I never read The Hunger Games series, but I saw the movie because David read the books and wanted to see it. I did not particularly enjoy it. I don’t need to watch teenagers killing each other, thank you very much. Been there, done that when I worked in the Bronx Family Court. Nonetheless, in the past ten days I keep repeating the oft said line from the movie, “May the odds ever be in your favor.” It could be because that for the past few weeks, the odds have ever not been in my favor.
I feel like I need to offer another preamble to what is about to follow in this post. In my last post, I explained the diagnosis I was given by my reproductive endocrinologist. I wrote at the time that I put this on my blog because of the need for the cathartic experience of writing for me. All of that is still true. But this blog entry, I write for a different reason. I make this disclosure because I feel like it is important that sometimes people come forward and explain real life experiences that are ignored by political platforms and platitudes. As I have aged, I have learned one lesson time and time again, do not speak too broadly, because you can never know intimately the circumstances of someone else’s life. I write this so that people can consider a practical effect of a politician’s rhetoric.
Because it is another presidential election year, we have once again the heightened circus of partisan politics that seems to bring out the most extreme in all of us. This year we once again have the GOP adopting a party platform that would outlaw all abortions and extend 14th amendment protections to any “life” that starts at conception. We have GOP Senate candidates who would flunk basic biology classes when it comes to understanding of human anatomy stating that rape really shouldn’t be an exception to laws that would outlaw abortion. Finally, we also have new steam behind “personhood” movements in states to try to outlaw abortion and also other medical procedures by granting constitutional rights to a fertilized human egg (Mississippi was the first state where this was up for a vote, and fortunately, it failed). Actually, that isn’t so different from the GOP platform. Abortion platforms are rarely an issue upon which I give much thought, beyond the fact that I didn’t like that politicians think it is okay to infantalize women by believing that the government should have rights to dictate our healthcare. Today, the politicization of another woman’s healthcare choices has taken on a new meaning to me.
Here is my personal story. The day after we met with our doctor who explained to us how difficult it would be for me to get pregnant, David and I found out that I actually was, in fact, already pregnant. It seemed like a complete miracle to me. Two days later my pregnancy was confirmed at the doctor’s office. I was cautiously optimistic. I knew this was a very early pregnancy and that with my issues, there would be a higher than average chance that I would miscarry (again the odds, not in my favor). Nonetheless, I was sure that this had to mean something. I had never had the experience of having a positive result for a pregnancy test. This was more than I could have imagined. Two days later, my hopes came crashing down when on a subsequent blood beta HCG test, it was revealed that my HCG numbers were not doubling every two days as they should and were in fact not rising at all. The nurse on the phone prepared me for the likelihood that my beta HCG numbers indicated that the pregnancy was not viable. Two days later I was tested again and the numbers were still stagnant, stuck in the exact same place. At this point in time, the doctors began speculating that I might have an ectopic pregnancy and that I would need to come in for an ultrasound and some additional testing. That weekend, David and I took a short trip to the mountains to get away and get our minds off of the sadness of what we were feeling. On Monday, when I went back to the doctor’s office again, I felt mentally prepared when I heard the news that my uterus in fact contained no embryo, and that for me, the best thing to do was to terminate the ectopic pregnancy. Today, that is exactly what I did, with a dosage of methotrexate.
Ectopic pregnancies in the fallopian tubes are never successful pregnancies, and in fact are life threatening to the woman carrying the embryo. Many ectopic pregnancies resolve themselves on their own without medical treatment, but without treatment, an ectopic pregnancy can lead to a ruptured fallopian tube where the woman can hemorrhage and die. In fact, ectopic pregnancies are still the leading cause of pregnancy-related death for women in their first trimester. For women who have to have surgical intervention to repair a damaged fallopian tube or to remove a fallopian tube in danger of rupturing (or that has ruptured), it can affect their fertility and their chances to have future pregnancies. For me, having a baby is my greatest hope for the future. Because my fertility odds are already stacked against me, I want to everything that I can to maximize my ability to get pregnant and stay pregnant in the future. I didn’t want to risk bleeding and dying either.
