Monday, December 12, 2016

Michelle's Story

I still haven't really watched the news since the election. I can't. Because every little snippet I hear about who has been appointed as this or that in the cabinet is more distressing than the last. I suppose I could just say the hell with it- why do I care? I'm fine, more or less. I don't think I'll be needing an abortion, or access to reproductive or general women's health without insurance. I don't have daughters that could potentially need that help. I'm white, I have a white son with a penis who seems like he will be straight, based on his two very strong crushes in preschool and now elementary school. By blood, we're Jews, so I do have to worry about being sent to the ovens, but for now, I can't help but focus on the rights currently in jeopardy. I can't help it. It's just my nature to care about rights for other people, as foreign as that may sound. 

This all, as I see that Bristol Palin, whose mother, was the poster child for conservatism & teaching abstinence, is pregnant for the third or forth time. And who the hell knows what baby daddy she's on. So...yeah. No need for that pesky Planned Parenthood, for people who don't have access to all the best care, best education, and other people's money, right?

In 2015, my friend Nicole had a heart wrenching late-term medical termination. She wrote her story for me to share- Sawyer's Story & then the follow-up, a year later, Sawyer's Story- Almost One Year Later

Unfortunately, I had another friend go through a similar thing around the same time, but who wasn't comfortable sharing anything publicly. But the circumstances were very similar, except she had to leave her state to terminate. I guess, lucky for her she had the funds to do so? She had to do it alone though, which sucked, because it's expensive to take off work for two people, fly two people, etc. I'm sure that wasn't emotional, scary, and awful in every way to have to do all that, all while mourning this unbelievable loss of a life that was wanted very much.

It's really unbelievable in this day and age, women are still not allowed to have autonomy over their bodies. That we'd have to go to great lengths just to have necessary medical procedures in a safe manner. And the fallacies perpetuated by people who know nothing about abortion, medical termination or whatever you want to call it, never end. I read people's comments on stories and I want to vomit from the high horse from which they sit, concerning this topic. Unless you have walked in someone's shoes who has needed termination at any point, I really wish they could be silenced. 

As I'm typing, I'm reminded of someone, who so ignorantly said to me, that the way abortion is, her thirteen year old can get an abortion as easy as getting a Big Mac, without her consent or knowledge. Really? Let me know how your thirteen year old is procuring around six hundred to fifteen hundred dollars, depending on how far along the pregnancy is, finding a place who will actually do this procedure, and then get there without your knowledge. If all that falls into place for her- I'd say that's a parenting problem, not an abortion problem. And she'd probably have an easier time getting her hands on a purple unicorn. 

Or this other woman who wrote it the comments section of an article I read the other night- "there is no excuse for unprotected sex or an unwanted pregnancy". If I answered her with all the correct information that would trounce her snap moronic judgment, it would've been pages and days long.

Then the necessity of medical termination happened recently to someone I feel I can say I know very well. A woman, a mom, who had been a virtual friend and then a real life friend for over ten years now. If I had to choose someone I could say absolutely revels in being a stay at home mom, it's Michelle. Not because she's sitting around eating Bon Bons and watching "Who's the Daddy?" on Maury Povich but because she really loves being around her kids. Doing things with them. For them. She'd be the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe if she could. Just piles of kids. And use the word devastated to describe what her losses have done to her- that word isn't even close to strong enough. 

She had announced to our little virtual group at twelve weeks that she was expecting. I read the announcement and just laughed to myself. "Of course she is...", I thought. Michelle wants more babies. I laughed because I can't even imagine having any more babies and I only have the one. My baby who is about to be eight years old. 

With Michelle, it was like, "OMG, I'm pregnant, yay!". She was over the moon, to say the least. One day she was looking to the future with a family of five, and literally just two days later, it was horrific news. It wasn't even me and I felt her nightmare. 

As soon as she could be at a place where re-reading Nicole's story could possibly help her heal, she did. She wanted to write a letter to Nicole, in support, in thanks, in solidarity. This is her letter (which her permission):

Hi Nicole, I'm a friend of Tara's. Last year at some point she shared your story about Sawyer. I remember crying and thinking of how strong you are to share your story, to bring a voice to something so incredibly tragic and hard. Ive always been quite vocal about my infertility and my journey, in hopes that my voice would be able to help someone. I want to thank you for helping me. 

