Let Me Tell You About My Friend Dana

One of the things that has made losing Grace a little more bearable has been the support from friends and family. I feel like that sentence is so generic it almost doesn't mean anything, but in the moments when you get a card/flowers/text/visit, it makes so a profound difference that no sentence could really capture it. 

I have friends and family that run the gamut across belief systems, including very conservative, Catholic family to deeply liberal, atheist friends and every single person has chosen to show us love and support to whatever extent they find possible. It's been an amazing gift in our lives as we navigate this. It's a unique sort of grief that comes with being presented with such a heartbreaking reality and decision for a very wanted child, and then additionally having that decision be so condemned by much of society. I have been called a murderer more than once. Thankfully, never by anyone whose opinion I value. 

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I quickly become overwhelmed by gratitude for our friends and family when I pause for even a second to consider their generosity of love and spirit, but today I want to put a little spotlight on my friend Dana, who I have known for around 12 years. She has been a great friend to me, from saving my cat's life to being one of two people (along with our friend Beth) that introduced me to Jim. 

Dana was halfway around the world on her honeymoon with her husband Ben when we learned about Grace's fatal fetal diagnosis, and took the time to send us a note expressing her condolences and support when she learned. Little did any of us know she would come home shortly thereafter and learn she was pregnant herself. It put us in a predictably awkward situation with me having just ended a pregnancy I had chased for nearly 4 years, and Dana in the impossible situation of trying to figure out how to tell her grieving friend she was pregnant. She was kind, considerate, and has made sure I feel remembered during her entire pregnancy. It has made a world of difference to me.

When I testified during Governor Greitens's 20k/day special session, I had to cancel dinner plans with Dana and a few friends to make the logistics work. Despite being around 30 weeks pregnant, working full time and facing the last minute nature of testifying (I found out at noon that I was leaving around 7 am the next morning), Dana dropped everything to join me. She drove with me 2.5 each way and sat in the Senate room all day with no breaks for the opportunity to support me and share her own perspective: that watching what the state of Missouri had done to Jim and me after we made what we believe so strongly to be a loving, humane decision to end our pregnancy had cost Dana comfort, security and joy in her own pregnancy. She realized it could happen to anyone, saw how deeply it affected us, and felt compelled to say something to protect other families. Her testimony was powerful, vulnerable and impossible to ignore. 


I have always been and will continue to be grateful for Dana's friendship: at a time when it undeniably might have been more comfortable for her to distance herself from my circumstances in order to feel more secure in her own (especially as a first time mother), she pulled me closer. Dana put her own comfort and safety on the line and stepped out of her comfort zone to speak up for me, Grace, herself and every other woman in Missouri. I am in awe of her strength and her ability to not only own her power, but to also realize and capitalize on the absolutely true fact that anyone can advocate and make a difference: we all have a story, and Dana sharing hers truly made a difference. I can't wait for her baby to be born (any day now!) and to see what kind of mom she is, but no matter how she approaches it, that is one lucky baby to have such an amazing mom.





What I've been up to (NYC, DC, What's Next!)

Hi friends! 

It's been a little while. My lack of posting here doesn't mean I haven't been active in other arenas though... I've just needed a little break from writing. It's so weird going through this.  A year ago I was a month pregnant and nervous and excited and hopeful that it was FINALLY our time. This year... I've had that pregnancy make it to 22 weeks, terminated for medical reasons, then gone on this wild ride of advocacy. I hardly know who I am anymore. I don't know what to do or how to do it or when to take a break or even how to take it. But I hope you'll keep coming along with me while I figure it out. Hopefully I'll do it with some grace and humor.

