Since she could speak Billie has asked me for a sibling.
As a lightening strike of wit and ferocity, she found it hard to bond with any child her age. They didn’t seem to understand her. Her humor was beyond them. Her thought process was too much a wobbly matrix of adult musings mashed up with poop jokes for anyone her age to follow. As a result, she’s naturally gravitated toward older children and adults. That hasn’t stopped her, of course, from begging me, quite desperately, for a younger companion.
For that and many other reasons, My husband, Doug, and I had been trying to conceive. After two miscarriages in a very short time, we were beside ourselves to find me pregnant again in June 2016. But, by early July, something was terribly wrong. I knew the signs. I knew how it felt in my body. I took one horrified look at Doug and said, “It’s happening again. We have to go to an ER. Now.”
The first E.R. visit yielded inconclusive results. There was too much blood, too much clotting, too much everything for the doctor to be sure. She ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound tech knew the situation. I told her about my previous miscarriages. I was shaking and clutching the thin hospital gown as I relived them. She thought she was calming me down when she showed me the 8 week old fetus’ heartbeat. She thought that would help.
“But… wait…” She turned the screen suddenly. “It’s just… the heartbeat is a little slow… I’m sure it’ll pick up! You’ll be fine!”
It didn’t and I wasn’t. Within two days my hormone levels stopped increasing at the rate they were supposed to. Another ultrasound revealed there was no longer a heartbeat.
I was in and out of the hospital for the next five weeks as they did test after test. The fetus was not dislodging from my uterus. I was getting weaker and constantly doubled over from the pain. It became hard to walk. We had just moved back to my home state but I refused to see any of my friends. I was in too much pain to see people who probably could have relieved some of it. I was in too much pain to even realize that’s what I was doing.
As we had just moved to a new state, I was dealing with a new primary care physician. He knew the miscarriage wasn’t going normally but he was reluctant to help me much beyond “just wait a see.” I begged him for another answer. At this time it had been 6 weeks since the miscarriage diagnosis. I had already taken “the pill.” The inviable fetus was not detaching. My blood pressure was dropping, I was running a fever more often than I wasn’t, and I was vomiting more than I spoke (and, even for a sick person, I spoke a lot).
The doctor was quick to tell me that this wasn’t really his “forte.”
“You see,” he continued pleadingly, “I’m a little out of my element. I’m used to dealing with successful pregnancies.”
He stressed the word successful earnestly, as if he was hoping that, by drawing the word out as long as he could, he could magically make the dead fetus inside me spring to life and do the Charleston.
My expression did not change.
“Yes,” I replied, my heart swirling to dust inside my chest, “this must be really tough for you.”
“It’s not that,” he continued, “It’s just that you’re asking me for an abortion. You know that, right? I know there’s no heartbeat and it’s medically necessary in your case, but the name of the procedure is an abortion. So that’s what you’re asking me for.”
My mother, who is a warrior and a godsend and happened to be in the room with me, turned her eyes into slits while she breathed through her teeth, “Then what, pray tell, do you recommend?”
The doctor faltered. He left the room for a second opinion and came back. Turns out the abortion a.k.a. a “D&C” (Dilation and Curettage) Procedure really was my only option. He scheduled one for 2 and a half weeks out on the condition that I do several (6, I think) pre-op appointments before then.
I barely made it out of the waiting room before I lost myself. I doubled over from the pain with tears snotting over every part of my face as I wept gape mouthed and bereft.
“Hezzie,” my mother pleaded with me, “You’re not going to make it another two weeks. Please. Turn around and tell them you won’t make it.”
But the “abortion” comment threw me. I have long been a pro-choice advocate so I didn’t rightly know why, exactly. I had wanted this pregnancy. More than anything. I could see Billie’s pleading eyes as she grappled my face and begged me for a sibling. I could feel the swelling in my chest in preparation for a child that would never come. I still close my eyes to this day and see the heartbeat on the ultrasound flickering erratically and desperately. Damnit, I wanted this. My whole family wanted this. But now they were recommending I just go to Planned Parenthood and do the D&C as soon as possible. I was barely functioning. That entire 6 weeks was a haze of pain and blood and vomit. But I wanted to follow the doctor’s suggestion. He was, after all, the authority here.
“It’s just that you’re asking me for an abortion.”
