My name is Erica and I am 23 years old and my fiancee is 24. I did not plan to share our story so publicly. I am by nature very private, and dreaded the very idea of people knowing what had happened to us. However, after becoming a part of some support groups for women who ended a very wanted pregnancy for medical reasons, I realized that the awareness about this particular issue is severely lacking. In Canada, I am so fortunate to have had the option that I did, and to be treated with compassion and kindness by my health care team. In the United States however, these women are met with bureaucratic interference and are forced to travel sometimes across the country to seek out abortions for their babies in abortion clinics surrounded by protesters. Now, I am avidly pro-choice. Always have been, always will be. However, women who choose to have late-term abortions for babies they very much wanted are often frowned upon. It is my hope that with sharing my story, I can open a few eyes to the reality of what those of us who seek late-term abortions endure, and that it is NOT a choice that is made lightly.
On January 8, 2015 my fiancee and I discovered that we were expecting. We were so excited! We tried for four unsuccessful months and we were both over the moon. When I saw the words “Pregnant” on that little stick, my life changed in an instant. I began to imagine our future, wondered whether we’d have a boy or a girl, had dreams of dance recitals and football games and everything in between. We picked names for both. We were having a baby. We were going to be parents!
From the beginning, I had an inexplicable feeling of unease. However, I have a constant feeling of unease so I brushed it off as just my habit of excessive worry. I started eating better, I cut out caffeine, I took my vitamins, I exercised, I slept well, I avoided chemicals. I did everything I was supposed to do to protect my little bean.
We went for our first ultrasound when I was only 7 weeks along. Our baby was so tiny and barely visible, but we saw it’s little heart beating away. I was immediately brought to tears. Our baby had a heartbeat, we passed hurdle one! My stepmom and fiancee were with me and it was one of the best days of my life. I was so, so happy. Everybody was excitedly anticipating the arrival of our baby. Our first child, their first grandchild.
When I went to my first appointment, I was told my due date would be September 18. My OB suggested we consider non-invasive prenatal testing. It involves a blood test and ultrasound to check for major chromosomal issues. Being young, healthy, and with no family history I opted out. I was in the safe zone.
I arranged to take the year off school and stay home with our baby. I had what most would consider a picture perfect pregnancy. I threw up once, had very little nausea. Aside from some tiredness, headaches, and pimples like a high school girl, I felt great.
Through my entire first trimester, I worried endlessly about miscarrying. I knew how fragile pregnancy was and that statistically, it is far too common an occurrence. I went for my appointment with my OB just shy of 12 weeks and was very nervous. I was always nervous going to my appointments. In hindsight, I see that my mommy instinct was telling me something. My stepmom was with me, as my fiancée was at work. He put the doppler to my stomach and immediately we heard our babies heartbeat. I cried. My stepmom cried. I had never heard such a beautiful sound. I was in awe that I was carrying a life inside my belly. I was so in love already and I had only known about him/her for 2 short months. I was through the first trimester. We were safe. It was going to be okay. Next step, boy or girl!? Our anatomy scan was set to be at 19w5d. I couldn’t wait. I scheduled an elective ultrasound for 16w5d.
The morning of April 8, my stepmom, fiancee, best friend and I set off to the ultrasound. I couldn’t even contain my excitement. I was sure it was a boy. I just had a feeling. When we arrived, I picked out the music for our video and we started. She put the probe to my stomach and there was my baby. This was the first time we were seeing him/her as a human-looking fetus. Our baby was only a tiny heartbeat the last time. My heart swelled with love. Tears welled up in my eyes. We had created this beautiful baby and soon we would welcome him/her into this world. I couldn’t wait.
As the ultrasound went on, I grew very uneasy. Our baby didn’t move. It’s legs were crossed, the feet didn’t look like they were at a natural angle, our baby didn’t move their hands away from their face. They didn’t move despite the shaking and moving we did. We couldn’t find out the gender. I left with an unshakeable worry. Again, I brushed it off as my usual worrying self.
Fast forward 3 weeks to our anatomy scan. I went in alone. My fiancée waited in the waiting room while the tech did my very lengthly scan. I laid and worried the whole time. The tech made a comment about being unable to visualize the face and I asked if their hands were up at its face. She said yes. My stomach dropped.
She went to get my fiancee and started showing us our babies anatomy. As soon as the picture appeared on the screen, dread came over me. Our baby was in exactly the same position as last time. Not a single change. This on top of the fact that I never felt movement was enough to send me into a tailspin. Something was very, very wrong. I didn’t say anything to my fiancée because I didn’t want to worry him too. We had our appointment in 5 days. We would see what our doctor said.
The next morning, my phone rang and when I saw the name of my OB on the screen I couldn’t breathe. I answered the phone already in a panic. He wanted to see us right away. That morning if at all possible. All my worst fears were coming true and it started with this call. My fiancee and I got dressed and left right away. I tried so hard the entire time we waited to not burst into tears. I was terrified.
