'My Little Girl Was Sick'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Another reader contributes a heartbreaking story to our series:

I’ve read the different women’s reasons for abortion, and mine is a bit different, so I think it’s important to hear another side: a wanted and planned little girl.

I am now 28, but I was 25 when I got pregnant for the first time. My husband and I had been married three years and decided together that this was the time, since we were financially stable enough to afford a child. Not that our background matters, but we are everyday people. We are your neighbor or the happy couple in the grocery store. My husband was in the Air Force and I had just quit my job selling high-end furniture. He has his Master’s degree and I have an AA in interior design. We are intelligent, thoughtful people who care about others and our country. Unfortunately, I felt failed by my country in 2012.

We were stationed in Oklahoma when we found out we were having a baby. I’ll never forget how my husband literally clapped with happiness when I told him I was pregnant. We both were so happy! At 18 weeks 5 days, we were “going to find out the sex” of the baby (it’s actually a scan to search for fetal anomalies).

Immediately after telling us we were having a girl, the ultrasound tech stopped speaking to us. She would respond with yes or no and was taking so many pictures. She quite literally ran out of the room after handing us our pictures. I told my husband that something doesn’t feel right, but he assured me it was fine.

The tech walked back in and said the doctor was on the phone for me. I picked up the phone and the doctor said a term I had heard before—spina bifida—and others I hadn’t—“ventricles” and “hydrocephalus.”

We had an emergency appointment the next morning with a perinatologist where the doctor brought us to a tiny room after scanning me himself and confirming everything. My little girl was sick. She had the worst form of spina bifida—hydrocephalus—and her cerebellum was “smashed like a pancake,” as he so elegantly put it, while just generally having some open spaces in her brain.

He told us everything that she would certainly suffer: paralyzation, pain, headaches, incontinence, surgeries upon surgeries upon surgeries, and mental retardation. Other symptoms that were likely were blindness and deafness and being in a vegetative state.

WHAT?! But I had done everything right! I’ve never smoked or done any drugs, I don’t drink, I took all of my prenatals, I’m healthy and I’m young! This wasn’t supposed to happen!!

Between my sobs, he gave us our options: keep the baby as is with no intervention, go to the East Coast where they perform surgeries in-utero to close the opening on the spine—but that’s all; the damage is done … or “some people choose to abort these babies.”

I was appalled at his suggestion and said I couldn’t kill my baby and left.

After about 30 minutes of my husband and I crying together and holding each other in our bed, we both decided that abortion was the most humane option for our daughter. We loved her, I felt her move, but she was going to suffer greatly. She would not know the pain that life had waiting for her; I would take it all. She would only know the warmth of my womb, the sound of my heartbeat, and the freedom of movement she would never experience after birth.

This is where we were failed. When my husband called the perinatologist to tell him of our decision, we were given the number for Whole Women’s Health in San Antonio EIGHT HOURS AWAY. At 19 week, I did not have a right to have an abortion in Oklahoma. I was sent away. My Air Force husband fought for the rights of others, but not us apparently. If he had not been stationed in Oklahoma, we could’ve been home in California, where I wouldn’t have been sent away like some dirty, shameful mother.

I was forced to have an ultrasound by some politician and in that ultrasound the doctor revealed that in just a week my daughter’s bones in her legs were becoming deformed. I knew what I was doing was even more right, but a forced ultrasound is cruel to those who weren’t  in my exact situation. I do not support them at all.

I was never so desperate for a miracle as I was that day. I’ve never wanted to wake up from a nightmare so badly. As I was strapped to the operating table, I asked to please let me see her one more time, so the nurse turned the ultrasound screen toward me and I cried my eyes out as I said goodbye. The nurse teared up and rubbed my arm and tried to comfort me. I’ll never forget that gesture of kindness on her part.

And then, with a hard poke of my belly, my daughter was gone. She no longer moved. I had to carry my baby girl’s lifeless body in my belly for 24 hours before labor was induced. I’ve never wished to die before, but I just wanted to end my pain and to be with my daughter somewhere where she wasn’t in pain. I’ve never apologized to someone I had never met so much. I think I apologized to her a million times, but I’ve never regretted my decision.

Do you know what it’s like to see the love of your life in fetal position bawling so hard that he sounds nothing like himself because he just lost his daughter and watched his wife die on the inside? To ever think that this kind of decision is taken lightly is ignorance at its worst.

I am thankful everyday that my daughter wasn’t born. I made my first and only decision as her mother not to allow her to suffer and I am the only person who should ever have that right.

After she was gone, I learned from my perinatologist that he never thought she was going to survive her birth, but he was afraid to suggest abortion because we lived in Oklahoma. I’m sure that if word got out that a Oklahoma doctor was suggesting abortion, then the nation’s most hateful people would go insane. I felt so betrayed by him, but mostly by where we were forced to live because of the military. His hands were tied and he couldn’t tell me his professional opinion and let me believe she COULD’VE lived. She would’ve had a miserable existence, but she was going to be alive, according to him. To let me make the decision to abort without telling me she was most likely going to die anyway is cruel.

I was pregnant for the second time six weeks later out of desperation. I was watched closely and put on folic acid, and now my son is two and a half and amazing. I suffered depression from my loss and severe post-partum depression after the birth of my son, but I knew that I was sacrificing my mind and body for my children. That was the decision I made.