For the past few months, I have:

  • Been filmed for a documentary with Jim that will be coming out down the line.
  • Saw Lady Parts Justice League's hilarious and powerful Vagical Mystery Tour comedy and outreach show. I almost felt like I was cheating having a good time and laughing there after having tearfully recounted our story just the day before, but well, that's being a fully developed human being right? 
  • I went to New York City and met up with some truly tremendous women that deeply, completely supported us after losing Grace, even when many hadn't met me in person before. Their ability to love, support and show compassion from all around the country has been a great learning experience for me.
  • While I was there I also met up with another highly recommended Reproductive Endocrinologist just to get more eyes on our situation and case and was told we're just really unlucky. I almost had to laugh at that. Sigh.
  • I went to D.C. to see my beloved oldest friend and her family, and spent a day advocating with Erika Christensen and Dr. Julie Bindeman. We met with Representative Barbara Lee, Representative Louise Slaughter, Representative Diana DeGuette's offices, as well as Senator Joseph Manchin's. We were in the Hart Senate Building while the first health care vote of that week was going on, and the protests that disabled individuals from around the country were conducting were stunningly powerful. It felt like such a privilege to be in the room while it was happening. 

I have some shifts in how I want to approach advocacy coming up, but I'm also trying to take a breath for a bit while I figure out the best approach. I feel so overwhelmed by the hurdles we are facing in just getting people to hear and understand this perspective on abortion, and I am having to learn a lot about self care along the way. Others that are fighting, how do you do it? 

Guest Blog: Sam's Story. "Just Adopt"? It Isn't That Easy.

A lot of people wonder why Jim and I don't "just adopt", especially after 4 years of trying to have a baby through infertility treatments and 2 losses.

We have explored adoption in our quest to have a child. Adoption is a beautiful, and it is ALSO not nearly as easy as a lot people think it is. There is no "just adopt".

My friend Samantha (Sam) Blanco shared her story with me recently and it brought me heartache and chills. Please read, consider, learn and share. 

It’s been five years since my husband and I first started trying to have a child. We had a plan from the beginning: we’d have three children, the first two would be biological children, and then we’d adopt a third. But if we didn’t get pregnant within a year, we would go ahead and start the adoption process. What’s laughable now is not that we had this clear plan and thought it would work, but that we thought any plan we made would be easy.

After two years of trying to conceive, we finally started the adoption process.  (At this point, we hadn’t even looked into fertility treatments; it wasn’t until later that we would learn we would not be able to conceive without significant, expensive medical intervention). We carefully selected an adoption agency, went to a two-day training for adoptive parents, and became part of a network of other people trying to adopt. We were optimistic and excited. We waited for two more years. In that time period, our lives were busy while my husband worked on a huge project for work and I pursued my PhD. I imagined that I would graduate and our lives would slow down, then magically a birth mother would call us at the perfect time.  Then on January 31 of this year, we got a mass e-mail from our agency that stated they were declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy and were closing effective immediately. With that e-mail, thousands of dollars, two years of our time, and our hope disappeared into thin air. People often ask us if we’ll ever get our money back (which is highly unlikely), but the loss of time and trust has been far more devastating.

My husband and I made some immediate decisions. I took a semester off of school. We spent more time together, focusing on helping each other get through each day. We were fortunate to have a family member who works in adoption who told us, “You need to mourn this.” So we mourned. Slowly life has returned to normal, except now we’re back to square one.

Suddenly, we’re in a place we never expected to be. We’re both 35. We’re both uncertain what path we want to pursue to parenthood. We’re uncertain if the decisions we made a few years ago are still the right decisions. And we’re processing the emotions and experiences of the past five years while still trying to move forward.

In recent weeks, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on our experience. I have a greater understanding of the impact of infertility than I ever could have had as the woman making decisions about parenthood several years ago. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

Your family and friends may not be ready for your decision. Once we decided to adopt, we spent a lot of time explaining the process to our families and friends. Some of our loved ones were very excited. One of my favorite memories is telling my husband’s cousin, and seeing her immediate joy. Others asked many questions, which we were happy to answer. And while I understood it came from a place of love, some of our loved ones frequently questioned our decision. Don’t you want to at least try IVF? What if you change your mind and want to try it but you’re too old? Are you sure you’ve made this a priority, what if you took some time off work and reduced your stress? Often, these comments were expressions of their own fears, not responses to our excitement about starting a family. These questions also made me feel as if choosing to adopt was somehow equivalent to giving up.

You and your spouse will likely have very different experiences with infertility. There was a point in time where I felt anger and envy towards my husband because our friends and family focused so much of their attention on me when it came to infertility, as if it were something only I was experiencing. Often, we would walk into a party and infertility would be the first thing I was asked about, and I’d look over to see my husband cracking up with friends about the latest episode of whatever show they were watching.  My husband, on the other hand, was feeling his own levels of insecurity about infertility that often he would keep from me.  

