Let me preface this by saying this is an intensely personal story about an extremely explosive topic. I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’m not even really trying to make a political statement, though I recognize that it may be taken that way. I am certainly not trying to offend anyone. I just want to add our story to a discussion that’s recently been sparked by one family’s story. It’s a long story, so I’ll detail it in a short series.
Last week, one of the blogs I read occasionally (Thingamababy) outlined a blog series from the blog The Daddy Files. The entire series struck me very personally, and in particular, this blog, outlining the author’s encounter with abortion protesters outside of the clinic where his wife was having a procedure resonated strongly with me. I’m not going to outline their story here (feel free to read the blogs), but I do want to outline our own.
Almost exactly three years ago this month, Jamie and I became pregnant. It was our first pregnancy, and it frankly took us a bit by surprise. You see, we hadn’t been trying to get pregnant so much as we had stopped trying NOT to get pregnant. We figured it would take us a while – that was true of most of our friends. Turns out biology actually works sometimes.
The first trimester was incredibly easy. With the exception of some mild nausea, it was completely uneventful. The first ultrasound was normal, and we got our first look at the baby with one of those cool 3-D ultrasounds. Around 19 weeks, however, my OB noticed some odd antibodies in my blood and referred me to a maternal fetal medicine (MFM) specialist for a consult. The MFM seemed fairly unperturbed by the antibodies, but due to my medical history (about nine years ago, I was diagnosed with ITP, an auto-immune disorder that can result in significantly low platelets and can cause spontaneous bleeding), took 20 vials of blood for testing.
Within an hour and a half of leaving the hospital, I got a call from the MFM asking me to return to the hospital immediately. Despite my ITP having been in remission for 6 years, my platelets had suddenly dropped to 30k (normal is between 150-300k), and she wanted to begin immediate treatment. When they took my CBC at the hospital, my platelets had dropped to 23k. Initial treatment for ITP is massive doses of the steroid prednisone. Luckily, I’ve always responded well to prednisone, and this time was no different. Unfortunately, this was a harbinger of things to come.
I started to see a barrage of specialists – hematologists and rheumatologists as well as the MFM. Our ultrasound taken the previous week had been inconclusive due to the position of the baby, though I recall the technician and doctor making a comment about “short bones.” Our MFM wanted to do another ultrasound to see how everything was going, especially in light of my relapse. In this ultrasound, at 20 weeks, the baby was already two weeks behind in growth. In the ultrasound, the placenta appeared to be large and misshapen, and the blood flow to the fetus was slow. We were told to come back in in two weeks for another ultrasound to determine how the fetus was progressing, but the outlook wasn’t good.
Our MFM told us about another auto-immune disease called Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APS) that matched my symptoms. Ironically, where my ITP was essentially a bleeding disease (due to the inability to clot), APS is a clotting disorder. You’d think the two would cancel each other out, but it turns out that they address different clotting factors. One of the ways that APS affects pregnancy is by causing micro-clots in the placenta, which in then scar over. The placenta essentially becomes one mass of ineffective scar tissue and can no longer efficiently transfer nutrients and blood to the fetus. Unfortunately, APS couldn’t be officially diagnosed until/unless there was a “negative outcome,” and they could analyze the placenta.
At the 22-week ultrasound, the baby’s growth had slowed to three weeks behind schedule. We were now at a critical juncture. There was no way to make the placenta work more efficiently. They may have been able to halt additional damage to the placenta, but they could not reverse the damage already done to it. The baby had at best another couple weeks in utero, but it certainly wouldn’t make it to term, and it wasn’t likely to make it out at all. Here was the dilemma.
In Massachusetts, there is a “post-viability abortion restriction” that “states that, after 24 weeks, no abortion may be provided unless necessary to preserve the woman’s life or to prevent a ‘substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health.’ The physician must take all reasonable steps, consistent with the procedure used and good medical practice, to preserve the life and health of the fetus.” (source: NARAL) If we were going to make a “decision,” it needed to be now – within the next week, because we were already at 22 weeks and counting. If we decided to put off the decision, that in itself was a decision – because our ability to decide would be stripped from us in two weeks.