Last October, Anil and I terminated our first and very much wanted pregnancy after confirming a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21. This week I would have been 40 weeks pregnant. There are many couples who've traveled the same heartbreaking path but you wouldn't know it because it is a choice that, at least in this country, few people want to talk about or acknowledge. It's a choice none of us make lightly and all of us are thankful to have. The right to make this choice is under constant threat from proposed and existing state regulations regarding late term abortion, groups who want to outlaw all abortion, and the new health care bill. It is convenient to view abortion primarily as a procedure to end unwanted pregnancy, but like most things, real life is much more complicated. Lawmakers, voters, and activists need to hear the stories of women like Gretchen Voss, Lynda Waddington, and many others like us.
I will not forget the view from the hospital waiting room window when we first found out something might not be right. We had gotten pregnant right away. We were thrilled, and despite the relative surprise we were relieved to skip the stress of officially "trying." I was lucky enough to skip any morning sickness the first trimester. Not that there weren't other symptoms -- no one tells you about these before you're pregnant! Anil went to all the pre-natal appointments with me. We opted to have a nuchal translucency screening test at 12 weeks, a diagnotistic test for chromosomal abnormalities as well as major congenital heart problems. We were both in good health, had no family history of chromosomal abnormalities, and I had passed a battery of tests to confirm I was not a carrier of any hereditary genetic disorders. We assumed we'd pass the screening with flying colors and were excited for another chance to see the baby. At the nuchal translucency screening, the technician took and the measurements and then told us she wanted the doctor to take a look. I was still sure everything was fine, but Anil told me later that everyone's body language in the room indicated otherwise. The doctor confirmed the tech's findings, and told us we were at higher risk for Down syndrome and he wanted us to meet with a genetic counselor right away. We had an hour and half wait to see the counselor. I cried outside the hospital as it finally began to sink in with me that things might not be OK.
We met with the counselor and discussed next steps -- diagnostic testing via CVS or amniocentesis. Chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a prenatal test that detects chromosomal abnormalities. The doctor takes cells from tiny fingerlike projections on the placenta called the chorionic villi and sends them to a lab for genetic analysis. Amniocentesis involves sampling and testing the amniotic fluid, and is usually performed between 16-20 weeks. We wanted to know for sure and as soon as possible, so we opted for CVS. The counselor arranged for us to come back the next morning, Friday, for the procedure. Anil was there with me again for the CVS procedure, which was like a 5 minute long pap smear, made worse by the doctor's horrible bedside manner. We'd have to wait until Monday for the initial test results. Anil spent the weekend worried; I was still relatively optimistic. After all, the odds were still in our favor. It was an uncharacteristic role reversal for the two of us. Sunday night I dreamed the test results came back negative -- our baby was healthy. But it was only a dream. On Monday around lunchtime I got the call at work -- the results had come back positive for Trisomy 21. I was devastated. I left work right away to go home and tell Anil. My heart has never ached so much. The initial results are 99% accurate. We were in agreement that if the final results came back positive, we would terminate the pregnancy.
In the meantime, we still had to wait another week for the final results, and I was still pregnant. It seemed so cruel, knowing that the baby was continuing to grow inside of me while we waited and grieved. I was on my way to work, just outside my office when I got the call from our genetic counselor with the final test results. The final results were positive for T-21. She asked if we had thought about how we wanted to proceed, and I told her we wanted to terminate the pregnancy. She offered to help me make the arrangements, which I was grateful for. When we got the results back I couldn't stop thinking, "This isn't my story. I don't want this to be part of my story. I don't want to be this woman. I never imagined this woman." Even before I was pregnant, I began unconsciously writing the story of the family we were becoming, and the beautiful baby we would meet in 9 short months. My heart broke into a million pieces as I realized this wouldn't be my story, at least not this time. 2 days later, we terminated the pregnancy.
Most of the people who know us didn't even know we had been pregnant at all, until now. Words cannot convey the emotional toll of this experience; I hope you or anyone you love never has to go through a similar experience. But through it all I have never regretted any of the decisions we made. Anil and I learned that our love is strong enough to endure some very dark days and the worst kind of heart break. We also learned that we have amazing support from family and friends, some of whom we then found out had been through similar pain, though we'd never known at the time. We found such comfort in hearing the (heartbreakingly common) story of others who had been through this kind of situation that it made sense to share our own story. For the story teller and those who can relate, these stories are a healing salve.
Six months later, the heartache is still there each and every day but so is hope.
What You Can Do
I have always been pro-choice, but frankly it was a choice that I never thought that I'd have to make. Now that I have, I am more grateful than ever for this right, and to have the privilege of good health insurance, first-rate medical care, a strong marriage, and a real support network. I am also more passionate about preserving the right to choose in the future for all women, and men. Who thought that in 2010, women would have fewer and not more control over their bodies? If I could travel back in time and deliver this news to my 18 year-old self, she would be shocked and saddened. If you've had an abortion for any reason, share you story. Support pro-choice candidates with your vote or financial contribution. Become a Planned Parenthood member and help protect and promote women's health in your community and across the country.