I got married in February of 2020, and a few weeks later when I rolled over, panting beside my husband, I knew we had conceived. I tapped my chest, and told the life that would soon start inside me, you were conceived today, with an uncanny certainty. About a year later, I made a collage from cardstock and acrylic paint. The cardstock was sourced from my own greeting card company, because I had printed 150 baby shower invitations for an order that was eventually canceled. I cut up the cards and positioned them over the canvas, slowly forming a self-portrait of me naked in a storm, with a fetus outside my body struck by lightning. When I finished the work, I observed it calmly, realizing I had moved a ball of pain outside my body into visibility, transmuted into a form that could be seen and understood by others.
Two years ago, I had a miscarriage. Miscarriages are common; the end of 10 to 15% of all known pregnancies. More often than not they are kept secret, hidden in an impossibly fragile corner of the personal and collective mind. I kept my experience between me and my closest family members for a long time, even as I knew that I searched frantically for the comfort of other women’s words in my time of need. It has become undeniable to me that it is time to talk publicly about my miscarriage, even if I am met with vitriol or indifference.
The Supreme Court recently decided, “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” overturning Roe v. Wade, and allowing individual states to restrict abortion access. I had access to medically necessary, affordable care for my miscarriage which may disappear in many states, including the state where I lived at the time – Georgia. There was no scandal: I was married, 27 years old, employed, and I needed the services of an abortion clinic. It is normal for a woman to need access to women’s healthcare.
I needed healthcare long before I miscarried. My pregnancy was unplanned. I hadn’t been taking birth control because I had just moved and didn’t have a doctor, although I did ask two different healthcare providers with no luck. We tried condoms for a while, but grew less diligent over time. I crossed my fingers, hoping fertility awareness and the pull-out method would be enough. They weren’t. In my darkest moments, when I first found out I was pregnant, I wished for a miscarriage. After I cried for a few days, I came around and eventually I made the prenatal appointments, I took the vitamins, and bought the books.
I drove to my first appointment and told my doctor I was having some spotting. It could be perfectly normal; we’d just have an ultrasound to be sure. An ultrasound tech named Gina joined me in the exam room and prepped me. I popped my feet into stirrups and waited as my eyes roved around the office, alighting with interest, but not understanding, on the ultrasound image on the screen in front of me. I hoped hearing the baby’s heartbeat would make me feel connected. I hoped I would fall in love.
“The doctor will come speak to you,” Gina said suddenly.
“Can you tell if –”
“-The doctor will come speak to you,” she cut me off.
The doctor came into the examination room. I don’t remember most of what he said except, “but what we don’t see…”
“The heartbeat,” I said, looking at the ultrasound again.
I had four ultrasounds over the next month and a half that revealed my baby had stopped growing at about 7 weeks; it was now 13 weeks. I was diagnosed with a “missed miscarriage.” These were the options: first was to continue to wait for the miscarriage to resolve on its own, but over a month had passed and I simply wouldn’t wait anymore. The second option was to take medication to speed up the process of a natural miscarriage. I was prescribed Cytotek, an ulcer medication, in the hope that it would cause uterine contractions. There is better medication on the market for this purpose colloquially called the “abortion pill,” but in Northwest Georgia, my OBGYN wasn’t willing to prescribe it lest they be known as an abortion clinic. Perhaps predictably, nothing happened when I took the Cytotek.
The third option was a Dilatation and Curettage. This is a simple operation that does not involve cutting, but rather the emptying of the uterus by opening the cervix and using vacuum pressure. It is the same procedure used to perform abortions. I had been carrying a dead baby for almost two months; I decided to get the D and C. I asked every single professional I spoke with for two days how much it would cost. Finally, I got the answer from a representative at the surgical center: $14,000, not including the surgeon and anesthesiologist’s fees. With insurance I would pay between $500 and $1000, plus fees.
I sat back. Fourteen thousand dollars. The price of a car. A decent car, not a beater. What if I hadn’t had insurance? What then? I was incensed. I knew that the procedure I needed was offered by a local abortion clinic, so I made an appointment with them on the force of principle alone. I had worked in healthcare for years, and I was not willing to contribute to the problem of a bloated, overpriced system.
My husband drove me to the clinic. As we stepped out of the car, protestors called out words that my husband tried to physically shield me from. Even though they did not directly apply – I was not aborting a viable pregnancy – I felt the force of their hatred. The violence of the words reverberated in me. I wondered how anyone could ever believe it was right to spew hatred at a woman on the worst day of her life. It occurred to me that these protestors probably thought they were brave to harass me and the other women at the clinic.