When you can’t get pregnant, every option available to you is expensive and invasive. This seems to be the one thing that very few people understand about infertility. Fertility treatments are expensive. Adoption is expensive. Fertility treatments are physically invasive. Adoption and foster care are personally invasive, with requirements to provide great amounts of financial and health information, along with several home visits. Any path a person chooses toward parenthood is complex and carefully thought out. There is not “Why don’t you just do IVF or adopt?” There is no “just.” It’s a long and difficult path.

Feelings of loss related to infertility aren’t what I expected. Not being able to have a biological child was difficult emotionally, but it was not a tragedy in my life. I had always envisioned myself adopting a child, so it was not a big shift for me. I was completely blindsided by the adoption agency declaring bankruptcy. After years of feeling confident in my decisions about becoming a parent, I was suddenly plunged into a depression.  There is no script for explaining to people the loss I was feeling as a result of the agency going bankrupt: a loss of money, time, and most importantly, my trust in systems built for adoption. When you have a baby biologically, you don’t have to second-guess the way you have a child. But with the agency bankruptcy, my husband and I were second-guessing every single decision we had made in our quest to be parents.  

We haven’t decided what we’ll do next. We know so much more than we did when we started this process, but that knowledge hasn’t necessarily better prepared us for making a decision. We’ve been very open about this with our friends and families from the beginning, and value that openness. But one of the negative aspects of that openness is that we are getting a ton of unasked for advice, advice that comes from a place of love and concern, but assumes that they have an answer for us. And perhaps that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned, that there simply is no right answer. My husband and I will be parents one day, but there’s no one right way for us to get there.

Sam Blanco lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two dogs.

An Interview with Lizz Winstead and Things You Can Do to Help RIGHT NOW

This article hitting Feministing regarding Governor Greitens' Emergency Session against reproductive rights to the tune of $20,000/a day of taxpayer money has prompted people to ask what they can do to help, which absolutely thrills me. I shared our story with the hopes it would raise awareness and prompt activism from people, and there are tons of opportunities out there. So without further adieu:

What you can do RIGHT NOW

Call and email your state senator and tell them to gavel out of this expensive, unnecessary, and politically motivated special session. Thank them for working hard on a compromise, and say what the House did is inexcusable. Ask them to please not allow the governor's dark money and political ambitions get in the way of democracy. 

More action items will come when the senate reconvenes. 

What you can do NEXT WEEK (but buy your tickets right now - it will sell out!)

Lizz Winstead, co creator of the Daily Show, is coming to The Blueberry Hill Duck Room in St. Louis next Thursday (June 29) with her Lady Parts Justice League Vagical Mystery Tour. You can find St. Louis event information here (and a list of all shows here). I highly encourage you to go for 2 reasons:

1) Lizz and her fellow comedians are SERIOUSLY funny. I got to see Lizz with Sarah Silverman a year ago and she knocked my socks off.

2) The show also features discussions with local providers and advocates, and provides ideas for ways you can get involved and make a difference looking at the skills you already have. 

I interviewed Lizz to learn more about the show, what they are trying to achieve, her perspective on reproductive rights, and the one thing that everyone can do to make a difference right now. (This content has been modified to be condensed and for clarity):

Tell me about one of the best things about the Vagical Mystery Tour

Lizz: The comedy show brings in a group of people (150-500 people) to have a great time and also have a meaningful talk back about opportunities available to them. We want people to be able to say this was a great experience, and then you’re giving me opportunity to do what I can, also with the time that I have, to make a difference. Some of these things take 20 minutes, an hour, etc.

I have a whole team of people who are excellent comedians, and they talk about life from these different lenses. We have black, brown, trans, white and gay comedians, and people can come to this comedy show and hear about their own lives. 

At the end of each show we have a conversation with someone from a clinic and from an activist group that supports reproductive rights and justice so people can sign up right then and there and learn what they need. We’ve been able to access handymen, painters, designers, landscapers, etc.

These are little things, and the providers are buried with work and care that sometimes they can’t even tell what they need. We have been able to go in, take a tour of the clinic and ask questions and then help.

