The timing was less than ideal: I had just given birth to a baby boy only three months earlier. My body had barely recovered from the last pregnancy, and my fiancé and I simply were not ready to have another child. We were both working hard to keep food on the table for our newborn son, and physically, emotionally, and certainly financially, we were barely staying afloat. We just weren’t sure we could make another baby work right now.
But after talking to each other, to our family, and to God, we eventually came to a decision together: We would keep the baby. We would make it work. Despite my initial nervousness about how we would afford it as two low-wage workers, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking about welcoming another little one into our growing family. With the same excited energy we felt with our firstborn son, we again started thinking about names and dreaming about who they might become.
Then, just a few months later, I got news that no mother ever wants to hear: My sweet little baby tested positive for Trisomy 18 — a severe genetic condition affecting how the baby’s body develops and grows in utero. The follow-up appointments wrenched my heart in two. The ultrasound techs and high-risk pregnancy doctors pored over photos of the fetus I carried inside me — I was now 16 weeks pregnant — and ultimately found that its brain was not developing, it had two holes in its heart, and there was no bone in its nose at all.
The bottom line: There was no way this fetus would ever survive. Almost cruelly, they went ahead and told me what might have otherwise been welcome news: “It’s a little baby boy.”
Still, my doctor told me there was a 9% chance the tests were wrong and that I could have amniocentesis just to confirm. I said yes without hesitation. A chance is a chance, and I so desperately wanted to hold my baby boy in my arms. But it wasn’t meant to be, and further testing merely confirmed what in my heart I knew all along: I would never meet my sweet boy or see the person he would grow up to be.
It turns out, however, the worst was yet to come.
Less than a year ago, the next step would have been obvious: We needed to terminate the pregnancy so that the clearly unviable fetus would not cause further complications for my own health. And, frankly, I just needed to close this severely traumatic chapter in my life.
But as I would soon learn, this basic and obvious health care decision was no longer mine to make. After the Dobbs decision, Alabama’s trigger law went into effect and banned abortion almost completely — with only extremely narrow exceptions. Despite language in that trigger law that could possibly be interpreted as allowing an abortion in my specific case, the hospital I was at made it clear to me that it did not view it as an exception. If I wanted an abortion, I would need to travel somewhere else.
“This growing fetus inside me that had once given me so much hope and joy was now a painful, heavy, and cruel reminder of what could have been.”
Instead, they suggested I should simply carry the fetus to term and watch it die a slow, painful death before burying it in a child-sized coffin.
I was mortified. I just wanted this to be over. This growing fetus inside me that had once given me so much hope and joy was now a painful, heavy, and cruel reminder of what could have been.
And while I’m sure other women with money could have easily packed up their lives and flown across the country to get the care they needed, that simply wasn’t an option for me. We had no money. I had just stopped working to raise our first child, and my fiancé and I certainly couldn’t take time off, drive across the country, stay in some expensive hotel, and book an appointment with an abortion provider that wouldn’t accept my insurance.
I had no idea what to do. I was scared. I was traumatized. And I was beginning to get angry that anyone in the greatest country in the world could possibly find themselves in this situation. I wanted it to be over.
Until this point, I wasn’t really a political person. I barely kept up with the news. But as I grappled with this chaos, I began to realize no politician seemed to understand what I was going through. Certainly, I thought, this was not about being “pro-life” — my baby wasn’t going to survive! Whose life were they supporting here? But neither did this feel like a “choice,” either. I wanted to give birth to this baby. I wanted to hear his laugh and his cries. I wanted to watch the man he would one day become. But I couldn’t. I did not have a choice. I just needed health care, and doctors in Alabama refused to give it to me.
After tear-filled conversations about my situation with family members, someone finally pointed me to a partial solution. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, many abortion funds have popped up to help people like me travel out-of-state to get the care we need.
“Southern women can no longer bear the brunt of Congress’s reluctance to pass nationwide protections for reproductive rights.”
So after working through some logistics with a fund that focused on helping low-income Southern women get the health care they needed out-of-state, I loaded up my infant son in the car with my fiancé and his parents, and we drove eleven hours from rural Alabama to an abortion provider in Washington, D.C.
Finally, on the morning of Oct. 6, 2022 — at 18 weeks, 3 days pregnant and many weeks later than I would have wanted — I was able to get the care I needed.
While I was extremely grateful for an end to this traumatic experience, the clinic there was harrowing in its own way. The waiting room, filled to the brim with dozens of young women — almost all Black and Latina — brought me face-to-face with other women enduring horrific conditions and wearing the same tired, scared and pained looks on their face. A look I knew all too well. One Black mother told me through tears that she had traveled hundreds of miles with her daughter to be here, but given how packed this clinic was with out-of-state patients, they couldn’t even guarantee they would be able to honor her appointment that day.
At the end of it all, I knew I couldn’t stay silent. Despite an initial shame about what I had been through, I ultimately decided I had to tell my story. Because when I got to that clinic, I knew that I wasn’t alone. Every single day, low-income women — disproportionately women of color in the South — wake up to the dreaded realization that they are trapped. In Alabama. In Georgia. In Mississippi. In Tennessee. In conservative states across this country.
Something has to change. Southern women can no longer bear the brunt of Congress’s reluctance to pass nationwide protections for reproductive rights. Leaving this issue to the states has already failed to protect us from prying politicians who would force their dystopian morality into our medical decisions. And if Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has his way, the problem could get exponentially worse, as every 15-weeks-pregnant woman in every part of the country would have to leave the country to get the medical care they needed.
Looking back, I wouldn’t wish my experience on my worst enemy. And I will do whatever it takes to make sure no young woman ever has to experience what I did ever again.
It’s time, once and for all, for Congress to codify Roe v. Wade and protect women like me from the life-long trauma that these abortion laws have inflicted upon us.
Alyssa Gonzales is a 23-year-old mother living in Alabama with her fiancé, Clay, and her baby boy. She strives to do the best for her family so they can succeed in life and is a kind-hearted person who does what she can to help when she is able.