Note: Please use caution if you are sensitive to pictures of babies who have been delivered too early. This post contains such photos.
Three years ago, this May, I experienced a second trimester loss of my monoamniotic (MoMo) twin sons. Before this, simply contemplating that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage was enough to take my breath away. The sixteen weeks that I carried my boys were heart wrenching, devastating, and beautiful.
MoMo twins occur in 1 of 10,000 pregnancies, a .01% chance. My prenatal diagnosis raised concerns about my babies’ chances of survival in utero, during delivery, and following birth due to fetal abnormalities, preterm delivery, or cord entanglement. At appointments providers often appealed to me with an apology for my circumstance even before anything tragic had occurred.
A 2014 study on monoamniotic twins pegs the survival rate at 45%. Loss is likely to occur prior to 24 weeks and “almost half of the pregnancies [studied] miscarried or were terminated because of fetal abnormalities.” When you receive an unexpected prenatal diagnosis, you learn that the standard of care for expectant mothers markets to a woman’s preservation of self. Pregnancy aside, my providers generally embraced me as a capable and strong individual in conversation. Despite this, I often felt treated as though I was a fragile woman, and my atypical pregnancy and children were a liability.
The healthcare system dehumanized my sons in the first trimester when the specialist suggested termination as their hearts beat in unison over the doppler; while they were full of life on the ultrasound screen. My sons were dehumanized in the second trimester when the doctor gave me the news that I had miscarried, saying that he would evacuate the “fetuses” from my womb by a cannula with a Dilation and Curettage not providing me with alternative options to birth my babies. The healthcare system dehumanized my sons after I gave birth to them and the hospital protocol indicated that they would be disposed of as medical waste.
When my sons were treated as expendable “products of conception” by nomenclature and policies, rather than as human beings, I resisted; feeling in my soul that they deserved care and respect. I carried them until natural death, peacefully brought them into this world, and then ensured that they were laid to rest with dignity. I had resources, support, and advocates but what I long for is cultural change.
Last month, I saw Unplanned; the real life story of Abby Johnson. And when the cannula appeared on the screen to remove the baby from the protective womb of its mother; my sons came to mind. I grieved for the loss of life and for the mother.
While that scene was unquestionably powerful; when the biohazard bins of lost babies were wheeled out of the center, I couldn’t breathe. I thought about the hoops I had to jump through after my loss to ensure that my sons were not disposed of as medical waste. Born at a gestational age of less than 16 weeks, they were not clumps of cells, tissue, or trash. They were fearfully and wonderfully made; intricate in design, form and purpose. I had a visceral reaction to seeing the bins on the screen. I realized that had it not been for advocacy, my sons would have been in a bin just like those that I saw in front of me. The tears flowed freely.
There have been several recent articles published on the issue of abortion in relation to expected loss during pregnancy or immediately following birth. In one particularly shocking article an obstetrician-gynecologist and vocal abortion proponent in Utah, Leah Torres MD states,
“Not one person shouting about how vile and evil the new proposed third trimester abortion laws are has clearly ever taken care of a patient in need of that procedure. These patients are faced with one of the most tragic and heart-wrenching decisions of their lives, one where their entire future has changed in a moment’s notice. No matter what these “experts” say – and remember these are mostly anti-choice activists who have never in their lives attended medical school – the patients needing them are not monsters. No, the monsters are those who are opposed to pregnant people doing what is best for themselves and for their families.”
I’m not a physician, but I am a mother who has had my entire future changed in a moment’s notice. Prenatal and perinatal loss are absolutely tragic, but changing the method of loss from natural death to intentional demise does not alleviate the tragedy. I appreciate the medical expertise of physicians. I question whether medical school in itself deems a practitioner proficient in managing the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of a woman going through prenatal or perinatal loss if they fail to recognize the personhood of the unborn.
Having walked through a pregnancy where the prognosis was not favorable, where I never heard my babies cry or saw them take their first breath, I know that there is hope on the other side of unspeakable sorrow. I felt the life of my children as they moved within my womb, and I fought against the recommendations from well intended professionals that could not see past medical jargon to consider the personhood of my sons. I believe that treating abortion as a cure-all for the trauma of an unexpected prenatal diagnosis or expected perinatal loss is a disservice to women. Know that there are life-affirming physicians, bereavement doulas, and perinatal hospice programs, that can walk in partnership to support you if you are experiencing or expecting to endure loss. These services come alongside women to navigate the heartbreak of terminal diagnoses, miscarriage, loss, and ultimately healing. Women are strong, capable, and resilient. It is time that we demand a new standard of care.