What is your best advice for someone that wants to make a difference in the arena of reproductive rights?

Lizz: (laughing) Aside from not making your zoo the anti-abortion zoo… First and foremost, when you connect with your local clinic and activists, you can really get information on what’s going on in your state. You want to ask yourself "who is my go to person for information"? Get connected with them.  

While we all talk about all these laws encroaching on reproductive rights, people still need to get care and provide care, and so we need to ask how are we as citizens making sure that the caregivers and those that need abortion are being supported, and not being stigmatized? 

So for example some of the things you can do are escorting patients. Sign up for escort service where you are committing to helping patients get into care without judgment. A bonus is this also means being part of the community that stands with the clinics. You are showing politicians and your community that you are a face and a voice that thinks that clinics are important and are doing a great job.

Another thing you can do is getting together with your like minded friends who are also going "what can we do?" over and over and panicking, and meeting with them so you can open a bottle of wine and send postcards to share your love and support. These organizations and clinics always get so much hate mail, so getting your love and support really matters.

Think about what can you do to lengthen the life of your clinic. Can you throw a fundraiser? Have a mixer at your house where people can get to know your provider or your abortion fund. Treat them like the treasures that they are.

Finding out what the clinics and advocates' needs are. Get together with friends, let a clinic vet you so they know you’re a trusted source, and find out what they need. Often people don’t look at their own lives and skill sets and see how they can help out. If you’re a great graphic designer, or if you’re good at landscaping, you can help! If you’re a good baker, you could bring cupcakes to the clinic 4 times a year to show your appreciation. Maybe help an advocate with their website that needs a new logo. Offer to paint a clinic's fence or do some gardening to maintain the clinic so when patients come in they feel like it’s a nice space and feel welcome, and the people that work there walk in and feel great that their community supports them. Translators especially are needed for refugee cities where Arabic or Spanish are helpful for a patient care advocate. It's nice to have someone on call that can help. These all kinds of things that might be in your personal wheelhouse.

Finally, get on an email list to work with your local advocates and clinics so they can reach out to you whenever you need something and then you can network. The thing is that a lot of times, a clinic that provides abortion services in a community... lawn services or gutter cleaning services won’t come because the clinic provides abortion care. Simple things other business can get just by looking in the yellow pages aren't available to clinics that provide abortions because the providers don’t believe in what the clinic does, or they’ll be targeted by anti-choice people at their business.

I am loving this because it has an avenue for everyone. If there was ONE thing everyone could do, what would it be? 

If you’re too busy, and care about this issue,  I ask every single person to stop using the term pro-life. They are anti-abortion. I have seen clinics that have been firebombed and vandalized. I have friends who are targeted. Patients who have gotten death threats for having abortions*. We cannot cede the term pro-life because they aren’t pro-life. Physicians that are friends of mine - their best friends have been murdered. This is being done by anti-abortion activists. It’s only fair to call them that. Language matters.

 *Robin Note: This is a HUGE reason more women don't share their stories. Trust me. I know a lot of women who have been in my shoes but they don't share publicly. 

Has your approach to LPJL and the Vagical Mystery Tour changed since Trump took office and there has been a bigger proliferation of falsehoods? 

The interesting thing about it is I’m glad we started this organization long before Trump took office. So many people in so many state legislatures were already passing these laws before Trump was in the picture. Oregon is the only state that hasn’t proposed crappy legislation. Really. it's every other state: red states, blue states, purple states. But in the wake of Donald Trump, it’s just gotten worse because the federal legislation and the Supreme Court are very scary.

We need people to understand and pay attention to state legislatures and demand their birth control and abortion care because we are owed them. We must demand from men and women both that they recognize reproductive rights are part of our human rights. 

I know you were raised Catholic, which believes abortion is a sin and murder. How was that transition to where you are now?

I definitely was. The bottom line is I realized I can’t believe in a God that is cruel and retaliatory. I know when I wake up every day that I am doing my best to be a good person. And there is not one word about abortion in the bible. Science says something else different from Catholicism too. 

And the real fact is Catholics have abortions at very high rates, and they use birth control. 

