I was pregnant the week of the Republican convention, when they ratified their platform regarding abortion. Pregnant and considering an abortion, and not one that would fit into any of the “exceptions” identified by many Republican politicians: rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. It was a more usual condition, an unplanned pregnancy at my age. But not because I’m a young teenage girl with my life stretching out before me. It was quite the opposite: I’m 49.
I was also considering how strange and fun having a baby at my age might be. I was considering the hilarity of an AARP discount and a newborn at the same time and the ironic outcome of our first vacation without our daughters. I was picturing how excited those teenage daughters would be. But I couldn’t tell them yet.
My husband, a lawyer, was bearing down on the “advanced maternal age” pregnancy issues and statistics like it was a federal case. There was very little for us to read and very little hope in what we found. Advanced maternal age begins at age 35, and the statistics end at about age 45 and they pertained entirely to in-vitro fertilization pregnancies, not the seemingly unheard of naturally-conceived pregnancy.
We could surmise that the odds of miscarrying were extremely high, as were potentially lethal complications for me like pre-eclampsia and diabetes if I stayed pregnant. There were also sobering reports on a propensity for a baby to have its own complications — a host of genetic disorders and birth defects that would disable it physically and mentally and should it survive those, we could still have an anxious wait for autism or schizophrenia to reveal themselves as the baby grew up. We were also high in the running for multiples.
I am lucky to have health insurance. I can have excellent prenatal care even for a potentially costly high-risk pregnancy. I’d need extra tests, extra appointments, specialists and probably a Caesarean section.
Keeping the secret was brutal. One of our favorite pastimes is agreeing or arguing over baby names, the images and destinies that they conjure — bullies, strippers, athletes, scientists — but I had to wait to tell my daughters about the pregnancy until I’d at least had an appointment with my doctor. I stoically withstood one impromptu baby name session while I pictured nursing with a tent to cover my aging face and osteoarthritis neck, not the baby’s, or risk causing a pileup of onlookers.
Blood tests confirmed the home test I’d taken but I hadn’t been to the doctor yet and I wanted to wait until after that to share the news. Frankly, I found the week-long wait for an appointment weird. I would have wanted to see me! It was hard to keep silent but it was one of those crystalline parenting moments — my husband and I knew clearly what we had to do and it was to take care of their emotions, not ours.
One of the few fruits of my husband’s research was the discovery of a recently patented blood test that could detect genetic disorders at 10 weeks. I was definitely asking for that and anything else science had for me. I decided I would tell the girls about the tests and their possible outcomes and that they’d know what my husband and I would decide to do with the information. It would quite possibly be a sad, but teachable moment about choice. Yes, we know disabled people can lead productive happy lives. But he and I agreed we’d terminate a fetus with genetic defects. Why? Not because we’re crazed perfectionists, or evil. We’re just too old.
We’re already almost too old to properly raise a special-needs child. We’ll certainly be too old later. If we live until about 80, that’s 30 more years. This special-needs child would be a special-needs adult with a long life ahead when we died. After my grandmother died, I watched my aunt with Down syndrome move between her sisters for more years than she’d had a mother. Our daughters would automatically be made into their sibling’s keepers. I always wanted three children, but we’d be giving them a lifetime of responsibility for a decision we made to indulge ourselves in having another baby to fill our emptying nest.
It didn’t come to an abortion. I miscarried. I was dreading the need for the possible procedure, but I am grateful for the access to it. I wasn’t raped, the victim of incest, nor was my life in danger, yet. I might have decided to risk my health for a baby. But I was not willing to have an indelible effect on daughters’ futures by tethering them to a dependent sibling.
My experience is just one more reason I believe women must have an absolute right to choose whether to remain pregnant with no exceptions. Some pregnancies aren’t only about the survival of the mother or the fetus, they’re about how the whole family thrives.
Erin Kelly is a freelance writer who recently wrote a script about war, journalism and complicated love with a ticking biological clock.