My Abortion Could've Only Been Worse If It Were a Choice I Wasn't Allowed to Make

I had always pictured waking up one sunny day, looking at my bank account, my house, and my marriage, proclaiming to the world, "Okay, now I'm ready to have kids." This revelation would kick-start the childbearing phase of my life, and I would be a fantastic mother because I had timed it just right.

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I remember explaining this readiness to a friend of mine with two kids of her own. "The truth is, you'll never be 'ready,'" she said. "There will always be a reason to wait." I had heard this before, but I wanted kids and was ready as I'd ever be.

My teens and early twenties had been a scary blur of bad decisions. I had pulled myself back from the ledge and was building a good life with the pieces that I had left. I had recently gotten married to a wonderful guy who shared my values and twisted sense of humor. We were both eyeing the future from a distance, knowing that we would be ready for children someday.

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The night my husband and I conceived our first child, we were bewildered and giddy and full of hope for the life that we had made. We had both envisioned parenthood as a dream for the future for so long, and now it was within sight. Books with smiling pregnant women on the covers started filling my bookshelf. Baby names swirled in my head when I let my mind wander. Being pregnant was all-consuming, and I was loving every minute of it.

The first sign that something was wrong came in my twelfth week. I stood up one day and felt that familiar gush of blood. I was losing the baby. On the way to the hospital I let the numbness take over. I would have to feel the full weight of this loss some other time. I wasn't ready for it yet.

After waiting for a few hours in triage, my husband and I were taken upstairs to get an ultrasound. This was it. The technician would search the screen and listen carefully and declare that there was no heartbeat. We would get medical confirmation of the little disaster making its way through my uterus. We watched the monitor, hoping to see something. Anything. A verdict in black and white.

Woosh-woosh-woosh-woosh-woosh-woosh-woosh.

It was the most amazing sound I'd ever heard in my life. There was that heartbeat, strong and steady, like nothing had happened. Something called a subchorionic hematoma had caused the bleeding. The technician said our baby looked small for its gestational age, but fine otherwise.

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Sometimes these things work out.

But then we started getting questions from the doctors about the estimated due date. Was I sure that I had been tracking my periods accurately? Could I have made a mistake in the calculations? They were telling us the fetus looked small, and there were only a handful of reasons why that could be.

At that point I knew that the wrongness wasn't in my head. I hadn't miscalculated anything. The concerned looks on the faces of the ultrasound technicians and the doctors' carefully measured words rang alarm bells in my head.

I could see the writing on the wall, but while I was tormented by the what-ifs, my husband was still hopeful that our baby might just be petite. There wasn't any diagnosis yet, so there was a small chance that we would have a healthy baby. He figured that there wasn't anything to worry about because we just didn't know enough.

The hardest part of not knowing was holding both possibilities in my head -- preparing myself for motherhood while simultaneously getting ready to lose our baby. This wasn't what pregnancy should look like. I had watched friends' bellies grow as the due date marched closer. They had fretted about cribs and car seats and strollers. In-laws and middle names and parenting styles. They would go through their 40 weeks knowing that the heartbeat was a given. Their babies would be fine, but my confidence was shaken.

Too many red flags.

My husband was still hoping for the best, and looking back on it I can't blame him. I wanted good news, too -- but the anxiety was overwhelming me and I needed him to feel it, too. His well-meaning reassurances landed badly, and I would wonder aloud if he and I had been in the same doctor's office. There was clearly a problem with our baby and I felt as if I was the only one who could see it.

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After a few weeks we were able to do a diagnostic test known as amniocentesis. It would give us something concrete. Enough of this hoping and worrying bullshit. We just wanted an answer. That giddy innocence was now gone and we were steeling ourselves for whatever the news was going to be. All we had room for now was the truth.

A few days after the test I got the phone call.

The genetic counselor told me two things:

It's a girl.

She has triploidy.

I wrote the word down in big letters so I could see it for myself. See what was wrong with my baby. Here was the bad news I had seen coming for weeks. Here it was in black and white.

No more denial.

No more hope.

Most people are born with 46 chromosomes. 23 from Mom and 23 from Dad.

Our baby girl had a whole extra set -- 69 altogether.

Babies with triploidy rarely make it to term, and those that are born end up dying before their first birthday.

Severe defects. Webbed fingers. Seizures. Multiple organ failure. Babies born without eyes.

A short life filled with misery.

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Her tiny fingers would never curl around my thumb. I wouldn't see that first big smile of recognition. Her babbling baby talk wouldn't fill our bedroom, and I wouldn't be able to rock her to sleep in my arms.

Motherhood would have to wait. It wasn't my turn. I wasn't going to let my baby girl suffer through that kind of living nightmare.

We made an appointment to terminate the pregnancy at 18 weeks and three days. My husband waited with me in the special waiting room reserved for patients having what they called "involuntary" abortions. I stared down at my little bump, protruding ever so slightly from its natural curve. It was hard not to think of my uterus as a traitor. I felt like I had been deceived. Like the whole pregnancy had been some kind of long con. Like a promise had been broken in my belly.

Tears rolled down my cheeks and the doctors seemed not to notice except for a familiar look of pity on their faces as the anesthesiologist hooked up my IV. I lay back on the table, counting down from 100. "American Girl" was playing on a radio somewhere down the hall.

100

God it's so painful when somethin' that's so close ...

99

... is still so far out of reach.

98

Oh yeah, alright.

97

Take it easy, baby.

Make it last all night.

96

She was an American girl.

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I came back to Earth with a dark, warm pain in my abdomen. It was all over. Hospital beds lined the room and the woman next to me was groaning in pain. Realizing she was being ignored she yelled across the room for the nurses to bring her a blunt. We both doubled over in delirium, laughing through the cramps.

I wouldn't wish this experience on anyone. The confusion, the worry, the helpless feeling. These were by far the worst weeks of my life and it took me a long time to feel okay again after it was over. This new truth would penetrate every part of my life, eliminating what was unimportant. I had been shaken, but would ultimately emerge a stronger, wiser version of myself.

I had made the decision to say goodbye to our baby girl on my terms. 

The only way it could have been worse was if that choice had been taken from me and given to someone else.

Someone far removed from my life and my circumstances.

Someone who wouldn't have to wake up every day for months, hoping for a miscarriage.

Someone who wouldn't have to watch a newborn baby feel nothing but pain from her first breath to her last.

I am not in a position to make these kinds of decisions for anyone but myself.

It's personal and it's shitty.

It's never easy. It's never convenient.

It's painful and it's dark and it stays with you.

It's hard enough without someone else calling the shots.

 

Sadler and her husband live in upstate New York with their three cats and a brand-new baby boy.

Sadler Bakst, husband, and baby boy


Images via everst/Shutterstock; Marni Bakst

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