Grieving a Late-Term Abortion: A Third Account

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 3 2009 11:33 AM

Grieving a Late-Term Abortion: A Third Account

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Another friend describes his wife's late-term abortion. Read testimonials from Tiller's patients here.

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I did not know Dr. Tiller, but his assassination vividly reminds me of events in 1983, when my wife and I had a devasting experience with a late-term pregnancy gone wrong at 38 weeks. We had a daughter (I will call her that-in our case, the distinction between fetus and child was not relevant) who developed hydrocephalus (water on the brain) late in the pregnancy, which was discovered at the last ultrasound. Her head was huge with fluid, and therefore would not fit through the birth canal. Actually, it was called hydroencephaly, meaning that she essentially had no brain, because it had been substantially dissolved by the neural fluid from a spinal cord that had not properly closed. Because of the head size, we learned that my wife would have to have a caesarian to deliver the baby-although common, a major surgery. My wife had had an ectopic pregnancy, with major surgery that devasted her, but we very much wanted the baby. Yet we learned that even with the caesarian, the baby would either die shortly after birth, or would live somewhat longer, and very, very badly-likely paralyzed, blind, and without significant mental faculties. My brother is a neonatologist, an expert in premature babies and other problems, and he consulted with specialists around the country. Nothing could be done to improve the predicted outcome. We decided to terminate the pregnancy and avoid the caesarian, to preserve my wife's health and increase her chances for another child, and so we wouldn't simultaneously be grieving the child and coping with recovery from surgery. We made that wrenching decision and the pregnancy was terminated at Stanford University, with the baby delivered vaginally after the evacuation of the spinal fluid from her head. This is what was much later termed "partial birth abortion" and villified by politicians and ideologues who have no idea of the reality we experienced. We buried our daughter in a cemetary in Santa Cruz, Calif. We continue to grieve her loss, and we are also grateful to the caring doctors who assisted us in our time of need.

Would that Dr. Tiller's killer, and his allies, had any idea of the nature of the medical disasters for which he offered his help. Would that they cared.

Photograph of pregnant woman by Anna Jurkovska/Shutterstock Images LLC.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

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