Monday, July 23, 2012

Opening up about abortion

Have you ever had words on your heart that you knew you must speak, but dreaded actually opening your mouth?

That's a bit where I'm at tonight.

Since our pregnancy loss 7 months ago, there has been a topic heavy on my heart, but it's a sensitive subject. Well, "taboo" is probably a closer description.

I'm talking about abortion.

Where you find yourself

Now that the "A" word is out, I can already feel the lines being drawn in the sand. You are probably taking one side or the other, arming yourself with a defense as to why your position (whatever that is) is best for women, best for babies, and best overall. Perhaps you have a stance on when life begins. Perhaps you don't believe abortion is about when life begins, but about when freedom ends.

For those of us standing on any side of the fence, we often think about and talk about abortion in black and white terms.

Tonight I don't really want to talk in black and white. I just want to be honest about where I've been and what I hold to be true.

Where I find myself

Blogging is wonderful because you can reach so many people from so many backgrounds. But it's also hard for the exact same reason.

Will my viewpoint hurt you? Will I be able to be sensitive to my readers, who I care very much about, and all your many backgrounds?

I will be posting soon on why early pregnancy loss is important to the pro-life community.

But since there is no way for me to know where you are coming from, I will just have to be very honest and open about where I'm coming from. And hopefully from here we can have a good, honest conversation where there is no battle -- no lines -- no sides.

Maybe we can just be women who are honest and open about our past, our experiences, and our babies.

The beginning

Growing up, my parents taught me the value of life . . . starting with conception. My mom has served for years at crisis pregnancy centers -- sometimes speaking with women facing an unplanned pregnancy, at other times just cleaning and sorting all the donations of gently-used baby clothes and toys. She has worked tirelessly, and she holds my utmost respect for all the ways she has given back to women through the years.

In high school, I chose abortion as the topic for one of my research papers. I don't remember my thesis, but I remember feeling very strongly that abortion was never in the best interest of women. I felt (and still feel) very passionate about standing up for the value of the unborn.

And then . . . 

I got pregnant.

No, this was not from some rebellious teen romance.

I was married. I had a secure job. To the outside world, there was no reason why I wouldn't want this baby.

But I didn't. Not yet. Not this way. Not at this time. Having a baby was NOT in my plans. I had just started a new business. I had earned a trip to Mexico that I would now not be able to go on. I had just gotten married, and wasn't ready for true "adulthood" yet. My husband was still in school full-time. We weren't emotionally, financially or physically prepared for a baby. We lived in a tiny apartment, my husband's work felt helter-skelter, and my body didn't react well at all in the first trimester. (Or the second. OR the third for that matter.)

And you know what? Deep, deep inside, I wanted it to end.

Or at least, I thought I did.

I felt overtaken by an "alien." Even at 8 weeks, I had convinced myself that this "baby" was still surely nothing but a blob of cells. I remember feelings like "Surely there is a pill that would just take this all away." And then I would realize, yes, there actually was. And it was legal. I technically did not HAVE to be pregnant. It was called an abortion.

While I knew that I couldn't go through with it, I did still wish for some miraculous ending to my pregnancy. Perhaps I would just miscarry? Maybe it was all just one big mistake?

For those of you who know me, this could be quite shocking to read these words. Even Ryan might be surprised. I didn't disclose these feelings to others. I kept them safe in my heart, and merely loudly complained to others when I was sick, and announced our pregnancy with tears, and very few smiles.

 But you should know that during this time, I really wasn't acting like myself. (Or thinking, or feeling, like myself. Which is one reason I don't think it's a great idea to rush into abortion ever -- pregnancy hormones CHANGE you. How could I decide on the ending of a life when just trying to clean my kitchen could reduce me to tears?)

For the first time in my life, I finally understood why people get abortions. Here I was, married with a pretty secure future totally ANGRY and FREAKING OUT about pregnancy. If I felt like this, how must a teen feel? How would a girl who was raped feel? How would a single mom feel? How would a woman who couldn't provide for her child feel? How would an abused woman feel?

For the first time in my life, abortion made sense.

A change of heart

June 15, 2008, was a momentous day. It was my 26th birthday. It was Father's Day. I was 8 weeks pregnant. And it was the day I had a change of heart.

That afternoon, as I stepped out of the car to go to my in-law's house, I felt a rush of liquid running down my legs and soaking my pants. I thought I had accidentally spilled water down my pants -- even though I was nowhere near water of any kind. But in that moment, I couldn't figure out what would cause me to get wet like that.

Well, a moment in the bathroom answered that question.

Blood would do that. A whole lot of blood.

