When I dialed the number for the Newton Women’s Health Clinic, I had no idea what I was going to say. I started with, “Hi, I’m about 17 weeks pregnant and…” I paused. “Miscarriage” felt so inadequate and I was struggling to remember the term my doctor had used. The phrase “fetal demise” came to me too late. Apparently many of the women who call that office are tongue tied because the receptionist jumped in for me “—and you need an abortion.” “No. Yes. Sort of. I’m in my second trimester and the baby died. I need to schedule a D&E.”
I didn’t want to call or go there. How could I go to a place where women went to get rid of their thriving feti when I was so desperate to hang on to mine? “Baby killers,” one friend called them. “You are going to be surrounded by Baby Killers.” She clearly thought I was crazy to go to the clinic for a D&E instead of having it at the Brigham, the preeminent women’s hospital here in Boston. But at the appointment when my 8 months pregnant OB couldn’t find a heartbeat, she’d held my hands and shared with me that the year prior when she’d lost a baby at 20 weeks, this doctor at this clinic was the place to go. “For later term dilation and evacuations, the clinic knows their stuff better than any hospital.”
I drove home sobbing, saying over and over, “I lost the baby. I lost the baby.” My poor 2 ½ year old in the backseat offered her help, saying, “Me help you find baby?” I cried harder as I imagined Millie thinking I was a mom who’d set a child down someplace and then “lose” it.
I was 36, had 3 kids, taught Primary, and was going to an abortion clinic. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so low. This was my third miscarriage in less than a year and I swear the young mommies at church were afraid to use the drinking fountain after me, lest their fecundity swirl down the drain as well. The phrase “Baby Killer” haunted me because I felt like it fit. We’d bought and moved into our first house just days prior and my mother’s warning rang in my head: “Don’t you lift any heavy boxes or you could lose that baby.” Of course I’d lifted boxes and though my OB assured me there was no connection, I still wondered if I had killed my baby. I was desperate for any explanation.
Spiritually I felt so adrift. Six months prior I’d been 9 weeks along when I started spotting. I was reading the Book of Mormon, in Second Nephi when Isaiah takes over, so I wasn’t expecting much when I opened the scriptures that night. Just a little comfort would be nice. Instead, I got Revelation as I read, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” A calm warm feeling came over me and I knew it would be okay and I knew I was carrying a boy. The blessing my husband gave me the next day talked about a normal pregnancy and a healthy child. Ah. Peace. But the ultrasound told another story: the fetus had expired at 7 weeks. An autopsy after the D&E showed the baby suffered chromosomal problems. But I was half right. It was a boy.
I got that D&E at the Brigham. The whole thing was ironic. You go to the maternity wing and have the procedure in a labor and delivery room. Mine had a shared bathroom. As I peed I could hear a baby crying. I flushed to drown out the sound. When I woke up, I had my husband, Dave, holding one hand, and my dear friend EmilyCC, a chaplain at the Brigham, holding the other. I was surrounded by love. But the newborn cried echoes off my hollow insides. I could feel my emptiness.
I had a hell of a time trying to make sense of that whole experience. I wanted to be mad at God. I felt like he’d pulled a joke on me: “It’s all fine—just kidding! Gotcha!” But I also felt the Spirit working overtime to comfort me, giving me a sense of peace and calm that pushed all anger aside. So I did the old, “Well maybe that feeling and that blessing are about the kid I’m GOING to have in the future.” God’s time and all that. Ha ha.
Driving to the clinic for part one of a two part Field Trip of Horrors, I had no idea what to expect. I think I imagined a rundown shack in a back alley. Instead it was an inconspicuous building in a nice part of town. That afternoon the clinic was only seeing the hospital referred patients and I was the only one there. The staff was nice and the doctor competent as she prepped my cervix for the next day’s procedure, but I could not get out of there fast enough. (Let me just add that while “laminaria” may sound like those pretty paper bags people use to illuminate their walkways for parties, there is nothing festive about those sticks of torture.)
Friday, July 16, 2004 Dave drove me back to the clinic. We parked our car and made our way through the crowded lot. I saw him before Dave did. I froze and Dave turned to see why I’d stopped. An older man, perhaps in his sixties, stood in front of me with a sign. He looked like a temple worker on his day off. On the poster was a picture of a dead fetus and the words “Baby Killer” in red. “Baby Killers,” he said to us. Or maybe he didn’t and I just imagined it. Whatever the case, the words were like a slap. Part of me longed to explain to this man that I wasn’t a baby killer like the other women in there. I was a Mormon, a baby maker. Though I’d shifted from a Pro-Life to a Pro-Choice stance in college, I felt like most abortions were a result of irresponsibility. Demographically I’m sure I shared a lot with the protestor in front of me, probably more than with the women inside. Who knows? But this man had drawn a line, and I was clearly on the other side.
Every muscle in Dave’s body was taut and he started to say something to the man but I shook my head. Years visiting teaching has taught me that you can’t reason with crazy people. I started to laugh. When faced with the surreal, I giggle. I held my head up and we walked into the clinic. I felt relief to see an armed guard inside.
As I waited in chairs to be called, I couldn’t help but sneak glances at the other women. White. Asian. An African-American. I wondered at their stories and wanted to cry for the ones who were clearly there alone. One thing for sure, none of us wanted to be there. The woman who was in recovery with me was 10 years my senior and just stared out the window the whole time. On the drive home I made Dave take me to McDonalds for fries and a Diet Coke to wash down my antibiotics and painkillers. I needed whatever comfort I could find.
I healed quickly and felt blessed to have had such excellent medical care. That fall I was asked to speak the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving and as I wrote my talk, I imagined sharing from the pulpit, “I am thankful for the gospel, for my family, and for safe and competent abortion clinics….” Writing that talk made me realize the contradictory nature of my loss. How could my heart, so aching for my lost children, still overflow with love for the three I had? And how could I feel such faith and hope in the Lord even though I could not quite kick the feeling that I’d been jerked around? Emptiness and love; faith and doubt. I don’t know how it’s possible to feel such things simultaneously, but I know that I did.
I didn’t mention the clinic in my talk. I’m not that brave. I’ve realized that for many Mormons, where one stands on the abortion issue is the ultimate litmus test. The elections, of course, bring the “choice” debate to the forefront. Just today a friend told me about her nephew in Logan. Apparently his school had held a mock election and only one kid was voting for Obama. That lone kid was ostracized and threatened. His peers’ objection? “How can you vote for a man who wants to murder babies?!”
About a month ago a woman in another ward lost her baby at 21 weeks. A mutual friend called me and asked if I recommended the clinic or the hospital for the D&E. Hmmm. Listening to cries of newborn babies, or being called “Baby Killer.” It’s a terrible choice to have to make, but in my opinion, it’s a blessing that she has one.