politicians passed an amendment to finally ban abortion without exception for incest, rape or even if the mother’s life is in danger. Politicians in Georgia and Texas have attempted to enact laws making the act of obtaining an abortion punishable by death. These measures are not pro-life, they are anti-women. It’s not about saving lives, it’s about controlling.
In the end, it was my choice. It was a decision made between me and my husband and my doctors, and if anyone not personally involved thinks they or a politician on a moral podium deserves a place in the conversation, they’re wrong. deeply. If anyone thinks it’s easy or fun to make this kind of unthinkable or hasty decision, they’re wrong.
Yet, whatever reason someone is going through what I just went through – even if it’s for a reason we don’t understand or disagree with – they should have a choice. They should have the right.
It’s been five months since I had an abortion and I still cry every day. I haven’t returned to work and am in therapy even though I know I will never be the person I was before this happened.
The completed nursery is still intact like a time capsule from when everything was still fine, and I can’t begin to describe the deep, heartbreaking pain I feel when I step inside. But there is a little more sun with each passing day. It’s no longer the first thing I think of when I wake up, and I’ve started reaching out to the people I love.
We start thinking less about what happened and more about what will happen next. The pandemic has been a practical reason for not trying to get pregnant again, but as the end approaches, I find that I’m not as ready as I thought. I don’t know what the future holds for me and my husband, but I know we are stronger to endure this together.
PS To the woman reading this who is going through something similar, I am with you and supporting you. There’s no right answer, and it’s not fair to you. But I want you to know that one day you will wake up and notice that you are no longer choking. The crying spells will become fewer and you will come out of it with a strength you have never known before. One morning, you might even sit down and write a love letter to all the women who follow you.
Kelly Perry is a designer and artist. She previously worked in special needs primary education and volunteered in the Down syndrome community. Kelly continues to be an advocate for choice and a voice for change.
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