We finally got called into the room after what seemed like an eternity. Our doctor came in and proceeded to tell us there were abnormalities on our ultrasound. I asked what kind of abnormalities. He said he didn’t know. Could me minor, could be major but it would be up to the specialists at McMaster to tell me that. I burst into tears. The baby we wanted so badly was sick. We didn’t know what to expect and now had to wait to get an appointment at McMaster for answers.
We left the office, and I was in a daze. We drove around for hours. My fiancee wanted to try and distract me, but it was impossible. I ran through the worst case scenarios in my head. I pleaded with a god I don’t believe in to let it be fixable, minor. Please let our baby be okay. Don’t take this from us. I laid in bed and I just cried. I cried, and I cried. I called my OB daily to see if I had an appointment yet. Finally, a week later we had an appointment date. We were scheduled for a level 2 ultrasound, followed by an appointment with a maternal fetal medicine specialist and a genetic counsellor. I prepared myself for the worst. I prepared myself for fatal. I hoped for fixable.
I spent the next week in an emotionally numb daze. When May 12th came, we got dressed and headed up to the hospital with my Aunt bright and early. We waited in the waiting room for an hour with all the other pregnant women. I got called in for my ultrasound and had to go alone. I lay there through another torturous hour long scan all alone with all the possibilities of things I may hear in the next hour running through my mind. Decisions we may have to make. The tech left to check with the radiologist to make sure she got everything she needed. I waited in the room for 20 minutes and rubbed my belly. I wanted my baby to know that I loved them, regardless of the outcome. I took pictures of my belly. I was convinced it would be only a matter of time until I didn’t have my baby inside of me anymore, and I wanted to cherish them while I had them despite how badly it hurt.
The tech came back and told me to head to the clinic. We headed upstairs and checked in. We had to fill out paperwork stating our ethnicities, any birth defects we had, family history of genetic issues, and everything in between. We were given a pamphlet outlining different diagnostic tests and major chromosomal issues. I read through the booklet while we waited what seemed like an eternity. We were called in. This was it.
The genetic counsellor came in first. She asked what we knew about our baby’s issues. We told her we knew nothing. No matter how much I prepared myself, I was not prepared for what she said next. Even writing it now I feel a tightness in my chest and the same extreme tension and worry I felt that day. “Im afraid I don’t have very good news for you.” My fiancee squeezed my hand, my aunt looked at me with a look of heart break I won’t ever forget. I burst into tears. I knew to expect this. I felt it all along.
She started to explain that our baby had fixed limbs. Our baby couldn’t move. They had clubbed feet, clenched hands. There was a build up of fluid around the lungs. It appeared that they couldn’t swallow. This was shown by a very small stomach and an excess of amniotic fluid inside of me (polyhydramnios). This could be due to esophageal atresia or a neuromuscular issue. There was no way of knowing which. They couldn’t get a good picture of the heart but when testing the flow in the cord, it appeared our baby’s heart was failing. I couldn’t handle all of the information. I held my fiancees hand and I just cried. I knew there was no way our baby could survive. There was so many issues I couldn’t even begin to imagine putting our child through that. If it were me, I’d wish to be dead. The genetic counsellor left the room to give us time before the doctor came in. My aunt held me as I cried. My fiancée cried and begged for it to be a mistake. It wasn’t a mistake. Our baby was sick, and our baby would die before we got to meet them. The doctor came in and explained that with all of these issues, he suspects a genetic cause. He explained that our baby’s heart was failing and that there were already significant signs of distress (I was 21w4d at this point). I was offered amniocentesis that could be done that same day. I didn’t see the point. Our baby was not going to live, regardless of the “why.”
My decision was made before my doctor said it.
“At this point, we can talk about termination or about comfort care for you for the remainder of this pregnancy – however long that may be.” I knew I couldn’t go one more day letting our baby suffer. I couldn’t wake up everyday and wonder if that would be the day our baby died inside me. My fiancee and I made the decision to induce labour as soon as possible. We had to make the decision to end the pregnancy of a baby we loved, and wanted so very badly.
The social worker came in and explained to us the process of the induction. That it would be our choice as to whether we wanted to see our baby or not. Whether or not we wanted footprints, a blessing, keepsakes. She told us how big to expect our baby to be. She told us that saying hello and goodbye at once is heartbreaking, and difficult, and that there would be very real, raw emotions and that it may put strain on us as a couple. She gave us her card and said she would see us the morning we arrived, and after we had delivered our baby.
We left the hospital, and I was a disaster. We were scheduled for induction a week later. I searched online for women who have had to endure this same terrible situation. I found many groups full of them. I read stories about L&D induction, regrets some of the parents had about seeing/not seeing, requesting keepsakes etc. I read their stories and tried to find comfort in them. I wasn’t alone.
