At the time I am writing this article, several weeks have passed since the Supreme Court made the historic decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision that has massive impacts on every person with a uterus in this country. I know, you have heard it all before and perhaps this is a topic that by this point has already been discussed ad nauseum. But we as women must know why our reproductive rights matter, and that is what I am here to share with you today.
I believe that I have a unique perspective to share as someone who has struggled with infertility and pregnancy loss, is a practitioner in the field of women’s health, and is also the child of an adoptee. And so I am here to share that with you today. If this resonates with you in any way, please feel free to give it a share.
Now my story does involve some details of my experience with infertility, IVF, and pregnancy loss so if that is not something you feel emotionally ready to hear about feel free to close this out now or skip down a few paragraphs. I get it. But I also know how powerful it is to hear someone else’s story and know you are not alone. So if you are reading this with your eyes full of tears that is okay too. Honor that, allow space for the way that you feel and know that it is all okay.
I want to have a family more than anything in this world, so nobody has to explain to me how precious life is and what a miracle it is to conceive a child. I started IVF in early 2020, just before Covid hit. For me this has included (so far) one egg retrieval and two transfers.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of experiencing this, when you go in for transfer day, the first thing they do is bring you into a room and show you a picture of the tiny little speck-of-dust-sized embryo that is about to be placed in your body. At that point, it looks like just a collection of cells. Then when they do the transfer procedure, you actually watch live via ultrasound the nearly-microscopic embryo being transferred into your uterus. Then you are sent home and left to wait for 10 days and “think sticky thoughts,” hoping that the embryo decides to nest its way into your uterine lining and continue to grow.
This whole process is so incredible. Most people don’t actually ever get to have a glimpse of their child until the first ultrasound around 10 or 12 weeks along. I was able to see it when it was just a collection of cells, which had been frozen just 5 days after fertilization.
I went home after the first transfer, waited the agonizing 10 days, then took a blood test and received the devastating phone call that no one wants to hear. After all the shots, all of the medications, all of the waiting, all of the emotional build up…it didn’t work. The embryo didn’t implant. I knew this was a strong possibility as IVF only works a percentage of the time, even less often on the first try, and even less often when you have a complication like endometriosis. What I didn’t expect was how devastated I was. I may have only been looking at a tiny collection of cells, but that was my child. That child was created out of so much love and was wanted beyond its wildest dreams.
And so a couple months later we tried again. This was our last shot for the time being because, well, IVF is not free and is very taxing emotionally and physically as well. I went through the same process, the same procedure, with even more anticipation and anxiety this time because I knew exactly what it felt like when things didn’t work out as expected. But God bless us, this time it worked! I almost couldn’t believe my ears when we finally received that phone call with positive news.
At 7 ½ weeks along I went into the clinic for my first ultrasound and was able to see that itty bitty life growing inside of my body and even saw the even tinier heart beat. Everything looked great! I cried so many tears of joy and thanked my lucky stars that I could possibly be so blessed. Being that we were doing IVF, we still had to continue doing progesterone shots every single day until 12 weeks of pregnancy which we did. If not happily (those needles aren’t small!), at least gratefully. We would rather be doing the shots than not!
At 12 weeks we finally were able to do our very last progesterone injection. We celebrated with cake and some sparkling cider. We made it! Until a few days later I started spotting…then bleeding. I called my midwife in a panic and she told me I should go get an ultrasound. I did that morning and heard the words no one wants to hear… “I’m sorry, mama, but there is no heartbeat.”
I proceeded to go into labor that night, complete with painful contractions except with no prize at the end. I can’t think of a worse day of my life. I cried every single day for 6 months straight and I wasn’t sure if I would ever stop hurting.
I share all of this with you not so that you will feel sorry for me, but so that you can understand my perspective. We all have our own journeys, our own hardships in life, and this has been mine. My story isn’t over yet, this is just the messy middle part. This is the road I have walked.
So you see, no one understands how precious life is right from the moment of conception than someone like me.
And yet, I am profoundly pro choice. Here is why.
I am going to focus this article today on the topics that aren’t always brought to light in this discussion. The difficult parts, the impossible choices that women and families sometimes have to make.
We often think of abortion as a “simple” choice that women make when they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. Now of course that unwanted pregnancy may have come about through intercourse that was wanted and asked for, or not. Either way it can leave a woman in an incredibly difficult situation, financially and/or putting them in a position of possible abuse or homelessness.
But what about all of the people like me who want a pregnancy more than anything? This decision won’t affect us, right? Wrong.
Did you know that abortion procedures happen every day for women who actually want their pregnancies more than life itself? If you have been blessed to have had children easily and without complications, this may be something you are blissfully unaware of.
In my situation, I had a miscarriage and was “fortunate” to be able to go through it at home without medical intervention. That is not always the case. Sometimes a miscarriage occurs, but the body still acts like it is pregnant and does not start the process on its own. In this case, medical intervention is necessary and this is in fact considered abortion, like it or not. This may no longer be allowed.
Another common incidence is cases of ectopic pregnancies or fetal abnormalities. If these pregnancies are forced to be carried, this can actually put the life of both the mother and the child at risk. I have heard stories time and time again from women who were told that their child who was so very wanted had a major abnormality, such as organs growing outside of the body. These are things that cannot be fixed. If the baby is brought to term, whatever very short life the child lives would be excruciatingly painful. These situations are also brought through abortion procedures, saving the mother and child from much pain and suffering. Is this really honoring their life?
