I'm A Mom Who Had A Late-Term Abortion & It's Nothing Like Donald Trump Says
In the spring of 2015, my husband and I decided to have another baby. We were immensely enjoying parenthood and wanted to give our firstborn a sibling so they could grow up together close in age. In May, we found out I was expecting again. When I saw the positive pregnancy test, I dressed my nearly-2 year old in a shirt that said, “I’m going to be a big sister!” and carried her, along with the positive pregnancy test, downstairs to show my husband. The next few months were bookended by our growing excitement: We picked out baby names and themes for our nursery, our daughter affectionately called the baby “Baby Xander,” and she sang to my belly and read books to her unborn sibling. We were ready. But after a devastating diagnosis, I had a late-term abortion at 23 weeks pregnant. And after watching the third and final presidential debate, I won't stand by while the Republican presidential nominee lies about what that experience is like for women.
On August 7, 2015 we went in for a routine anatomy scan at 18 weeks. We thought the biggest piece of information we’d receive that day was whether we were adding a baby brother or sister to our family. Instead, we found out that our sweet baby had a life-threatening heart condition. Over the next five weeks, we met with multiple specialists and traveled to two of the best pediatric facilities in the nation. At each ultrasound, we got news that our baby’s condition had worsened: She had advanced dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that presents itself in the end stages of heart failure. According to the American Heart Association, advanced dilated cardiomyopathy affects the heart's ventricles and atria as well as the lower and upper chambers. Because heart muscle doesn't contract normally and cannot pump blood very well, the heart weakens and causes heart failure.
At each appointment, we learned there was no medicine to stop or alleviate her symptoms. There was no surgery to fix it. Our baby had also developed Hydrops fetalis, a condition, according to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where fluid collects in at least two different fetal organ spaces. According to a report published in Images in Pediatric Cardiology, mortality rates for dilated cardiomyopathy is highest in the first year after diagnosis, at 79 percent. Once we knew how severe her condition was, I prayed incessantly that her little heart would just stop beating on its own. I’d plead with God to let her pass away without me having to make that gut-wrenching decision.
But in the end, I had to decide.
Despite seeking any opportunity to help our daughter survive, it wasn’t possible. If our baby somehow made it to birth, our doctors told us her prognosis was morbid. She’d struggle to breathe and eat, two of the most basic tasks in life. She’d repeatedly experience heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and suffocation until one was strong enough to kill her. We had no choice but to make the most difficult decision a person ever faces as a parent: We decided to terminate the pregnancy. In my heart, I wanted nothing more than to take my baby home and watch her grow. But I knew this wouldn’t be a reality for us. We couldn’t put her through physical agony just so we could have a few stolen moments with her. We couldn’t tease our 2-year-old daughter with the role of big sister, especially since it was a role she wouldn't have for long. We couldn’t put on a fake smile as people continued making remarks on my growing belly. We couldn't hide from the truth. Our baby was sick.
Forcing her into life would hurt her in ways we'd never know or understand. So we made the most humane and merciful decision we could for our daughter. At 23 weeks, we decided to end my pregnancy. My husband and I didn’t want her to be born into a life where she’d struggled with immeasurable pain from her first breath to her last.
Since my D&E, there have been nights when I’ve held her footprints up to my cheek, comforted by the fact that her little feet touched this piece of paper. I clutch her tiny box of ashes up against my body and sob, because this is the only way I get to hold my baby. I’m not a cold, callous, selfish person who sought to harm her baby. Terminating my pregnancy was the only way I could protect her.
Although every doctor mentioned termination was an option in our severe situation, none of the doctors we saw could provide us with any support. Because my husband is in the military, our insurance is federally funded. The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, prohibits the use of any federal money toward abortion and also prohibits use of private money to pay for abortions in military-treatment facilities. It meant that our insurance wouldn’t pay anything towards termination of a pregnancy for fetal anomaly, and also that our doctors would not perform the procedure. But what hurt more than anything was the fact that they wouldn’t even point us in the direction of a safe and legal place to have it done. After receiving the most life-changing news, I felt judged and abandoned by my medical providers. Ending my pregnancy was also a part of my prenatal care and it was incredibly frustrating to have all medical support cut off. I was astounded at how inaccessible abortion was in my case. Even though I had the right to choose, it I couldn't access the medical care I needed.
My husband and I ended up traveling over 250 miles to a clinic that would perform a dilation and evacuation (D&E). We couldn’t afford the $20,000 out-of-pocket hospital bill for a labor and delivery, so this was our only option.
