My husband and I were delighted to learn we were expecting twins just three weeks after our wedding at my “advanced maternal age” of 37. Our joy abruptly dissipated when we discovered that our son had a critical heart defect that was causing blood to pump into his lungs. My doctor was clear: Carrying him to term presented high risks for him, for his perfectly healthy twin sister and for me.
A bill moving through the Arizona Legislature and closing in on the governor’s desk is about to make this very difficult situation much harder for everyone involved. Senate Bill 1457 would potentially criminalize the relationship between my doctor and me, and could put every miscarriage, pregnancy complication or procedure like I survived under a legal microscope — and put the freedom of doctors and their patients on the line.
After the diagnosis, our doctor explained that selective reduction was the safest course of action. Although this procedure was medically quite simple, she only knew of one facility in Arizona that would perform it. Later that evening, she called to inform me that this facility could not provide a selective reduction, but she was calling doctors she knew all over the country to find one that could. She said to have my bags packed and be prepared to leave town on a moment’s notice. We knew under the circumstances that this was clearly the safest choice we could be making for our family, though it was the most difficult, traumatic, and emotionally painful decision of our lives.
So, as the world was shutting down one year ago, I was 20 weeks into my twin pregnancy. We were safely saying goodbye to our son in an operating room in Los Angeles. This simple, quick procedure was the most responsible thing to do. It was a procedure recommended by a doctor and performed by a doctor, in a hospital operating room, because it is health care.
Health care as I had known it to that point had never required me to cross state lines (at the outset of a global pandemic) and pay $9,000 up front and out of pocket.
We returned home, where I continued to carry our healthy daughter and our dead son for the remaining four months of my pregnancy. My high-risk pregnancy required frequent ultrasounds and stress tests. Since these were usually performed by the technician on duty, there was often a pause when they couldn’t find a heartbeat for “Twin B.” I had to explain the grim situation each time, and eventually became detached from my explanation for the sake of their comfort.
After initially sharing the exciting news of our twin pregnancy with everyone in our orbit, I struggled a great deal with how to untell that news. I didn’t know how, so I just never did it. The coronavirus pandemic was raging and everyone was experiencing something scary and unsettling, which allowed me to hide and stay silent about what happened. I felt terrible for finding convenience in the required physical isolation and emotional comfort in the world’s collective grief. I was relieved nobody was gathering, which meant a baby shower was out of the question. I no longer wanted to celebrate my pregnancy. I just wanted to get through it.
On July 16, I went into labor and gave birth to our healthy baby girl, “Twin A” as she was (and still is) labeled. I also delivered “Twin B,” or our “demise,” as he was labeled. They were both vaginal deliveries. It was a long, physically and emotionally exhausting day. We were so in love with our daughter, but we were also silently grieving the loss of our son.
While most new mothers are busy sharing their happy news with their loved ones, resting, and nursing their wounds in the hospital, I was presented with a 25-page packet to complete for the death recorder. My husband and I were also immediately required to deliberate over our second decision no parents should ever have to make: Did we prefer a burial or cremation? This decision was not in line with our faith and against our best wishes, but was forced on us based on the weight of the fetus. While this is a wonderful option to be able to offer grieving parents, forcing it on us through hospital policy only compounded our grief.
Not once did anyone pull up a chair and check on my emotional state. Was I alright after carrying and delivering my dead son during a global pandemic? Was I alright, as a first time mom with a newborn baby to figure out? I don’t know that I could easily have answered any questions, but it would have been a good idea for a professional to pop in and provide some counseling. We were so fortunate to have our beautiful new baby to distract us, so I had to wonder, is this how Arizona law treats every mother that loses a child?
Having judgments and beliefs that weren’t mine imposed on a pregnancy and birth that was mine exponentially stigmatized our trauma and silenced us. Our overall sense of safety and basic human dignity was compromised by the state we love and call home. Though it hasn’t been signed into law yet, there is a piece of SB1457 in every chapter of my pregnancy and birth nightmare. If access to reproductive care is restricted even further, as this bill would ensure, I don’t even want to imagine what the next expectant mother in a situation such as mine will experience.
Women must be free to make their own personal medical decisions, safely access the care they need without having to travel across state lines or go bankrupt doing so, and they should be met only with dignity, respect, and care along the way.