I think I was kinda hysterical. My sister-in-law grabbed me some underwear and a change of pants. And at one point, the bathroom door was open with both my ashy-faced husband and my quite-concerned mother-in-law peeking in, handing me clothes and fresh pads, and cleaning up the floor as I sat sobbing on the toilet.

I didn't know what to think, but I was shaken to the core.

Later, as I sat frozen on their couch, trying to keep track of how many pads I was going through, the cramping started. Off to the ER we went.

The week before, we had our first ultrasound where I saw a little glob on a screen with a white little dot that was steadily blinking. I still resented that little bean, but at the same time, my heart warmed a bit to it.

But this time, in the ER, I remember being terrified of the ultrasound. What if that little blob -- who I now immediately started thinking of as a baby -- was gone? What if there was no heartbeat? 

I've had very few feelings since that time that were that intense as that time was -- waiting for hours for the ultrasound that would determine our future. Was our baby alive or dead? Those of you who have been there know this feeling. Hope mingled with absolute terror.

Looking back, I can't believe how sudden my change of heart was. I thought I had wanted a miscarriage. I thought I wanted our baby to be gone. I thought I just wanted it all to be one big mistake.

But confronting what could be the death of our baby head on, there was no relief. I could have cared less about my business, my plans or our tiny apartment  . . . All I cared about was seeing the blinking of a little dot on a little blob on an ultrasound.

When the ultrasound tech finally came, he wouldn't say much of anything. But, praise God, I saw that little blinking dot. Relief flooded my heart.

Our Dr. explained that I had unexplained hemorrhaging near where the baby was implanted. There was nothing we could do but wait it out. I was given a 50/50 chance of our baby surviving. I was to see my OB in a week for another ultrasound, and was given instructions in case the cramping and bleeding (aka miscarriage) continued.

So for 7 days, I waited. I put myself on bedrest (even though the Dr. told me there was nothing I could do at this point.) I just laid there, and prayed for our baby. And begged that he/she would live.

During that time, well-meaning people would warn me that there was probably something wrong with our baby. That this was nature taking its course. And that I wouldn't want to have to "deal" with a special-needs baby anyway.

(I will talk more about this in another post).

But 7 days later, we received the news we wanted. The bleeding had slowed. And that little reassuring blink-blink-blink was going strong.

Our baby made it.

A change of heart . . . .maybe? Or maybe not?

After hearing the good news, of course I was so relieved and thankful not to be going through a miscarriage. But I have to admit, I still didn't TOTALLY want a baby. For the next 9 months, I struggled deeply with resentment toward my baby and my body for this journey I was on. I still struggled, even as I was thankful we didn't lose the baby at 8 weeks.

Some days, when the nausea was really bad, I was just so angry that I couldn't eat. My unrelenting nausea made me desperate, angry, frustrated and resolved me to tears too many times to count.

I used all my sick leave with my miscarriage scare and my early nausea . . . I ended up becoming a very unreliable employee at work. I often got sick at work and had to take a lot of unpaid leave. Plus I had several more scares throughout my pregnancy, trips to the hospital, bedrests and a premature delivery. All of that adds up to more financial stress when we were already wondering how we could afford a baby.

Through my pregnancy, I still worried about finances. I worried about where we would live. When we finally moved when I was 28 weeks along, the stress of the move sent me into threatened premature labor. For the next 2 weeks, I sat around my new house with boxes everywhere, popping pills every 4 hours to stop the regular contractions. The medicine was awful and made me shake so bad that when I was eating, my food would fall off my fork.

When we went for the next ultrasound to determine the sex, I was upset to find out our baby was a girl. Here  I was pregnant, when I originally didn't want to be, and it wasn't even the right gender! Would nothing go right??

(Just to be clear . . Now that I know moms who've discovered at this point that their babies had died or had a fatal defect, and now that I've lost Olivia, I want to kick myself for my totally self-indulgent attitude. Who in the world cares about the gender? At least she was whole and healthy!)

If you have read my past posts, you might know that delivery did not go so well for me either. I actually wanted very much to have a natural childbirth without pain meds. Instead, I had an emergency inducement and unplanned C-section to get her out. I had developed a life-threatening complication, and well, Maddy wasn't doing so hot either. It all went very fast, and it all involved a LOT of pain on my part.

After 4 days in the hospital, I was sent home. I was physically better after 3 days, but was kept an extra day because I had an emotional breakdown. The Dr. ordered strict rest and no visitors.

I look happy here, but just 2 days after being sent home, I had another huge breakdown. At one point, I almost smothered Maddy to get her to stop screaming. (Looking back, this moment is probably the most terrifying of my entire life.)