Following the procedure, I never got to hold or see my baby or give her kisses. Because we couldn’t afford a labor and delivery, that option was taken away from me. And despite what anti-choice advocates like Trump would have you think, I am a grieving mother. I cried uncontrollably as I packed away the precious items I’d bought in preparation for our new baby. Since my D&E, there have been nights when I’ve held her footprints up to my cheek, comforted by the fact that her little feet touched this piece of paper. I clutch her tiny box of ashes up against my body and sob, because this is the only way I get to hold my baby. I’m not a cold, callous, selfish person who sought to harm her baby. Terminating my pregnancy was the only way I could protect her.
Only about 1 percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and nearly all of them are due to life-threatening conditions to the baby or mother. Anti-choice politicians spread fear-mongering rhetoric to vilify women like me for the heartbreaking decisions we’ve had to make for our unborn and for ourselves. They paint us as monsters. But I’m tired of watching politicians cry as they listen to my testimony and then vote in favor of anti-choice legislation 15 minutes later. I’m tired of being called a “selfish murderer” by strangers on Facebook who don't know me, my family, or my story. I’m tired of hearing the uninformed lie about late-term abortion. I’m tired of hearing anti-choice politicians use my decision as means to achieve their own political gain.
Trump, as far as I know, has never had to live through a late-term abortion. But I have. I sobbed with my husband as my doctors administered the shot of digoxin, which would slowly and peacefully stop my daughter’s heart over the next few hours. I sat rubbing my belly and sang to her as I felt her kicks become fainter, fewer, and farther in between. I watched on the ultrasound screen as the sonographer verified what I'd known all along: that my daughter was gone before my D&E ever began.
Trump used trite words to "explain" how babies are “ripped from the womb” as late as nine months of pregnancy in the third and final presidential debate. Trump, as far as I know, has never had to live through a late-term abortion. But I have. I sobbed with my husband as the doctors administered the shot of digoxin, which would slowly and peacefully stop my daughter’s heart over the next few hours. I sat rubbing my belly and sang to her as I felt her kicks become fainter, fewer, and farther in between. I watched on the ultrasound screen as the sonographer verified what I'd known all along: that my daughter was gone before my D&E ever began. The end of my daughter’s life was peaceful. She was not “ripped” from my body “just prior” to her birth. She was surrounded by her parents. Surrounded by love.
Mine was a wanted pregnancy. Mine was a baby whose future I’d already dreamed of. Who had a room and home; two parents to love her and a big sister to dote on her. Who had dreams and hopes laid out for her and endless, boundless, unrelenting love. But because she was facing a quality of life that would severely impede on her ability to live, we made the difficult decision to let her go as peacefully as we could, rather watching her suffer through immeasurable pain before dying.
Trump wants to portray women who’ve accessed late-term abortions as monsters. He makes it seem like a having a late-term abortion is a flippant and selfish decision, like I woke up one morning and just decided this baby was no longer for me. The truth is women and families who are seeking this care are often in the most dire circumstances. And mine was a wanted pregnancy. Mine was a baby whose future I’d already dreamed of. Who had a room and home; two parents to love her and a big sister to dote on her. Who had dreams and hopes laid out for her and endless, boundless, unrelenting love. But because she faced a quality of life that would severely impede on her ability to live, we made the difficult decision to let her go as peacefully as we could, rather than watching her suffer through immeasurable pain before dying.
Since my abortion, I've had to process the immense grief and pain of losing my daughter, but I’ve also had to listen to ill-informed and grossly ignorant opinions on abortion itself. And to be honest, I no longer have the luxury of keeping the most intimate decision of my life to myself. I have to share my story. For the progress of the reproductive rights women deserve. So that men like Trump don't get the right to decide what women do with their bodies. For the rights of other families who will someday face the same tragedy we did. For the women who feel alone in their grief. For the mothers who, like me, have no other choice. For my living daughter, who needs to know that it's not enough to believe in something; you must also advocate for it. For the memory of the daughter I let go.
I stand confident that the choice I made for myself, my family, and most of all, my sweet daughter Elliana, was the right one for us. She lived and died only knowing an existence filled with peace within my body. She only ever experienced love.
If you asked me at the beginning of my life, I would've told you I never thought abortion would become a part of my personal narrative. But it has. And I understand what it’s like to face a crisis pregnancy, to have to choose between two horrendous options, to have to make the most heartbreaking, important, devastating, necessary decision for your child. And I stand confident that the choice I made for myself, my family, and most of all, my sweet daughter Elliana, was the right one for us. She lived and died only knowing an existence filled with peace within my body. She only ever experienced love. My husband and I willingly took on a lifetime of pain without her to ensure that she'd never feel one second of it. In order to make her heart whole, we had to irrevocably break ours. And that’s not a decision you make lightly.