This is the second of a multi-part series. To read the first part, click here.
At 22 weeks pregnant (that’s the fifth month for those of you who are math-impaired), we were faced with a decision: Voluntarily and consciously end what was nearly certainly a non-viable pregnancy, or let the pregnancy “take its course.” There are significant ramifications to both options that I think aren’t adequately conveyed by that previous statement. To end the pregnancy, we would knowingly be ending the life of the child who, by this point, was already cherished – a child who, to our inexperienced eyes, appeared in ultrasounds to be perfectly healthy with all four limbs, all organs and a heartbeat. To let the pregnancy progress meant waiting another six weeks until our next ultrasound, knowing the entire time that the fetus would probably die before it got to 28 weeks, that I would at some point carry a dead child inside me, and to risk the very real possibility that medical circumstances would force me to give birth to a 24-, 25-, 26- or 27-week old baby that had no chance of surviving outside my body.
I know some of you will think: But there are those miracle children that you hear about. Viability is now possible at 24 weeks, and maybe, just maybe, we would be one of the lucky ones. And you’re right. Viability IS possible at 24 weeks. But those babies are usually born because of maternal health issues, not the infant’s. This is a critical distinction. Our baby was already three weeks behind. So at 22 weeks, it was the size and viability of a 19-week baby. We needed to get to 28-weeks for that kid to have any shot at all at life – and that’s not even taking into consideration the severe morbidity the kid would have as a result of being born that early. At the rate this kid’s growth was slowing, this wasn’t just an unrealistic possibility, it was a pipe dream.
The problem is that due to Massachusetts’ laws, particularly the post-viability abortion restriction, once we hit 24 weeks, that kid would either die inside me naturally or every medical procedure, tube, machine and miracle would be thrown at that kid to bring it onto this Earth and get it to survive as long as possible – even if we’re talking a matter of hours or days in extreme pain.
Talk about trying to decide the lesser of two evils. You can’t imagine how it feels to hope that your child dies inside you – and soon – so that you don’t have to make that terrible decision or to take responsibility for the decision you do make. But this wasn’t something we could punt. In the end, given the medical facts in front of us, we did the only thing we felt we could. On December 20th, 2007, four days shy of my 30th birthday, we ended the life of our baby. Up until the very last moment, I hoped that the baby’s heartbeat had stopped. That the “procedure” wasn’t necessary. But unfortunately for me, that wasn’t the case. I couldn’t watch.
As it turns out, that last ultrasound gave us some additional, slight comfort. In the few days since our last ultrasound, the baby’s growth had slowed further, and the umbilical cord had started to backflow. There were a few additional signs that confirmed the outcome, though to be honest, I don’t remember what they were.
The next day, I gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. It was only at that moment that we found out the sex of what would have been our first child. At 8 ounces, she fit into the palm of my hand. I initially didn’t want to see her, but our nurse – a fantastic woman named Carrie at the Brigham & Women – helped me understand that I would want to. Carrie was truly amazing – I don’t think we could have gotten through labor without her. She was the most kind, considerate woman. And when you consider that she volunteers for this duty – well, I can only give her my most profound respect and gratitude.
We spent a lot of time with our baby girl. She would have been beautiful. She had Jamie’s chin, and my nose. Big floppy frog’s leg-like feet. I would have liked to have meet her. And I wish that K had been able to meet her big sister.
They analyzed the placenta afterward. The placenta was huge and misshapen, and I passed a clot that was nearly the same size as the placenta during the delivery. The analysis was consistent with Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, a confirmation I was grateful for. As a result, we knew enough to know that every pregnancy I have would be high-risk and would require daily injections of anti-coagulant. That knowledge gave us K, for which I can never be thankful enough.