In coming days, the Senate is expected to consider a federal ban on abortions at 20 weeks. Before lawmakers cast their votes, I would like them to hear my story.
If such a ban had been in place a year ago, I would have been condemned to carry and give birth to a baby who had no chance at life.
I have been happily married for more than a decade, and I have two beautiful children. When my husband and I found out last year that I was pregnant again, we were overjoyed.
At 20 weeks, my husband and I went for our favorite prenatal visit: the detailed ultrasound anatomy scan that shows your baby's heart, kidneys, bladder, stomach, spine and brain, and whether you're having a girl or a boy. I could barely contain myself as I sat on the exam table, eager to meet our baby more intimately. My husband and I chit-chatted with the ultrasound technician, gabbing and laughing when we recognized familiar features on the ultrasound images.
But after five minutes, only my husband and I were talking. The technician had grown quiet. She just kept printing picture after picture and pressing the wand deeper into the gel on my stomach.
My husband and I reached for each other's hands. We asked the technician if everything was all right, and she said we should wait for a doctor to talk to us. When the OB-GYN entered, I remember asking point-blank: "Is there a chance our child will be OK?" He responded kindly, softly and unequivocally: "No."
Over the next week came referrals to high-risk pregnancy specialists and more, longer, in-depth ultrasounds. In our baby's brain cavity, where gray matter should have been visible, there was only black. The diagnosis was the same from every doctor: Something — we would learn it was not genetic or chromosomal — had caused two leaks in our baby's brain, one on each side, destroying it almost entirely.
We would have done anything to save the baby. We asked if there was any possibility for repair, if the brain tissue could regrow. There wasn't. My baby would either die in the womb or shortly after birth.
Our child would never gain consciousness.
Our little one was gone.
I have never known horror quite like that. Adding to the pain, the brain stem was not affected, so the baby's body was still moving involuntarily. But I knew there was no person in there anymore. I couldn't sleep and could barely eat, and every time the baby jerked, I suffered and mourned.
I didn't know what to tell my kids. They kept kissing my belly, feeling for kicks and singing to the baby. I didn't know what words to choose, but it hardly mattered, because I couldn't finish a sentence without sobbing.
I had a choice. I could try to live with the husk of a child inside of me for more than 100 days, swallowing tears at every cheery inquiry as I grew bigger. Or I could have an abortion. And the choice wasn't just about me. I have young children who would have had to see their mother endure this torture and give birth to someone they would never meet. So we made the painful, but I believe merciful, decision to terminate.
Even after we made that decision, it was difficult to find an available provider, even in an area that has as many medical providers as mine does. The hospitals had weekslong waits. In the end, we were able to schedule an appointment at a surgical clinic for the following week.
My pregnancy was 21 weeks on the day of my abortion.
I mourn the loss of my baby every day. But I have no doubt that I made the right decision for myself and my family, and I am grateful that it was my choice to make. I am indebted to my medical providers for their compassion and care. They answered my questions, spent hours on the phone to give me as many options as possible and followed my lead.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, just more than 1 percent of abortions take place at week 21 or later, many because of devastating medical situations like ours. Each of these mothers must battle through her own hell to decide on and find the medical care she needs, gather her friends and family to lean on, and grieve.
Congress should not take this decision away from any woman — any family — in need. Banning abortions after 20 weeks would be arbitrary, and its consequences would place an unimaginable burden on women like me.
When an abortion was the best of only horrible options, I was beyond grateful that one was available in a safe, compassionate medical establishment. And that my family could begin to heal. I hope our senators will consider women and families like mine before casting their votes.
Rebecca Cohen is a health care researcher based in Washington, D.C. She wrote this article for the Washington Post.