Originally posted February 24, 2011
With all the anti-choice bills going on nationwide, I feel I need to tell my story. The anti-choice people are gaining too much ground, and we have to speak out or else we will lose all our rights. Women don’t have late-term abortions because they changed their mind about having a baby. They aren’t doing it because having a disabled child might be “inconvenient.” They do it out of love. WE do it out of love. My abortion was the most loving thing I did for my first son.
It has taken me a very long time to say “I had an abortion.” To this day I choke on the word. I can say “termination,” but most often I just say we lost our son. I don’t say that it was by our choice, because I shrink from the harsh words of others. Even though I do not regret my decision–not even for a moment. Even though I believe to my very soul that it was a loving and merciful choice. Even though I have had nothing but support from the people in my life who do know. But it is time now. And it is starting here.
My father and brother have a genetic condition called Ectrodactyly. It is a weird gene–it’s dominant, but the effects that it causes vary from person to person (though the defect is genetically identical within the same family). In its milder forms, it stunts or even prevents completely the development of certain bones in the hands, arms, feet and legs. People with this disorder have a straight 50/50 chance of passing it on.
I have ten fingers and ten toes, and as far as anyone knew was physically normal. I went through genetic counseling when I was younger, and was assured I couldn’t pass on the defect because “if I had it, I’d HAVE it.” My father has no middle fingers on his hands, and his legs were deformed below the knees and were amputated when he was an adolescent. My brother has one normal hand and one hand with no middle finger and a deformed thumb, and his legs are deformed below the knee. Both of them live pretty normal lives.
When my husband and I decided to start a family, we were worried about all the same things as any other couple. We were overjoyed when we got pregnant on our first try, and although I was pretty sick through most of it we were very excited. We only were planning one child so we were very attentive to every moment of the experience. We eagerly read what was developing day by day and were thrilled by hearing the heartbeat, seeing the early, bean-shaped ultrasound, feeling the flutters and kicks.
When we went for an ultrasound at about 22.5 weeks along, it was only to see if we were having a boy or a girl, and a standard once-over to make sure everything was growing right. We asked the technician to count fingers and toes, “just to be sure.” But the technician couldn’t find the hands. Within an hour we were across the street at the hospital, talking to the genetic counselor and having our son’s condition explained to us.
He was severely affected by what was later confirmed to be Ectrodactyly. It turns out that I do have the gene, but the effect on me was so minor that it only manifested in a very slight malformation of my ankle bones, which makes me somewhat more prone to rolling my ankles. Something so inconsequential no one ever considered it. Our son was not so lucky. His arms were almost completely missing below the elbow. One of his legs was missing several bones and was malformed. His pelvis was deformed. We left that office devastated.
We were counseled in all our options. When our son was born, he would be immediately transferred to Portland, two hours away, where his condition would be assessed. He would be around four months old when he had the first surgeries to correct as much of his deformities as possible. He would have no use of his arms. He would be in a wheelchair for life, and in pain because of the various deformities. He would never be self-sufficient, never lead anything remotely resembling a normal life. He couldn’t even use prosthetic due to the nature of the deformity.
We were told we had to decide what we wanted to do within forty-eight hours, as at his gestational age we had to move quickly. We were in total agreement that this was not the kind of life we wanted for our child. With the full support of our families, including my father and brother, we chose to terminate the pregnancy.
There is no way to express the agony of choosing death for your child. Our son was loved from the moment he was conceived–indeed, loved from the moment we decided to try and conceive him–and we will never fully recover from losing him. It was because of that love that we chose to let him go; not to force him to live a life we wouldn’t force on an animal. We were tremendously lucky that we had the ultrasound the day we did–had we been just a week farther along, we would have had no choice.
We were amazingly lucky that our second son is physically normal. As I watch his perfect, even advanced development I am filled with gratitude that I was able to make the choice I made. Each normal milestone–reaching for a toy, kicking his feet–is something our first son would not have been able to do. Especially now that he’s crawling, trying to walk, I think of how it could have been. When he does something as simple as rub his eyes I am grateful, because I know it might not have been so.
The so-called pro-life movement shows off gory, brutal photos of “aborted fetuses” that are meant to tear out your heart and turn your stomach. Our son wasn’t just “an aborted fetus;” we held him, we sang to him. We took pictures too–of his sweet still face, of his grief-stricken family around him. We chose to have him cremated and had a very small family service for him. He had a name.
You never see those pictures held up by the anti-choice movement. They scream out that “you’re killing babies!!” as if we didn’t know, as if the only reasons someone might choose to terminate a pregnancy are ignorance or evil. Like a slogan I saw recently, “Abortion doesn’t make you un-pregnant, it just makes you the mother of a dead child.”
We chose to free him from a life of pain, to take his suffering onto ourselves. Every tear we have cried is one he won’t have to. This is what late-term abortion really looks like.