The Unimaginable Choice: My Pregnancy Termination Story
A “lethal diagnosis,” the doctor’s words still play over and over in my head.
By Meagan Messuri
When my husband and I got married five and a half years ago, we were ready to start a family. I had always said I wanted a honeymoon baby, and two weeks after we returned home from our trip we found out we were pregnant. A dream come true! Then, a few weeks later, on Christmas Day, we experienced our first miscarriage and our first loss in a long series of what seemed like unfortunate events.
I sometimes wish I could go back to that naive woman and rejoice in the pure bliss and happiness of those three weeks where everything seemed perfect. I remember thinking, Gosh, this was so easy! I must be the lucky one! I’m not sure I could even recognize that woman today, she seems so far away.
Flash forward to the present, and we are grieving yet another loss in a whole new way that seems to be exacerbated by the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, as we grapple with the fact that our family is one of the real-life examples being used as an argument for abortion rights.
In 2017, we gave birth to a beautiful rainbow baby girl, and by the time she was 2 years old, we were ready to try again for another little miracle. Unfortunately, we experienced secondary infertility that included many medicated cycles, shots to the abdomen twice a day, copious amounts of testing, another early loss, and eventually, my body stopped responding.
We had given up and tossed the dream aside. We decided that life would continue and we’d focus on our little girl. So, when we found out we were pregnant again in January 2022, it came as a complete shock.
When I saw those two lines appear on my pregnancy test, I had no idea what to expect. As excited as I was for what I truly believed was our miracle baby, pregnancy after loss is not an easy road. It was hard for me to fully believe that we were going to have a new baby in our lives.
Since I had suffered from preeclampsia while pregnant with my daughter—which resulted in delivering her at 30 weeks and a 68-day NICU stay—I was considered high risk for this pregnancy. We saw my doctor every two weeks for either an ultrasound or a fetal doppler check of the heartbeat. It helped my anxiety tremendously to know that we would be able to check on the baby so frequently. Each time we went, I would breathe a sigh of relief at the good news, and I became more hopeful this actually might be happening, even though I couldn’t stop the nagging feeling that something would go wrong.
And there it was. Unfortunately, after a routine ultrasound at 18 weeks, I suddenly found myself in a scenario I had only read about. We found out our miracle baby presented with trisomy 13, holoprosencephaly (abnormal brain), cystic hygroma (cysts filled with fluid in the neck), spina bifida, Hydrops (heart failure with fluid where it doesn’t belong), a 2-vessel cord, and generally just a lot of fluid in the skin and lungs. A “lethal diagnosis,” the doctor’s words still play over and over in my head.
I can’t describe the feelings I felt at the time, watching the screen, knowing that the image I saw was not what my living child looked like at this gestation. I couldn’t even make out an actual baby. I saw several large pockets of fluid that would later be described to me as cysts attached to the baby’s lymph nodes, some even larger than the baby’s head. I knew something was wrong. The doctor explained what was going on and my mind went immediately to, I knew something bad would happen. I wasn’t able to grasp onto any hope in the percentages and statistics he was giving me or that this would end up the way I wanted.
Given this devastating news, we were offered two choices: to terminate or continue with the pregnancy knowing our baby wouldn’t survive. How could we even make that choice for a child that we so desperately wanted after all we had already been through? Our whole journey of building our family came with challenge after challenge. At any other point in my life, if you would have asked me if I would terminate a pregnancy I would have gasped and said no. But here we were, thinking of termination and weighing out the pros and cons of how to proceed.
We spent the weekend researching all of the possible outcomes of the long list of diagnoses my doctor shared with us. We talked to my doctors—an obstetrician, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, and a hematologist—who each said it was my choice, but still reiterated that this would be a very sick baby if it even survived.
Nothing my doctors told us sounded good. Some of my baby’s diagnoses put me at a higher risk to develop preeclampsia again, as well as mirror syndrome, where my body would start to mirror what was happening to my baby (heart failure). I was already high risk because of my previous preeclampsia, but I also have a blood clotting disorder and a little girl at home who needed me.
At this point, my biggest fear was continuing the pregnancy and having a similar delivery as I did with my daughter, but this time not surviving. The decision to terminate the pregnancy was made with all of this in mind, but it didn’t make it any easier.
When we went in to sign the consent forms, we were required to undergo an ultrasound under Indiana state law. Signing papers to end a life is extremely emotional, and I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. Each page felt like the state of Indiana wanted to let me know what I was doing was wrong and that I should be ashamed.