The Vagical Mystery Tour is Thursday, June 29th at Blueberry Hill Duck Room. It starts at 7:30 pm, and you can buy tickets here.

How Testifying Again Felt: Frustration, Grief, Helplessness and Determination

As I posted last week, I testified last Tuesday in Governor Eric Greitens' $20k/a day special session to restrict reproductive rights. Testifying for the second time in Jefferson City was more anxiety-inducing, and also more familiar and thus, calming in that way. That's a cold comfort though: that I have had to go twice in 2 months to fight for my and Grace Pearl's rights as well as and those of the other 1.5 million women of reproductive age in Missouri is discouraging and upsetting. And there is no end in sight. But this is something that is within my realm to do and I'll do it as much as I can/it makes sense to do to raise awareness, secure options for other women that might find themselves in our situation, and honor Grace.

As I mentioned in my last post, I testified in opposition of two bills, and I put my testimonials up on that post. But I didn't go into how it felt, which I think is just as important and honestly even more interesting than what I said. 

The first bill I testified on was SB-6, which would remove St. Louis's ruling that organizations and companies cannot discriminate women for things like using contraception, being pregnant or getting an abortion based on moral or religious beliefs, which was sponsored by Springfield, MO State senator Bob Dixon. I think this is a sticky one, to be honest. I do respect that there are religions that do not believe in abortion, but I also believe that being pro-life means being far more than anti-abortion. This bill, in my opinion, exposes some of these holes in the argument:

Jim and me on the day of our egg retrieval as part of IVF. Should we discriminated against for doing this when there is no other way for us to have a biological child?

Jim and me on the day of our egg retrieval as part of IVF. Should we discriminated against for doing this when there is no other way for us to have a biological child?

  • While I respect that some people don't believe in some things due to religion, sometimes it brings a lot of harm to others, and I find that, personally, to be fairly contradictory to the messages that religion often proposes. I think it's an area that begs for further discussion, compassion towards both sides, and a compromise. This bill doesn't suggest that and instead feels hasty and I don't think passing a bill that allows for such broad discrimination is the right approach. 
  • If a woman can be discriminated against for using contraception, being pregnant, using assisted reproductive technologies (like IVF) and having an abortion, what state of existence CAN she occupy and be free from discrimination? Abstinence? Outside of child-bearing age? It's far too restrictive. It makes me feel helpless and furious. 
  • Where are the men in this? Pregnancy, the need for birth control, procedures like IVF and abortions are all created by two people, but these laws are aimed at women. 
  • One of our biggest supporters has been a nun of 50+ years. Catholicism is one of the religions that strongly condemns abortion and is spurring this bill, but between this nun and some of both of our friends and families who have shown us immense compassion and support despite being uncomfortable with abortion in general (and who am I to judge? To be raised in a faith since you were born that feels abortion is always wrong is not something to be brushed aside, in my opinion), it shows that there isn't even a unified approach towards abortion from people that practice the religions that are supporting this bill. Yet how some feel should be codified into law? Instead of removing St. Louis's exception from these laws, the laws should be corrected.

I think there are far smarter ways to show respect for religious opposition to abortion. More on that in a future post, but I want to make it very clear that I do not think think that those that oppose abortion for religious reasons are to be condemned, judged or dismissed. Respect has to go both ways.

Senator Robert Onder

Senator Robert Onder

Then there was SB-1, which tries to circumvent Judge Howard Sachs' injunction based on on the Whole Women's Health v Hellerstedt ruling in the Supreme Court, noting that based on that ruling, Missouri's one abortion facility in the entire state constituted an unconstitutional burden on women seeking this reproductive health treatment, in addition to overly lofty requirements for abortion-providing facilities. This one was harder for me. I felt anxious going into it because it is sponsored by Robert Onder, who coincidentally used to be my allergist. I can't believe some of the audacious things he's done as a senator though, and this is coming from someone who had a perfectly pleasant opinion of him before he started doing these things. Proposing that we rename the St. Louis Zoo the "Midwest Abortion Sanctuary City Zoological Park"? Pushing this special session at the expense of $20,000 a day when it's not an emergency? And worst of all, proposing legislation that is medically inaccurate using his medical degree as validity to do so (the bill asserts a fetus feels pain at 22 weeks, when all of my specialists noted it was 24-28)? I find Onder's doing so to be so insincere, so overtly political over sensible, and so dangerous that it makes me furious, nervous and highly uncomfortable. This is not someone I would ever trust to be my doctor again, and I can't imagine anyone I know who would want their doctor to use personal beliefs to dictate their care over medical and science-based facts. Yet he's proposing laws that will effect far more than his allergy patients. It's truly scary.

