Pregnancy & Menopause : Getting Pregnant After an Abortion
'I Had An Abortion When I Was 21 Weeks Pregnant'
When my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our first baby, we were ecstatic.
It was the summer of 2019, and everything was going great. All of our early scans came back normal. We even had a 15-week noninvasive blood test for spina bifida and Down syndrome, which came back clear. Originally, we weren't sure if we wanted the tests, since it was hard to imagine anything that would make us want to terminate. But we finally decided to move forward because we decided, either way, it would be best to know as soon as possible.
In my head, once we got past the first trimester, nothing could really go wrong. I had no idea.
At 19 weeks, my husband and I went in for the anatomy scan—that’s the ultrasound where they tell you your baby’s sex and check the baby’s heart and all those little fingers and toes. We were excited; it was on our first wedding anniversary. My husband stayed home from work, since we planned on doing something together to celebrate later in the day. I was pretty sure it was a boy, so I was excited to get confirmation and to see a clearer picture of our baby.
The appointment was at 8 a.m.. I didn’t know how it was supposed to go down, but I did notice that the technician paused and took a lot pictures, even stepping out of the room a couple of times. But since technicians can’t tell you anything other than the sex, she left without offering any details. We didn’t have the appointment with the doctor to discuss the results for a couple of days, so we left happy and excited.
An Unexpected Complication
It wasn’t until about 4 p.m. that day that our doctor called. She said that, generally, if they detect one fetal anomaly, they’re not too concerned. Issues often resolve themselves on their own. But, in our case, the baby had four to five anomalies in the heart, kidneys, stomach, and brain. The doctor couldn’t explain what that meant, and she told us we needed to get genetic counseling.
I was in shock. By that point in the pregnancy, I wasn’t expecting anything to go wrong. At first, my husband and I were positive, hoping that the anomalies would resolve themselves. But, by the next day, the news had sunk in, and I had an intuition that it was going to be a terrible diagnosis.
Our initial anatomy ultrasound was on a Monday, and the follow-up with the geneticist was scheduled for Friday. So that was a black hole of a week where I was just sitting with bad news and very little information.
Google became my friend. I had noted the medical terms the doctor mentioned, and I searched them furiously as I waited for the appointment. That week of waiting and wondering was awful. My husband and I discussed our potential options, and we were prepared to consider termination if it was brought up.
Related: The Abortion Myth Many Women Still Believe
A Devastating Diagnosis
At the time, we were living in Farmington Hills, Michigan, so we went to see a genetic specialist in Detroit. There, the technicians did another ultrasound using better technology. It took two hours, though it felt like forever. It was excruciating to see our baby on the screen... fearing it would be for the last time. Meanwhile, the technicians were making comments about what he’d be like when he was born, like, “He’ll be a butt sleeper.”
We met with the genetic counselor first. She told us many of the anomalies had cleared up. But part of the baby’s cerebellum, the part that controls movement, was missing. The condition, known as a Dandy-Walker malformation, is not a chromosomal abnormality; it’s a fluke that happens sometimes during fetal development. It varies greatly in severity. About 10 to 20 percent of people who have it don't even realize they have it until late childhood or adulthood, according to the National Institutes of Health. In others, it can be extremely severe, leading to partial paralysis, seizures, heart defects, and other developmental issues, per the NIH. The doctor said she was 90 percent sure our baby had a severe case.
The doctor also told us there were also other brain abnormalities that they weren’t sure went along with Dandy-Walker or were an additional syndrome. But Dandy-Walker is often linked to two severe chromosomal disorders called trisomies: trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome, and trisomy 13, or Patau syndrome, according to the . Only 5 to 10 percent of babies with trisomy 13 and trisomy 18 live past the first year, per the NIH. Our doctor suggested an amniocentesis, a test of the amniotic sac that would help reveal any trisomies. We had the test that same day. She also presented our options, which included termination.
Then we met with another doctor, who painted a picture of what the child’s life would look like. They showed us graphs of the occurrence of seizures in kids with Dandy-Walker. They told us that our baby might not have the ability to walk or sit up straight or feed himself. He’d likely be emotionally impaired, and he may not be able to speak or talk. Fluid would build up in his head, and he’d likely need multiple brain surgeries as an infant and other medical interventions to shut down swelling.
Find out what a future without legal abortion would look like:
Making Our Decision
Because we had our appointment on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, we had to wait until Tuesday to get the amnio results. We spent that long weekend thinking about our options.
In the end, the results for trisomy 13 and 18 came back negative, so there was not a chromosomal issue. However, the Dandy-Walker diagnosis remained. We felt we had enough information at that point and had made our decision. We needed to terminate.
I talked with my immediate family members as well as my best friend, who were all very supportive and agreed my decision to end the pregnancy was the best option, given the circumstances. That was helpful, having that support.
There were two types of terminations available to us. The first was a dilation and evacuation (D&E), which involves stopping the baby’s heart and then surgically removing the body. The other option was a labor and delivery, where the baby’s heart would be stopped and I’d be induced to give birth.
Labor and delivery can take two to three days because your body’s not ready. There’s also more risk and a longer recovery time involved than with the D&E. I didn’t want my first birth experience to be this one. Everything was so traumatic already, and I couldn’t imaging having to go into labor for days. I decided to go with the D&E.
