Op-Ed

Ending a pregnancy is not an easy choice, but every woman should have the same choices I did.

Katie Vandegrift with baby Audrey who died in the womb.
Katie Vandegrift with baby Audrey who died in the womb. Photo submitted

Three years ago, on August 23, I had an abortion. Weeks earlier my husband and I were telling our family and close friends we were expecting. We asked those exciting questions, like, “Will the baby be a girl or a boy?” “What year would the baby graduate high school?” “Who would they grow up to be?” All of these questions would remain unanswered.

Our first ultrasound revealed that the baby was measuring 10 days behind what I knew it should be. A week later my worst fears were confirmed as the doctor explained that I was having what they call a “missed” or “silent” miscarriage. There was no heartbeat, but my body had yet to recognize the failed pregnancy. I had options: wait it out, take medication, or get a dilation and curettage, a surgical procedure better known as a D&C in which the contents of the uterus are removed.

Since that day, I have had two more unwanted abortions. In the doctor’s office we use the sugarcoated term “miscarriage,” but all of my paperwork says the same thing: I had a “missed abortion.”

Earlier this year we found out we were expecting again. I was so excited, but I also tried my best to control my fears. I didn’t know it was possible for this situation to get worse. The first 12 weeks of my pregnancy were beautiful. I was sick, tired, hormonal and all of the things you’re supposed to be when carrying a healthy baby.

I went to my 12-week scan confident, but when the doctor walked in, it was yet again bad news. The baby looked very abnormal; further testing would reveal hydrops fetalis. That diagnosis at this stage meant a most certain fate: unsuitable for life. The baby’s heart would stop sometime in the coming weeks and there was nothing we could do.

I had almost no time to make a decision because the Kentucky legislature was in the process of passing a restrictive abortion ban, a law that would make it a felony for doctors to use the most common procedure for ending a second-trimester pregnancy, essentially outlawing the safest option for many women. That ban is being challenged this week in a trial before a federal judge in Louisville.

Even though mine was a wanted pregnancy with medical complications, the ban affected me as well. I realized that the lawmakers didn’t understand that their decisions affect everyone — and every situation.

Do you know what it is like to carry a very wanted baby and be told its heart is going to stop at any given moment? Do you know what it is like to carry the guilt and emotions this brings? Do you know what it is like to carry on about your life as if nothing is wrong, to cry on your way home from work every day and wake up in the middle of the night sobbing? I know.

I chose to continue the pregnancy because it was what felt right to me, but other women should not be forced to live in that agony if they don’t feel they can handle it. Looking back, I hardly know how I did. Ending a wanted or unwanted pregnancy is not an easy choice to make, but it is a right that every woman should have.

Six weeks after that fateful ultrasound, my baby’s heart stopped, despite my hope for a miracle. Now I had another decision to make: deliver the baby or have a dilation and evacuation, the procedure that Kentucky is trying to outlaw. I wouldn’t judge another person for making either choice. Delivering my baby in the hospital was the worst day of my life and sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier to have been put under anesthesia and forgone the trauma. This was my third failed pregnancy — they never got any easier. Each time I left the hospital without a baby.

Each time, my paperwork said the same thing: missed abortion. They were all planned pregnancies. I had no choice in what happened each time, but I did have a choice on the closure to them all. For that, I am thankful and committed to making sure all women have the same choices I did.

This issue, with all its complexities, all its gut-wrenching decisions, all its heartbreak, is not black and white. It is our right — the right to have a choice, to have some control over ourselves and our bodies in an otherwise uncontrollable situation.

Katie Vandegrift is a resident of Midway, where her husband Grayson Vandegrift is mayor.

This op-ed was updated after publication to clarify the procedure that Kentucky is trying to outlaw.

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