BERKELEY, Calif. — I was 21 weeks pregnant when a doctor told my husband and me that our second little boy was missing half his heart. It had stopped growing correctly around five weeks gestation, but the abnormality was not detectable until the 20-week anatomy scan. It was very unlikely that our baby would survive delivery, and if he did, he would ultimately need a heart transplant.
In the days that followed, after the poking and prodding, after the meetings with pediatric cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons and geneticists, my husband and I decided to terminate our pregnancy. I was 22 weeks pregnant when they wheeled me into the operating room, two weeks shy of viability in the state of California.
For us, the decision was about compassion for our unborn baby, who would face overwhelming and horribly painful obstacles. Compassion for our 2-year-old son, who would contend with hours upon hours in a hospital, missing out on invaluable time spent with his parents, and the death of a very real sibling. It was about compassion for our marriage. Perhaps most important, it was about our belief that parenthood sometimes means we sacrifice our own dreams so our children don’t have to suffer.
As the day of my termination approached and I felt my baby’s kicks and wiggles, I simultaneously wanted to crawl out of my skin and suspend us together in time. I wanted him to know how important he was to me, that the well of my grief and love for him would stretch deeper and deeper into the vastness of our family’s small yet limitless life. He may have moved inside me for only five months, but he had touched and shaped me in ways I could never have imagined.
To Donald J. Trump and politicians like him, a late-term abortion is the stuff of ’80s slasher films. “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother,” Mr. Trump said during Wednesday night’s debate, a description void of consideration for women, medical professionals or the truth. Such politicians would have you believe that women like me shouldn’t get to make the choice I made. That our baby, despite his tiny misshapen heart and nonexistent aorta, should have a chance “to live,” even though that life might have lasted mere minutes. Even though that life would have been excruciatingly painful. These politicians are ignorant of the sacrifices and blessings that come with carrying a pregnancy (let alone a nonviable pregnancy). They do not understand that a majority of women who have late-term abortions are terminating desperately wanted pregnancies.
I am fortunate to live in a state that allows abortions after 20 weeks. At least 13 states restrict such procedures; 15 more have moved to defund Planned Parenthood, where many low-income women go for reproductive care.
Many women have made the kind of difficult decision I had to make. When it happens to you, they come out of the woodwork. Friends, neighbors, colleagues. A friend of my mother-in-law said to me early on, “You will always carry this loss, but someday, it won’t define you.”
As the two-year anniversary of my abortion approaches, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we made the right decision for our family — and that our government has absolutely no place in the anguish which accompanies a late-term abortion, except to ensure that women and their families have the right to make their choice safely and privately.
Saying goodbye to our boy was the single most difficult and profound experience of my life, and the truth is, it has come to define me. Today I am a better mother because of him. I am a better wife, daughter and friend. He made me more compassionate and more patient. He taught me to love with reckless abandon, despite the knowledge that I could lose it all.
We named him Lev, the Hebrew word for heart.