how i got this baby

The Mom Who Had an Abortion at 7 Months Pregnant

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Tara had been told she might have difficulty getting and staying pregnant. With that in mind, she and her husband decided to start trying in her late 20s, just in case they needed extra time. It turned out they did not: Tara became pregnant with her son right away, and her daughter was born when he was 3. Tara’s third pregnancy was a surprise, from its happy start to its unexpected end. She discusses having two uteruses, telling her son she wasn’t going to come home with a baby, the physical reality of having a third-trimester dilation and evacuation, and what she’s grateful for today.

On “trying.” I was that little girl who never thought she’d get married or have children. But life happens: I married my high-school sweetheart. We wound up having a child, and that seemed like a good idea, so we had another one. Now I’m living this profoundly heteronormative life.

We got married young; I had just turned 24. About three years later, when I was 27, I was doing a year-long field research for my dissertation in France. My husband came to visit me and I said, Okay, if we do this, I’d like to do it before I turn 30. Here’s my rationale, and here’s my peer-reviewed articles. I think we should start now. (We’re terrifyingly planning-oriented people.)

Part of the reason I wanted to try getting pregnant before I turned 30 was that I felt like I might be facing an uphill battle — because I have two uteruses. When I was 18, they thought I had appendicitis, so I had a CAT scan — the radiologist said, “Ha, you don’t have appendicitis, but you might not be able to have children, or you might have kittens.” I wanted to give myself extra time, in case I needed it.

But as far as trying, we didn’t really have to … we “tried” for a month. I think, because it was my first baby, I didn’t know to be scared. Without experience, you don’t know to be scared of something happening in quite the same way.

On her first pregnancy. I was living alone in an apartment in Paris, a seventh-floor walk-up. Every day I walked to the library and did my research and hung around France. I ate a lot of things they tell pregnant women not to eat in America. But the French doctors I saw were terrified of me getting too close to computers. They’re very afraid of radiation, for a fetus.

It was a pretty easy pregnancy. I did bleed every month, which was kind of scary, but overall, it was almost boring. My son was born past his due date, after I came back to America.

On deciding whether to have more children. I’m an only child, so I was okay with having one. Plus, I was going on the academic job market. People will advise you — and rightly so — that having babies will compromise your ability to move wherever a job takes you. But my husband really wanted more than one. And I didn’t want to wait until I got tenure or anything, so I said okay, we’ll have another. This was after I finished my Ph.D.; my husband was still in an academic program. My daughter was born when my son was 3 and a quarter.

That pregnancy and her early life were both obnoxiously, wonderfully healthy. She was breech because she was so big — there was no room for her in my half-price, half-size uterus, so they had to do a C-section. She’s just stayed that way; she’s 2.5 now and very solid, wearing 3T and 4T clothes.

On being pregnant again. My third pregnancy is one of the few unplanned things we’ve done. It was quite the surprise. But I was unambiguously happy about it, actually. Something I’ve noticed is that it’s gotten more difficult with each pregnancy to emotionally disassociate. It’s harder to remind yourself that things might not work out — plus, it had worked out twice before. Clearly, I was tempting the evil eye.

From the start, I did know one thing that was different about this pregnancy: My first two were on the right side, while this one was on the left. So the rhetoric from the doctors was “We don’t know what will happen, anything could happen,” which was unsettling. I was worried about prematurity and growth restrictions, because that was what we knew to worry about. Having that known risk in front of me made me think less about what else could go wrong.

The nuchal translucency screen, plus the blood test — apparently that came back with one borderline elevated marker. They didn’t actually tell me that it came back elevated until the anatomy scan at 18 weeks. It doesn’t matter; you’re not going to terminate for one borderline result that could mean nothing. But still, I wish they had told me earlier.

At that anatomy scan, the doctor told me that she was going to start following the pregnancy more closely because the combined risk factors of the test result, my uterus, and a separate problem, one she told me not to Google because it used to be considered a soft marker for chromosomal disorders, but was no longer. This pregnancy was statistically like being hit by lightning multiple times. It didn’t occur to anyone that what ended up being wrong with him would happen.

On hearing “the alarm button.” At the 22-week scan, the doctor noticed that his head was kind of small, but it could just be that he didn’t have a lot of room. She said the same thing at the next scan, and then, at 28 weeks, she kind of pushed the alarm button. She said that she was now very concerned about his head size, and wanted me to get an MRI and a level-three ultrasound.

I was still thinking that the scan could be wrong. The natural-birth community often talks about how growth scans can be wrong — and they often are. But not usually in this direction. One thing that was strange was this wasn’t something you could Google and get freaked out over. My husband and I didn’t talk about it much, because we didn’t even know what to panic about.

I did go online to some mommy boards and look up the symptoms and measurements. There were people who said they’d had similar measurements, and their babies turned out okay. But studies show that doctors usually tend to give overly optimistic prognoses, not the other way around. And as it turned out, my doctor’s prognosis was too rosy — even though it was pretty fucking grim.