Specific to the bill itself, I explained that while Jim and I were lucky to be in St. Louis and close to excellent medical care and the sole abortion provider in the state at the time (Planned Parenthood), what if we happened to live in Joplin and had prior children we needed to find childcare for, and/of travel hundreds of miles for our care. As I explained how our immense privilege and how it helped us I grew more frustrated. While the senators were kindly looking at me, I knew it wouldn't change their votes. And that was the worst part of all. 

I am driving 2.5 hours each way, taking the day off work, paying for my own gas and meals and writing testimonials late into the night to share Grace's story. I think it's important, and one of the things I have heard while telling it over the past 7 months is that a lot of people had never considered this side of abortion - that people sometimes do it because it's the most loving, humane thing we can do while we suffer immense heartbreak at learning our wanted pregnancies won't turn into happy, healthy babies. But these elected officials are so tied up in politics, so tied up in Right For Life and other anti-abortion donors... they don't care enough to vote for my family and others like mine. They might feel badly for me, but not enough to acknowledge that this will happen to families again, and to demand smarter, more balanced, inclusive, compromising bills. Having that hit me again (this certainly wasn't the first time) combined with reliving Grace's story and how sad I am to not have her now made me start to cry. 

I live in the state with the third most restrictive reproductive rights, and they are still pushing forward these bills. They want MORE restrictions. Abortion is protected by Roe v Wade and 7 out of 10 people believe it should be legal. Yet I have to testify to keep these rights, and it's still not enough - sometimes these bills advance and become law. It's easy to see why people call this a war on women - when is it enough? When abortion is illegal and women die in back alleys and babies like Grace suffer needlessly? Is that truly what people want?

It's not that I'm absolute - I believe in moderate restrictions around abortion that takes all parties into consideration and has appropriate exceptions, support for those that need it should they choose not to end a pregnancy, and compromises between the two sides. Surely I'm not the only one. But even my desires for compromise feel helpless in the face of Missouri's Conservative politicians, especially as they are spurred on by Governor Greitens. When will we get politicians that care more about their constituents, including more than the unborn (and including them too, in the case of Grace who would suffer under these laws) more than playing politics? 

It's my very sincere hope that this changes some day. We ALL deserve better, no matter where you stand on this issue, and if you believe you still are 100% against abortion after hearing my story, I hope you remember your daughter, niece, cousin, daughter in law, wife, etc. could have this happen to her at any time. Men, this could happen to any woman in your life that is of reproductive age. Don't you want laws to include them? I wonder how Dr. Onder would feel if something like this happened to one of his 6 children when they get older. Simply wishing for nothing to go wrong and avoiding thinking about the reality Jim and I experienced isn't enough. 

With others that testified against the Senate Bills that would restrict reproductive rights in Jefferson City, June 13, 2017, including my amazing friend Dana (far right). 

With others that testified against the Senate Bills that would restrict reproductive rights in Jefferson City, June 13, 2017, including my amazing friend Dana (far right). 

Guest Blog: Read Darla's Story if You Think You Would Never End a Pregnancy

It's been nearly 7 months since we said goodbye to Grace Pearl, and in that time we have met so many other people that have been through similar situations to our own - far more than you'd ever think, which tells you a lot about the stigma around this that a lot of people have to make these sorts of choices, but are afraid to share because of how condemning society can be. And I get it... there are people out there that 100% are against abortion, even in our situation, and yes, I do encounter them.

How I feel about that is another post for another time, but I always want to ask what people that say we made the wrong choice and shouldn't be able to do so would do in my amazing friend Darla's situation. And I don't mean this in an antagonistic way: I truly wonder what people would do in Darla's impossible situation. If her family's case isn't one that compels for the need for smarter, more inclusive laws and increased awareness and compassion, I don't know what is. 

