Friday, July 15, 2016

Why Are Reproductive Rights Important to Me? [guest post]

Written by: Jessica C.


During this election cycle, we have seen a continuing onslaught of attacks on women’s reproductive rights.  This has infuriated me as a woman but also as someone who has recently relied on those reproductive rights.  The idea that those rights are being chipped away frightens me.  So, why are reproductive rights important to me?  Here is why – I am a mother who has had a second trimester abortion.

We were living in California. Our son was two, and we were ready to add to our family. I became pregnant after our first try, and we were very excited.

We’d passed all the chromosomal tests for my “advanced age” and appeared to be in the clear. Once the first trimester was over, we announced the news to our family – we were having another boy! I’d had some spotting, but everything looked good on the ultrasound. To be safe, the doctor told us to get another ultrasound at 16 weeks. The spotting had stopped by then, and I expected another good ultrasound. 

It was not. The ultrasound tech was a little quiet during the exam. The doctor came in, but that’s common. I still expected the all-clear. Instead she said, “I have serious concerns for this pregnancy." I started to cry, not quite understanding what I was hearing.

The diagnosis was bilateral multicystic dysplastic kidneys. That meant neither kidney had formed correctly—they were just balls of cysts. As a result, my unborn son was not producing amniotic fluid. There was none. I waited for the doctor to tell us the solution. There was none.

One cystic kidney can be managed, but two is very rare (1 in 10,000) and is fatal. Because there were no kidneys, he could not form amniotic fluid and would not develop lungs. Our options were to end the pregnancy then, wait and see if the pregnancy ended itself, or wait to see if the pregnancy went to term and he was stillborn or lived for only a short time on dialysis awaiting a kidney transfer that would almost certainly not be successful. That day my husband and I decided to end the pregnancy.

We had a voluntary follow-up ultrasound to be sure we were making the right choice for us and to see what they were talking about. I am glad we did that. I’m also glad that was our choice.  His kidneys looked like clusters of grapes. Also, the doctor did not see a bladder or a stomach and the deformed kidneys were so large that his heart was displaced. If the pregnancy went full term, our son child would not live and if he somehow did, it would be a short life in pain. I could not do that to my son. This was our first and last parenting decision for this child.

Waiting over a week for the next available hospital slot for my D&E was the most emotionally draining experience of my life. I continued to be and feel pregnant. When my baby kicked I would feel happy, then I’d remember that I would never meet him. When dealing with this emotional turmoil a doctor said to me, “Feel lucky you live in a state that allows you to do this.” And then it dawned on me: in other states, on top of the turmoil I was feeling, I would be faced with many more obstacles that would make the experience even harder or I would be outright denied the ability to make this decision for my family. I could be forced to carry my unborn son to term, at risk to my health. I could potentially have to watch my son die a painful death, while trying to explain to my living son why his brother was dying. The burden that would have inflicted on me and my family would have been unbearable. While I would never wish the experience of terminating a wanted pregnancy on anyone, I am grateful to have lived in a state that allowed my family to do so in a safe environment and with dignity.

At 18 weeks, we terminated the pregnancy and said goodbye to our son. 

That is why reproductive rights are important to me.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

the truth about 2nd trimester abortions

There are a lot of misconceptions that I hear about abortion that aren't based on fact. At this point in my journey, I feel a sense of responsibility to set the record straight. I want to share some personal details about my own 2nd trimester abortion to help shed light on what really happens, even if it's difficult to talk about. I guess you could say I'm tired of listening to arguments based off of inaccurate information.

I think we as a society have a very graphic image in our minds of what abortion means, what it looks like and who gets them. We generalize and make assumptions. This, of course, is due to the propaganda that's been fed to us our entire lives from politicians, religious leaders and the media. It was the only perception I had about abortion until I experienced it myself, first-hand.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear about something. I'm not pretending that an abortion is sunshine and happiness for anyone involved, because it's not. No one wants to have an abortion. Losing Grace was the single worst experience of my entire life. But the process itself, and the choices and care we received, were not.

I do not claim to be an expert, but I can at least speak from experience. My experience. This may be difficult for some to read, but I also think it's important to read. Form your own opinions. Don't let someone without any knowledge or experience on the subject convince you their word is truth.

Here are some of the common arguments I've heard, specifically in relation to the 20 week ban that legislators are currently pushing all over the country. (The 20 week ban would make it illegal for an abortion to happen after 20 weeks gestation, which would affect many women like me who learn about their poor prenatal diagnosis later in pregnancy).

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There's only 1 way to have an abortion.

I was given two choices to end my pregnancy: 1) I could be induced and labor and deliver (L&D), which would allow me to deliver my daughter stillborn or 2) I could have a dilatation and evacuation (D&E), which is a procedure where they surgically remove the baby from my uterus.

I chose to have a D&E for a few reasons. 1) My doctor told me that a D&E came with *slightly* less risk in terms of complications, and at that point, I feared statistics given I was already the 1 in 950. 2) I have such vivid, beautiful memories of my son's delivery that I selfishly didn't want those tarnished with the tragic loss of my daughter. I'm not sure if this will make any sense, but in my mind, I felt it was best for me to mentally separate the two: D&E = sad. L&D = happy. 3) L&D couldn't be as scheduled as a D&E. I had limited time in Chicago since we were forced to travel out of state. If I chose L&D, the labor itself may have taken days.

D&E is what James and I chose -- it's by no means the "right" choice. I personally know many women who have chosen L&D and they have beautiful pictures and memories with their stillborn babies. It's a personal decision, and I think both have pros and cons.

The baby feels pain.

I think this is the #1 argument I hear, particularly about 2nd trimester abortions. This was something I talked to our doctor about extensively, because as Grace's mother, I didn't want my daughter to feel an ounce of pain. In fact, I remember telling our doctor that I didn't care what pain I would endure as long as she felt nothing.

