Most people will be surprised to hear I was pregnant. We told very few people and even fewer knew we had officially decided to enter the wild arena of parenthood. I hesitated even sharing my story because itâ€™s still very much raw, the kind of raw that only the course of time will smooth the painful edges a bit.Â
The only shred of comfort Iâ€™m given is my confidence in the strength of women sharing their stories. There is absolutely no force more powerful than women united.
I joked with my husband that this was one of the most well-thought-out pregnancies in the world. It took us over a decade to decide, through the rigors of his med school and residency training, finally feeling comfortable enough with my writing career, and discussingâ€”at nauseating lengthâ€”whether or not we should shake up our life and bring a life in our little corner of the world. We both happily came to the conclusion that we wanted to take on parenthood.Â
It happened quickly. So quickly that I will forever defend all the other freaked out women who have the audacity to choose not to become a mother or wait until after 35 to become one. No, my ovaries did not, in fact, shrivel into my insides and dissolve into dust once I hit 35. Even 40!
I was just over two months pregnant when the spotting started to be a concern. At first, it fell into the normal rangeâ€”if anything can fall into that category during your first pregnancyâ€”but on that day it became concerning enough that my ER doc husband said I should go to the ER.
I couldnâ€™t even go to the ER he worked in. I wasnâ€™t even home when this happened. I was visiting my sister who, as a former ICU nurse, was the best possible option to have by my side with my husband 2,500 miles away at home.
Based on where I was in my pregnancy, it wasnâ€™t clear from the ultrasounds and exams, if I was miscarrying. While the bleeding was concerning, it had stopped at that point. The final determination was to wait for what was supposed to be my very first scan with my own OBGYN at home only 4 days from now. Then, if I hadnâ€™t miscarried, we could run all the same tests again and compare levels and measurements. I was both validated in my concerns and treated with respect.
The bleeding got worse the next morning. My contractions started later in the afternoon. I was sitting on a park bench alone, talking to my husband on the phone when the intense pressure began in my lower abdomen. I actively miscarried for the next 2 hours. The next morning I passed a sac with our gummy bear in it. The day after that, I flew home alone to Hawaii, one less passenger in my life.
After 20+ hours of travel, I came home to a house as empty as my heart since my husband was on a 24-hr shift at the hospital taking care of patients with the same dignity and respect I received only days before. I crawled into bed amongst a backdrop of painful reminders I had forgotten about while I was gone: kind congratulations cards, pregnancy books piled on tabletops and proudly displayed positive pregnancy tests on the kitchen counter. (I took approximately 400, just to be sure.)
The bleeding and cramping would continue for a week and I’d been required to use those sort of maxi-pads you sheepishly tried to hide in your backpack in middle school. You know the ones thick enough to consider laying down on and taking a nap? I tossed the used pads into the same bathroom bin my pregnancy test wrappers were still in. A cruel reminder each time I went to pee.
My husband came home and joined me at my OBGYN appointment the next morning. The appointment that had been scheduled for over a month in advance. The one where we eagerly anticipated hearing a heartbeat. The one which had now turned into a miscarriage follow-up.
While finding a parking spot, we drove past people holding signs with quotes about womenâ€™s descent to hell. Some were wearing t-shirts emblazoned with scriptures about sinners. Posters, in all caps, screaming about the unborn.
The unborn which this appointment would determine if my body had fully miscarried or I needed an intervention in order to prevent becoming septic.
My appointment confirmed that my cervix and empty uterus â€œlook great.â€ (I can’t wait to put that on my resume one day.) I walked out with instructions to keep wearing the padded mattresses in my underwear and take ibuprofen as needed for the painful cramping; every pad change and intense cramp reminding me that I was no longer pregnant.
That was it. Our world had changed. While the world around us simultaneously carried on.
To be abundantly clear, my story is the best case scenario.
And it was still one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life.
I had great medical care and this was still awful. My amazing body took care of me and Iâ€™m still hurt this happened. Iâ€™m surrounded by a support network that includes healthcare workers and still find myself crying at random points in the day. Iâ€™m strong and this was a different kind of pain I wouldnâ€™t wish on anyone.
While sitting at a red light contemplating the now-empty year ahead of us after my appointment, I asked my husband what would have happened if my body didnâ€™t resolve this miscarriage, if my OB had seen that some tissue was left.