I didn't know I was suffering from postpartum depression. I also didn't know I had symptoms of PTSD. I knew I needed help. I just didn't know how to ask for it.

Everything's better, now, right?

So, in the end, I'm still alive, Maddy's still alive, we have a new bigger house, and I'm staying at home with my daughter. So everything's all good, right?

Not so much.

I'd had a very traumatic experience that I didn't know how to sort through or share. I had a very needy daughter that screamed day and night due to awful reflux. I got no sleep, and I dropped weight until I was just 99 lbs. I was dealing with postpartum depression, but didn't know it. I had symptoms of PTSD . . . but didn't know that either.

This picture sums up Madelyn's personality as a newborn.

And that was my life for the next YEAR.

So where does this leave us?

Motherhood has perhaps been the single most defining factor of my life. Pregnancy has caused greater physical pain and discomfort than I have ever known before or since. Caring for a demanding infant has stretched me emotionally and spiritually to the edge. Caring for a demanding toddler has been almost as hard, but so far, it's gotten easier as the years have passed. Going on to lose a child in pregnancy has made me feel older than my years, and sadder than I ever knew I could be.

But you know what . . . I wouldn't take back either of my pregnancies. I'm glad that at least for me, abortion was never TRULY an option.

There's not a day that goes by that I do not thank God for my daughter Maddy. Especially after losing Olivia, I do not take one day with her for granted.

I'm so thankful God had a plan bigger than mine. A plan to give me the greatest blessings -- a blessing wrought through fire. I'm so glad that God's plan included little Maddy snuggling with me tonight. Her deep hazel eyes inches from mine, her sweet, toothpastey breath hot on my face. And the best words ever spoken softly to my heart . . .

"You are the bestest mommy ever. I love you SO SO much."

No matter how we feel, God's plan really is the best. This is my truth no matter what.

Back on topic

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I plan to talk a bit more about abortion in the future. It's something that's been heavy on my heart since starting this journey.

I know some of my readers have lost babies to abortion. I know some of my readers have thought about getting an abortion, but didn't do it. I know some of my readers have been encouraged by doctors to terminate the pregnancy. I know women who have had no choice (ectopic pregnancy) but to end a pregnancy through surgery or drugs. I know women whose babies had fatal birth defects, and were encouraged to induce early, knowing the baby would not survive.

So I want you to know, I know that this is not really just a black-and-white issue. I want you to know that on this blog, I will not be pointing fingers. I will not be judging.

I will be breaking some silence. I am breaking my silence

I will also share from my heart what I believe to be truth. And I will do my best to do so with utmost respect and honor to each one of you. And with respect and honor the God who created has created every single life.

From newborn . . . to now.

She was adorable (when she wasn't screaming.)  I was a stressed out mess.

When Maddy was 1.
She was still adorable. I was way too skinny.
 And maybe a little less of a mess.

At 2, things were getting easier.

The beginning was hard, but worth it. Her beautiful smile brings joy to my life!

At 3, things just keep getting better. I still have hard days,
but I love how creative and communicative she is.

Making goofy photos together.
A common pastime here in the Lewis household.  

Best friends for life!

The night she told me I was the bestest Mommy.
I love snuggling her!


  1. My dearest sweet Rachel -- As always, you cause my own heart to be laid bare with your candid honesty. The words you have shared are beautiful, though I know they were painful to admit.

    I have never had to struggle with the thought of abortion myself, (thank the Lord), but at several junctures in my life, fearing pregnancy (out of wedlock, of course) and all that it would mean to my partying lifestyle, I, too, have wondered whether it would be an option for me.

    Again, I thank God that I have never had to make the choice to end a life or not.

    Thank you for being open. I don't read all of your entries, but I am glad that I read this one. As always, I love you, your tender heart, and your revealing words. Thinking of you and praying for you and your family.

    -- Stevie

  2. Sweet Girl, I cried through this entire blog and let the tears flow freely. All of us have struggled with our feelings and thoughts about some part of our lives but are not as willing to share the "not so pretty" side of who we are. I know that someone is meant to read what you have written and be changed because of you being so open to sharing an experience that most people would never even admit to. Thank you and know that the Lord will bless you for revealing the struggle that you had and how it all came out to be far greater a joy than you could imagine at the time. Maddy is a beautiful child with a beautiful and loving mom.

    1. Thanks, betterasgrandma. I'm glad my experience touched your heart, and I hope that my experience will help someone. Your note is very meaningful to me. Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing that. I'm crying my eyes out. You are so courageous.