life after roe

The Diagnosis That Changed How I Felt About Abortion

A close-up of a pregnant woman getting an ultrasound.
Photo: Philippe Roy/Getty Images/Image Source

Melissa, a 40-year-old mother in Arizona, learned when she was 13 weeks pregnant that her fetus had Trisomy 18, a rare and severe genetic disorder that is often fatal. Melissa decided she wanted an abortion, but Arizona bans terminating a pregnancy for genetic reasons and, even if she lied about her medical history, waiting times at local clinics meant she would not get an appointment before she hit the state’s 15-week gestational limit. She spoke about self-managing her abortion and her personal evolution on the issue under a pseudonym, due to concerns that she and the people who helped her get an abortion could face legal consequences.

In February, I found out I was pregnant. It was planned. I have seven kids; my 11-month old is a twin, but we lost his twin, a little girl, at 15 weeks. And I was like, “Well, I want to try again.” I had my first doctor’s appointment in March, and I found out it was twins again. But there was a smaller sac, and that second baby had a weak heartbeat. We went back at seven weeks and that baby had passed.

I started seeing a maternal fetal-medicine specialist because of my history of pregnancy loss. At about nine weeks, they found a third baby, but it had also passed inside the same sac as my live baby. I couldn’t do a noninvasive prenatal test for genetics because it might pick up their DNA instead of the live baby’s. At 12 weeks, they wanted to do a scan to check the nuchal fold on the baby’s neck. At that visit, they told me my baby didn’t have a nasal bone. I thought I would keep the pregnancy. This baby was going to be different. After, I went in to have a chorionic villus sampling test, where they take a sample of your placenta. Then they called me to say that the baby had Trisomy 18, which is incompatible with life.

I used to work as a patient-care tech in a hospital in the mother-baby wing. I had a mom who delivered a Trisomy 18 baby. The baby, I thought, would not live past the first shift that I worked. I worked three night shifts in a row and the baby was still alive. But it was struggling to breathe, struggling on its own fluids because its esophagus didn’t connect to its stomach. It was tragic. I’m just somebody from the outside going in to check the mom’s vitals, and I saw how bad this was.

When the doctor on the phone was like, “Your baby has Trisomy 18,” I was like, “Okay, so what can you guys do? I cannot have this baby. She’s going to struggle.” And then they were like, “We’re sorry. Arizona doesn’t allow us to help end the pregnancy for genetics, no matter what stage you’re in.” I was shocked. In 2011, I had a stillbirth at 25 weeks. It was not a genetic condition. She had a lymph-system problem called chylothorax. I did everything possible that I could do to save her and she died. My mindset was, If I have a sick baby, it’s not my choice to end their life. But then I got this diagnosis. I was like, “I can’t do this.” I can’t carry the baby my whole pregnancy, hoping that she dies inside me. I don’t want her to be born, not be able to breathe, and basically suffocate or starve.

Then I have all these living children. When I had my stillbirth, my older three kids came to the hospital, met the baby, and a child-life specialist talked to them. At the time, I did think it was good for them to know the possible outcomes of pregnancy. But it was also traumatic. They grew up knowing they lost a baby sister. So I was like, “I don’t want to do that.” I started doing my research on Trisomy 18. Ninety percent of the fetuses die within 12 weeks of pregnancy. Seventy percent of them die in the second trimester, but girls live longer than boys. Of course, I was having a girl. I didn’t want to get big pregnant — I was just chubby, and didn’t really have a baby bump yet — and have the kids know.

I was anxious to just deal with it before I felt any movement, because that’s another connection I would feel to the baby. I asked the doctor, “Where can I go?” And they’re like, “Well, there’s a Planned Parenthood in Tucson” — which is an hour from me because I’m south by the border — “or Phoenix,” about three hours from me. “But you cannot have them request your records,” she told me. “You cannot say that it’s for genetics. You need to go and lie and just say you don’t want the baby.” That was really hard mentally. Normally, I would not be okay with abortion. So how am I going to lie? How am I going to live with myself?

