In June, the Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision that has the potential, in many parts of the country, to decimate the reproductive rights of those of us with uteruses. There are six conservative justices on the Supreme Court, but many people will be watching one in particular: Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett’s line of questioning in this case (why terminate a pregnancy when you can just leave your baby at a fire station, am I right?!) suggests that in her view, adoption is an easy-peasy alternative to abortion. But this reasoning ignores the fact that abortion rights are about more than when, and if, we have children.
If Barrett does her part in slaying Roe, as many expect her to do, the laws that will go into effect as a result will undoubtedly kill people. This is because, simply put, pregnancy can be deadly. I know because my own pregnancy almost killed me.
I was eight weeks pregnant and curled over on the bathroom floor feeling like I was being stabbed in the sides. I thought I was having a miscarriage. I thought I was having pregnancy-induced IBS. What I didn’t think was that my abdominal cavity was rapidly filling with blood.
I didn’t think that I was dying.
And why would I? This pregnancy transpired through the magic of fertility drugs, and therefore had been followed more closely than Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle. See, after a year of trying to get pregnant on our own (sounds fun ― it’s not), my husband Andrew and I found ourselves sitting in a waiting room of women pretending to check work email or read People magazine or watch “Good Morning America” blaring from the oversized TV on the wall.
Opposite the TV, some waiting room designer had hung dozens of elaborately framed photos of smiling, cherubic babies. It seems they thought this would cheer up us infertile ladies (or the Barren Women’s Club, as I liked to call us). They were wrong.
At our first appointment, our reproductive endocrinologist quickly found the snag in our trying-to-conceive journey: I wasn’t ovulating. It was like finding out you’re not scoring runs because you’re playing baseball without an actual ball and just wildly swinging at the empty air.
Luckily, there was an easy fix: a drug called Clomid that would coax my little potential babies into growing and releasing themselves, so they could float down a lazy river through my fallopian tubes to be fertilized by Andrew’s sperm, before the winning ball of cells would embed itself in my uterus, transforming over the course of nine months into a happily bouncing bundle of joy that would slide right out in three pushes and immediately attach itself to my awaiting bosom.
Or so I thought.
Instead, after two soul-crushing miscarriages followed by five straight months of negative pregnancy tests, I was exhausted from the near-daily doctor appointments, from month after month of loading my body with hormones, and from the constant cycle of hope squashed by disappointment. But we were determined to try one more time before moving on to in vitro fertilization, a procedure that is both super-invasive and crazy costly (you could buy a Tesla with this kind of cash).
And so, a month before I would find myself lying on the bathroom floor in agonizing pain, I was standing in that same bathroom, squinting in disbelief at a barely visible second line on a pregnancy test. It had freaking worked. I was pregnant.
After that came a slew of more official tests, blood draws and ultrasounds (the fun kind, where they stick a wand up your vag!). Everything looked normal. From those scans, we could tell that at first there were two little proto-humans developing in my uterus. Soon, though, one stopped growing and was reabsorbed by my body as if it had never existed (weird sci-fi shit!), and I was left with just one embryo.
But that one little embryo had one perfect little heartbeat (or embryonic cardiac activity, to be precise, since a 10-millimeter mass of cells doesn’t actually have a heart!), and we couldn’t wait for each appointment so we could watch the growing embryo on the ultrasound screen.
In retrospect, there were warning signs: hormone levels that were a bit funky, and random bleeding that would come and go. But at eight weeks and one day, it seemed like this was it. This was finally my pregnancy that would stick.
And then I passed out.
It was the morning following my night on the bathroom floor, and I was slumped over on the toilet when it happened. Luckily Andrew was hovering nervously over me when I lost consciousness, and was able to catch me so I didn’t smack my head on the gray and white herringbone tiles.
At that point, Andrew had had enough of my “no, I’m fine” when I clearly was very much not fine. He grabbed his phone and dialed 911.
When the paramedics arrived, I was stubborn and in denial. I insisted that everything was OK. I was pale, though, and bleeding vaginally, and this made the paramedics nervous. So one very expensive, siren-assisted ride later, I was on a stretcher in the emergency room of Lenox Hill Hospital.
The doctors there ran more tests, measuring my heart rate, taking blood and examining the contents of my uterus. At first, the medical personnel were calm. Something was probably wrong, yes, but in that routine miscarriage-y kind of way. Not in the “sprint this woman to the OR” kind of way that it was about to become.
So after a scream-inducing ultrasound that scrutinized seemingly every organ in my painfully writhing body (Andrew had raw, bloody marks on his hands for days from where I dug my nails into him), the irritatingly cheerful PA announced: “Congratulations, mama! There’s an embryo with a heartbeat! You are free to go home.”