I couldn’t un-hear those words. I couldn’t shut them down as much as my proud feminist self wanted to. Because, in the most technical of ways, I was. I was asking for an abortion.
I went home. Maybe I could wait it out.
Two days later I woke up in the Emergency Room. I had blacked out from the pain. My parents were there and Doug was on his way. The doctor in front of me looked grim as I pulled myself together long enough to relay all the facts. I could only offer bullet points with little to no linear grounding: “3rd miscarriage… I saw the heart beat… No rise in hormone levels… Then no more heartbeat… Bleeding and clotting for 6 weeks… Severe vomiting and fever… Intense abdominal pain… I took the pill 8 days ago… Still no miscarriage.. but… i saw… the… heartbeat…”
The E.R. doctor ordered another ultrasound. Sure enough, the fetus was very much inviable and still very much intact. “This is not OK,” he informed me, “You should have had a D&C scheduled weeks ago. You’re going into sepsis. Who’s your primary care physician?”
I informed him of what my doctor had said and mentioned that he scheduled a D&C for two weeks out.
The doctor looked at me pleadingly, “Look, you don’t have two weeks. I’m not sure you have 48 hours. You need an emergency D&C.” He turned to my parents, “Do you understand what I’m trying to say? She doesn’t have a lot of time. I’m so so sorry.”
The E.R. doctor then called my doctor to inform him of the situation. But my doctor’s hands were tied. You see, D&C’s aren’t really that big of a deal in the hospital world. Even emergency ones. It’s a 15 minute procedure that doesn’t even require a scalpel. You would be hard pressed to convince a hospital to bump a cardiac bypass in favor of an abortion. It’d be like trading ice cream in favor of brussels sprouts. Even those who do it aren’t happy about it. The E.R. doctor then proceeded to check the surgery schedule of every hospital in a 70 mile radius. No luck. None of them had the time or space for a D&C no matter how dire. As a last ditch effort, my doctor called Planned Parenthood. He explained the situation and they were able to get me in the next day.
At Planned Parenthood another ultrasound was done. The tech was super kind and informative. She gave me the option to ask questions and educated me about the state of my miscarriage. When I went in to see the doctor she, too, gave me information and advice on how to move forward in seeking a successful pregnancy. She hugged me. Twice. Then she asked if there was anything I needed before we began.
I smiled wryly as if to say, “I need to not be here. I need to have a healthy fetus in me. I need to have not seen that damn heartbeat…”
The doctor cut me off from my thoughts and hugged me again.
Then she explained the procedure and the sensations I was likely to feel. The nurse held my hand and told me a story about puppies.
When it was done I rested and was given some more pamphlets, guides, and even the phone number to a recommended fertility doctor.
When I left the clinic I passed the protesters with the signs that called me a “baby killer.” They shook them at me vigorously as I walked by.
Then Doug took me to get a milkshake.
My mother said it was the closest to death that she had ever seen any of her children. I’m one of four kids and my brother has had more traumatic head injuries than should be physically possible yet still I’m inclined to believe her. I felt very close to death. Some days, when I close my eyes and see that heartbeat, I still do.
I would love to tell you that this has a happy ending where I’m bursting at the belly with a child and all is well. But that’s not the case. We won’t be trying for another pregnancy any time soon.
Maybe the happy ending here is just that I’m alive. That I can continue being a good mom to my daughter and a pain in the ass to Doug.
Maybe the happy ending is that this fucked up horror show that happened to me can somehow help someone else.
I’m not sure.
But I can tell you that I’m thankful. I’m thankful for Doug. I’m thankful for my parents. I’m forever thankful for Billie. I’m thankful for every member of my family that dropped everything to help me.
And I’m thankful that Planned Parenthood stepped up and saved my life.
I’m thankful for all the humans that donated and helped someone like me receive care that other’s would have balked at.
In the future, I hope my daughter uses any of the myriad services at Planned Parenthood should she need it. I hope the stigma of a procedure doesn’t prevent her from receiving life-saving care. I hope she’s able to know fact from alternative fact and get treatment from humans who want her to make the best, most informed choice for her body. Because her mother almost didn’t. Her mother almost let the stigma of a silly name drag her down deep into the bowels of guilt and septic shock.
And, one day, Billie will get her sibling. It might be in the form of a close friend or an adopted child or a latent miracle from my uterus. Who knows. Until then, though, I think I’m just going to hug my family. And be thankful I’m still around to do so.