On figuring out what to do. They couldn’t figure out what had caused this, but a whole team of doctors met and talked about it and then sent in a fetal neurologist and a geneticist as sacrificial lambs to deliver the bad news. I remember asking what the baby would be like, if I carried to term. I wanted to know if he would be like a child with Williams or Down syndrome. And the neurologist just looked at me and said, No. Children with Down syndrome are very capable. They do lots of things — they express themselves, they move around, they eat on their own. He said that based on his experience, my baby would never develop language, never walk, never swallow. There was a significant chance he would never regulate his own breathing. He would never reach for or see objects.

After all those tests, they were so reluctant to give us any guidance. I had to say, “What do we do now?” And they finally said, “Either we bring in a social worker to talk to you. Or we refer you to this clinic in Colorado.”

It was a fairly easy decision. My husband and I just sort of looked at each other, and I told them to call the clinic. It was not really a question for me.

On preparing for a third-trimester abortion. We were lucky: Logistically arranging our travel was not as difficult as it could have been. A very close friend of mine was able to stay with our kids until my mother-in-law could come stay with them. But really what made this choice possible for us was money. We were fortunate enough to have family who helped and savings to wipe out, to do this. I remember my dad said, “I don’t have the cash to give you right now, but I’ll give you my credit card.”

It was $11,500, up-front, for the procedure, and at least $5,000 for the travel arrangements. It’s an insane amount of money. Most people wouldn’t even be able to think about doing it — this is so far from being a choice, it’s obscene.

When you have kids, you don’t want to cry in front of them. I cried in the kitchen; I cried in the laundry room. I cried in the car. I just kept finding places to cry where the kids wouldn’t see me. Right before we left, we had to tell my son what was happening, which was rough, but I didn’t want to leave pregnant and come back not pregnant without telling him anything. We told him the truth, using child-friendly terminology. We told him the baby was too sick to live outside of Mommy, so a doctor is going to take the baby outside of Mommy and there’s not going to be a baby we bring home and the baby is going to die.

Our son was sad for about five minutes. From what I understand, it comes and goes for him. Just the other day, my daughter was looking for her doll and saying, “Where is the little baby boy? I can’t find my little baby boy!” And my son said, “She’s talking about the baby, the baby who died. Can we have a birthday party for him this year, because someone good left the world and we should remember that?” I was eight months pregnant when I had the abortion, and he had expectations. As the grown-up, I believe I have to take care of his emotional needs — so I told him no, we weren’t going to have a birthday party, and that a baby who dies before it’s born isn’t a person in the same way.

On beginning the abortion. The flight was sad; I got up and cried in the bathroom a lot. Someone on the bus from the airport to the car rental place asked when the baby was due. I’d always wanted to go to Colorado, to visit the Rockies. I just never thought it would be like this.

My abortion happened over four days. The first day they do what’s called “feticide”; I’m not sure how I feel about that word, but that’s what they call it. That’s definitely the most emotionally difficult day, because they have to inject the baby with a chemical that stops the heart. I remember it was raining. It was a big storm. And I was really glad about that, actually — I thought that it would have been hateful if it were sunny. This way, it didn’t feel like God was mocking me. It also meant there weren’t protestors.

There are a lot of security complications, on top of the financial burden, that make it tough for this clinic to renovate. It’s clean; everything is very professional. But I think it hasn’t been renovated for 20 years. And that doesn’t matter in terms of the care you get. I just remember looking at the facilities, that first day before the procedure in the operating room, and feeling like what surrounded me was everything we’d lost about reproductive justice in the past 40 years. That was piled on top of everything about losing the baby.

They do an ultrasound, because they need the guidance — if the doctor can’t see what he’s doing, he might stick a needle in an organ. But they put the screen so you can’t see it. They have a social worker to hold your hand, and a nurse to be a nurse. They did an amnio first, as a favor, since we didn’t know why the baby had such severe microcephaly. Then the chemical was injected. It was similar to an amnio — a long needle into the uterus. The doctor missed, the first time.

No one talked about it. I think they didn’t want to upset me. I mean, he was trying to hit a moving target that he could only see on what must have been a 30-year-old ultrasound machine. But what was so hard about it, for me, was the baby had woken up. He’d started moving. That was really, really hard. It goes against every human instinct, to lie there and let someone do that. You’re not supposed to move, so I was trying not to cry and not to move. I just remember thinking, Go to sleep. Don’t move, because we have to do this. I think the fact that I believed that and still do, helps. That this was the best of all possible decisions. But it was still really fucked.

The doctor did get it the second time. It was very fast. I think probably because the baby’s body was already so weak. He kicked once, after the shot. That was the last time I felt anything.

I went to the recovery room, and I cried for a while. I was in a lot of pain when my husband and I left the clinic, which makes sense — someone had just shoved a needle through my abdominal wall three times. We left; I had a couple drinks, then went to sleep.

