By Sarah Mountain, Ph.D.
This story originally ran at nu-detroit.com and is reprinted with the author's permission.
The worst day of our lives reads something like the lead up to a bad joke. My husband and I were in bed with my parents, our Rabbi and a psychologist…
But there’s no punchline. Just hushed voices and dimmed lights as someone called the doctor to see if he would take my case; it was the night we decided to have an abortion and end a long fought-for pregnancy.
After enduring miscarriages and D&C surgeries, we were finally, cautiously pregnant again. There were signs from the very beginning that something was amiss. Weekly doctor visits became appointments every 48 hours to track the slow growth. As I continued to hemorrhage every few days in the late hours of the night, we became regulars in the emergency room; each time a heartbeat remained.
By the time we saw a high-risk specialist, I had been diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma. It’s not an uncommon condition in pregnancy and, in most cases, as the fetus grows, it shrinks the hematoma and stops the bleeding. In my case, the hematoma was growing faster than the fetus, impeding growth and causing a concerning amount of blood loss. After hours with the specialist and her team, she called us into her office and laid a number of documents before us.
She told us that Michigan law didn’t allow for her to advocate for termination, but that she didn’t think the fetus was compatible with life. The hemorrhaging I was experiencing was so severe, if I chose to continue with the pregnancy, I would have to sign papers that I understood my life was at risk, that I gave her permission to perform an emergency hysterectomy in the future if it were necessary to stop the bleeding and that I understood even those measures may not be enough to save my life.
These are the moments we can’t ever fathom having to face before we arrive at them. As a mother, you want to protect your children. It didn’t even register that I was bleeding to death. I sat there unable to comprehend that I was being forced to choose between ending the pregnancy I had wanted so badly or continuing to carry the pregnancy that was likely not viable and could leave my 2-year-old daughter motherless.
We went home to weigh our options even though it felt like an impossible decision … which led us to that night and the support system in our bedroom. We had connections and resources. Someone sent our scans to a high-risk specialist on the other side of the country so she could confirm what we already knew.
I wasn’t a candidate for an abortion in a clinic setting because of the medical complications I was experiencing. At the time, there were only two doctors in Michigan that performed abortions in hospitals. Until our appointment was approved and scheduled, there was talk of going out of state.
We had one appointment with the doctor before the abortion. There was paperwork and an exam. The doctor had me sign a paper saying that he had made me listen to the heartbeat so that I could feel the full weight of my decision — without ever making me do so. It remains one of the greatest moments of compassion I have ever experienced.
My husband was by my side every step of the way, but the paperwork only had room for one signature: mine. That stuck with me for years afterwards. That it was my signature alone.
We spent the next 24 hours in the emergency room. Which would come first, the surgery that would terminate my pregnancy or a hemorrage that could kill me?
The following day, I had the abortion.
I had the abortion knowing that it was a decision that I had to make. Knowing that Judaism puts the life of the mother above that of their unborn fetus. Knowing that I wanted to be there for my daughter, that I didn’t want to miss out on her life. Knowing that my husband and I wanted the chance to have more children.
Texas Senate Bill 8 would have left me bleeding to death. It would have left my daughter motherless and my husband a widower. Denying women access to health care has always led to more death, not less.
These laws conflict with the Jewish belief that life begins at birth, that the mother’s life is more important than that of the fetus that she carries. These laws punish the economically disadvantaged, those without connections, those without a support system, those too afraid of hurting people who could assist them, from receiving health care that they desperately need. Texas politicians did not end abortions with these laws — they just ended ones that happen in safe settings with medical professionals.
It has been a decade since my abortion. My husband and I went on to have two more children. I endured 20 weeks of hyper-emesis with each of my three full-term pregnancies, each necessitating a hospital visit for IV fluids. Pregnancy and childbearing are physically, emotionally and mentally taxing — not to mention the mothering that comes after.
As we reach the first yahrzeit of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I find myself reflecting on her words:
The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, her well-being and dignity. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full human responsible for her own choices.
Like most mothers, I make sacrifices for my children every day. There’s nothing I would not do to care for them, protect them and love them. The choice we made a decade ago to have an abortion, to spare a potential child a short, pain-filled life, to spare my own life and to spare my daughter a life without her mother — it is the most selfless act of motherly love that I can ever make.
It is the right of every woman to have that same choice, whether or not their fetus is incompatible with life or their own life is in danger. Full stop.
I will continue to share my story to help erase the stigma surrounding abortion and to fight against abortion bans like the one in Texas and anywhere public policies infringe on women’s privacy, autonomy, safety and humanity.
I fought too hard to bring my children into the world for this to be the world we leave them.