Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I told a good friend that, unexpectedly, I was pregnant. She said to me, "But you work as a doula. You are surrounded by pregnant women and newborn babies all the time. It's not that surprising that you're pregnant!" Another good friend's response was "You also work as a counselor in an abortion clinic. You know how these things happen -- how could you be surprised that you're pregnant?"

So that's what it's like sitting on a fence. My husband and I agreed not to make any decisions right then and there, and gave ourselves permission to ride a rollercoaster of emotions, come to any number of decisions, and then change them again until we finally settled on something that felt right.

A fellow doula offered her congratulations, saying "What a gift it is to go through a 3rd pregnancy, knowing all that you know about childbirth." And true, if I chose to continue the pregnancy, I had a plan for my prenatal care and very definite goals for my labor and birth. But the truth is symmetrical; I also knew every step of the abortion procedure. I knew exactly where to go, nothing to eat or drink after midnight until after my procedure was done, and that I needed to ask for an anti-nausea agent in my IV sedation. I knew that the doctor would write words on my medical report to indicate that the procedure was complete, and the likely words would be "fetal parts", "villi", "sac" or "POC," which stands for Products of Conception.

This is actually my 4th pregnancy, as I had a miscarriage between my two daughters. The gravity of the loss I felt at that time took me by surprise. I grieved as if someone had died, and I was barely 7 weeks at the time. Ironically, four years later, here I was waiting to be 7 weeks, so that if I were to terminate, there would be less likelihood of complication. But unlike my miscarriage, this time I had a choice, and I had never felt such ambivalence. I didn't want to bring another child into the lives of my daughters just because I was afraid to have an abortion. How was it that I could offer support and smiles and reassurance to dozens of women who make that choice every week?

I do occasionally sit with ambivalent women at the clinic. Women who take more than 20 minutes to fill out a single registration form, women whom we see through our security cameras sitting in the car long after they've shut off the engine. When I talk with them in counseling, I tell them that it is one thing to consider abortion, to look it up online, to make the appointment. But it is a different thing altogether to show up, to sit in the waiting room with a dozen other women who are there for the very same reason, and then actually go through with it. Some of them, especially if they are very early in the pregnancy, I counsel to go home, (I always wish I could open the front doors and shout out to the protesters, "Letting one go!") because a 1st trimester procedure can be done up to 14 weeks into the pregnancy. Because she has the time, I suggest she talk to her friends, garner the support she needs, and then if she returns, I assure her it will be easier. I imagined myself as the patient with any of my fellow counselors sitting in the room with me, explaining to me all that I already knew. And in my mind I could see them sending me home, and with a kind smile, saying "Maria, you are not ready to make this decision today."

Nine weeks into my pregnancy, I had my first prenatal appointment with a midwife. I chose not to share with her that my pregnancy was due to an act of carelessness. I also didn't disclose that abortion was still an option (which makes me feel silly in hindsight, as I rarely sit down with a woman at the abortion clinic who is voluntarily terminating her pregnancy despite having begun prenatal care). Nine weeks was also when I began spotting. I had been spotting for a few days by the time I saw her.

She sent me for an ultrasound, and I remembered my previous pregnancy loss. I wondered if maybe God was punishing me. For getting pregnant so thoughtlessly and then responding with indecision, my penance would be miscarriage, and then my husband and I would never, ever, ever take a chance again. I would continue my thriving doula career, coaching women through childbirth and breastfeeding, knowing that I would never again be a laboring or nursing mother, because we would never again let an accident like that happen. I lay on the exam table in radiology, the technician rolled the transducer over my belly, and there it was: a tadpole with a little flashing light, a heartbeat. I cried through the rest of the exam, which I hadn't done years before when the ultrasound had shown no heartbeat. I felt relief that I wouldn't have to experience that again, the bleeding, the clots, the pain that wrapped around my waist from back to front - the labor of a miscarriage. And though it would be a while yet before I would feel a rush of attachment for the image on the screen, I knew that my third journey into motherhood had already begun.