I also heard a story recently of a woman who had a complication with her pregnancy, but was told that she couldn’t receive an abortion because she lived in a region where that wasn’t allowed. Her doctors later changed their minds when they realized how serious the situation was, but by that point in time she was already in sepsis and both she and the baby lost their lives. So how is this honoring life?
And that’s not even touching base on fertility treatments like IVF. The abortion laws going into effect in some states have major implications on this. In fact, IVF clinics are already preparing to shut down in some areas until there is a better understanding of the implications of these laws.
If life is considered to have begun at the point of conception, then what does that mean for those embryos created that were fertilized in a lab? Will IVF no longer be allowed, the thing that is the only hope of having a family for so many people? If IVF is allowed, will every single embryo have to be transferred which could easily result in more complications and risks for the mother as well as the fetuses? Would women not be allowed to dispose of embryos they will not be transferring? Will they be forced to pay more money for more transfers and potentially have a much larger family than they expected? The desire and ability to have a family is a basic human need and human right. For some women, science is the only way this is possible. How is this honoring life?
These are questions that I cannot answer, but that certainly need to be asked and talked about. When you do an egg retrieval for IVF, you and the doctor really have no control over how many eggs are viable and how many embryos result from that. For example, in my procedure I had 10 eggs retrieved, 8 that were viable, and only 5 that were fertilized. There was no way of knowing that, no way of planning for that. What would have happened if my only choice had been to transfer all 5 embryos at once? What if, somehow, they all implanted? Would my petite 120-lb frame even be able to handle growing 5 embryos at once? Would this put my life and health at risk or that of these tiny embryos?
I know many of you out there may say something along the lines of, “but we can allow exceptions for things like that.” But the problem is that many places are not. And where exactly would the line be drawn? And who decides where the line is? Will there be cut and dry rules or will the doctors working directly with patients be given the control? Will women have any say in the health of their own bodies?
Let’s say the pregnancy is healthy and brought to term, but the mother is not in a place where she is ready for that. Will she and the child be financially cared for? Will the father be held responsible as well? Will she be given housing if she has not been allowed home due to her pregnancy? Will she be given child care so she can go to work or receive education?
What about the pregnancies that are brought to term and then put up for adoption, the “simple” solution I hear thrown out. What about the welfare of the child? What if there are so many children up for adoption that we can’t possibly keep up? What about the mental health of the child who is “rehomed” throughout their life and never feels cared for or like they have a home of their own? What about the children who feel like they never belong? What about the children who feel abandoned? Or are abandoned because the mother just didn’t know what else to do? How is this honoring life?
The truth is, pregnancy is never simple. Wanted or unwanted, natural or artificial, bringing a new life into the world is not simple. Nor is it black and white. So why are we looking for a black and white solution to an issue that is many shades of gray?
Where is the focus on education? How many women out there really understand their bodies and can recognize their fertile time of month? How many young women have intercourse with no real understanding that this can result in a pregnancy?
Where is the focus on contraceptive options for both males and females? How many people out there really know their options and how to access them?
Why our reproductive rights matter
I hope that everything you have read so far shines a light on this. Here is the thing: no young girls dreams of someday needing to have an abortion. No young girl dreams of having an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. No young girl ever assumes that she will have a life-threatening pregnancy complication or be left with assisted reproductive technology as their only option.
These are all situations that life throws at us that no one ever asks for or plans for. They are situations that can happen to absolutely anyone, regardless of your beliefs or where you live. Being a good person or a good follower of your beliefs, religious or otherwise, does not prevent you from being caught in these situations.
It is so easy to see these issues as being for people beyond yourself. Maybe you are already finished having kids, or have gone through menopause, or have had a hysterectomy and getting pregnant is no longer a possibility for you. But what if this was you? What if this was your daughter, your niece, your friend? What would you do or advise to do if keeping that pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, somehow put the mother in harm’s way? How do you decide which life to honor more?
When women are caught in these situations that are so impossible to navigate and are life-altering in so many ways, the thing they need more than anything is compassion. Judgment and hate towards people who are in situations you could never understand will take us nowhere. We are human first and being human means not being perfect.
If none of these situations have impacted you personally, I’m sure you can think of another time in your life when you were caught in an impossible situation with two or more possible solutions that were all filled with pain or hurt or all felt wrong in some way. Maybe you have had to make a decision to euthanize a beloved pet or take a beloved family member off of life support. Or perhaps you have had to make a difficult decision to remove yourself from a relationship, job, or home that was toxic to your health, but left you in a dire situation in another way. Life is filled with these complex and impossible choices that leave so much gray area and it seems there is no “right” decision.
This puzzle is a complex one with so many questions and so many complex options for solutions outside of creating laws that limit the rights of women. So let’s think outside of the box here, friends. What else can we do? How can we approach this topic with compassion and understanding? How can we approach this topic without shaming and belittling?
Being a woman is incredible, but also so very challenging. Our focus needs to be on raising each other up rather than knocking each other down. We have come such a long way from the days when we were not allowed to vote or to open a bank account on your own, but we have a long way in demanding the respect that we so deserve.
To all the women out there who have found themselves having to make an impossible decision, I see you. You are not alone and there are people out there fighting the fight for the respect you deserve.