Trigger: infant death
For the anniversary of Roe Vs. Wade, I planned to write about pro-life rhetoric about “4th trimester abortion.” For research, I waded my way through the thicket of articles that distort academic theoretical essays.
A video of a Planned Parenthood representative being grilled about how an abortion doctor would handle it if a baby lived through a botched abortion was followed by urges to protest because the end goal of the pro-choice movement was to legalize the death of infants born with disabilities.
It was too much.
I closed my laptop, went upstairs where my twins were asleep, and held them close, feeling their strong hearts beating, and the warmth of their beautiful skin as they breathed peacefully in their sleep.
This is my life. These are my miracles. I wanted to cocoon them from all of this.
I felt violated by these people with their body-controlling agendas masquerading as deep concern over the unborn. Their bullshit hit too close to home.
I am not one who hates easily, but I hate these writers and legislators who ignore medical reality when trying to win over pro-life readers and voters. I feel like their rhetoric about how to handle pregnancy belittles the actual experience of people who live in the ragged edges that make up the weeks and days near the viability point of a fetus.
People like me. People like my two “miracle” children.
What I didn’t see in my research were many essays from people who had actually lived along that ragged edge by either having a late term abortion, or giving birth to early term preemies. So, instead of writing the article I meant to write, these are my reactions to these assertions from my perspective as a mom of two micro preemies who both beat overwhelming odds to arrive in our world and to stay in it.
Leaving it Up to the Families
Let’s start with Florida Republican, Rep. Jim Boyd’s question to the planned parenthood representative Alisa LaPolt Snow (see it here): “If a baby was born on the table after a botched abortion, what would planned parenthood want to happen to that child that’s struggling for life?”
Snow’s answer: “we believe any decision that’s made should be up to the family, the woman, and the physician.”
This answer sounds cruel if you believe life begins at conception and live in a world of fairy dust and unicorns and pregnancies that all end at term. But, in the land of reality, where over 40,000 babies are born as early term preemies each year, it reflects established medical practice.
Let’s say the same baby to whom the representative refers was born in a hospital at the absolute last moment that an abortion is legal in the U.S. It would STILL be up to the family whether or not that baby was resuscitated, exactly as Snow stated.
In the United States, infants are viable at 23 weeks but only some NICUs can handle babies that young, and even then all but a small percentage of them live short, painful lives and then die. In our case, I knew at 19 weeks that my pregnancy was going to end early, and we were given a plethora of information about the effects of prematurity on babies born at 23-26 weeks gestation, and allowed to make decisions regarding what we wanted if they were born that young. We had options for after they were born ranging from heroic measures to compassionate end of life care.
Doctors explained to us that, whether or not resuscitation is attempted is left up to the discretion of the family and their doctors up to 26 weeks gestation because before that the chances are slim that the baby will live and large that the baby will die after a short life spent in pain, or that the baby will have debilitating conditions for the rest of his or her life. While my sons were in the NICU, I saw the real people who make up those statistics: tiny frail bodies encased in isolettes with families quietly holding vigil one day, and mourning the next.
Forty-one states limit abortion so that there is no way that any abortion could be performed past the point where the baby would be viable. So, what would abortion doctors do if the abortion failed and a fetus was born breathing? The same thing the doctors in an amazing hospital would do: accept the very real tragedy of biology—babies born before viability do not survive. It sucks. It truly does. But it’s reality.
I lived this reality on the edge of viability.
At 22 weeks, I was admitted into the only hospital in the state that was equipped to treat infants born at 23 weeks. But even then, the doctors explained that it was likely my babies would die.
So, what exactly, I have to wonder do legislators want doctors to do with these hypothetical babies born before viability as a result of poorly performed abortions? Never mind that there’s no real statistical data that this occurs in ethical clinics, there’s not a chance in hell they’d survive. Having watched my own children “bagged,” and other preemies put through painful extreme lifesaving efforts, heroic measures made on a baby whose death is certain are cruel.
I went home from the hospital when my twins were four days old. On the fifth morning, we got the dreaded phone call. One of my boys had an abdominal perforation but was too sick for the ostomy surgery he needed to survive. The surgeon explained the situation as I huddled in a conference room chair. My son’s best chance was a penrose drain, but even that was a hail mary. If the drain didn’t work, they could attempt the ostomy but only because there was nothing left to try. If the drain failed, his chances of survival with an surgery were the same as without: zero.