I know that many people point out that “life of the mother” is one of those clear abortion exceptions that would apply in this circumstance. Most reasonable people would believe that of course an ectopic pregnancy has to be terminated one way or another, and it isn’t a viable pregnancy anyway. Of course, sometimes politicians don’t consider the “life of the mother” to be an exception to a general prohibition on abortions, like in the Republican 2012 platform or those proposed personhood amendments. In fact, some readings of the personhood amendments indicate that in the situation where a mother’s health was threatened by a pregnancy, that the physician would have to value both the life of the woman and a mass of replicating cells as equals. But consider the more “moderate” position, that abortion should be banned except in the instance of rape, incest, or life of the mother. In that case, who would be the one deciding when a pregnancy fit those conditions? Would it be written into regulations? Would it be judges? Would you need a criminal conviction for rape before you could have permission to have an abortion? Would Todd Akin be the arbiter of deciding whether or not a rape was “legitimate” or not? Would a politician who doesn’t understand basic human anatomy be setting the rules? Would a woman in my situation have to wait until an ectopic pregnancy became “life threatening” and I was actively hemorrhaging in the emergency room before it could be resolved? Consider all of those factors and then consider this – not everyone agrees with the weight of medical literature and experience that an ectopic pregnancy is life threatening. Some people’s religious beliefs hold that the treatment that I received for my ectopic pregnancy is immoral and repugnant, and that I should have only allowed my fallopian tube to be removed as a morally acceptable equivalent (Even if it meant that I would never have the opportunity to have kids in the future! Thus, I must pay the price for my ectopic pregnancy by my continued sacrifice of fertility). Would the people who hold those religious beliefs be the ones making that decision for me? Couldn’t I be trusted to make my own decisions based on my own moral and religious beliefs? Or do I need to be protected from myself because of the damage that weighing my potential medical treatments can have to my “health and well-being“?
For David and I, the past two weeks have been the biggest roller coaster of our lives. I had so many moments of utter grief and sadness. Today, I have come out of this experience with greater hope moving forward. I felt like my early diagnosis was a blessing for me because it has enabled me to resolve this ectopic pregnancy in a way that minimizes harm to me and that limits further damaging my fertility odds (I realize, that in approximately 10% of cases that methotrexate doesn’t resolve the ectopic issues entirely and further surgery is needed, but I am hoping the odds will be in my favor in that regard). I am grateful that I was able to resolve this in consultation with my doctor and with support from my loved ones. I am grateful for my ability to pray on the issue and feel comfort in that I was making the right decision for me. Obviously, my own religious and moral beliefs were a guide to me. Every woman should have that same right without outside political interference.
As Hillary Clinton said several years ago, abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. That is the goal we all should strive for and to achieve that, we need politicians that understand human anatomy enough to understand that greater sex education, access to contraception, and access to good quality prenatal care is what is needed to achieve that end. Then, at the end of the day, every woman can feel empowered to make their own decisions based on their own beliefs and values. It bothers me when people characterize pro-choice positions as being pro-abortion. That isn’t the case at all. It is pro a woman being able to evaluate her health options based on available information and her own values. If a Catholic woman wants to have her fallopian tube removed instead of receiving methotrexate, that should be her decision that she makes with a doctor who has informed her of the risks of both procedures. But that woman shouldn’t get to decide how I deal with the same set of facts and the sad recognition that for me, this pregnancy wasn’t viable. If another person wants to stand in judgment about my health, then I view that as their problem, not mine. For my part, I feel happier today knowing that I am able to turn all of the pain I felt this time about an unsucessful ectopic pregnancy into hope for getting pregnant and having a baby in the future. The odds of a successful pregnancy may still be stacked against me, but until my chances are 0%, I will be an optimist.