By Erica Bailey
Preventing unwanted pregnancy had come easy to me. I got my first pack of birth control pills in high school from the local Planned Parenthood unbeknownst to my parents. I had big dreams to fill (like a career in STEM). The last thing I needed was having a child.
I have college memories of Evangelical protestors holding signs of the alleged aftermath of abortions in front of the student union. It sealed into my mind that an abortion was something I never wanted to do. And luckily for me, I never had to. After college graduation, I always had a job with good benefits that covered my prescriptions. I used various forms of contraception for 12 years straight and never had a pregnancy scare.
Then in my 30s, I married my husband and we decided we were ready to start our family. It took one cycle to get pregnant. My reproductive privilege blinded me from the real struggles people all around me were having. And because of my (sometimes outspoken) political views, no one in my circle had trusted me with their own abortion story. I was ignorant, to say the least.
My first pregnancy was picture perfect, until it wasn’t. One week before my due date, I felt my son move for the last time. I was uneducated on the importance of tracking fetal movements, so I waited until the next day before I realized something was wrong. I went into the hospital only to find out that my 39-week-old baby was dead—and I still had to deliver him.
How could something I never heard about after attending all my prenatal appointments, reading 10 different pregnancy books, and binge-listening to natural birth podcasts happen to me and my low-risk, healthy pregnancy? I quickly learned that statistics do not care about your education level, social status, or religious beliefs. I was the “1” in 169 pregnancies that ended in stillbirth.
My son was perfect in every way, but he was not alive. We would later learn that my son’s small placenta went undetected in his pregnancy, and he had multiple compression events with his umbilical cord, killing him over his last days in my womb. I remember him not moving as much in his last weeks, but I believed the myths perpetuated on the internet that “babies run out of room in the third trimester” so I never reported his change in movements. It wasn’t until I found Count the Kicks and Push for Empowered Pregnancy after my son’s death that I realized how misinformed I was.
When my baby died, I became a magnet for other’s stories of loss. People from all facets of my life were coming out of the woodwork to comfort me with their own tragedies-miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths. I was submerging myself in this newfound community and gaining more empathy with each conversation. Grieving hearts were all around me my entire life, and I had been too blissfully unaware in my own bubble to notice. Even my best friend of 30+ years learned that her parents suffered a stillbirth two years after she was born, and she had no idea until my son died.
One story that ripped my heart into a million pieces was that of a friend who got pregnant for the first time with twins. She and her husband were over the moon excited. They walked into their highly anticipated 20-week anatomy scan ultrasound only to be catapulted into a nightmare when they were faced with the news, “I’m sorry, there are no heartbeats.”
Not only that, because of the pro-life stranglehold on reproductive healthcare in our state (Missouri), she was not able to have the procedure (D&E) to remove her very loved and wanted babies from her uterus because of how far along she was. Her babies had no heartbeats and been lifeless for days, putting her at risk for infection, yet she was still unable to access the compassionate care she needed and deserved from her own provider and hospital to preserve her health and future fertility. She was forced to drive 3-hours across the state to access an abortion clinic to have the procedure. While she carried her babies’ lifeless bodies inside of her across the parking lot, protestors held up graphic signage and called her a murderer.
I would argue that carrying death inside you is the worst trauma there is. Imagining my friend carrying this life-altering heartbreak while being met with Bomb Threat Evacuation Route posters in her exam room crushed my soul. The thought of anyone, especially religious zealots who claim to be “pro-life,” causing more hurt and heartache to already-grieving parents sent my blood into a boil.
I quickly realized how support for grieving families was non-existent in “pro-life” policies. My precious son who lived for 39-weeks, was not seen as a person in the eyes of the law. We did not receive a birth certificate, even though I still gave birth to his 7-pound 6-ounce body. We were not able to claim him as a tax dependent, even though we paid for all the same things in preparation for his arrival, in addition to the funeral, burial, headstone, and years of trauma therapy at $150/hour. In the eyes of my very “pro-life” state, he didn’t even exist.
My whole life, I was fooled. I was taught to believe that abortion was being “misused” for birth control, and instances of rape and incest were “so low” that using it as a talking point was irrelevant. After my own loss, I started remembering people whose lives were ruined from this horrible legislation. I thought of a classmate in my 6th grade class in the late 90s who carried a pregnancy to full term. She couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. Why didn’t her life matter?
What is “pro-life” about placing barriers between lifesaving healthcare and the lives who need it? What is “pro-life” about not recognizing the existence of stillborn children in a country where 24,000 babies die in the final weeks of pregnancy every year? What is “pro-life” about blocking important stillbirth prevention legislation (SHINE) from being passed?
Death changes you. I can’t unsee what the Dobbs decision and trigger laws in my state are doing to families every day. I will use my voice to reach others like me who are privileged not to have been in these horrific situations to stand up for those who will, because it can happen to any of us. Any of us can be the “1.”
Erica Bailey is a Kansas City, MO based wife and mother who spends her free time advocating for stillbirth prevention in honor of her firstborn son, Rhoan. Links to causes she believes in can be found at: https://countthekicks.org/ and https://www.pushpregnancy.org/.
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