In April, I called and Planned Parenthood in Tucson was booked through June. Then I told the Phoenix place, “I’m 13 weeks and one day.” And they’re like, “We have an appointment on May 15.” In Arizona, elective abortion is legal up to 14 weeks and six days. My pregnancy was going to be past that. She was just like, “I’m so sorry. We have a sister clinic in Vegas that does them through 22 weeks and six days. I’ll give you their number.” I called them. They said, “We could get you in Friday at 8 a.m. It’s $900.” But I’d have to find child care for all my kids. I’d have to drive eight hours. I’d have to pay for a hotel to be there at 8 a.m., unless I drove all night. I was like, “I just can’t afford that.”

I have some friends that are full-spectrum doulas and I asked them, “What can I do? Is there anything I can do to miscarry the baby on my own?” They were like, “You could get the abortion pill. You can get it online, but it takes two or three weeks.” It also says online that it’s available in Mexico. I texted a family member who works there: “I’m sorry to put you in the middle of this, but can you go to the pharmacy and see if you can get these pills?” They were able to get them that day. It’s super cheap, $31 for 28 pills. In Mexico they don’t sell both pills that you get at an abortion clinic, they just sell the misoprostol. I’m 13 weeks pregnant, knowing nothing about medication abortion and reading online how to do misoprostol-only abortion.

I got the pills Tuesday. I went to my mom’s house on Thursday. My daughter would watch my youngest because I had no clue how this was going to go. My doctors were supportive. They were like, “If you have any complications, just go to the ER. Don’t tell them what you’re doing. Just say that you’re miscarrying.” They said that it’s best to take the pills vaginally, but if I did it vaginally and then went to the ER, I should make sure that I could not feel the pills anymore.

I took the pills, the first four vaginally, at 8 a.m. I felt nothing. At 11 o’clock, I took the next set. By 12 o’clock, I started to feel sick like the flu, shaking and the chills, and I got diarrhea. By the next time I went to the bathroom, at one o’clock, I started bleeding a little. I was like, “Okay. It’s working.” By two o’clock, my water broke. I was just laying on the couch and it soaked through my clothes. I felt better instantly. It was time to take the other pills, but I didn’t want to do it vaginally because my water had broken. I took them orally. At three o’clock, I was like, “I don’t really feel anything. I don’t feel cramp-y.” My mom gave me Depends to wear because I was kind of leaky. It was kind of embarrassing. I went to the bathroom just to check what was happening. I peed and then I felt some pressure. When I went to wipe, I just felt the fetus. So I pushed and then I had her in a Tupperware bowl. The other little sac for the other twin came out.

Even though it was traumatic and I was just winging it, it was the best possible outcome. It went smoothly and it was cheap, but it was very scary to have to do that. It was good knowing, at least, that my doctors were willing, if not to initiate it, to help in whatever way they could.

The next week I was scheduled for a heartbeat check. I told the medical assistant, “I’m not pregnant anymore.” They knew without saying it. I had some retained placenta that the doctor pulled out in the clinic. The only problem I have is I’m still bleeding. I bled for three and a half weeks, stopped, and then started what we thought was a period. The doctor wanted me to go on birth control to regulate my cycle and I just started bleeding a whole lot, so they had me stop. They want me to go in for an ultrasound, which is booked up until later this month. I could go to the ER, but I am terrified of going there.

It’s only been six weeks since my abortion, but my wheels keep turning and turning. People always have crap to say about the fact that I have seven kids. I don’t think I should say anything if somebody has zero kids, or has one and then wants an abortion because two is too many for them; there’s a lot of reasons that abortion is needed, and that law banning abortion for genetic anomalies shouldn’t be in place. Any time abortion came up before, I wasn’t one to debate about it, but I wasn’t one to participate, either. I had two best friends that were pro-choice who have had abortions, and I’m like, “You’re a baby killer. I just love my kids. I probably wouldn’t do that.” And then this … It was like a bomb exploded. It made me open my eyes.

The Cut offers an online tool that allows you to search by Zip Code for professional providers, including clinics, hospitals, and independent OB/GYNs, as well as abortion funds, transportation options, and information for remote resources like receiving the abortion pill by mail. For legal guidance, contact Repro Legal Helpline at 844-868-2812 or The Abortion Defense Network.

The Diagnosis That Changed How I Felt About Abortion