Thank you so much, Darla, for sharing so bravely. 

I Tell Their Story

One year ago, we learned some of the most devastating news parents can learn. My husband, Peter, and I sat in the doctor’s office after our routine 20-week anatomy scan discussing our dinner plans. The twin girls I was carrying were craving Mexican food, I claimed. So we planned on going to famed local Austin eatery, Chuy’s. After over an hour and a half of waiting for our doctor to come in after the ultrasound – a rarity for our doctor – he walked in somberly and asked me to move from the examination table and sit next to Peter. I knew we were in for bad news.

The rest of that appointment is a bit of a blur.

“I’m surprised she’s still alive.”

“Encephalocele… might be open… very small head… possible missing digits… large cleft lip and palate…”

“Other baby is healthy.”

“Referral to a specialist… only one doctor in town who will perform the procedure if there’s no hope…”

“I’m so sorry.”

He called the specialist’s cell phone from his own cell phone while we sat across from him bawling. It kicked off a wave of appointments, including a trip out of town on a Saturday for a four-hour ultrasound to make certain what we were told was actually going on. It was.

Our baby B, Catherine Sophia, had essentially a terminal diagnosis. Microcephaly, an open encephalocele that was allowing brain matter to leak out and was causing ventriculomegaly, an underdeveloped cerebellum and prefrontal cortex, and a large cleft lip and palate were her major issues. That she had survived this long was unbelievable, but she would not survive to make it home with us if she lived through delivery. And she posed too big of a risk to her completely healthy twin sister.

On June 22, 2016, we said goodbye to her. I clutched the panda bear we had purchased for her at the Vienna zoo the day after we learned of her conception (the girls were donor egg babies from the Czech Republic – a story for another time, one I love telling). I cried, not from any physical pain, but from the grief that had already settled in 12 days before when we received her diagnosis.

Darla and Peter with Olivia

Darla and Peter with Olivia

I walked around in a cloud of depression, grief for months. I delivered the girls in September and lost myself in the role of mother to a newborn. My beautiful Olivia Adele brought me such joy, but still, as I looked at her, I found myself torn between delighting in her and missing what should have been.

When Olivia was five months old, I realized what I needed to do. While Catherine may not have been meant for my arms or for this world, her story was. She was meant to help bring her sister into this world, and she was meant to open eyes.

So I took it upon myself to tell her story. I shared it in a large, almost exclusively cause-friendly Facebook group first, and then got up the courage to write an article that I guess you could say went viral. To see people sharing my words, commenting on my life, was surreal. Comforting and angering at the same time (never read the comments, right?).

But my daughter, the one who was never going to have a chance to make her own mark on the world on her own terms, was making a difference. People who were pro-life were saying they’d never thought of situations like ours, they’d never thought of gray areas before, and that my children had made them think. Because I had told her story, people’s eyes were opened.

Cate and Olivia

Cate and Olivia

Along the way, my sweet girls have helped me find myself. Olivia has helped me truly see the mother’s soul in myself, the soul I always thought I had but had become afraid I’d never get to express. And Catherine has helped me dig deep and find the survivor and the fighter within myself. Having only been the child in the parent/child relationship up until this point, I never knew that a parent could be changed by the relationship. But they can.

I told a reporter once, after she apologized for making me relive our trauma, that I would tell my daughters’ story every single day for the rest of my life if it opened even a few eyes. And I will. I will continue to tell their story because as long as I live, I will make sure that they do, too. Both of them.

Cate's footprints

Cate's footprints

What would you do in Darla's situation, if you think you would never support pregnancy termination, even in Grace's situation? What if you were pregnant with twins, and learned one would never live, and was taking energy, resources and space from the other one, thus endangering her? It's hard for me to even think about, but I can't just stop there and think about something else. The laws in our country very much effect people like Darla and myself and our options in these situations. Apathy or avoidance isn't a choice for us. 

You can find Darla's Facebook page (and link to her blog) here, and if you'd like to make a donation to NARAL Pro-Choice Texas (a state in great need of support for reproductive rights, and where Darla has been holding a fundraiser on behalf of Catherine Sophia) you can do so here