The pregnancy I chose to end, the daughter I lost, and the women at risk

Every morning I wake up, get dressed, and put on a necklace. The necklace has four charms: a P for my son, a W for my daughter, an angel wing for the pregnancies I have lost, and a rectangle with the date 5-7-2013 on it. That date is the date that I lost my daughter. That date is the date that I chose to end my pregnancy. That date is the date that I had an abortion.

When my son turned two, my husband and I decided to try for another child. We were excited about adding to our family and thrilled by the thought of giving my son a sibling. A few months later, I was pregnant. The pregnancy was shaky from the beginning, measuring an entire week behind and with bleeding, but as the first trimester started to close, I was feeling hopeful and excited about the child I was carrying.

On May 1, 2013, at 13 weeks pregnant, I went in to have a first trimester ultrasound.  Everything seemed normal, until the technician told me that she needed to get the doctor. With my heart racing, I knew something was wrong. The doctor told me that my baby had an encephalocele, a defect where the neural tube fails to close near the sixth week of pregnancy and part of the brain pushes through openings in the skull at the back of the neck.

The next few hours and days I can barely remember, yet also remember in a sort of heightened awareness. How I drove home alone after hearing that news I still don’t know, but through hysterical tears I somehow made it to tell my husband. My husband and I are fact-driven people, he a scientist and me an attorney. We function on statistics, logic, and reasoned decision-making. So we set to researching encephaloceles and their outcomes; the news was grim. Our daughter, she was a girl as we would later learn, had only a 20% chance of surviving to birth and just a 50% chance of surviving after that. And this was pure survival, just being alive, while her likelihood of brain damage and a life lived in a hospital hooked up to machines was high.

As much as it was a horrible decision to make, it was one that was clear to us. Neither my husband nor I felt that it was fair to our daughter to continue on with the pregnancy given her severe complications. We could not envision a life where she would spend what little time she might have on earth in pain, in a hospital, hooked up to machines keeping her alive. That choice was ours and ours alone. It was made in consideration of our daughter, our marriage, our family, and the son that we already had.

On 5-7-2013, I had an abortion. You can call it a termination for medical reasons. You can say it was “justified” because my daughter had severe health issues that would have likely precluded her from surviving or would have only allowed her a life filled with suffering and pain even if she did survive. But let’s call a spade a spade. I had an elective abortion. I exercised my right to choose, a right that is under extreme attack in America.

This attack on the right to choose is not new, but it has garnered new-found steam post-election, and I am furiously afraid for those people who may be placed in a similar situation to mine. As crazy as it may sound, in many ways, I was lucky. I was blessed to have health insurance which covered a first trimester ultrasound. I was fortunate that the technician I had was skilled enough to detect my daughter’s issue at 13 weeks when most encephaloceles are not diagnosed until the anatomy scan at 20 weeks. I was able to have an abortion at 14 weeks, still considered the first trimester, when abortion regulations are not as stringent in most states. And I am particularly privileged that I live in California, where my right to choose is not under attack, where I was able to quickly locate a local OB willing to perform my surgery who was in my insurance network, where my insurance paid for the procedure, and where I received compassionate and amazing care from every health care provider I encountered, none of whom questioned the choice I was making.

Not all women in America in 2016 are so lucky. I know many of them from the termination groups that I am a part of online and their stories of abortion are as varied as the people that make up our great nation. Some were lucky like me to find out early in pregnancy. Many more found out at their anatomy scan around 20 weeks, as many fetal issues cannot be diagnosed any earlier. Others did not have diagnoses until much later in pregnancy, given the need for follow-up testing and doctor’s visits or for abnormalities that occur late in development. Some had to travel hours to get an abortion. Some traveled across state lines. Many had to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for their procedures, some even more.

Many of these women would not even have been able to access abortions were the new administration to restrict abortion access as they would like. Even for those who could technically access an abortion, the cost and challenge of getting access would place unfair burdens on many women across the country.

My termination story is unique, but the right to choose is a right that many people exercise. Chances are that every person reading this knows someone who has had an abortion, for whatever reason. Their choice, like mine, was theirs and theirs alone to make. And I stand by them. Our President-elect and his administration do not. And that terrifies me.

- Marne Sussman is an environmental attorney in San Francisco. She enjoys traveling and spending time with her family, and fervently hopes that her daughter will not have to fight the same wars that she is.

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