This first-hand account of a mother and child in peril denied an abortion is a harrowing reminder of how prohibition often works only against itself.
A woman’s right to choose has become increasingly limited in the United States, especially with the recent illegalization of abortion in Alabama. In the midst of this environment, a U.S. doctor who chose to remain anonymous recently published an essay that explored how unsuccessful childbirth can be debilitating to a mother.
According to Business Insider, abortions are now totally illegal in Alabama unless the baby is considered a danger to the mother’s health. Unfortunately, this not only leads desperate women financially or mentally unfit to care for their offspring to seek out dangerous, non-professional alternatives but also facilitates the birth of children destined for difficult and short lives.
The disturbing account documented a woman pregnant with an infant suffering from anencephaly, a condition in which a child is born without a skull or brain. The birth defect has a zero-percent survival rate and annually affects 1,206 pregnancies in the United States.
This first-hand account, titled The Myth of Choice published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, essentially served as a plead for empathy and a revision to our laws.
The harrowing account described the woman, already far along in her pregnancy, visiting a doctor for the very first time quite late in her pregnancy because it simply hadn’t been possible for her to seek medical advice earlier in the current U.S. healthcare system.
Once the doctor discovered that her child had virtually no chance of surviving upon birth, the essay explored how futile a doctor’s role is made in this situation by U.S. laws. Nobody, including the mother or her doctor, is able or allowed to do anything about such a condition, thus eliminating the idea of “choice” in America.
“You wait for the patient to break the silence,” the doctor wrote. “The baby’s heartbeat trots through the monitors while you softly hold her gaze. Her eyes plead with you. End it. You talk to the obstetricians because eventually, it will end. But nobody will do it. Not in this state. Not in this hospital.”
“And so, the mother goes home, pregnant and grieving.”
A few days later, the woman experienced the first sensations of a miscarriage. She returned to the hospital where the doctor and his team helped her through the birth of a dead, headless child.
“The baby is born with no skull, eyes like gumballs too big for their sockets,” the doctor wrote. “Alive, briefly. It hurts to look. Grotesque is all you can think, but you cannot say it. Thinking it calms you inside so you can calm everyone else. That is your job. To lead, to calm. Because everyone is upset.”
The essay continued, “Some of the nurses need you to fix it, to save this baby with the magic of medicine. You remind them that he is very premature, that he has no brain, that he cannot survive. This is not an ambiguous diagnosis. You encourage the mother to hold her child, but she does not want this bond.”
“She cannot see the deformed creature she birthed, because once seen it cannot be unseen.”
The essay is certainly difficult to read but highlights the importance of giving women across the United States safe, affordable, and legal access to professional abortion services in dire cases such as this one. This is just one horrific medical outcome of many that, with available medicine, is entirely preventable.
Toward the end of the story, the doctor describes how miscarriage and birthing a dead child wasn’t even the end of this woman’s troubles. The psychological toll, as well as the radical changes in hip, bone, and muscle structures endured during pregnancy and birth, had only just begun.
“She will walk out of the hospital with breasts swollen and weeping for her dead child,” he wrote. “Her hips loose and large will force her pants to tug. She will struggle with her gait for weeks, punctuating loss in the waddle of each step, until, gradually, she retires maternity pants and her steps become firm, upright, forward.”
Ultimately, the essay expressed how the doctor’s job is quite often to heal the parents, to provide the grieving adults with compassion, rather than an effective treatment to prevent permanent that trauma in the first place under our current legal system.
The story seems to have since spread like wildfire with millions of impassioned citizens screaming for rational compassion in our healthcare system. Abortion being criminally punishable is just one of the many issues with our medical system, but it is also one that can lead to unnecessary pain as outlined in this poignant story.