It is interesting for me to meditate on, because I do agree that it is brave to stand up for one’s convictions. I have this courage. I know because I have consistently refused to back down from hardship. I know that I can trust myself to be brave when the chips are down; this is the gift that suffering has given me. It took courage for me to tell my husband I was pregnant. It took courage for me to go to doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment alone because of COVID restrictions. It took courage for me to look for affordable healthcare, instead of going into debt to remain “respectable.” It took courage for me to go to therapy afterwards and admit that I was depressed. Having this unique experience, I believe I am just in saying it was cowardly for the OBGYN clinic not to offer me the abortion pill to treat my miscarriage. It was cowardly for protestors to torment the women at the abortion clinic without bothering to hear their stories. They did not bother to ask me why I was there; they did not care to know that the healthcare system had failed me, and that they could have easily been in my same position.
I entered the clinic alone. I sat on a chair with a small piece of tape on the floor in front to mark that it was at least 6 feet apart from the closest woman. Eventually my name was called, and after I got another ultrasound, was blood-typed, prescribed birth control, and donned a gown and booties, a nurse led me into the operating area. There was a half-length table in the operating room. Too small, it seemed like, with imposing black stirrups at the foot of the bed.
“Put the blanket under your head,” said the nurse. “Lay down until your butt is almost sliding off the bed, and put your legs in the stirrups.”
I complied slowly. Above my head, in place of a few of the normal ceiling tiles, were transparent tiles with clouds. That’s nice, I thought.
“Okay, you should start going to sleep now. It’s very fast,” said the anesthetist.
I came back as though rising through water. They sat me up and my brain lagged behind, still in the ocean beyond time.
“Are you okay?” someone asked.
“Yes, it just hurts,” I said.
They placed a heating pad on my abdomen which I clutched desperately. The pain, though not severe, carried with it three months of incremental loss, fear, and bleeding. I fixated on another set of decorative ceiling tiles above my head, these ones were flowers. I had just painted flowers like those – azaleas.
After a time, an attendant helped me gather myself. I had to grab the pad underneath me and pull it up to keep blood from falling to the floor. I hobbled into the bathroom and peed mostly red blood. I put on a pad the clinic provided and wondered how much the hospital would have charged for a pad. Over the next few days, I spiked a high fever. I wondered if I had an infection or COVID, but neither was true. Physically, I was fine in a few weeks. Mentally, I think there are still some echoes of this series of events. My husband was also shattered by the loss, and suffered a long bout of depression following the miscarriage.
I came away from this experience changed, and with the firsthand knowledge that it MUST be easier for women who don’t want to get pregnant to access birth control. I was only prescribed birth control after I had already gotten pregnant, despite asking at multiple locations, and multiple providers for a simple pill. I learned from experience that abortion clinics are essential and save lives every day. Perhaps most unexpectedly of all, I also came away with an understanding of the pro-life argument. I am pro-choice. I always have been and always will be. If a woman does not want to face the risks of pregnancy, she must not be forced to by a domineering government; I stand by this conviction. What I wasn’t prepared for was the bond between me and my unborn child that was formed even before I recognized it. I will always wonder who that person might have been. I can’t imagine that many women escape this uncertainty when they face the premature end of a pregnancy, whether they chose that end or not. If this is a pain that you are facing, dear sister, know that I have been there too, and you will survive. For me, it helped to see a therapist, and make artwork. Abortion is not good or bad, it just is. It is a procedure that should be legal, should be affordable, should be considered very carefully, and talked about compassionately.
Abortion and miscarriage are not things I think about every day, or even every week, but following my experience I do think about the cycle of life and death often. It is early summer where I live, and there are songbirds learning to fly all around me. I have found four dead fledglings in the grass in my backyard. It was a sad thing to find small, broken beings that could have been beautiful lying dead on the ground. When I found them, I thought about the child I lost. I did not curse the skies; I did not curse the momma bird who did not stop the baby birds from falling; I did not curse some deity for the suffering in the world. I buried the birds, and I sat quietly with them for a moment. I felt the grass under my hands; I watched adult birds flit in and out of the trees above me. Finally, after a long time, I got up and went on with my day, imagining myself as one of the survivors, one of the birds that jumped from the nest to be borne aloft by the wind.