â€œIn most cases, a D&C is performed soon.â€
A Dilation and Curettage (D&C) is a common procedure performed to stop bleeding and prevent infection, it dilates your cervix and removes all of the pregnancy tissue from your uterus.
Outside the medical community many people arenâ€™t aware of how often there is a medical need for it nor how often those whom you love have had one. What some may not understand is a D&C is an abortion. The word is a medical term. You will find this noted in a patientâ€™s chart, on medical records and in basic medical terminology that has been used in the healthcare industry for decades.
Upwards of 20-40% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and nearly half require a medical intervention like a D&C that my body did not.
Had I not miscarried completely, had some tissue been left behind in my uterus, had I not lived in nor been visiting a state that provides full reproductive healthcare after 6 weeks, my already painful experience would have been made unnecessarily worse or deadly. That is not an exaggeration peddled to create fear. It is a medical reality.
Itâ€™s why we have the phrase: Abortion is healthcare.
Women die without these procedures.
Just as we receive life-saving care after a heart attack or cancer diagnosis; abortions are performed to save the life of your mother, sister, daughter, friend or neighbor.
Physicians are now having to wait alongside their patients and watch them get sicker and sicker before being allowed to help, all while having the training and technology to prevent it from happening in the first place. Weâ€™re asking physicians to consult lawyers or a committee prior to medically intervening to save a womanâ€™s life in order to get advice on if she has gotten just close enough to the brink of death before she qualifies for help. The fallacy of laws that allow exceptions for when â€œa womanâ€™s life is at risk,â€ directly depends on who makes that call, and it can mean itâ€™s not a physician.
Women simultaneously provide life for the entire planet but are somehow told ours doesnâ€™t matter.
In all of my extensive travels, and with all the chatter about who we are as a nation, I never would have considered my fellow Americans cruel. We may be a lot of things, but cruel isnâ€™t one of them.
Cruel is being put in a position while Iâ€™m miscarrying to wonder if Iâ€™ll even receive care based on the state Iâ€™m in. Cruel is allowing women to become septic, a condition that often requires an ICU stay and can be deadly, before intervening. Cruel is still bleeding between your legs or being forced to continue a pregnancy with fetal demise, and having to risk your own life by driving or flying hundreds of miles, in pain, to get the healthcare you need.
This notion to protect the unborn comes at a cost to the womanâ€™s life who is carrying it.
In the weeks following my miscarriage, I had to unsubscribe from all the pregnancy apps I excitedly downloaded. Reluctantly click that Iâ€™ve experienced pregnancy loss. Delete email updates that my baby is now 8 weeks and 3 days, which sat right above the email I received with my discharge documents from the hospital. Clear out my refrigerator with all the caffeine-free pregnancy options I stocked it with. (Pro-Tip: Sugar Free A&W Root Beer is legit.) I actually snapped this picture on a hike the day I miscarried to remind myself I will be okay. Since then, Iâ€™ve found myself aching to get outdoors more often in an attempt to calm the constant stream of questions I have about why this happened.Â
I drove to Target this week because I got that gentle reminder email that the pick-up order I impulsively placedâ€”and forgot about a millisecond thereafterâ€”was about to be reshelved. On my way, I passed by my OBGYN clinic and saw it. They were out there again. Signs in all caps, lined up, side-by-side on the road, inescapable if you dared to enter to get a mammogram or pap smear or refill on your birth control. Or, in my case, to verify I had fully miscarried.
I wondered where the signs were for me. For the women carrying what they were shouting about.
I was told by someone once that I would change my mind about abortion once I became pregnant. They are right. Now, more than ever, I am more entrenched in the radical notion that a woman can get to choose if she wants to live. To do what she wants with her own body. To know that the hardest decision a woman may ever make, isnâ€™t yours.
We often talk casually about the strength of women; almost as if itâ€™s expected, taken for granted. I found my own hero in the days and weeks after my miscarriage. Sheâ€™s been in me the whole time but powerfully pushed through and made her presence known with pure grit. When I stop to think about how many other women do the same, under extraordinarily worse circumstances, itâ€™s breathtaking.
Like the solidarity of passing a tampon under the stall door, I donâ€™t need to know your story to support you, because your story is mine too. Maybe we donâ€™t need giant signs in all caps because we know there will always be another woman outside that stall, ready to support us because theyâ€™ve been there.
We need to know youâ€™re there. We need you to have our backs like weâ€™ve had yours.
Those signs are your ballots.
The quiet protest is your vote.