The following guest post comes to us via Jacqueline M.
My world turned upside down on February 4, 2019. At my 19.5-week ultrasound, the tech became strangely quiet following several minutes of joking with my husband and me. I thought nothing of it as my eyes obsessed over every inch of my little girl on the screen. The ultrasound complete, I cleaned the cold gel off of my belly and eagerly dressed to go speak with my PA.
“As all of my daydreams about raising a child vanished in an onslaught of medical terminology, my husband and I knew one thing: We could not put our daughter through the brief life of agony that awaited her.”
When she walked in the door, I excitedly gushed my questions and observations, which she answered without the enthusiasm I had come to expect during my appointments with her. When I finally paused, she looked me in the eye and said, “We’ve noticed what looks to be an omphalocele. Your daughter will need surgery the moment she is born to put her intestines back inside of her, but there is a 90 percent survival rate. There is also a 3-inch cyst on your ovaries. It’s so large that we can’t tell whether it’s on one or both, and we need to send you to a high-risk prenatal doctor.”
Sad and afraid, but determined, we went to see the high-risk OB the very next day. I was given a detailed level 2 ultrasound by a tech, and I took in all of the tiny details of my little girl that I wasn’t able to enjoy from the quality of my routine images: her tiny toes, a dainty hand, the small curve in her button nose. I gobbled her up, my daughter, my first child, still completely unaware of how terribly wrong my pregnancy had gone.
The doctor came in and reviewed the measurements and findings. She picked up the ultrasound paddle and began to show us, point by point, what our little girl was up against: In addition to the omphalocele, her head was two weeks undersized, and her body was about one week too small. Her limbs were thin. But worst of all, she had a hole in her heart and part of her brain was missing. Calmly but firmly, the doctor recommended we perform an amniocentesis to test for genetic abnormalities.
The days after my high-risk appointment were a daze. We waited for amnio results that were anywhere from seven to 21 days away, still clinging to any bit of hope that remained for the life of this baby we so wanted.
One week later, I returned to my routine OB to discuss the findings. Though my amnio results could yet be weeks away, the physical findings told a grim story: This life that my husband and I created, that I nurtured in my belly for now 20 weeks, would be born to die. If she made it to birth, she’d never leave a hospital cradle. She’d need to be intubated, undergo immediate surgery, and likely die within hours or perhaps days. She’d never walk, never talk. She’d never eat and never cry. She’d never open her eyes, never take a breath on her own. If she made it to birth.
In addition to the problems with our sweet girl, the pregnancy also appeared to be partially molar, meaning along with my daughter, my body was also growing abnormal pregnancy tissue. My placenta and ovaries had become cystic, posing potentially severe risks to my health as the pregnancy continued.
In this moment at my doctor’s office, my husband and I looked at two futures for our child: one in which she would be born into a world of hospital fluorescent lights, where she would be filled with tubes and needles and surrounded by surgical grade steel; and a second future, one where she would know only the warmth and safety of her small world inside of me.
In both futures, my daughter would die. In both of these futures she would only come home in an urn.
As all of my daydreams about raising a child vanished in an onslaught of medical terminology, my husband and I knew one thing: We could not put our daughter through the brief life of agony that awaited her. There, in that tiny room in my doctor’s office, we made the decision to end my pregnancy. At 21 weeks pregnant, I said goodbye to my daughter.
One week after the end of my pregnancy, we learned from the amniocentesis results that my daughter, who we named Isabell, had triploidy, a fatal condition where a fetus has three sets of every chromosome, rather than two. The life expectancy for them, should they survive to birth, is at most a few days.
I am a mother in mourning. I carry with me a suffering so deep that I know I will never recover. My pain is an undercurrent in every moment in my life, dulled only by the knowledge that I ache in this way so that my daughter would never have to feel a moment of agony; that I did my job as a mother to take on pain and suffering so that my child would never have to; that this was a decision borne of love like I have never known.
I share my story in support of the countless mothers who have had to make this decision for the pregnancies they so wanted. Like me, these women often only learned of a severe problem at or after their mid-pregnancy anatomy scan, and we were forced late in pregnancy to make a choice. In that choice of mercy and compassion for the pregnancies we so cherished, we were fortunate to have access to safe, knowledgeable, and legal health care.
I ask that when you discuss current events with friends, see abortion-related posts on social media, or vote in elections, you remember my story. I am healthy because I had the access to care I needed to safely end a high-risk partial molar pregnancy, and my grief of losing a child does not involve the added pain of watching my innocent Isabell suffer in a sterile, cold hospital room until death.
My name is Jacqueline. I am 31, part of the upper-middle class, happily married to the love of my life, and I had a second-trimester abortion.