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You Are the Only Person Who Can Decide What is Right For You

by Wendy Davis

June 17, 2019

Content Warning: later abortion

photo courtesy of Wendy Davis

If you are reading this, you may be considering having an abortion, or perhaps you have already decided to have one. I am sharing my abortion story so you will know you are not alone.

Each year, many thousands of women decide to terminate pregnancies. Many do so because they just aren’t ready to raise a child, because their career or school trajectory would be derailed, or because they already have children and they cannot bear the financial or emotional responsibility of having more. There are so many reasons—each unique to our own particular circumstances—that lead to the decision to terminate a pregnancy. And every one of those reasons is valid and should be respected.

In my case, I made a decision to terminate a very- much-wanted pregnancy after discovering that my much-hoped-for child was suffering from a serious and extremely debilitating brain abnormality known as Dandy-Walker syndrome.

You probably have heard that lawmakers have been seeking to ban post-20-week abortions. Mine was one of those. And it’s one of the reasons that I stood for 13 hours on the floor of the Texas Senate filibustering an anti-abortion bill that lawmakers sought to pass there. Like so many of the things we tend to fight for, my position that day was born out of my own lived experiences.

When I discovered that I was pregnant for the fourth time, I was elated. I already had two healthy children, both girls, who would be much older than their new sibling. All of us—my husband, our two daughters, and I—looked forward with such happiness to taking care of this new baby together. When tests revealed that we would be welcoming yet another girl to the mix, our happiness was even greater.

We’d been through disappointment just a few years prior when another much-desired pregnancy turned out to be an ectopic one, meaning that the fertilized embryo was implanted in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus. This required surgery to remove the fallopian tube and, of course, to terminate the pregnancy.

I had only one fallopian tube left and would probably soon be aging out of the ability to have more children, so you can probably understand why we were all so happy about this new child. Our

first indication that something might be wrong came after I had one of the routine blood tests that is given as part of prenatal care. Though everything seemed otherwise normal, there was one part of it that seemed a little “off.” My doctor told me not to worry—we’d just keep an extra close eye on things. Then came a routine sonogram that showed a slight enlargement of the baby’s head. Again, not enough to cause any real alarm, but definitely something to keep an eye on.

When I went back a few weeks later for another sonogram, which we all believed would be normal and would confirm our understanding that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about, we received devastating news. This time, the sonogram revealed that not only was there increased abnormal enlargement of her head, but also that the two sides of the baby’s brain had developed in isolation of each other, with no connection between the two—Dandy-Walker syndrome.

I will never forget how my doctor’s hands began to shake as he guided the sonogram wand over my belly. Nor will I forget the look in his eyes as he handed me a box of Kleenex in anticipation of the reaction I would have when he shared the news that something was terribly wrong. Both he and I cried that day. But I still wasn’t willing to accept that this was the reality we were confronting.

Instead, over the course of the next couple of weeks, my husband and I traveled to three other doctors to receive their opinions. Each only confirmed our doctor’s initial diagnosis. Our much-anticipated baby had a debilitating abnormality. She likely wouldn’t survive birth, and if she did, she would live a brief life of tremendous suffering. I couldn’t bear the thought of either option.

And so, after coming to terms with what we were facing, my husband and I made the decision that we believed was in the best interests of our never- to-be-born child. We decided on termination. And we made the decision out of love—love for a baby we would never come to know. But we would do anything to spare her the suffering we knew she would otherwise face.

I couldn’t sleep for days leading up to the procedure and truly did not sleep at all the night before. I talked to her throughout the night, letting her know how very much I loved her and how sad I was that I would never get to be her mom. The following morning, my husband and I went to our doctor’s office, where we looked at her on the sonogram one last time and where I closed my eyes as the doctor inserted a needle through my belly to administer a medication that would stop her heart. Afterward, we walked together to the hospital where I had my third cesarean section, this time to deliver a baby who was never to be.

Fortunately, my doctor had provided us with some literature to read prior to making our final decision that included the stories of other couples who had faced a similar heart-wrenching choice. Some chose not to see the baby post-delivery. Others chose to do so. Each had their own personal reasons for choosing as they did, and it was helpful to consider their perspectives.

We made a decision to meet and name our baby. Tate Elise was brought to us by a compassionate nurse who had dressed her in a pink dress and booties. My husband and I each held her, shed endless tears, and said our goodbyes. Later, she was cremated and we held a brief memorial service for her in the backyard of our home.

This is a decision that I will never regret. And though I grieved deeply for a very long time and still grieve her loss to this day, I know that we made the best decision for Tate.

If you’re reading this in the waiting room of a clinic, if you’ve decided to have an abortion or have had an abortion in the past: you are the only person who can decide what is right for you. Please know that you are loved, that you are not judged, and that there are sisters like me out here in the world who are holding your hand and have your back in this moment. Because, like the Planned Parenthood slogan, we care—no matter what.

Much love, Wendy Davis,
former Texas state senator
and founder of Deeds Not Words

Remember that our stories are ours to tell. We’d love to hear your story too!