On a Friday in May, I walked into the doctor’s office almost 20 weeks pregnant with identical twins. I came home that night pregnant with just one baby.
My son is now one. When I see his face, when I feel him reach for me, I think of his brother. I treasure my son; I would have treasured them both. But one morning in May, my husband and I were given an hour to agree to terminate one twin so that the other would have a chance to live.
Identical twins don’t run in families. They’re the result of an unlikely mutation where the embryo divides. We spent weeks in shock when the eight week ultrasound showed two fetuses, but once I felt the twins move, they were real to me. They were a pair. At our first anatomy scan, the ultrasound tech kept saying “not your hand!” to my belly, as the twins tangled up, the smaller one nestled into his brother, little spoon in big.
The smaller one. Identical twins are complicated, especially those that, like ours, share a placenta. For weeks, they were just different in size, and needed to be watched closely. It wasn’t dangerous, until suddenly, it was a crisis, and I needed medical care that can only be found in a handful of hospitals in this country.
The twins had developed Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). They were sharing their blood supply, and one was getting too much of that supply, starving the other. Untreated, progressive Twin to Twin will result in fetal demise for both twins nearly 100% of the time. While the vast majority of cases don’t progress past the initial stage, when TTTS does progress, it happens suddenly and cataclysmically.
A two-and-a-half hour ultrasound on Friday morning with specialists showed us that the little twin, Twin B, had lost more than half of his minimal amniotic fluid in the hours since our last scan. He could barely move. At one point, I looked up at the screen to see twelve images of his brain; even I could tell something was wrong. When the scan was over, the doctors told us the situation had changed considerably. We now had stage three Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, and Twin B had bleeding in his brain. When they left the room, I turned to my husband and calmly said, “You know we’re talking about termination now.” Then, suddenly sobbing, I asked him if he thought they could save the bigger twin.
A kind and gentle doctor told us Twin B was going to die. He explained that when one twin’s heart stops in a shared placenta, the other twin’s body will send out all of its own blood to try to create a blood pressure in its sibling. That action will almost always ensure that both twins die. We couldn’t save Twin B, but if we terminated him through a procedure called Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA), we could try to save Twin A. There would be no bleeding out for Twin A, one tiny body giving everything to save another. There would be a very good chance of the pregnancy surviving, but I would have to make the choice to stop B’s heart.
We had an hour to decide. There was no choice. I’m their mother; I wanted Twin A to have a chance to live. We agreed to the RFA.
When we got home from my abortion, I took my prenatal vitamins and cried myself to sleep. For the four months my pregnancy continued after the termination, I carried Twin B’s remains next to the wriggling, healthy body of his brother.
I had an abortion to save my baby’s life. Abortion opponents would tell you this is rare, that most second and third trimester abortions have nothing in common with mine. I will tell you differently, that I had a medical procedure in the midst of a devastating medical tragedy, and that every abortion is a medical procedure. I had a life-saving procedure, but unlike most life-saving procedures in this country, mine is on trial today in Supreme Court confirmation hearings, in rallies around the country, and in Congress. This procedure, an act that took place inside my body to end my child’s life and save my child’s life, is called immoral.
Abortion is often called selfish and lazy; termination for medical reasons thought of as eugenic. My abortion was none of these things. There is nothing more terrible an abortion opponent can say to me than I can say in the truth of what happened, which is that I consented to stop my baby’s heart and carry him dead in my body for four months so his brother would have a chance to live. Worse only would have been if America forced me to let both my babies die inside me.
Perhaps my abortion feels so extreme and unlikely as to be irrelevant to the debate. While advanced Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome is rare, termination out of love is not, termination for medical reasons is not, and women and fetuses have the right to the medical care they need. The principle is the same. I may have stopped one baby’s heart but doing so allowed another to live; it was the medicine he needed to survive. Taking away that chance out of the belief that abortion isn’t medicine makes babies like my Twin A – a joyful, walking, giggling one-year old – collateral damage. How would letting him die have been pro-life?
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