It was awful to make that choice. I wished I could wake up and it would all be over. But I knew in my heart it was the best thing for us and the right thing to do. It was the only kind thing we could do for this baby. Otherwise, we’d be trapping him in a broken body.
Getting a D&E
I got an appointment the next day in Detroit. At 21 weeks, I could go through with the procedure, since Michigan allows abortions up to 24 weeks. But if I had been living in another state that bans abortion past 20 weeks, I would have had to travel. Luckily, my insurance paid for the procedure; I know women who, even a year after their abortions, are still paying thousands of dollars in medical bills.
I was given anesthesia, so all I remember was the pre-op phase and being wheeled into the operating room. I didn’t experience any pain. It’s hard to describe how I felt afterward. I was devastated, crying, and sobbing. I felt out of my body. It’s just so surreal to wake up and not be pregnant anymore, and to know it’s over.
Related: 'I Had An Abortion At 23 Weeks—This Is What It Was Like'
A Long Journey of Recovery
Even though I hadn’t given birth, I felt that I had a postpartum experience. After the procedure, I bled for a month. Three days later, my milk came in. It was painful, and it took two weeks for the breast engorgement to subside. I cried all the time. It was overwhelming. I was in a haze for at least two months.
We had just moved, so I didn’t have a job yet and I didn’t know anyone. It was a very isolating experience. I found my way through with meditation, writing, therapy, and yoga. I connected with other women who’ve been through similar situations in an online support group. (Find more inner calm and build strength in just minutes a day with WH's !)
I had the procedure in September 2019, and the baby was due in January 2019, so it’s been a full year since my baby was supposed to come into this world. I think about the child we lost every day. The grief will never leave me. It comes and goes. Sometimes, I’ll be fine for weeks or even months, and then I’ll have a couple of bad days. I know it’s part of it.
Still, I know that having an abortion was the right choice for us. All of our options were bad ones: bringing a really sick child into the world, or ending my pregnancy. Choosing to have a baby with severe issues takes a different kind of courage, but it also takes courage to end a pregnancy. The choice is so individual and personal, and there’s no right or wrong answer that applies to everyone.
Doctors told us we could try to get pregnant as soon as I got my first period, but I was still an emotional wreck then. We waited until I felt more stable; we found out I was expecting last April. I’m nine months pregnant now. Our baby boy is due at the end of January. I’m so relieved that this pregnancy has gone smoothly, though there’s still a lot of fear. I’ve learned how to hold intense joy and intense grief at the same time. I've realized that I can feel both emotions at once, and that's okay.
Related: 'How I Told My Partner That I'm HIV-Positive'
No to a 20-Week Ban
The Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade guarantees the right to abortions until viability, when a baby can survive on its own outside of the womb as determined by a woman’s doctor (though abortions can be performed later if a mom’s life or health is at risk). Generally, that’s around 24 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Today, about 9 percent of women have abortions at 14 weeks or later, with just under 1 percent performed at 21 weeks or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
In October 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a 20-week abortion ban, H.R. 36, which groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights have strongly opposed: “A woman’s health, not politics, should drive important medical decisions.” The bill is sitting in the Senate now, awaiting debate.
Meanwhile, seven states already ban abortion at a specific gestational age, usually around 20 weeks, based on the unproven assumption that babies can feel pain, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Doctors say that’s just not possible: a baby’s brain hasn’t developed enough to feel pain until week 29 to 30. Seven states also currently have laws prohibiting D&E procedures, the type of abortion I had.
If a 20-week ban were in place, we wouldn’t have had the time to make our decision because we didn’t have the information we needed. It’s not uncommon for women to get their anatomy scans until 21 or 22 weeks because of scheduling conflicts. The law feels strategic to prevent these kind of abortions.
I was lucky, too, because I had access to a car to drive myself an hour and half to the clinic, and I have insurance, which made the procedure a lot simpler. But a lot of women, especially lower-income women, don’t have access to healthcare. They might need to raise funds to get the procedure or even to travel out of state, which takes time. A 20-week ban would make it even more difficult for them to make an autonomous choice. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, most women who have second trimester abortions do so because of logistical complications, like accessing a provider who offers the procedure.
I truly feel that women know what’s best for their families and children. The government stepping in is condescension. Who are you to care more about my children than I do?
I believe that every woman should be able to make that choice for herself and her family. You really have no idea what getting an abortion is like until you’ve been in the situation. I wish there was more nuance around these complex issues. It’s hard to see it as a black and white, because it’s not. Judging other women from the outside is fraught. Every situation is unique.
Video: My Abortion Experience
The Amazing Upside of Being a Mom
Lady Kitty Spencer is Bvlgari’s Newest Ambassador
Weve Got Exciting News for Bed Bath Beyond Fans
Ranking The Men Of Love Island From The Worst Dressed To The Least Terrible
Why I Want My Daughter To Breakfree From Likes’
How to Know if Meat Is Bad
How to Feel Confident in a Bathing Suit
CrossFit: A Serious Exercise Challenge
How to Get Financial Aid in College
7 Ingredients Nutritionists Never Ever Eat
How to Choose a Dog Walker