As I watched the third and final presidential debate Wednesday night, shaking my head and commenting aloud to the candidates, I found myself twisting the ring I wear on my right hand. It’s a simple silver band engraved with “Ethan Karl Schlegel,” the name of the child I lost to miscarriage nearly five years ago.
In defending third-trimester partial-birth abortion, Hillary Clinton mentioned she’d spoken with women who had made the difficult decision to have an abortion. She emphasized their pain and suffering. It occurred to me that perhaps she has not heard from the huge population of mothers—and fathers—who so wanted their children to live, but lost them before they were born. These are people like me and others who have shared their stories with me, who ache for their children day in and day out.
In addition to prime debate season, October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Not enough Americans are, indeed, aware that 15 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. That number feels staggering at first, but unfortunately I have names and faces to put to it that make it very real.
Asking me “How many children do you have?” does not yield a simple answer. When I am brave and strong enough to be honest and say I have one child who died, people of all stripes, people I barely know, men and women alike, nod and tell me, “I lost one (or two, or three) too.”
You Can’t See All of My Children
I am the mother of four children, but I am only raising three. At my second child’s nine-week ultrasound, he had a heartbeat. Three weeks later, he didn’t. In that last scan, he had a head, a body, arms, and legs. To be honest, we don’t know if “he” really was a boy. That’s part of what hurts about this kind of loss. The doctor told me my baby had died about two weeks earlier. It devastated me that I’d had no idea. I still don’t know exactly when he died. I don’t know why he died. I never will.
I have had two healthy children since, and with both of them, I cried on the way to every ultrasound. With both pregnancies, I feared enduring again the emotional and mental pain of the loss, the challenge to my marriage, and the struggle to get up in the morning when I felt so broken. Because I have spoken and written openly about my experience, I know I am not alone.
If I could ask Clinton one question, it would be this: At what point did your daughter’s life start to matter? Perhaps it was when Hillary got a positive pregnancy test or when she started to experience morning sickness. It might have been when she felt her baby kick for the first time. Maybe it wasn’t until that first moment that she was able to look into her precious child’s face. Haven’t all of us, even those who aren’t parents, at some point experienced what I have—the awe of new life?
Is that life significant only when it is wanted? What makes my child human and someone else’s a mass of cells? Or is a child lost to miscarriage less-than, as well?
Abortion Tells Me My Child Was a Nothing
I endured a procedure called a “D&C,” or “dilation and curettage,” to remove the contents of my uterus—among them, my child’s body—two days after that horrible ultrasound. Afterward I asked a nurse about a silver bucket lined with a black bag I’d seen in the operating room. Was that where they had put Ethan to send his body out for the testing we’d agreed to? No, she assured me, and he “just looked like a bunch of tissue” anyway. In that moment, I learned how literal the phrase “my blood boiled” can be.
It didn’t occur to me until later that some of the other women in the recovery room may have walked into the office with another heartbeat in their wombs. What made the tissue I walked in with different from theirs? I spent a year in serious grief, and it still comes over me in unexpected waves, the way the loss of a loved one is known to do.
I mourned the loss of mothering that child, yes, but I mourned the loss of the child as well. I am Catholic, but I didn’t need the church to teach me that life begins at conception. That’s basic biology.
Our next surviving son started preschool this year. I had to remind myself to breathe when I saw that another boy named Ethan is in his class. I have learned to live with the pain, but it will always be there.
If abortion is acceptable, if it is not the murder of a child, then my child’s life doesn’t matter. Because he wasn’t viable outside the womb, he wasn’t a child yet. He wasn’t human or maybe wasn’t human enough. That’s what I hear when I hear abortion defended. I agree that the conversation about abortion should also be about the mother. But there is no mother if there isn’t a child.
Stop Denying the Life of My Child
As I considered this in the hours after the debate, I realized it is possible that Clinton, too, has suffered through a miscarriage. I hope she hasn’t, but if she has, perhaps she didn’t have the tools or the support to deal with her grief. Perhaps recognizing abortion for what it is would mean revisiting a loss so profound it is difficult to put it into words. Even if she hasn’t experienced it, she knows someone who has. We all do.
For a long time, people didn’t really talk about miscarriage and stillbirth. But more of us are speaking up now. We are grieving, mourning, remembering. We are acknowledging that our children matter. All of them, no matter whether they were in or out of the womb when their hearts stopped beating. We are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who have experienced a distinct loss.
We may not have held these children in our arms. We may not have watched them draw a breath. But those things do not make their losses less tragic, the voids around our dinner tables less profound.
It is either one or the other; it cannot be both. Either what is lost in miscarriage and abortion is a child or it’s not. In my experience, the answer is crystal clear.