Government On My Mind:
My husband and I, even when grieving, have a dark sense of humor. You know those adhesive stick-figure characters people put on their cars to depict their families -- Dad, Mom,, two boys, a girl, a dog and a cat? We thought ours could represent our miscarried pregnancies. Dad, Mom, baby (X-ed out), baby (X-ed out), baby (X-ed out) and a teratoma, a non-living wad of hair and teeth. “We have high hopes for our little teratoma,” we imagined telling horrified friends. “If it applies itself, it can make the dean’s list.”
Our jokes were morbid to cover for our raw grief, and our utter surprise we had wound up in this situation, a backwater of our own lives. The first pregnancy was full of joy, we had no reason to think anything would go wrong. But at about 12 weeks, I began to bleed. We looked at the ultrasound in silence as the doctor pointed out that the fetus was far too small for its age. My husband ventured hopefully that since we were both small people, perhaps our fetus was merely small too. His hope made my heart ache. The doctor kindly said no, it doesn’t work that way. The heartbeat was far too slow as well. I was blind with sadness and disappointment. My doctor arranged for a dilation and curettage promptly. In the hospital, one of the papers I was given to sign said this was a “medical abortion.” I hesitated, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I signed it. It was a small but essential relief to put the physical miscarriage process behind me. My body had been slow to begin and progress the miscarriage, and it would have taken weeks of physical and emotional pain. The second time we got pregnant, we were more circumspect, and this one ended the same way as the first; a weak but non viable heartbeat, a fetus that wasn’t growing. The third pregnancy was a potentially deadly ectopic, probably caused by the teratoma. I took powerful drugs to end the ectopic pregnancy, then the teratoma, which turned out to be a stubborn little bugger, was removed, along with one of my fallopian tubes.
I never considered these sad events would be of interest to Ohio lawmakers, though if they’d like to see pictures of my little ball o’ hair n’ teeth, I’m happy to oblige. I discovered that it is possible to be a “little bit pregnant,” I had been, three times. What do you say about a fetus that is far too small, whose heartbeat is a third of what it should be? It exists, but soon it will not, like the flame of a flickering candle. When I hear proposals, such as the Heartbeat Bill, I think the sponsoring lawmakers are blissfully unfamiliar with, or don’t care about, these gray areas that don’t fit easily into laws or emotions.
Doctors are now required to explain the woman’s chances of delivering a healthy baby from this pregnancy, as well as the general probability of a fetus of this age surviving to term. Had my doctor been forced to state these stark terms to me -- that my pregnancy was dying, of which I was all too aware, and other people’s pregnancies are successful, of which I was quite aware as well, the evidence was all over Facebook -- I cannot imagine the depths of my anger and despair. I already felt my body had let me down. This legislation implies I was correct in that feeling. Perhaps with a statistics lesson, my insubordinate lady parts could be shamed into shaping up and carrying a pregnancy properly. I doubt my doctors would want their speech to be mandated. They obviously didn’t feel it was appropriate or medically necessary to make such statements to me as they, the ones with medical training, decided not to do so.
As for the teratoma, doctors say they don’t have the potential to develop into human beings, but what do they know? Perhaps I should have been forced to keep it as well, just in case.
We took time off from trying for a baby. Five years after the last miscarriage, I got pregnant. I was in a wild panic, afraid this one would end the way the others had. I defensively didn’t bond with the pregnancy, holding it at arm’s length, like a dusty suitcase. At 9 weeks, I had heavy bleeding and wasn’t surprised. But when we looked at the ultrasound, there was a figure, wriggling about. She’s still wriggling, upstairs in her bed right now. She should be asleep, but she’s discovered her hands, and they’re very distracting. Now Ohio’s legislation has extra weight; for myself, and for my daughter. If she chooses to have children, I hope she never goes through what I did. But if she does, I want her to have the same compassionate care I did, and the ability to make decisions with her doctor and, if she chooses, her partner. I don’t want her to be shamed for having a miscarriage, or for making the best medical decisions for herself and her life.
I’ve been pro-choice all my life, but after being forced into the gray area of non-viable and dangerous pregnancies, I am more firm in my beliefs. I’ve been a little bit pregnant, and it is a very lonely place to be, even in the best of circumstances. Ohio has no business making medical decisions for me or my daughter.