At our hospital, if I had chosen to L&D, the doctor would have given my daughter a shot to stop her heart before the delivery process. She would have died in the warmth of my womb hours before delivery.

With a D&E, our hospital didn't offer the shot. Instead, the baby was put under full anesthesia at the same time I was put under full anesthesia. My doctor described it to me as -- you feel no pain and she feels no pain. I know some other hospitals offer the shot to stop the heart before a D&E, it just depends on where you go. 

Grace and I were both asleep under full anestheia and could not feel anything during the D&E. I woke up an hour later in a recovery room and she woke up in heaven.

Even with the hospital taking extra measures to protect our daughter from pain, it's important to note that there are also numerous medical studies that have proven babies cannot feel pain until after 24 weeks gestation (due to the development of the nervous system).

The baby's body parts are sold for profit.

We were given a few options on what we could do with Grace after she passed, none of which involved selling anything. We could donate her body to medical research, we could have her cremated with the other babies in the hospital (in which they have a nice memorial at the hospital to visit), or we could arrange to have her privately cremated at a funeral home. We chose to privately cremate her so we could bring her home to Tennessee. A hospital social worker was assigned to us and helped with the logistics.

Grace was transferred to a local funeral home and cremated, and now rests in an urn on James's bedside table. I find so much comfort knowing we have her with us, always.

We were also given the option to capture our daughter's footprints, which we opted for. I'm grateful to our doctor for taking the extra time during surgery to do that for us.

Abortion is a risky procedure. 

I was very concerned that a D&E at 18 weeks 3 days pregnant was going to cause complications with future pregnancies. I shared these concerns at length during our pre-surgery consultation and my doctor told me that an abortion is less risky to a mother than full-term delivery. That was a very eye-opening fact for me.

One of the facts that was stated during the recent Surpreme Court case was that an abortion carries less risk than a colonoscopy. Also surprising given the TRAP laws currently in play.

These were the options given to us and the decisions we chose to make. To be honest, I was surprised with how much say we had in the entire process. I cannot speak for other women's experiences, but given mine, these statements do not apply. Therefore, they cannot be generalized as "fact".

I have to add that the staff at our hospital in Chicago treated us with the utmost respect and kindness. I will forever be grateful to that team for getting me through some of the toughest days of my life. 

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Before I received my anesthesia, the last thing I remember in the operating room was my doctor standing over me with her hands holding mine. She squeezed my hands tight and whispered in my ear, "You are doing the right thing for your daughter."

Then everything went black. 




Tuesday, July 12, 2016

guest posts

I've been so inspired by the women all around me sharing their innermost secrets about their struggles and challenges with pregnancy loss, abortion, infertility and adoption. Women in the media. Friends. Strangers. Other bloggers. I hate that all of these women have had to endure such hardship, but at the same time, I'm proud of them.

I know how incredibly difficult it can be to share a personal experience with the world. It doesn't matter if it's on a grand platform like Good Morning America or just a simple post on your own Facebook page. It's hard to expose yourself. I commend all of the brave warriors who choose to share, because even though it might not seem like a huge deal, each women's story gets us closer to eliminating the stigmas. One step closer to a society that feels more comfortable talking openly about these sensitive topics. One step closer to women empowerment.

It's a beautiful thing.

I've been thinking a lot about all of the women who have reached out to me over the past year and a half. Those who have messaged me just to say "me too", those who have shared every detail of their heartbreaking journeys and those who have thanked me for making them feel less alone. I've felt so honored to help open that door for someone else. And because of that one blog post, article or Facebook post, we've been able to connect and heal. Together.

So this got me thinking...what if I could encourage empowerment in this little space that I've created? What if by giving one woman a platform, she could take her first steps toward healing? I have this blog, and while it's nothing fancy, it's still a platform. Even if only one person in the world reads it, I believe that's all it really takes.

So here's what I'm proposing: I want to start sharing guest blog posts for anyone who feels compelled on their journey to share. Maybe you're at an all-time low and need to let it out, or maybe you've recently found the strength to begin talking about it. Or, maybe you just want to be one more warrior to help break the stigma. Whatever the reason, I want to create a comfortable and inviting space for someone to do so.

Here's how it will work:

1. Write a guest post about pregnancy loss, abortion, infertility, adoption or anything of the sort. Anything you want to share to help you heal or to help someone else heal. You can write a long story. You can write 1 sentence or 1 paragraph. You can create a poem or lyrics. You can design a piece of artwork. It doesn't matter. Get it on paper.

Here are some thought starters:
  • A difficult personal experience or story
  • Your journey of grief and healing
  • A story of hope and inspiration
  • Reflections and learnings from your experience
  • Opinions or experiences dealing with stigmas 
  • Thoughts from a supportive friend or family member

2. Email your post (and a title) to me at citytosouthblog@gmail.com. I will credit the story to you (first name only or first and last name, whichever you prefer) OR you can choose to remain anonymous. Please be sure to make it clear how you'd like to be credited when you submit your story. The point of this is to provide a platform for someone who might need it, so there's no pressure. It's whatever you feel most comfortable with.

3. If appropriate, I will share your story as-is on my blog. I won't plan to share guest posts very frequently, but I'll gauge it on the interest I receive. There's no time limit on submitting - it's whenever you feel ready. And if no one ever submits a post, well, then, that's okay too!

I honestly have no idea how any of this will go or if anyone will be interested, but I think it's worth throwing out there. Writing about my experiences has been so freeing and healing for me and I think others could benefit from it, too.

Questions? Thoughts? Feel free to message me on Facebook at City to South or email me citytosouthblog@gmail.com.