My abortion story

I wish pro-lifers pushing new Texas laws understood: Hearing my little girl's heartbeat would have been unbearable

Topics: Abortion, Reproductive Rights, Life stories, Motherhood, Real Families, Texas, Editor's Picks,

My abortion story (Credit: liseykina via Shutterstock)

I started seeing a therapist again after my abortion. She tells me it’s OK to talk about this, but I know I’m not supposed to. Sometimes my 3-year-old asks why he has a baby brother instead of a baby sister. I imagine he will have stopped asking by the time I am ready to answer him.  My husband tears up, too, when we talk late at night about what our daughter would have been like. The conversation always ends the same: We couldn’t have changed the outcome. She would have been born dying. We have been lucky to have another baby since then. He just started saying mama and we cannot imagine life without him. We know we made the right decision, even if it hurt to do so.

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I heard an interview on “Fresh Air” that stopped me in the middle of my workday. Terry Gross was interviewing Carolyn Jones, a woman in Texas who had an abortion for reasons that sounded familiar.  She wanted her baby, just like I had wanted mine. Unlike me, though, she was forced to have an ultrasound and wait 24 hours because the lawmakers in her state had recently decided she should. She talked about how the doctor apologized for having to do it, how the nurse spoke louder and tried to distract her while the doctor verbally documented the ultrasound. She explained how the law required that the volume be up loud enough for her to hear the heartbeat.

As I listened to her, I felt so grateful that my abortion took place in Massachusetts. I could not imagine going through that. My ordeal was bad enough. And I realized I needed to talk about my abortion outside of my therapist’s office, because it might help another women in this position. Will it help if I add my story to the chorus saying: We cannot let women be treated this way — these mandates are not OK?

As soon as I realized I was pregnant, I knew something was wrong. At my first prenatal visit at eight weeks, I told the midwife that some days I had cramps that felt like contractions and some days I didn’t feel pregnant at all. They did an ultrasound, which was fine. I was approaching 35, so the midwife also recommended the quad screening for chromosomal abnormalities.

I had a knot in my stomach as we waited three weeks until we could have the testing. The appointment was in the department of fetal medicine on the sixth floor of the hospital where we planned to have the baby. The room smelled cold. I knew the technician saw that something was wrong, because her eyes never met mine. We waited an eternity for the doctor, as I repeated to my husband that we must have done something terrible to cause whatever terrible was going to happen. Tears began to stream sideways down my cheeks, landing with a ping on the shiny white paper they have in doctors’ offices.  My husband held my left hand with both of his. There were holes in the shiny white paper where my tears had landed and dried and landed again.

That day was long and difficult: The doctor recommended diagnostic testing, which we had after a long talk with the genetic counselor. She asked if I had a therapist. The knot in my stomach became a prayer for Down syndrome. And finally, a few days later, the call with news you don’t want to hear. Our baby had Trisomy 18.  Every cell had an extra copy of the material on chromosome 18. It was rare, we were told, because most of the time, the pregnancy wouldn’t have made it this far.

We asked countless questions. We emptied many boxes of tissues. Half of these pregnancies will result in stillbirth. Half of the live births do not survive beyond the first week. Less than 10 percent will have a first birthday. A small number have lived into their 20s and 30s with medical and developmental issues that prevent them from living independently.

I was always pro-choice, but I had never planned to have an abortion. I could not believe what was happening, but I talk to my toddler about making choices. When he doesn’t want to hold my hand in the parking lot, I tell him that sometimes we have to make the choice we don’t want to make because it is the right choice or because it is the safe choice. I knew that to mother this baby, I had to let go. I could not bring myself to ask if it was a girl or boy until after we had made our decision. I had always hoped for a daughter. I had already imagined her first day of kindergarten.

The genetic counselor helped me make the appointment because I couldn’t do it myself.  I knew that the protesters would be there because I had once worked for that hospital. It took over a week to get the appointment and I had known for a week before that. I don’t know if I’ll ever tell my sons about how sad those weeks were. I don’t think I stopped crying at all for the last 24 hours. When my toddler wasn’t around, I let out deep, wet moans, throwing my grief at the walls around me.

When the day finally came, it was raining outside. I don’t remember how it smelled in that room. I felt so cold inside when it was over. If anyone had made me listen to a heartbeat, I don’t know how I would have coped. It seems like such unnecessary cruelty.

Also on “Fresh Air” last week, Terry Gross spoke to a woman named Carolyn Cline, the executive director and CEO of Involved for Life. Her organization and others like it are behind a growing number of pregnancy centers, which are not medical facilities but advise women who have unplanned pregnancies.  They don’t promote birth control but will support a woman through this decision. I don’t know how these centers plan to support a 15-year-old and her baby after birth, and I don’t know how they would support a toddler with a dying sister.

Ms. Cline spoke of something called post-abortion stress and said that the pregnancy centers advise women of the potential psychological impact of choosing abortion. I think Ms. Cline wants to help, but I wish I could talk to her, woman to woman, and tell her that what she thinks is helpful is not. Telling a woman that an abortion might hurt her because she might have regret seems foolish. Talking to a woman about adoption but not abortion doesn’t seem like pregnancy counseling. Subjecting a woman to a sonogram and a waiting period seems like something that will only prolong the sadness and suffering of this decision at a time when it is most impossible to bear.

After my abortion, I felt alone. I still do. In our society, we have methods to deal with bloody noses, acne and hiccups.  It strikes me that when we talk about “post-abortion stress,” we are talking about a woman left alone to cope with grief. I wish we weren’t still fighting for the right for women to make responsible choices about their lives and their bodies; I wish support existed for a woman after an abortion as opposed to instead of an abortion. And I wish we could move forward to a time where we could talk about this in language other than termination and procedure. For me, the word was “loss.”

I never heard the heartbeat of that baby. I don’t know that anything could have made letting go any more painful. I usually write poetry when I feel alone. I try to find ways to honor that baby’s presence in our lives and I’m writing this story because I wouldn’t want her to feel so alone.

I’ve heard that the DNA of our children lives on in our bodies for 21 years. I don’t know if that’s true. But I think of her every day.

Jacqui Morton earned her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her chapbook "Turning Cozy Dark" will be available from Finishing Line Press in the spring of 2013. She is currently working on a collection of essays and the completion of a full-length book of poems.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>