'I Didn’t Terminate My Pregnancy; I Lost My Baby'

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

A resurgence of traffic this week to our abortion series has attracted many more readers with personal stories of miscarriage. Three of them are compiled here. The first comes from a woman who, like this previous reader, experienced many lost pregnancies:

I don’t know if you’re still collecting stories about miscarriages, but here’s mine. We had two wonderful girls, but I wanted one more child. We tried and tried, but no luck. We scheduled an initial appointment with my Ob/Gyn clinic for infertility.

Before the appointment came, we found that we were pregnant. Ecstatically, I cancelled the appointment and scheduled a pregnancy appointment instead.

Before that appointment, I had a back spasm and had my husband call the nurse line. Since I was pregnant, they recommended going the ER. They did a vaginal ultrasound and the tech asked how far along I was. 12 weeks, I replied. She said the baby was definitely not 12 weeks old.

Then we waited for a radiologist  to come in. He told us that there was no heartbeat and that it was not alive.

I called my doctor—this was Friday—and was told that I had the choice to wait until it passed on its own or to have a D&C. The thought of having a dead fetus in me was beyond horrible, so I opted for the D&C.

Then we tried to get pregnant again. We scheduled an infertility appointment. I was diagnosed with secondary infertility, which only means that I was once able to have children but now couldn’t.

I had a full round of testing, and they decided on artificial insemination (AI). Luckily, I could schedule all of the ultrasounds in the afternoons after work and the inseminations early in the morning before work. As a teacher, I didn’t have the ability to come in or leave an hour early or late, nor to take off an hour during the day.

After several rounds of AI—which also includes vaginal ultrasounds measuring the growth of the egg, injections from my husband, and medication—I was pregnant.

Because I was 34, they decided to treat it as a high-risk pregnancy and did the first ultrasound at eight weeks. There was a heartbeat!

Then at work one day, when I was 13 weeks pregnant, I started cramping a bit and spotting. I had spotted a tiny bit with my first pregnancy, so I wasn’t too worried. But it didn’t stop and became heavier.

I went home after school and called my OB. They said that I was probably having a miscarriage and there was nothing they could do.

Throughout the night I cramped and bled quite heavily and then felt a lump pass into the toilet. I had been crying off and on all night, but that completely undid me, since I knew that was my baby.

I had kept in contact with the doctor on call throughout the night. I made preparations to not go to work the next day and the doctor scheduled me to have a D&C. By the time we got there, there was nothing left in me to test.

After the D&C, the nurses messed up my pain medication and overmedicated me. I spent the car ride home and the next day vomiting from it. Then I spent another two days in bed sleeping and crying.

Eventually, life went on. We decided to try again. My health insurance had changed, so I had to find a new Ob/Gyn. Luckily, I could have the first clinic fax the testing information and we could begin right away. It was the same, except that this clinic inseminated twice each month, the planned day and the next day, just in case.

I had several instances of being late, then having a heavy period. They determined that those were extremely early miscarriages.

Evidently I could get pregnant, I just couldn’t keep it, so I also had to use a medication administered through vaginal suppositories. They had to be kept refrigerated and used twice a day.

After a few months my insemination was on Mother’s Day. I became pregnant and my son is now 14 years old.

***

This next reader responds to this one from the abortion series—“the woman who wrote about women needing to have perspective when it comes to early-term miscarriages (it’s not that sad, she says)”:

I have had a miscarriage. At the time, I didn’t think about it much. Hell, I didn’t even know I was pregnant yet. There was pain/cramping, so I went to the doctor thinking I was having a cyst burst—I have PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome]—and I was told “nope, this is a miscarriage.” Which was a shock for me. I was on birth control, always used condoms, etc. The guy was an asshole, and we weren’t even together anymore, so I chalked it up to “not meant to be” and moved on. Which was fine then and is still fine now.

Fast forward eight years, I’m now happily married to a wonderful man and we want to have children—like right now. Here’s the problem: Remember that pesky PCOS I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s a bitch to get pregnant with PCOS. A miscarriage now … well, that would probably break me. I’m not a person who cries—I am strong and independent and not much gets to me—so this isn’t about being an emotional person in general.

So to the woman who said that early-term miscarriages isn’t the same as late-term miscarriage: That’s not for you to say. You can’t ask people to not judge those who have abortions and then judge others who are sad because of an early-term miscarriage. It’s hypocritical and not at all supportive.

Until that baby is in your arms, all you can do is hope. A wanted and planned pregnancy is the same for every woman/couple; it’s hope and love no matter what stage.

My husband and I are trying to conceive right now. We have hoped and prayed and researched. We have talked about our possible child with love and affection. That child doesn’t even exist in any form yet, and it is already a love we have in our hearts.

So yes, if I got pregnant now and had a miscarriage at six weeks, I would be devastated. And that’s not for anyone to judge, just as it wouldn’t be for anyone to judge if I had an abortion.

***

Lastly, here’s a reader who technically had an abortion but understandably sees her wanted pregnancy as a miscarriage, given the devastating news that came with the first ultrasound. Her story illustrates the gray area that often forms between abortion and miscarriage:

My views on abortion have always been pro-choice. However, when I actually had to live through the experience myself, I was torn. And to be honest, even when I talk about my second pregnancy now, I still refer to what happened as a miscarriage. I didn’t terminate my pregnancy; I lost my baby.

It was fall of 2011. I was 23 years, married to my husband for two years, and had a beautiful one-year-old daughter. We wanted a big family and were excited when I found out I was pregnant again. I was a high-risk pregnancy with my daughter so it was no surprise that that I was sent to perinatologist.

That first visit with her would forever change my life. It was me, my husband and daughter in the room so excited to have her see her new little sibling. A few minutes into the ultrasound the nurse practitioner paused and stated she needed to get the doctor’s opinion on something and stepped out of the room. I was confused.

A few moment later the doctor came in and resumed the ultrasound. Then she told us: the baby has anencephaly. She explained the baby’s skull did not fully develop and parts of their brain would be exposed. She stated that this condition was fatal and that if I carried the baby full term, my baby would either be stillborn or only live a few hours or days.

I was heartbroken. In those few moments I felt like a failure. I had failed my child. Somehow I caused this. I was terrified.

After speaking with my OB, the decision to end the pregnancy was made. My procedure was schedule for two days later. Walking into that clinic was extremely hard. I wanted my child. I wanted more than anything for the doctors to be wrong.

Another ultrasound was performed that day and again my baby’s condition was confirmed. I sat in a shared room dressed in only a hospital gown, around other women. Listening to them speak was hard. Some of their stories will haunt me forever. I felt alone.

The procedure itself took less than 30 mins. But then again, I can’t be sure. Shortly afterwards, I was wheeled out. My baby was gone; my baby had been taken from me. I went home and cried for days.

I made what I thought was the best decision for my family and for myself. I did not want my child to suffer, nor give birth and lose my child moments later. I have come to terms with my decision and am extremely grateful that I had the option to choose.  

Just about three months later, I became pregnant again. In August the following year I gave birth to healthy, beautiful, identical twin girls. I love my girls; they are my life. I do, however, think often of my angel baby.