That weekend, I had prayed that if the baby was meant to go, they would pass before it was time for delivery. Of course, the outcome would have been the same. My prayer was answered. After the papers were signed we went to get the ultrasound and found that the baby’s heart had stopped beating. Honestly, it was a relief that ultimately, the decision was made for me. I choose to believe the baby made it easy on me so I didn’t have to terminate.
That evening, we went in to have the first part of the D&E (dilation and evacuation) done to dilate my cervix, which was excruciating. I slept maybe four hours that night while my body worked on dilating, and I went for my procedure the next morning. The nurses and doctors were more than comforting and went above and beyond to make the process go however I wanted. We were asked questions about what we wanted as far as keepsakes (we chose handprints and footprints), where we wanted our baby’s remains to be placed, and what kind of testing we wanted to be done on the baby. I found myself Googling cremation costs for a tiny 18-week-old baby—something I never thought would be in my search history.
We took one last look at the baby on the ultrasound, had the procedure and that was that. Only five days after learning our baby’s diagnosis, it was over. Just as shocking as it began.
We lost a baby that was very, very much wanted. Our fertility journey has not been an easy one and I constantly ask myself, Why?! Why me?! Why us?! I know I’m not alone and a lot of women suffer loss and infertility but this one seemed different. It felt cruel to surprise me and then take it all away in an instant.
It’s been six weeks since we said goodbye to our baby. That seems incredibly long and short all at the same time. Since then, I’ve been trying to process how in the world this scenario was happening to us and why we had to go through this grief, yet again.
I hope one day I will come to peace and understand the bigger picture and path I’m on and why this is the road I have had to take. I’ve met so many strong, supportive women along the way, and I’ve never felt more loved or cared for by my team of doctors who helped me make this decision without influencing me in any way. Tears were shed by all, including doctors, nurses, and my family. In all my times of struggle, I’ve never seen my doctor cry with me or heard her voice crack through the phone. This one felt different for all of us.
With the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade, as I try to work through my trauma I constantly feel like my life is being blasted on the internet, and it makes me want to scream. No, my specific situation is never the basis of the debate, but it might as well be. The path I’ve had to walk is being criticized by people who honestly just have no idea. I have found myself so angry at some of the words being thrown around for women who choose to abort. Some suggest I must be a mother who doesn’t care about children, others full-out call women like me murderers. But until you’re confronted with the impossible, unthinkable choice, you have no idea how it feels or what decision you would make for yourself or your family.
I know my baby’s heartbeat stopped just before my intent to abort my pregnancy, but I still signed all the paperwork and ultimately chose termination. I was ready to end my pregnancy, and I thank God every day I was able to make that choice and have access to a safe procedure in a health care facility.
What infuriates me when I think back on some of the things we went through is that if some of the newly enacted abortion laws across the United States had been in place in Indiana just six weeks ago, then my doctor would have not been able to even counsel me on termination. He would have said I had to carry to term and potentially risk my life.
Can you imagine? Being forced to do something against your will, knowing it wasn’t the best choice for your family? I can’t even fathom it, and my stomach is in knots thinking about it.
Abortion is health care. How can anyone say it isn’t? My doctors worked with me every step of the way, answering all the difficult questions I asked. They made sure I was informed of my options, that I knew how the procedures worked, what this looked like for my long-term fertility to ease my worries of “what ifs”, and let me lead the process as much as I could without telling me what I needed to do. My doctors called me, cried with me over the phone, comforted me, and allowed me to talk through my thoughts on either option. They truly made this experience what I needed it to be, while also protecting me by informing me of how much time I had to make the decision and what would happen if I terminated or continued with the pregnancy. I felt safe with every choice we made. Every choice I made was the right one for our family.
It was my choice. My choice. Every woman should have the right to make that choice, and I’ve never felt more strongly about that than I do now having this be a part of my story.
If you are pro-life, you’re anti-choice, and that’s fine; you don’t have to agree with my decisions. Maybe you would have made a different decision if you were in this scenario. But, you shouldn’t get a say in my health care, and you shouldn’t get to tell someone what they need to do when you haven’t walked in their shoes. It’s not your body. It’s not your choice. It is mine and it is hers, whoever she may be.
My journey is unique, but my experiences are shared. I’ve felt pretty unlucky in this fertility journey, but looking at the future, I’d now say that I am the lucky one because I had the choice and the access to safe and legal abortion.