As I write this, it is 1:17 am on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012.
I am lying awake in bed, trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion.
Of course, we don’t call it an abortion. We call it “a procedure” or a D&C. See, my potential abortion is one of the good abortions. I’m 31 years old. I’m married. These days, I’m pretty well off. I would very much like to stay pregnant right now. In fact, I have just spent the last year—following an earlier miscarriage—trying rather desperately to get pregnant.
Unfortunately, the doctors tell me that what I am now pregnant with is not going to survive. Last week, I had an ultrasound, I was almost 6 weeks along and looked okay. The only thing was that the heartbeat was slow. It wasn’t a huge deal. Heartbeats start slow, usually around the 6th week, and then they speed up. But my doctor asked me to come back in this week for a follow up, just to be sure. That was Tuesday, yesterday. Still my today. The heart hasn’t sped up. The fetus hasn’t grown. The egg yolk is now bigger than the fetus, which usually indicates a chromosomal abnormality. Basically, this fetus is going to die. I am going to have a miscarriage. It’s just a matter of when.
Because of these facts—all these facts—I get special privileges, compared to other women seeking abortion in the state of Minnesota.
Nobody has to tell my parents. I am not subject to a 24-hour waiting period. I do not have to sit passively while someone describes the gestational stage that my fetus is at, presents me with a laundry list of possible side-effects (some medically legit, some not), lectures me on all the other options that must have just slipped my mind, or forces me to look at enlarged, color photographs of healthy fetuses.
Because I have health insurance, I can afford a very nice OB/GYN whom I chose and who does not exercise her right to deny me this option. Thankfully, I don't live in a state where she can legally lie to me about the status of my fetus, to dissuade me from having an abortion.
Most importantly, from my perspective, I have the privilege of a private abortion in a nondescript medical office. I will not have to go to an abortion clinic. I will not have to walk by any protesters—not even Charlie, the one guy who is paid to protest every day outside Minneapolis’ abortion clinic, where I have volunteered as an escort in the past.
Most of these privileges boil down to the fact that, as far as my doctor and my medical billing are concerned, this is not an elective procedure.
But here’s the thing. It is elective.
I don’t have to do this. I am making a decision. Plain and simple. An incredibly awful, heart-wrenching decision with positives and negatives no matter which option I choose.
Having an abortion would get this miscarriage over with quickly. That’s important, as I’m leaving for a speaking engagement this weekend and am rather apprehensive about the risk of miscarrying, all by myself, in Aspen, Colorado, in an environment where I am supposed to be on professional behavior. (Uncontrollable sobbing doesn’t really fit with the image of competent journalist.) Most likely, there would be less pain and less bleeding. That’s also a big deal. My last miscarriage happened at 4 weeks along. I woke up in the middle of the night wanting to scream and almost vomiting from the pain. I bled for nearly two weeks after that. My guess is that these effects are not weaker for a 7-week miscarriage. Finally, even if I wait this out, there’s still a pretty decent chance that I end up having to get an abortion after all. It’s not uncommon for miscarriages like this to take too long to start, or not finish completely on their own. With just enough bad luck, I might get to experience both options.
On the other hand, I’m scared. This is surgery. Surgery is scary. There are small but very real-feeling risks involved: Reaction to anesthesia, infections, and in rare cases some women develop scar tissue in their uterus that can make it hard to get pregnant again. That might be the biggest fear for me, honestly. It took 5 months to get pregnant the first time. It was a year after that miscarriage before this pregnancy happened. I know that, for the most part, this is random chance. I have bad luck. But part of me is terrified of anything that might make this process harder than it already is. Also: Psychologically, I’m still clinging to this pregnancy. I want the doctors to be wrong. I want to have one of those miracles where everything turns out to be okay and I am relieved to find that I haven’t actually lost everything.
Right now, at 2:06 am, I’m leaning towards a compromise. I think I probably want the abortion. I don’t think I want to have to jump from thinking I had a viable pregnancy to having an abortion in a span of two days. My husband has offered to cancel his own business trip and come to Aspen with me. Maybe I’ll take him up on that, and wait until I get home on Monday to do a final ultrasound and get the abortion. I have a list of questions to ask my doctor in the morning. This decision is entirely dependent upon her answers, but I think it’s the right one for me.
That was a lot of TMI, I know. But I am telling you this to press a point.
I am making a decision.
The only thing that makes my abortion decision different from anyone else’s abortion decision is that some people who are against abortion will think that my abortion is acceptable.
Some. Not all. Maybe not even most. I honestly have no idea. My life is not in danger, after all. I have not been raped. I merely think that I might not want to sit around, feeling the symptoms of pregnancy, for god knows how long, until a heartbeat stops and the ripping pain kicks in and the blood starts flowing on its own.
Let me be clear. I have options. It’s just that they all suck. That’s kind of how bad news related to pregnancy works.
If you are pregnant, and do not want to be, all of your options suck.*
If you cannot seem to get pregnant, and want to be, all of your options suck.**
If you are pregnant, and won’t be soon, all of your options suck.
There is no universal good option. There is no universal bad option. But for each individual there is an option that is the least bad. Here is why I am pro-choice. If someone has to make a decision and the best they can hope for is the least-bad option, I don’t believe I have any business making that choice for them.
My abortion is not a good abortion. It's just an abortion. And there's no reason to treat the decision I have to make any differently than the decisions made by any other woman.
*I’ve known women who had abortions, women who gave a baby up for adoption, and women who raised an unintended baby on their own. None of those options are easy. None of those options are any less painful, traumatizing, or side-effect filled than any of the others. They only seem that way to people who haven’t experienced them.
**Whether you try low-level infertility treatments, IVF and donors, start looking for an adoption, or accept a life of unchosen childlessness, you are going to experience a lot of stress and you are going to have to give things up and grieve. You will probably need to chat with a therapist. None of these options is easier than the others. It just looks that way to people who haven’t experienced them.
• This post isn't really about miscarriage, specifically. But part of why I wrote it was to break some of the silence surrounding what I like to call The World's Shittiest Secret Society. As many as 50% of conceptions end in miscarriage. Most likely, that's not because of any outside forces. It's just because of the way nature works. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. If you have had a miscarriage, and are struggling with processing this thing, then I really think you should read Jon Cohen's Coming to Term: Uncovering the Truth About Miscarriage. Cohen's wife had four miscarriages in a row before the birth of their second child. His book provides an evidence-based, sane-making perspective on what we do and don't know about miscarriage and it provides many, many reasons for hope. In particular, the fact that Cohen's wife's experience isn't extraordinary. Even if you have four miscarriages in a row, you've still got a greater than 70% chance of having a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy the next time out. Miscarriage is weird, and it's horribly painful. If you're anything like me, learning as much as you can about it helps.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.