Week 16

My "Partial-Birth" Abortion

On Week Sixteen of my pregnancy, my husband and I were in the Neonatal Unit. We were guardedly optimistic and had even given the baby a name.

I knew something was wrong when the technician wouldn’t tell us that everything was right. Dr. Wapner himself came in. He articulated a few pleasantries, and scrunched up his face. “I’ll just say it.”

The growth was in the range of normal. What concerned him was the blood flow. He wanted us back in two weeks. Then, he’d check growth and also get a more accurate Doppler reading.

That same afternoon, I said out loud, twice, “I guess if it doesn’t look good in two weeks, I’ll get an abortion.”

Week Sixteen had been when we’d discovered Ella wasn’t growing. Slowly, I learned these terms: diastolic flow, Intra Uterine Growth Restriction, hereditary thrombophilia. I learned to read the ultrasounds the chilly blonde technician would sometimes allow me to see. And there was Ella, our girl, leaping like a blurry gray fish in the murk of the monitor. Between my heartbeats, something was keeping blood from flowing to Ella, and whatever it was made Ella wither. Week by week, she moved a little less. Finally there was the day during my sixth month of pregnancy, in late January, when Ella died inside of me.

A few days after, my doctor induced labor. At first, I didn’t want an epidural. I thought: this might be the only labor I will ever have. But in the end, I got a needle in my spine. Eventually, something was sitting on the inside of my thigh. She was the size of my fist, plum-colored, recognizably human. They wrapped her in a blanket for me to hold.

We buried Ella’s ashes under a crabapple tree that would flower every year the week in April when she should have been born. I knew I would try again. The truth was that the months I’d spent with Ella inside me were a gift, something I could not regret.

Now, one year later, we’d tried again. Here was the result: My husband and I returned after two weeks had passed to get another ultrasound and Doppler reading. There was no blood-flow between my heartbeats. The pattern of growth matched Ella’s to the centimeter. There was no question, no question at all, of her surviving. The doctor asked me if I wanted to wait two more weeks. I asked, “Is there a reason?”

I had to wait 24 hours. I had to wait that time because of Pennsylvania Abortion Laws. The procedure I had is the one people call a partial-birth abortion. There has been talk of confiscating the records of late term abortions at Hahnemann, and among them it would say: Simone Zelitch, January 8, 2003, D and E. And would my reason be considered adequate? The abortion was elective. You could say it was my choice. But at the time, it didn’t feel like choice. It felt like every choice had been taken away.

Afterwards, a man opened the curtain and identified himself as the mortician. He said, “We have to fill out a death certificate.” It took a minute for the red rose appliqué on his hospital I.D. to register as the symbol of the anti-abortion movement.

What does it mean to forgive God? For months after the second loss, I couldn’t pray—and it wasn’t grief, it was anger. Yet seldom before had God felt so present in my life as when God was the object of my rage. Three years of tests, three years of doctors, and they still haven’t figured out why I couldn’t carry either of the pregnancies to term. There are some things that will never be clear, so how do I begin to forgive?

I can do this: I’d told the mortician that the baby had no name. Now, I say to you, bundle of arms and legs, big head, well-structured heart, unlucky daughter who will never be a daughter, envelope of tissue, envelope of ash: I couldn’t let myself know you. I couldn’t let myself love you. If we meet one day, and Ella comes running up, but you turn away from me, I’ll understand. Your name is Charlotte.

SIMONE ZELITCH on the Lilith Blog.