My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, my second in live birth, and my third in abortion. Life and death were no longer abstract concepts; they were part of me—something my body, heart, and mind delivered in harmonious tandem. The two abortions I had—one elective and one spontaneous (miscarriage)—undoubtedly made me a better mother. After giving birth to death twice, I became untethered. Letting go of a pregnancy was an act of love, and I was triumphant.
In the spring of 2019, I was eight weeks pregnant when I began bleeding at home. I figured it was early spotting until debilitating cramps set in. It was Saturday morning. My husband was at work 30 minutes away. I called to tell him I thought I was having a miscarriage and needed to go to the hospital. After we hung up, I began passing blood clots. I’d never seen a blood clot before, and I was terrified by what was happening.
When my husband got home, he rushed me into the car and sped to the ER. Once admitted, a doctor confirmed our worst fears: My uterus was no longer holding a pregnancy. Just like that, it was gone. The doctor performed the latter half of a dilation and curettage, as my cervix was already dilated. After removing the remaining pregnancy tissue, she put a hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “I am so sorry for your loss.”
When we got pregnant again later that fall, I was prepared to experience another miscarriage. This time our pregnancy made it to the second trimester before bad news arrived. At 24 weeks, our OB-GYN staff told my husband and I that our son would imminently pass in utero due to severe overlapping complications.
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They gave us two options: deliver him that evening (with less than a 50/50 chance of survival), or wait until I felt his movements cease and deliver him stillborn. In a state of shock, while also trying to process how I’d carry a dying baby day after day, I asked about termination options. I was told there were none available for pregnancies at 24 weeks’ gestation in the state of Tennessee. The doctor offered to connect us with abortion clinics that could help, but it was March 2020, and traveling during peak COVID-19 was harrowing.
I looked deep inside myself and rigorously questioned what it meant to be a loving mother. After much painful debate, I decided, with my husband’s support, to let our son pass naturally in the only home he’d ever known. It was the kindest offering I could muster. It was going to be excruciating to track his dwindling movements, but I fiercely believed my job as his mother was to keep him as comfortable as possible on the inside, even if it meant I’d feel like I was dying on the outside.
As days went by, we grieved with our rabbi and planned his funeral. Anticipating his death, we named him Abel, meaning “breath.” Yet five weeks later, beyond medical explanation, Abel survived delivery via cesarean section at 29 weeks, weighing under 1.5 pounds.
Last April, exactly one year after Abel’s birth, I got pregnant again. It was quite literally the last thing we needed in our life. We were still reeling from Abel’s traumatic birth and three-month neonatal ICU stay and wobbling toward a new normal: quarantined life with a fragile infant. At times I loathed the person this pregnancy would create. At others I pictured rocking them as a newborn against my chest. It was a piercing conflict. I cried constantly, searching for a sign.
There was no one else to trust but myself—not my husband, not a message from above, not my family or friends. I had to go back to the haunting place, the place where I’d decided to trust my son’s path regardless of whether it meant life or death, the place where I’d studied what it meant to be a loving mother. I sat with this question for a long time. I did mental gymnastics in favor of keeping the pregnancy. Then I’d reverse the routine and argue for the opposing side.
We were making progress as a family, but we were still deeply broken. I was not emotionally fit to carry a pregnancy, nor was I mentally well enough to mother another child. I was still navigating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from Abel’s birth. I froze at every sound and blew up over every struggle. My husband’s post-traumatic stress had only worsened since Abel’s discharge. We felt guilty for not immediately wanting a second child. We had the financial means and the intention of having another kid one day, but the pragmatic reasons did not outweigh the emotional damage a pregnancy would do to our family.
I did not trust my body to create a healthy environment for this baby, nor did I trust my mind to establish safe guardrails to protect myself, and a newborn, from the evil tricks trauma was playing in my head. If I didn’t feel safe in my own body, there was no way another person could. The decision was heartbreaking. I remembered my experience with Abel. It was shattering to accept that losing him was protecting him, but I vowed to trust in the quiet and still love between us.
My husband drove me to the abortion clinic and waited in the car downstairs. The state of Tennessee requires abortion patients to take the first pill in person at a clinic, among other harmful restrictions. I swallowed the mifepristone at peace, knowing I was ending this pregnancy in the name of love. When we got home, I took the second abortion pills and curled up in bed. I turned on my side to look out our south-facing window toward the rolling hills. I let gravity hold me as a smile grew across my face. I felt like a warrior: I’d safely mothered us all through life and death.