Roe is falling, and so am I.
I am falling into a deep ocean of memories, nearly a decade old.
My first pregnancy is both meticulously planned and easily joyous. I am in my medical training, and my husband is starting a career eight years in the making. In our dual-doctor household, expanding a family is a fine balance of timing, but voila, we are there.
There are little hiccups after 12 weeks — every test comes back slightly out of range, and we pour over journal articles to figure out their significance. It's just a one-off, we decide — surely it couldn't be that every possible thing that could go wrong in one pregnancy would?
Despite all of this, we are smiling as we walk into the hospital for our 20-week anatomy scan. I am breaking from service and consults for this happy morning hour and then I'll run back to work with news to share with my team.
I need amniocentesis, genetic testing, counseling — all of it now, because there is a clock in Harrisburg that is ticking.
The bad news hits us with gale force, although apprehension prickles when the ultrasound tech falls silent. Things are not looking well for our extraordinarily, profoundly growth-restricted baby. I am not going back to work that day, or the next. I need amniocentesis, genetic testing, counseling — all of it now, because there is a clock in Harrisburg that is ticking. My husband sobs as I sit motionless on the table. We squeeze each other's hands until they are white and numb.
Time does strange things as we fall into a limbo where we can only hurry up and wait, as the saying goes. My parents and my best friend arrive, small and unsure, to help us move into a new apartment, which we have chosen for its child-friendly layout.
I am reaching for a heavy box when my friend cautions me to be careful.
I explode at her then, suddenly and unfairly. It probably doesn't matter anymore, I yell.
She gently takes the box from me anyway. You matter, she seems to say.
A very large box of brownies materializes from my husband's close-knit circle of "fellow-fellows," who experienced the victories and tragedies of pediatric oncology fellowship together. Grief brownies, we joke. I eat them exclusively for days, sorrow and sweetness mingling seamlessly on my tongue.
By fate or happenstance, I am involved in the care of a small, sick and septic child in the intensive care unit. A tiny baby caught in a terrible catch-22, as it is near impossible to find intravenous access if we take the infected IV out. So, we work to save this gossamer line that ties him to life and death. I see the parents so clearly in my mind's eye, parallels sharp through time and space, agonizing over their circumstances as I agonize over mine.
They eventually withdraw care, with heartbreak and compassion and love.
We anguish over this final exam we never wanted for a pregnancy we desperately did.
Bad news pours forth, and my husband and I are adrift in a sea of grey, despite our combined pediatric knowledge. We anguish over this final exam we never wanted for a pregnancy we desperately did.
The obstetrician who counsels me prior to my abortion is unfailingly kind and effortlessly competent — perhaps she has spent her prior appointment talking to a woman who feels only relief after making her decision or a woman who decides not to proceed with abortion. Or maybe someone like me. Anyway, I never feel the weight of her judgment. Your decision is the right one, she says, the wisdom of her experience shining in her eyes.
The night before, I fall into my husband's embrace, and he holds me through painful cramps and profound grief. We are somehow at peace with this decision, made with heartbreak and compassion and love.
The gruff anesthesiologist we meet the next day abruptly stops talking when he scans my chart. We wait anxiously for a rebuke, but instead receive a gentle hand on my arm. I'm so sorry, he says.
I fall into the twilight of conscious sedation. When I wake up, we go home and try to piece ourselves back together.
In a parting kindness, my first pregnancy stands sentinel over the two nail-biting ones that follow, which are closely monitored thanks to knowledge and surveillance.
For far too long has the anti-choice movement vilified those who seek abortions, raising the specter of "bad motherhood" over women like me.
For far too long has the anti-choice movement vilified those who seek abortions, raising the specter of "bad motherhood" over women like me, and using the far smaller number of later term abortions as a way to foment shock and impede access to this important healthcare need.
I may grieve my circumstances, but never my choice, the kindest thing I could do.
Resources, access, education, love, empathy. I have been given all of these in spades. I am lucky. Many are not. It is gut-wrenching and infuriating that people like me need to be flayed open, the contents of our life stories examined for veracity and worth. But we are here. At this moment. I have always been pro-choice but am more fiercely and more compassionately so now. Because "the decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman's life, to her well-being, and dignity," as Justice Ginsberg so eloquently said. Because the diverse circumstances that lead people to seek abortions illustrate the need for reproductive autonomy. Because a woman's reason does not need to look like mine to make her choice valid or legal.
It is nearly a decade later, a Tuesday afternoon marked by protests across the nation. I am falling as I attend a rally for reproductive rights (and dignity and bodily autonomy). A friend's strong arm loops around my shoulder — actually one strong arm, and two soft fallopian tubes. A giant, crocheted uterus gently floats into view, its anthropomorphized face expressing anger and disgust over the state of affairs. Uterati, my friend explains impishly, breaking the solemnity in the best way.
Crocheted uterus: Uterati (Crafted by Kira Coviello / Photographed by Mike Maney)
She presses into me, soft and sturdy. I'm here for you, she says. I am here to catch you, and I am ready to fight.
Roe is falling. Time to fight.
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