Two weeks ago, I shared a similar experience to yours. I had medical termination in the second trimester. I went through IVF from Summer to Fall, and nearly fell over when we heard the words that we were pregnant. We are out-of-pocket for IVF. I've also been waiting for this day for five years. Five whole years. 

I was pregnant with twins in 2011. I lost one after the nine week ultrasound. I have a healthy daughter from that pregnancy. I spiraled into a deep hole. It was a dark sad time for me and I blamed myself for the loss. My husband, Seth, lost me during that time. He then felt he had to say that we were done at our two kids. My dreams were shattered. This year on my birthday he gave me the best gift. He was ready to try again. His heart was ready. He was just so scared something bad would happen and he'd lose me to depression again. We jumped back into IVF. 

**Just to give some background- Michelle was one of the youngest diagnosed cases of Ulcerative Colitis in the United States. She got sick when she was two years old and got the diagnosis at three years old. This was after they tried to diagnose her mother with Munchausen's by Proxy because they didn't know what was wrong with Michelle. UC is an autoimmune disease which lines the colon with ulcers. She wasn't supposed to live past the age of five. but obviously she did. She had years of feeding tubes and other problems and surgeries.  

By high school she only weighed seventy pounds. The ulcerations were turning into polyps and cancerous lesions. The doctor told her not to even apply for college because she'd either not make it or be on a continuous long road to recovery. She had her colon removed in 1996, and other advancements in medicine had been made for her to be in remission since then. However, as a result of over twenty hours of surgery, scar tissue mangled her tubes which is why IVF is her only option to get pregnant. Her health insurance has never covered anything related to infertility or the IVF procedures she's had to use to get pregnant.

Back to Michelle's letter:

This pregnancy was awful, my worst one yet. I was throwing up five to ten times a day. I was barely able to keep ice pops down. Everyone said this was a great sign. My goal was the nine week ultrasound. That nine week one was the one where we were told during the pregnancy before that our baby didn't have a heartbeat. This time, all seemed fine. We went and breathed a sigh of relief because everything looked perfect. My NT scan was scheduled for November 16th. We were cruising along. 

It truly was a horrible week though. My daughter had a hundred and four fever. Then, my car died in the school car line. My son got fever of a hundred and four that my daughter had. My dog found and ate rock salt, and was shitting blood everywhere. I said this week cannot get any worse. 

Oh, it could. We had our scan that Wednesday. The scan showed that our very wanted baby boy had Trisomy 18*. I knew as soon as the tech started, but didn't say much, that something was wrong. My husband said to her, "Make sure you get a good shot so we can make our fb announcement". She never printed anything out. 

The doctor came in, told us exactly how bad the situation was for us. They did a CVS test and confirmed on Friday that it was indeed as they thought. They told me Columbia Presbyterian in NYC didn't have immediate appointments available. I could wait for them, or wait for the baby to pass. I was unaware that hospitals in NJ didn't do medical terminations in these situations. I frantically called my obstetrician, not knowing what to do. She said she thought there was "a place" in Englewood

I called "the place" in Englewood, while choking on my tears and had an appointment set for the next morning. Call me naive, or sheltered but I was NOT prepared for what I encountered. Protesters. It felt like one of those nightmares where you scream but your voice never comes out. They immediately started yelling at me, chanting "baby killer" at me, over and over. I don't know why, but I kind of crouched down on the pavement. I covered my ears rocking, begging them to please stop. I said that they didn't know how hard I had worked to have this baby! That the last thing I wanted to do was say goodbye! They continued on calling me "fucking baby killer". They kept saying I would go to hell and God would never forgive me. They shoved photos of dismembered fetuses in my face. My husband basically shoved the loudest one up against a wall. I heard him say "you don't know what we've been through!" Then I just saw him crying. The protesters voices wake me up at night. I don't know if I'll ever un-hear them. Unsee them. But my heart knows I made the best decision for us. 
The security guard heard the yelling outside, from inside the building. Both he and escorts whisked us inside after that mess outside. I was just repeating myself over and over. They put us in a separate area behind bullet proof glass. The actual waiting area was full. We could hear the staff talking about patients, pricing. Calling people in one by one to pay. The doctor upstairs there was nice. He got the procedure started by doing an ultrasound first. My baby was a fighter. His heart was still strong. This killed me. They put some seaweed dilation medication in me and gave me some pills. The cramping was almost immediate and horrible. It brought on contraction pain. I was holding my belly knowing that all of this was the start of ending my dream. They escorted us back downstairs. I felt like cattle. 