On the second and third days. I woke up the second day to the House having passed the 20-week ban. Emotionally, the second day was easier. Still not great, but easier. When I got to the clinic that day, the doctor said, “How’s it feel to be a felon, everyone?” He’s been doing this for 40 years, he’s a tough son of a bitch, god bless him. I laughed; it was just so funny. Terrible, but funny. Then he had to put a dilator into my cervix, and some medication. After that, we went up to Rocky Mountain National Park, for as long as I could hold out, just to look at the mountains. Something to distract us.

We were also trying to make funeral arrangements. My husband had called a funeral home; we had talked to my rabbi about what we were going to do with the body. It was important to me, theologically and personally — I wanted to mark and show respect to the fact that this was a person who was almost a person but who wasn’t. Thankfully, Judaism has some ways to talk about this kind of potential. There’s not the same kind of grieving process as a child who has been born.

In theory, the second and third days are like induction prep. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out.

On physical reality. The final day, I was induced, because that’s normally what you do with this kind of abortion — deliver. But the induction didn’t work, and thankfully this doctor is incredibly experienced and was able to do a D&E so I didn’t have to have a crash Cesarean.

There’s no other way to say it: A D&E tears the body to pieces. Sometimes the very physical parts of having this kind of abortion feels like something we’re not supposed to talk about, especially if we want to keep laws off our bodies. I think the fact that this feels like a visceral horror to some women — though not all — and then is used as an excuse to write disgusting legislation is awful. But I don’t know that the solution is to not talk about it.

This is already a violating procedure. You’re ending the life of the child, the fetus, whatever you want to call it. There was just something so horrifying about not just ending the pregnancy, but having the body torn into pieces.It felt like one last violation of how you are supposed to be able to protect your child — not to be able to protect the physical integrity/privacy of the body, to have it be exposed like that. I had wanted the body to be shown respect. It felt like one of the only things I could do for him.

Before the D&E, I had a lot of painkillers, but I was not sedated. There’s not an anesthesiologist on staff and no way to resuscitate a patient, so it just wasn’t safe to put me under. I could hear and feel everything. I remember everyone talking. I remember the doctor breathing really heavily, like it was hard work — which I guess it is. Surgery in general is more physical than people realize. It was quite painful — not as painful as natural labor, but painful. I remember one of the nurses told the social worker, in the most loving way possible, to keep me quiet because I was going to scare the other patient. I could hear the noise of the instruments, the metal click that forceps make. The drop of whatever he was dropping into the tray, which I was trying really hard not to think about.

Afterward, they wrapped his remains in a prayer shawl and put them in a coffin to bury, and we buried him four days after we got back. Then I was in the hospital for an infection, probably because I had lost a whole bunch of blood and then had to get on a plane to go home.

On medical reality. Part of what had been too rosy about the earlier prognosis was what the doctor discovered: My placenta had already aged and calcified, which means it probably was not at all giving oxygen and nutrients to the baby.

This kind of placenta is a risk factor for maternal bleeding, but the direct cause of mine was that the placenta wouldn’t detach from the uterine wall. I just kept bleeding, enough blood that I was in mild shock.

There’s a hospital across the street from this clinic, but they’re hostile to abortion patients. It makes me so angry: I had already been geographically taken away from my children to have this abortion. And then, to face the possibility of being taken away from them permanently? I talked to a therapist about this afterward who was like, Well, this should have been done at a hospital. And yes! It should have been done at a hospital! But hospitals won’t do this.

In my fantasy, this doctor is the chair of Family Planning at a big hospital with a lot of resources to make the procedure even safer and do research. But that’s not reality. Instead, there’s just one old bastard who’s braver than anyone else and has a clinic that hasn’t been renovated in decades. He’s not the only one; there are a few others. But none of them have hospital positions. None of them are chaired or funded.

On grief, gratitude, and the future. I still have sad days. But it’s getting on with learning how to live life again. I think being busy helps. I think having living children helps. I think the fact that I’ve been able to channel a lot of my anger into writing and activism has helped. It is not entirely clear to me how much my anger and desire to become involved in activism is a way to not fully move on, and how much is righteous and justified. For now I’m going with righteous and justified. We’ll see.

I don’t talk about this a whole lot with my husband anymore. That’s not to say he isn’t wonderful about this; if I say I’ve had a hard day, he understands. I miss the baby, still. I probably always will. I remember I had this moment at the funeral, looking at the casket — it was very simple, pine, very small. I suddenly felt so profoundly grateful that it wasn’t one of my living children in the coffin. I think that really underlined to me again that there really is a difference. I am sad about this, and it broke my heart, and it was terrible. But it was also different from how I would have felt if something — God forbid — happened to my son.

We did eventually get the amnio results back and found out there was a de novo mutation, which just means something went wrong. I need some more time, but I think my husband and I would both like to try. I’m a little gun-shy. With that pregnancy, the most unlikely things just kept happening. I think that after three babies, we’ll be done. I know I don’t want more than three, but I would like to try again.

The Mom Who Had an Abortion at 7 Months Pregnant