Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Realities of Pregnancy: My abortion story

I started to talk about my journey to parenthood a few weeks ago, with Realities of Pregnancy: Infertility.

As I mentioned towards the end of that post, my OB/GYN quit practicing. I was really busy with work, so I didn't find a new one. When my birth control prescription expired, I went off of it, but continued my Fertility Awareness tracking. (FA is basically like Natural Family Planning, except that where NFP practitioners are abstinent during the fertile phase, FA accepts barrier contraception).

I keep pointing back to Libby's Love, Joy, Feminism, to compare and contrast her Evangelical homeschooling Biblical Patriarchy with my Catholic, parochial-school Biblical Patriarchy. And, like Libby, when I was a child and was asked how many children I wanted, I thought I wanted a large family. Looking back at my own life, I'm not even sure why. I think I thought that I liked being part of a large family.


But I found living independently in the Houston area... tough. Hard to dig myself out of the hole that family circumstances and student loan debt had put me in. Ultimately, I found the lifestyle that many of my colleagues and congregation-member friends lived, just out of my reach.

The Pagan movement often rejoices in fertility, both in the fertility of the earth that feeds us, and in the fertility of growth. And yet, in its concern for the Earth, there are also proponents for smaller families, living lighter on this planet.

Furthermore, there are many different ways to consider fertility. In this same time period, I helped to Charter the Texas Space Center section of the Society of Women Engineers. The year-long process of holding meetings, developing our charter, determining the name, the zip codes that would be included in the section... it was not unlike a pregnancy. I continued to serve as the Secretary for the next two years, watching the organization grow up, become independent.

I had resumed martial arts practice the summer before we discussed the proto-section, and by red belt had started assisting with classes. Working with the youth and juniors, teaching. Teaching, too, was a way I could reach hundreds of kids, be a mentor and "auntie"... and pass them back to their parents at the end of the class.

So when some of my friends discussed their decision to be intentionally child-free, I began to seriously consider that option. Teaching other people's kids, contributing other organizations and ideas to the larger community, continuing my own education (I was working on my M.A.)

And I wondered if I was even capable of getting pregnant.

Well, after two years of serious martial arts training, and carefully watching my diet, I lost between ~30-40 pounds. Summer, 2005, when my Grandfather went into a nursing home, and the family was encouraged to visit in small groups to pay their respects. When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and members of my congregation took in families and began helping with the recovery. And I was trying to finish my last semester of the M.A.

Well, I turned to my husband for comfort, and affirmation that we are alive.

And then September. We competed in the Texas Tournament... and a few weeks later evacuated from Hurricane Rita.

As we came into October, I realized that I was late. It took a while for pregnancy to even occur to me, but I picked up a test, and found those two little lines. By then I was already about 6-8 weeks pregnant.  People with uteruses who have been pregnant before, who know the signs and symptoms, are more likely to recognize an early pregnancy than those who had never experienced one before.

It wasn't the best timing. Our association was travelling to South Korea at the end of the month, and we had paid to go. But it didn't seem like terrible timing, either. I was still first trimester for travel, I'd finish the degree in December, and still have time before June.  I was naturally scared about change, but mostly hopeful. I wanted to go through with that pregnancy.

Without an OB/GYN already, the places I called said to come in at 12 weeks. I made an appointment for mid-November. I tried to go to both the student health clinic and an urgent care center, just to be sure everything was all right. The urgent care did a urine test, and said "Congratulations, you're pregnant." The student center said that's all that they would do, so I didn't bother to repeat it.

A few days before we left for Korea, my family said Grandpa didn't have long to live. I made arrangements to go visit after we got back. Then packed up for the current events. I read up on what I should know for travelling while pregnant. Requested an aisle seat on the plane, wore stockings, planned to move around a lot in the aisles.

We traveled anyway, and the trip was good... but weird. We were pretty out of touch with things Stateside, so I spent the trip assuming I had Schrodinger's Grandpa.

On the return to IAH, I was feeling strange, stopping in nearly every restroom on the way out. Brian was very patient with me, I think we were the last of our group to leave the airport and go home.

I put in the three days of work that I planned to, trying to get caught up on the time I had been gone.

On the morning I was supposed to fly to Indiana, Thursday, I got the call that he had passed. Someone I knew drove me to the airport. I joined the aunts & uncles & cousins, looking through photographs and old report cards.

Friday came and went with more of the same, family story-telling and playing cards. Friday night was uncomfortable again, I had trouble sleeping, and Saturday morning I saw blood.

My aunt took me to the hospital, where they did a vaginal ultrasound. I could see the screen, and it didn't look right. It looked like the 5th grade "about your body" images, of an empty uterus just before menses.

I had been feeling a little "off" in a shoulder, which I attributed to training. While doing my tournament hyung (form) in Korea, my balance had felt just a tiny bit off on the spin kick. I told Kwan Jang Nym, but he said it was early for my balance to be affected. (Perhaps I should have spoken with Yu Kwan Jang Nym.) But nothing I could really put my finger on before.

Now there was the proof. The OB/GYN on call came in, and said that it was an ectopic pregnancy, in the tube, and the tube had ruptured. This was not a pregnancy that I would be able to keep.  We estimated I was at about 10 weeks.

Much as I had felt Schrodinger's Grandpa the entire trip to Korea, I had also been in a sort of in-between state about the pregnancy. Wanting a child, wanting it to work out... but also worried. Wanting to enjoy it while it lasted... but unsure that it would. And now I knew that it would not. I started off in acceptance.

We got the news to my husband in Houston, and he left work to try and get to Indiana as fast as he could.

The OB/GYN who saw me in the hospital was not going to be the one to do my surgery, so we had to wait for the surgeon, for the OR to be prepped. The anesthesiologist saw me, wanted to know what I had eaten last.  The surgeon said they'd preserve as much as possible, and they did.

My mother-in-law stayed with me much of Saturday, until my husband arrived. I stayed overnight for observation, and was released on Sunday. In time for the Visitation.

As a lapsed Catholic, my participation has varied in things like the Rosary and funeral masses. My grandparents said the rosary every night. All (originally) 15 decades. (I don't know if they added Pope John Paul II's Happy Mysteries.)  Somebody even made a special rosary for them, so they wouldn't have to repeat the beads. But in those circumstances, having just lost a pregnancy, I don't think it took even one decade of "And blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus" for me to leave the room.

After the fact, I went off researching these cases. In situations like mine, the Catholic Church allows for a salpingectomy, removal of the diseased fallopian tube. It's considered an indirect abortion, and licit because the diseased tube presents a grave danger to the mother's life.

It took years for me to finally come across a medical report that there *had* been surgeons who had found ectopic pregnancies during other abdominal surgeries, and transplanted them to the womb. The resulting children... didn't live to adulthood.

The literature on the causes of ectopic pregnancy (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which is not credible for my situation. Past ectopic pregnancy. etc.) tended to point to physical medical conditions in the woman's anatomy. But that report on transplants that went to birth, suggested that there is a secondary cause to ectopic pregnancy. Something abnormal in the blastocyst, that allows or even causes it to implant in the wrong place.

Because of the recent pregnancy plus the recent surgery, I was medically advised not to return to Texas for a week. The combined conditions put me at higher risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis on a long journey, either flying or driving.  They made a follow-up appointment with the surgeon for the next Friday, after which I might be able to go home and back to work.

I have much more to say on the subject of paid time off in another post.