“When Zara Dawson was told her unborn baby had a severe abdominal condition, she had no choice but to terminate the pregnancy.” The article from The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, begins with this shocking statement.
Dawson is young, beautiful, an accomplished actress and businesswoman, and now we see her in the role of grieving mother. Not only did she lose her unborn child, but she had no choice in the matter.
My daughter, Beatrix Elizabeth, was diagnosed with the same disorder as Dawson’s baby, Body Stalk Anomaly (also known as Limb Body Wall Complex). I carried her for 34 weeks, delivering her via C-section the night my waters broke. At birth she was assessed, it was determined her lungs were too underdeveloped for survival, and she was treated with palliative measures to assure she did not suffer. She died peacefully in my arms one hour and 47 minutes after she was born.
In the almost ten years since my daughter was born, I have met dozens of families who made the same decision: to continue a pregnancy after their unborn baby was diagnosed with this generally lethal birth defect. I’ve also met families who fought hard for their children to receive treatment, and some whose children lived.
While that is not typical for this disorder, it does happen. In 2010, when I was researching this condition during my pregnancy, I found studies of about a dozen children living with body stalk anomaly. (Many of those studies are no longer available online, but I have the documents in hard copy.)
The Hidden Story Isn’t Women Who Abort Disabled Babies
Dawson suggests she came out with her story to break the stigma surrounding termination for medical reasons. She claims women like her must hide their situation; however, mainstream news sources focus almost exclusively on stories like hers to bolster arguments in favor of abortion access, particularly later in pregnancy. Stories of women like me, who choose to carry to term, are usually special interest items centered on “bucket list babies.”
The real-life struggles of continuing a pregnancy after learning your baby will die are narrowed to a five-minute short with sentimental music and portraits of tiny hands and feet, usually centered on religion, with little mention of how families handle this type of diagnosis. They also neglect to share information about research and opportunities involved with choosing life. If you were to believe the media, you would assume virtually everyone terminates, or tries to but is forced to travel out of state to have an excessively expensive abortion.
Dawson feels sharing her story is an important action to assure women like her are visible to the general public. If her story were an untold narrative, her reasoning would be valid—after all, we’re regularly told representation matters when contemplating the interior lives of people who are not typically included in advertising campaigns and nightly news stories.
But her story isn’t any different than the dozens of other serious stories out there involving abortion after a fetal diagnosis. These stories are problematic because representation not only affirms individual experiences, but it can help shape policy by influencing readers’ voting choices.
When the only serious stories involving a poor pregnancy diagnosis we see are those of people who are promoting termination at even the latest stages of pregnancy, we run the risk of making people believe those who choose to continue are an anomaly. Not only is this biased against the pro-life position, but it’s also troublesome for anyone who considers herself pro-choice because this bias can leave mothers feeling option-less.
Doctors Pressured Me to Abort My Child
In 2010 when my daughter received her diagnosis, my doctors were appalled when I decided to continue the pregnancy. I was regularly pressured to abort at appointments. Not once during the first and second trimester was my decision to carry to term supported.
This altered slightly in the third trimester, but affirmation was anemic, coming from only two physicians out of the dozens I was working with. I was treated like a lab rat, poked and prodded without my consent by doctors who saw me as a fun experiment, and belittled me when I brought up desires to attempt treatment for my daughter at birth.
I live in the shadow of New York City, and one of my doctors was rated as one of the top ten OB/GYNs in the country: he had never had a patient carry a pregnancy with a serious anomaly to term. When I sought stories like mine online, I found only one, on a site called Perinatal Partners for Life.
I joined a Yahoo chat group for women whose children had omphaloceles (what Dawson calls “a pouch of fluid”), most of whom were alive and thriving. There were few options for women like me, whose babies had multiple issues and weren’t expected to survive. The standard, when faced with a defect of this magnitude, was termination.
A Lack of Support Makes Women More Vulnerable
The lack of support, combined with the pressure from physicians to terminate, leaves women vulnerable to the pressures of the abortion-friendly crowd. Studies have shown that women who face a poor prenatal diagnosis often make the decision to terminate within three days, and more than anyone else their doctor influences which direction they choose to go.
As I read Dawson’s words, “I had no choice” I have to wonder: What exactly was she told about her unborn child? Was it really that she had no choice, which would imply her physicians were dishonest with her? Or was it that the pregnancy would be difficult and potentially cause hardship, including possible medical complications?
As an example of threat to her health, she mentions her son’s foot almost popping out of the sac. It’s difficult to properly ascertain exactly what this means, but we can assume there may have been a potential for PPROM, a situation thousands of women experience safely in developed countries. Her son would have been delivered, as my daughter was, and instead of the trauma resulting from the abortion, she would have mothered him for the few minutes, or hours, he had before he continued on his journey home.
Now, I’m by no means attempting to dismiss her grief, but there is a lack of information in her recounting of events, which must be addressed if there’s hope of understanding how these situations work. It’s not about rubbing salt in a wound, but about seeking the truth.
Abortion Is Different From a Miscarriage
For example, the premise for Dawson’s article is disgust over the lack of consideration for those who terminate, in a recently published study on PTSD after early miscarriage —but based on the little information we have, it appears her termination was later and she did not miscarry. If she would have researched using the parameters her situation presented, she would have found there’s an abundance of information out there, much showing a better mental health outcome when women choose to continue pregnancies of this nature.
In essence, Dawson is angry she wasn’t included in a category of loss that doesn’t apply to her situation. She’s positioning herself as someone who lost a child unwillingly. While we recognize her son would most likely have passed away after birth, for her to ignore the fact she had a hand in the ultimate violence towards him, unlike the women in the study who would have been unable to act in any sense, is disingenuous.
She did not lose her child to a miscarriage. She was an active participant in his death. This is the reality of abortion for fetal anomalies.
Overall this article, like many others regarding termination for medical reasons, substitutes facts with anecdotal information based on one woman’s emotional response to her affected pregnancy. While we must remain respectful of their grief, allowing women and their narratives to dominate the news while downplaying the benefits of continuing a pregnancy where an anomaly has been diagnosed is irresponsible.
If news agencies want to present a truly pro-choice position, they’ll begin giving equal space to those of us who continued our pregnancies under great duress from medical professionals. As I said previously, these powerful stories can influence voting habits, which ultimately will affect the laws we pass to protect babies with the most serious birth defects.
With studies more likely to support a positive mental health outcome if women carry to term when faced with this situation, anything less than full disclosure also assures the continuation of a lie that may harm women in the long run, as well as risk the lives of babies who may survive if given the chance.