I am sitting here in a waiting room to get a second trimester abortion. There is one other sad woman in here with me. We avoid each other, with our heads in our phones sitting in a sad silence.
I never thought I would be doing this. I have struggled for the last five years with fertility treatments. I flew across the world twice just for the chance of maybe conceiving a baby. When I got pregnant with this little girl it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I will never forget the joy at my gender reveal party when I saw that pink. I was overwhelmed with happiness. Is this for real? How did my life end up so perfect? A big brother, and now a little sister, to make our family complete. It was all we needed, we thought.
However, throughout the pregnancy I felt so worried about the Zika virus. I bought all of the mosquito killing protection devices out there, including the highest rated bug repellent on Amazon.
And at one point early in the pregnancy, I caught a terrible 'cold' and was very sick for 10 days. I had caught it from my son, who had battled a three-day fever and then a week of sickness. Just a cold, we assumed.
At my 20-week ultrasound, I was supposed to be beaming with happiness from seeing our healthy little girl moving around, all normal and intact. We even brought my son with us, to share in the good news of his healthy sister. We expected the doctor to say, "Look! There is your baby sister's head, there is her heart! Isn't it amazing?" or, "Yep, she's definitely a girl, yea!" But we received some different news.
First we noticed that the ultrasound was taking an unusually long time. She had to put me in many different positions to get good views of the heart, etc. I was expecting her to say, everything is fine. But as the minutes passed, my heart sank. I knew something was not right. Once the doctor came in, she agreed that there where some abnormalities seen in the baby's intestines. “Come back in a month, and we'll see if it gets better". This didn't sit well with me. I went and visited a friend who was an ultrasound tech of 36 years. “I'm sorry honey, " she said. "I am definitely seeing the fluid and dilatation, and I've actually never seen this before."
I learned what a perinatologist was pretty quickly and called to make an appointment with one as soon as possible. "Can I get in right away?" I asked. Luckily there was a cancellation the next morning. The doctor discussed what we were seeing in the intestines and what it potentially meant. “Most likely it will clear up, but if not it could require surgery. Did you get a high fever in your pregnancy?” I explained that I had caught a bad cold with a slight fever that lasted 10 full days in the beginning of the pregnancy, and that my son was sick too. “It’s probably nothing,” he said, and shrugged it off. "Do you want an amniocentesis just in case?" Yes, I said, "as soon as possible."
He got me an appointment for the very next day. Whatever this could possibly be, I wanted to know and exclude and gather as much information as I possibly could. I wanted to help this baby girl who had already brought me so much joy. I desperately wanted her, had been dreaming of her and had been planning for her. I needed to know the full extent of what I was dealing with.
The first diagnosis was that an obstructed bowel was most likely causing the fluid and dilation in the intestine. I proceeded to become an expert on pediatric intestinal surgery. I know the different areas of the bowels that could possibly be impacted, the types of surgeries per different areas of the bowel and what percentage of the bowel can be safely removed. I also learned what portion would need to be removed for her to live a normal life with a condition called Short Bowel Syndrome (which is about 75 percent). This was all based on the information we were seeing in the ultrasound.
I read medical journals on fetal intestinal atresia of the small and large intestine. I knew the statistics of the outcomes of all possible surgeries involving the fetal bowel. When I demanded to have a consultation with a pediatric surgeon, his first reply was, "Wow you've done your homework". I was going to make this work for my little girl.
In all, we were looking at a premature delivery with a 10-week NICU stay, with two to three surgeries. But, I could do this, we could get through that. '”If this is just an isolated anatomical intestinal issue, then overall the outcome is very good,” said the surgeon. I was feeling hopeful, and happy, for the first time since our ultrasound finding. But in reality, something much worse was happening to the fetus growing inside me.
A few days passed before I received a phone call from our perinatologist. “I am so so sorry, but we found a very high viral count of the CMV virus in the amniotic fluid. This explains what we are seeing at ultrasound."
But what does that mean? After I hung up on Wednesday evening, I did some research and soon found out. When a fetus contracts CMV, the debilitating brain and organ-destroying virus, the outcomes are very highly catastrophic. The amount of the virus she had in her amniotic fluid, the abnormalities we were already seeing at 20 weeks, all pointed in one direction: the high likelihood of brain and organ damage and zero chance of a normal life. After the latest diagnosis, I became sick with despair.
She was severely infected with this virus and her body was already showing symptoms of it. Some of the terrible things this virus causes in fetuses is: blindness, deafness, calcification of the brain (brain damage and microcephaly), deterioration of organs and cerebral palsy. There was a very high chance that she would never move, talk, feed herself, see or hear. My daughter who otherwise would have been normal and without a doubt beautiful, was facing a life of these potential disabilities.
That's if she even lived through the pregnancy. There was a 30% chance she wouldn't make it with a high chance she might only live for a couple of weeks after birth. And if she did survive past that, she would face a short life of suffering with a variety of disabilities before passing most likely before her teens.