We decided then to go with the drain, but that if it did not work, we would allow our son to pass away quietly, with pain management only so that his last moments weren’t spent on an operating table or attempting to recover from a painful surgery. We wanted his last moments to be with us. I curled up under a blanket in a chair and waited crying while they operated, and then beside his isolette as we waited to see if he would live.
My son survived his abdominal perforation and NEC, despite only a 5% chance of doing so. We were lucky, but if we had not been, I know that I would have preferred his last moments be ones of love.
At the time of our decision, my son was only slightly older than those about whom Mr. Boyd asked.
Crafting public policies such as “the Born Alive Infant Protection Act” when those policies don’t match biological reality is rhetoric that takes advantage of the very real heartache of families whose pregnancies could not continue to term and the pain of the early term babies who would be forced into painful lives lasting minutes to days under the laws’ provisions.
How dare these people ignore parents’ very real pain at having to make the most terrible choice a parent would ever have to make? How dare they take this moment of loss and tragedy and turn it into a pulpit from which to spew their hatred of pro-choice anything?
The Myth of “4th Trimester Abortion”
I was shocked how many websites purported to reveal that the hidden agenda of the pro-choice movement was infanticide hidden in terms like “post-birth abortions,” or “4th trimester abortion.” This makes for fiery rhetoric and shocks and upsets pro-lifers who don’t check sources, but it does so by capitalizing on a very real happening: compassionate care for infants born with conditions that would result in a life of pain.
The pro-life articles don’t discuss this, so let me tell you a story of one such “infanticide.”
My sons were in the NICU for over 4 months, of which they spent most of their time in the nursery set aside for the most severely ill of babies.
I spent hours each day at their side or sitting in the parents’ lounge waiting to be allowed back in to be near them. One day, I walked into the parents’ lounge recognized the expression on the face of the older woman waiting there.
In the world of micro preemies, where joyful moments ride in on the back of pain and sorrow, a sort of shell-shocked expression settles on everyone. It comes with knowing that this is not how infancy is supposed to go, rejoicing because it could be worse, but fearing that at any moment the delicate hold your child has on life will sever, and it etches into your face the deep sorrow at the things you see each day, the unfairness of such little people fighting epic battles. I knew that expression: this was a micro-preemie grandma.
She noticed the pair of hospital bracelets I wore, “Oh, do you have twins?”
I said yes, and she volunteered that her daughter in law had given birth to twins the day before. As we talked, a tragic story unfurled.
During the 2nd trimester, it became clear that one fetus was not developing properly. The ultrasounds grew bleaker over time, and they knew by the beginning of the third trimester that he was not going to survive. As his twin continued to grow, he remained tiny and frail, with malformed organs. No matter when he was born, he would not live.
The family and doctors were caught in a delicate dance of monitoring both babies and trying to keep the pregnancy as long as possible for the healthier baby, but not so long that risk of death got too high. Finally, it was time.
After delivering the viable twin, doctors delivered the frail brother at just over a pound. The nurse gently wrapped him in a blanket before handing him to his family so they could say goodbye.
Holding her grandchild for the first and last time as he took his last breaths had been unimaginably painful the woman said; but, “at least he knew he was loved, and at least he was not alone.”
Because of their son’s complications, he could not survive even if heroic measures were attempted, so the family had chosen quiet, gentle life shortened by a few hours but spent being held, cuddled and loved. They chose to allow their baby to spend his first and last moments in the arms of his parents and grandparents; to be held gently by those who loved him, rather than spend his brief life under the bright lights of the resuscitation room and surrounded by machinery and tubing as the staff engaged in difficult, futile and painful efforts to force him to live.
It was a brutal choice in a place where the harsh reality of biology clashes against our underdog-loving tendencies and fairy tale mentality that everyone gets a happy ending.
Everyone doesn’t. Some endings are short and terrible. This family made sure that their son and grandson felt only their love and warmth during his short life.
Take a moment and imagine the awfulness of making that decision about your own child.
The choice these parents had to make was tragic, but according to a segment of pro-life advocates, it also makes them murderers.
And that makes me sick.