“If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then please, try to listen a little longer, and seek to somehow, in some way, understand.”
by Stefanie Badders Laufersweiler
I’ve been pregnant 7 times. Four progressed successfully; three did not.
Half of the times I’ve been in the ultrasound room, the news was bad. The first time, a heartbeat was no longer detectable at 10 weeks, but my body didn’t naturally miscarry, so ultimately I opted for a D&C, where my OB removed the fetus. The few weeks that I waited for natural miscarriage were traumatic and sad. I was 28.
The second time I got pregnant, I went in for an ultrasound and a very slow heartbeat was detected—too slow. My OB told me it didn’t look good, but he couldn’t say for certain at that point. I went home and later that evening, miscarried at home, at 6 weeks. I was 29.
I had a healthy pregnancy with our first child, Amy, when I was 30. But, the entire time I fretted. When you have your first pregnancy at that age or older, more odds, complications and viability testing options are shared with you. More risk is involved, and though you aren’t nudged in any direction, they (and you) want to progress with eyes wide open.
I had two more healthy pregnancies, with Paul and Em. Then, at age 39, a chemical pregnancy. I had had some bleeding before that ultrasound; I didn’t bother telling Matt to meet me there. “What’s your due date?” the doctor (not my usual OB) asked me as she prepped me for the scan. “I’ve no idea,” I said. “I don’t do that anymore, because I’ve not always walked out of this room with good news.”
Ben came last, a beautiful blindside, at age 42. It’s the only time I had to sit down to catch my breath after taking a pregnancy test. I was old. We were blessed, everyone would say, but few knew what that pregnancy was like for us. You don’t really ready for a child; you prepare yourself for whatever may come. Miscarriage. Birth defects. Potential loss. And any pregnancy-related trauma you’ve ever felt, mental and physical, comes roaring back. You count on nothing, and brace for anything.
Every time prior to Ben, after we had a pregnancy or a pregnancy loss, we had to make a decision—not whether to have another child, but whether to put ourselves through the process that may or may not end with a child. And once I was pregnant with Ben—whose conception happened by failed contraception—we had another decision to make: whether to risk future pregnancies, in middle age with a body that had served me well but suffered complications along the way.
We chose a vasectomy for Matt while I was in my seventh month of pregnancy with Ben. I say that out loud because society in general doesn’t do that enough, although we are quite comfortable speaking of contraception and prevention in regards to women.
By age 45, I had fully entered menopause, and I no longer had to worry about getting pregnant. After all of my adult life having to weigh the risks and benefits of taking birth control pills, or using condoms, or trying “natural” prevention, or considering surgery, or taking chances, or hoping the vasectomy “took,” I didn’t have to worry anymore. At 45.
I share this, perhaps oversharing, because many people think they know how they feel about pregnancy. And contraception. And having babies. And abortion. And, most importantly, what they would do. What others should do. What they DID do. Their own experiences. My own experience.
Others speak from experience they don’t personally have, but think they know enough about to judge someone else’s.
We all have different experiences and opinions. We all live this life differently, not always by choice. I’m not foolish enough to think my experience will change your mind. I had miscarriages, after all, not abortions. But, every time, I had choices. Choices I’m grateful for, because they were mine to make.
Give an ear and perhaps some grace to those who’ve been there. Who’ve been in that room where your odds of coming out with a due date are 50/50. Who’ve had a pregnancy they terminated under unimaginable circumstances. Who’ve carried the trauma of losing, or being faced with a painful choice; of having to explain something so personal to others who may not understand or ever have to experience what you did; of having to piece together a life afterward.
Look around you. Talk to women you know, and maybe some you don’t. Ask questions about what pregnancy is like. Better yet, just listen. Hear their stories. Learn their experiences. Not just the happy endings or desired outcomes.
Then support them. Support their right to have some control over what largely feels like something happening TO them, not just IN them. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then please, try to listen a little longer, and seek to somehow, in some way, understand.
Stefanie Badders Laufersweiler is a freelance writer and editor and resident of Loveland.