All the medical professionals who helped us were shocked and saddened by this rare, devastating virus. "We understand and support you 100 percent if you want to terminate," said one doctor. "Most people would terminate," said another. My cousin who is a doctor said, "I totally support your choice to terminate. I have never heard of a child born with congenital CMV that was normal. They all have severe disabilities." Another OB said, "I would tell any woman, at any stage in her pregnancy to terminate if the fetus is infected with CMV.”
A pregnant woman can contract CMV and still have a normal pregnancy with her fetus unaffected by it. In that case, the baby would not show any symptoms. Unfortunately for my baby girl, she had symptoms and was infected with a super high viral count.
As I am hearing this from specialists and professionals, researching medical journals, screaming and hyperventilating because I am even considering terminating, one of my friend’s words really stood out to me. "Think about your son and how happy he is. Can you see yourself taking that away from him by bringing another child into the world that would require all of your attention and resources?"
Another friend said, "Think about how hard and painful life would be with even one of those disabilities. Imagine if you couldn’t move your head, feed yourself, move your body, couldn’t talk or communicate? What kind of life is that to live?"
I had to weigh the facts before I made a decision. First, there was a very high viral load of CMV in her amniotic fluid (7.7 million particles/ml to be exact) and according to all the medical research I read, anything over 100,000 particles/ml had a high potential of exhibiting devastating symptoms. Secondly, she is already showing intestinal abnormalities. Her body was already losing the fight. Every shred of research I gathered found that autopsies preformed on babies who died from CMV, confirmed the abnormalities seen in ultrasounds one hundred percent of the time.
After accepting these sobering facts, my brain was telling me what I had to do. For her not to suffer, for my son to continue with a happy life, for our emotional and financial stability, my husband and I knew what choice we had to make.
The problem was convincing my heart. My motherly heart, my body, the little movements that I was still continuing to feel inside my womb. The tears flowed, and so began the fight between my heart and rational mind. My focus turned to my son. My love for him and for him to not suffer won out and is what brought me to the wonderful angels who work at the Women's Center I was recommended to.
It is they who got me through the two-day ordeal. The hurtful last ultrasound scan, the endless blood work, the tear jerking counseling sessions about the procedure and what to do with her tissues afterward (we chose to donate her body to CMV studies). We covered everything from the procedure to what anti-anxiety and pain meds I should take once it was over.
They went through how the procedure would begin after they inserted seaweed sticks into my cervix so I would dilate for that twisted form of labor. They addressed the risks that labor could start, my water could break, or infection might take hold. The staff told me how to stop my breast milk if it came in by "using frozen peas in a sports bra.” They warned that I would come in the next morning and have to wait in a room with other sad women.
They were right. The other women and I sat flicking our feet, twirling our hair and mind numbingly checking our phones in that dreadful waiting room. I didn’t know their stories, but I did make some observations. One woman was with her daughter who looked to be about thirteen years old, and the rest were well under 20 years of age.
This facility is in a locked down portion of the hospital, where patients and medical staff must be buzzed in through a camera. Upon entering, there is an intercom with a button that reads "police" because even in the most liberal area of the US where abortion is legal, the medical team and their patients need this kind of protection to keep desperate women and angelic providers safe.
Never ever in my life did I think I would be going through that, but there I was thirty-seven years old, desperately wanting to get pregnant, desperately wanting a girl, and having to choose the humane time to end her short life. But, all she knew was sickness. She was very sick from this virus, and it was already destroying her body.
Finally when my time came, the sweet angels who work there took me into the brightly lit operating room. Lana Del Rey played quietly in the background. The anesthesiologist (the only man I encountered at this centre) was young and gentle, and had a sweet foreign accent. He was soothing.
The next thing I knew, I was on the recovery bed, getting my vitals taken. It was over. The horrible procedure that these amazing doctors and nurses had to perform for me and for her and my family was over. I call them angels because their jobs must be so difficult but they do it for us, for our rights and so we don’t feel trapped within our own bodies. They do it so we can choose what is right for our babies.
I left them with a thank you card. I said thank you for giving my son a normal life. Thank you for preventing my daughter from never knowing a life of suffering. Thank you for what you do.
Now I am home recovering, physically and emotionally. I was pregnant earlier today and now I'm not. I’m just empty. No more kicking, no more movements, no more wondering if she is in pain swimming around in a virus filled fluid.
My brain is ok with what I had to do. All of my doctors were in agreement with what I had to do. All of my family and friends were in agreement with what I had to do (those I've told). But my heart still aches and mourns for a daughter that I so desperately dreamed of. She was going to be beautiful and smart and make my family complete.
But sickness can take anyone; it's a sad reality. So I look at my precious boy, and I know we will move on. He's been ultra sweet with me these last few days; he must know I'm suffering. Hugging me at just the right times, he tells me, "Mommy I love you." It melts my heart. It was for you, for my babies, I whisper to him. I will get through this...