In 2013, a bill was introduced in the Texas Congress that drastically changed the access and availability of abortion services in the state. Among requirements of hospital admitting privileges and outdated procedures for administering mifepristone, was a change in when an abortion could be performed, down from 28 weeks to 20 weeks. The logic in this change was that 20 weeks is enough time to make a decision on whether to terminate a pregnancy. More than enough time, the bill’s supporters said, to make that decision.
Throughout the debate on the floor of the house and senate, I saw an amazing example of how Texas politics can work: Wendy Davis filibustered, for 11 hours, Leticia Van De Putte put the senate in its place, asking “at what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room,” hundreds of the bill’s opponents were in the gallery and the halls of the capitol building, chanting to delay the vote. Texas Republicans lied, claimed the vote happened, rescinded, and it was all a weird mixture of joy, confusion, and confoundedness that there was a group of mostly men attempting to make decisions about reproductive rights they have no physical context for.
I attended the next voting session in the gallery. My mother gave testimony. We watched, and we waited, and hoped that reason would prevail.
In the end, the damned thing passed. Currently Texas has eight clinics remaining.
Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a father. Raising a child, watching someone grow into a being of personality, instilling values and love, to better shape a human and a generation is incredibly humbling, scary, exciting, and rewarding in ways unimaginable.
In late 2013, we found out our dream of becoming parents was coming true. We bought two pregnancy tests, they both were positive. We facetimed our parents, our friends, and were overcome with joy and planning and love for our unborn child. My wife, a prenatal yoga teacher and doula, made sure our preparation was immediate and immaculate.
At 8 weeks, we did our first ultrasound and saw our little gummi bear, its heart beating inside. I squeezed my wife’s hand, and cried with such joy. This was happening.
Just before 20 weeks, we had our anatomy ultrasound. We discovered we were having a boy. I kissed my wife, and cried with overwhelming happiness. He was happening.
We did everything right that we could.
The day after our anatomy ultrasound, I get a text from my wife – she was having some spotting, and some cramping, and was headed to the midwives. She’d had periodic spotting throughout, due to a benign polyp, but this, it seemed was different.
It is my first day at a new job, but I (of course) drop everything and leave, to be with her. I’m on my bike, and have to find a cab or rental car to meet her. From her voice, I can tell she thinks it’s over already, but I hope and hope and hope.
I find a car, I scramble, I call my friend on the way to meet her, sobbing that I think it’s over already, but I hope and hope and hope.
I arrive, and the midwife says she’s already dilated. From her face, I can tell that it’s over already. But I hope.
Through multiple ultrasounds, we find that there is a condition called (offensively) Incompetent Cervix, and we’re on our way to an inevitable early term birth. This is not a miscarriage. He is healthy inside. He is fine inside. He doesn’t know. He will just be born well before he should. The question is just: when?
We go to the hospital. We talk to specialists.
We have options – a cerclage (a stitch to keep the cervix closed), medicine to reduce contractions, waiting to see what will happen. Our fear and our wish is that we keep our child free from a life of pain. At 20 weeks, he will not survive. At 24 weeks, he will be a micro-preemy who may not live outside a hospital. There is a terrible window, and we are rapidly approaching it.
Any option that pushes us into giving our son a life of misery is one that terrifies us, not for us, but for him – we want him to live.
After what feels like an eternity in the hospital, going over every scenario, we find out we might be a good candidate for cerclage–only to find out hours later, that due to her cervix’s current dilation, a cerclage is likely to fail, to buy us only enough time to thrust us directly into that zone where he, due to even more laws and policies, would have to be resuscitated–and must live the life of pain from which we are desperately trying to save him.
A cerclage failure would force us beyond 20 weeks, and, due to the passage of the bill, into the time where we legally have no option but to give birth to a child who would likely not be able to live on his own, or would live with suffering we enabled by pushing him past that point. We would be forced into a time where our options had been stripped, as the legislature has told us “no more”, “this body, and this decision are no longer yours.”
We speak with our doctor, and are given the option that was previously unthinkable, completely out of bounds of possibility. Our doctor gives us the option — that if we feel this is over, if we have said goodbye, and we are ready to make the decision, that inducing and ending the pregnancy is a humane option. Our doctor, our medical doctor, tells us that it is a “reasonable decision”. Doctor speak, for “yes”.
We would have to make a decision that we never thought we would ever have to make. Whether to induce, and end a pregnancy that we both wanted so desperately, to save our child from suffering; to not inflict that agony on our unborn son.
The next day, still at the hospital, before we had been able to even begin to come to grips with such a final decision, we talk to another specialist, and we’re told they can’t do it. The bill had passed, and well, it’s just against the law. Sort of. Technically, it’s a a termination, and technically, we’re past the limit. Sort of.
The law itself says 20 weeks “from fertilization” (vs. “gestational age”), and we’re actually only 18 weeks from fertilization–my amazing wife tracked her cycle to a T. The hospital acknowledges it isn’t against the letter of the law, but it is a grey area their policies won’t let them touch. Too risky, too hot button a topic.
We are denied the opportunity to even make a humane and doctor sanctioned medical decision by a bill that we never thought would affect us. I was there at the capitol, fighting for the rights of others. It never crossed my mind I would be fighting for my own.
Our last resort had become a no-man’s land.
We are sent home, to let things happen “naturally”. What this means, practically, was to spend days pacing the house, walking the neighborhood, waiting for our son to be born, so that he could die. We let him taste our favorite foods, we play him our favorite music, we show him Veronica Mars, we read to him, we tell him how much we love him. We wait for days, pace, wait, and wait, and we wait, so our son can be born, so that he can die.
The midwives come and see that our dilation is the same – maybe he can be saved? We go to an OB for a final ultrasound, who sees the amniotic sac bulging through the birth canal. The doctor describes the birth as “imminent and inevitable”. So we go back home, to wait for our son to be born, so that he can die.
Our midwife visits again and can feel our son’s foot hanging through the birth canal. Contractions begin, continue for hours and hours. Then stop. For a day.
We wait, for our son to be born, so that he can die.
The next day, contractions pick back up, my wonderful, beautiful, incredible wife labors for hours, breathing, heaving, so strong and powerful as only one can be in birth, so that our son could be born.
So that our son could die.
When some men think about abortion rights, they think about unwanted pregnancies. Some think about those victims of incest, rape, and terrible situations of abuse. Some think about those who may have a medical need for an abortion to save the life of the mother. Some think about access to medical services, the right for an individual to control their own body, the implications for those who live in remote locations, the impact on low income individuals.
Rarely, as a man–a man who wanted children more than anything in the world–did I ever think about how abortion rights would affect me.
In the end, we spent 3 days in the hospital, and another 7 days at home, waiting for our son to be born, and to die.
In the end, we had to force ourselves to will our son to be born, and to die, the physical, psychological and emotional trauma of which cannot be overstated.
In the end, the bill intended to save lives, didn’t save a life at all, but helped to shatter two in half. Two that will heal, with friends, family, and time, but two hearts torn apart.
In the end, the bill did nothing but cause pain and anguish as our options narrowed and our decisions stolen.
In the end, our son felt our love for a few brief moments, and our son died.
In the end, our son was born, and our son died on April 10, 2014.
In the end, his name is William.