I spent the next week in my house. I didn’t want to leave still very visibly pregnant and have people asking me about my baby. What would I tell people? I couldn’t stop crying. I laid in bed and talked to our baby. I told them how much I loved them over and over. I told them how sorry I was that I couldn’t save them. How badly we wanted them. My fiancée rubbed and kissed my belly. We took pictures. I tried so hard to cherish that time. I simultaneously wished it would be over, and that I could keep them inside me safe forever. My emotions were uncontrollable. There was no fixing this.
We arrived to the hospital the morning of May 19. I was a zombie. The nurse came in and as soon as she spoke to me I burst into tears. She explained that it would be a difficult day and explained the process of the induction. It could take up to 24 hours and I would be given a self-administered pain pump for the contractions. If I wanted an epidural I’d have to go to L&D. I refused to go be in the proximity of women delivering healthy babies. I would weather the pain. I couldn’t add another level of emotional pain. I was given my first dose of medication at 10:15. By 11am I was in the worst pain of my life. I was given pain medication, then another dose of induction medication at 2pm and by about 3pm I started to become comfortable. I spent the majority of the evening and night in and out of consciousness, the medication was so strong. My aunt and fiancee slept in chairs and cots beside me. At 6am, I went into full labour. I had a nurse assigned solely to me and she sat beside me and held my hand while I weathered the contractions. She was fantastic and I will be eternally grateful for her. The pain was unbelievable. I begged for it to be over. I pleaded for them to get my baby out of me. My fiancee and aunt never left my side. I had my water broken and delivered our son at 6:47am on May 20, 2015. He was born sleeping. We decided we wanted to see him. I couldn’t bear to live the rest of my life wondering what our first child looked like. We loved him. I carried him for months and felt him grow. I owed him that. They took his footprints, put him in a tiny hat and blanket and brought him to us. He weighed 1lb1oz. He was tiny and perfect. His little face was gorgeous. He had his daddy’s nose. He had adorable lips and tiny eyebrows. Limb deformities aside, he was perfect. However, it took only one look to know just how sick our baby was. We named him Jameson. He was our perfect, loved, very sick son. We took pictures, we held him and stared at him. I loved him so much. I never understood love until I held him in my arms. The time we had with him was so short, and so painful but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. I don’t regret him. I don’t regret being pregnant with him. He taught me so many things in his short time. I’m more compassionate. I love harder, I feel more. I miss him deeply every single day and I don’t think I will ever have a day where I don’t feel that niggling sense of something missing in the back of my mind. But that’s OK. He is our baby and I love him as much as I would a child I lost at 2 months, 2 years, 30 years. It makes no difference. He is our baby. We talk of him often and fondly. Though some people may disagree, we are parents. We made the hardest decision we have ever had to make for the sake of our child. Isn’t that what parents do? We took on a lifetime of pain and suffering to spare our child one more second of it.
We were very fortunate for the care we received here. Being a liberal country, we were afforded the opportunity for safe, compassionate late-termination. We were able to give birth to our son and see him, and hold him.
Being part of these support groups I have come to realize that this is however not the norm in the States in particular. These women are forced to get on planes and fly across the country for access to safe medical care. They are forced to pay out of pocket to end pregnancies of babies they so badly wanted. Dreamed of. Tried for years to conceive. They are forced to sit in abortion clinics, visibly pregnant with protesters outside telling them that they are killing their babies. That they are doing the wrong thing. Their hearts are breaking. Why should they have to sit in a waiting room and endure this added layer of pain because politicians think they know whats best for women and their bodies? Why shouldn’t they get to deliver their babies naturally and have the opportunity to hold them and cherish them for a short time?
Despite the reason for termination, medical reasons, non-medical reasons, maternal health reasons why should these women have to explain themselves? Why should a politician who has never lived through something so horrific get to determine what a woman does with her body? These women are denied safe, compassionate care in their home states. It is wrong. It needs to be changed.
Choosing to end a pregnancy comes with a layer of guilt. Whether the diagnosis was fatal, like in our case, or more a of a grey area like downs syndrome, we all feel guilty. We all wish we could have saved the babies we wanted so very badly. We shouldn’t have to explain the reasons behind our choice because it is just that. OUR choice. We should be the only ones who decide what is best for our babies, and our families.
It is my hope that for every person who reads our story, I can help shine light on late-term abortions and how hard, and horrible it is for the women who have to make this decision without being told we are horrible baby killers. We wanted our babies. We loved them. They were sick and we couldn’t save them. I fully expect some back lash from pro-lifers and that is ok. I am at peace with our decision. If I can change at least one mind I will feel I have done my part. The women I have met through these support groups are strong. They are resilient. They are fighters. This experience has lit a fire in me that I can’t put out and I hope that in the future, all women will have the access to safe and compassionate care when seeking late-term abortions for their sick babies, or sick selves.