Seth had to stay outside. I was given a bag for my clothes and hid behind a chair to put on my gown. Cots lined the walls. No curtains in between. Girls were on their phones, listening to music. They called my name. I walked in a tiny back room. They don't wait for you to fall asleep to strap you down. They strap you down before the medications are even put in your IV. My legs are still bruised. It was humiliating. After the medications are injected, the doctor comes in. I remember him touching my shoulder and saying that he was sorry. Then I was out. 

I woke up on a cot. They tossed my clothes at me. I was so dazed and dizzy but I got dressed. They handed me a grape Dum Dum lollipop and showed me to the door. When I woke up, my morning sickness was gone. Within 2 days my belly bump was gone. I cried for hours and hours and days on end. I went in with a pregnant belly and came out with nothing.

I found an amazing amount of support from online friends. Strangers on message boards. People I've never met became my village. Calling me. Sending me cards. An organization called Robby's Rabbits sent us stuffed animals for comfort. People reached out in all different ways. I was grateful. Still devastated and heartbroken, but grateful. As the calls and texts dwindled I had to pick myself up and face the world. The "untelling" people is so hard. I'm trying to focus on the part that my body did its job. Like a champ. I got pregnant, with IVF again, and my body nourished that baby to the last second of his life. This sadness and loss will give me strength I never thought I had left in me. But I'm a fighter. Ive been fighting for my whole life. For 16 years I fought for my own life, dealing with an extreme Ulcerative Colitis. I fought through infertility and then through the struggle of loss. Now, I will fight again to bring awareness to this cruel, devastating decision of medical termination. I will find my voice. And when I can, I will be heard. 


*Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome, is a condition which is caused by a error in cell division, known as meiotic disjunction.  When this happens,  instead of the normal pair, an extra chromosome 18 results (a triple) in the developing baby and disrupts the normal pattern of development in significant ways that can be life-threatening, even before birth.  A Trisomy 18 error occurs in about 1 out of every 2500 pregnancies in the United States and 1 in 6000 live births.  The numbers of total births is much higher because it includes significant numbers of stillbirths that occur in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy.

Unlike Down syndrome, which also is caused by an extra chromosome, the developmental issues caused by Trisomy 18 are associated with more medical complications that are more potentially life-threatening in the early months and years of life.  Studies have shown that only 50% of babies who are carried to term will be born alive, and baby girls will have higher rates of live birth than baby boys.

My last two cents:

Michelle was told that she could wait a week or so for an appointment at Columbia Presbyterian to have the termination there. She wouldn't have to deal with protesters. Because people wouldn't know whether she was having her tonsils out or an abortion. I guess protesters only want to spend their time on a sure thing.

Michelle's other "choice" was to let the fetus die inside her. Nevermind the emotional repercussions of walking around waiting for something alive, that you want very much, and had loved since the moment the pregnancy was first viable, to die inside you. Like any moment could be Jimmy Shaker Day. But there could also be extremely adverse health problems for Michelle, with or without her health history, to continue the pregnancy. At what point do you get to call seniority and save your physical and mental health?? Especially in her case as someone who is also a mother to and has a responsibility to two other children? Is it not insane for her to be expected to sacrifice herself and leave two other small children possibly motherless and/or unable to care for them due to the emotional effects of having to wait for their sibling to die inside her? It sure sounds insane and barbaric to me.

Just because we have a vagina and a womb, are we just vessels of birthing? The way some people want law to be written about abortion, that's sure as hell what it seems is our sole purpose as women. I saw a retweeted post by a disgusting anti-abortion twitter account- "If you see someone being attacked, do you call the police or stay out of it because it's "not your business"? #prolife" Uh, why is the life of a fetus prioritized over the life of the person carrying it? Where is the outrage at the protesters "attacking" the people having to make this agonizing decision? #hypocrisy


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