They were unquestionably the most beautiful words I had ever heard.
But still I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. If this pregnancy was going so well, and I could waltz right out of there with my little bundle of baby cells happily multiplying, why did I still feel like a team of enthusiastic and highly dedicated evil gnomes were jackhammering me from the inside out?
That’s when the chair of the radiology department showed up at my door. Now here’s a pro tip: It’s never a good sign when the chair of a medical department wants to see you. And so at his request, the sonographer performed another ultrasound, this time with the radiology chair watching silently, eyes squinted and head cocked slightly to the side.
And then he said it.
“I don’t think that’s in the uterus.”
They had found the answer: My pregnancy was ectopic. Essentially, instead of burrowing into my uterus like any normal embryo would, this embryo had settled into a far deadlier spot: my left fallopian tube, an organ one measly centimeter in diameter (think: barely wider than the inside of a ziti noodle), far smaller than the beefsteak tomato-sized uterus where it should have been at eight weeks. Essentially, this was like trying to stuff a big ol’ ball of mozzarella inside the freaking ziti noodle.
My doctors hadn’t realized there was an ectopic embryo because ― and hold on tight, here’s where this reproductive tale starts to go off the rails ― unbeknownst to everyone, the embryo we’d been watching on the ultrasound screen all these weeks was not the only embryo still growing inside me.
There were actually two embryos growing in there: a well-behaved one in my uterus, and a rogue one in my fallopian tube. (For those keeping score at home, this now makes a total of three embryos: Reabsorbed Sci-fi Embryo, Well-Behaved Uterus Embryo, and Rogue Fallopian Tube Embryo! THREE EMBRYOS.)
The one in my uterus acted as a little red herring, distracting the doctors from the ticking time bomb about to go off in my fallopian tube. And to add insult to (actual) injury, by the time I was in the emergency room, Well-Behaved Uterus Embryo no longer had a heartbeat. It had miscarried.
The doctors quickly ordered another blood draw and realized my hemoglobin was alarmingly low. When I’d arrived at the hospital that morning, it had been in the normal range. It was suddenly clear what was happening: Rogue Fallopian Tube Embryo had exploded the ziti-sized tube it was in, and as a result, I had blood pouring from the decimated organ into my abdominal cavity.
This is when the doctors started running.
Next thing I knew, I’d been hightailed to the operating room, where my detonated fallopian tube, along with the embryo inside it, was removed, saving my life.
And so after a generous helping of a stranger’s hemoglobin (thank you, blood donors!) and a little hospital slumber party, I went home, where I sat in the same gray armchair, in the same green three-quarter length pajama pants, for a week, too sad, too sore and too depleted from blood loss to do much other than sleep and stare at the walls of my living room.
But eventually I got up out of that chair. First to walk down the block. Then to the coffee shop a few blocks farther. Three weeks later, we even went away for a couple of days to celebrate Andrew’s 36th birthday. I was devastated to have lost the pregnancy and shocked by how it had all gone down, but grateful to be alive.
And so the day after we got home from our birthday getaway, I was back at the doctor for a follow-up appointment. And this is where things go full “Grey’s Anatomy.” While sitting there on the examination table, I passed out.
It turns out there was another one in there. In addition to Reabsorbed Sci-fi Embryo, Well-Behaved Uterus Embryo, and Rogue Fallopian Tube Embryo, there was... Bonus Embryo! (Bringing our final embryo count to four. Yes, four, aka: quadruplets.)
And Bonus Embryo was, you guessed it, in my other fallopian tube. It was the kind of freak medical phenomenon that makes first-year residents gather, clipboards in hand, in giddy, gawking droves.
Back to the emergency room I went. And back to the OR. And back, finally, to my gray armchair and green three-quarter length pajama pants. My last remaining fallopian tube, along with the embryo inside it, was gone, but I had survived.
I am alive today (with a cheeky, alpaca-obsessed 2-year-old son and a sweet, nose-chomping 4-month-old daughter) because my doctors acted quickly. Their single consideration was how best to keep me alive. If Roe falls, as it likely will, doctors in many states will have to consider the legal ramifications of their medical decisions.
For the next person with a quadruplet ectopic pregnancy (just kidding, that’s just me) or preeclampsia or a placental abruption or one of the myriad other pregnancy conditions that can prove deadly, that ball of developing cells could take precedence over their own fully human life.
And for anyone with a uterus, and anyone who loves someone with a uterus, that is freaking terrifying.