I'll never forget the sound my wife made. I've heard her cry any number of times, but not like this. It was a whimper as she lay on a medical table. She squeezed my hand and moaned.
I was frozen. My chest tight. I couldn't breathe. My eyes were locked on the ultrasound monitor that showed what was happening inside of my wife's uterus.
A doctor I'd never met before rushed in to relieve the ultrasound technician, and their hurried movements caused my heart rate to spike. My eyes were so wide, they hurt.
I watched as the physician spread teal goo around my wife's abdomen. She pushed and prodded. Whatever she was looking for, she couldn't find it. What was taking so long? I could see legs on the screen -- ribs, a head.
But there was no sound. That rhythmic whooshing music was absent.
The stranger in the doctor's coat looked up at me and said, "I'm sorry."
I wanted to punch something. To scream. I wanted to wake up. Instead, I felt panic.
This was supposed to have been baby number three for us. But, like 24,000 other pregnancies
in the US this year, ours came to a sudden halt. At 20 weeks, our unborn baby's heart stopped. Our doctors offered little closure, telling us there could be a million reasons as to why.
My wife wanted options. She wanted a footprint, a 3D ultrasound and hand molds. She wanted to savor the last moments and keep mementos.
That's what she wanted, but what she needed was to protect her mental health. Surgery was one way to do that, with a specialized procedure known as a dilation and evacuation
. A D&E removes tissue in the uterus, ensuring those suffering pregnancy loss are spared the pain of birthing a stillborn child.
For my wife and me, to endure that would have been unimaginable. But medical experts say that such a scenario could happen more often in some states that are adopting severely limiting abortion legislation.
As my wife's OB/GYN told us, an anti-abortion law like the one passed this year
in Texas could make it difficult to get access to a D&E -- making that law poised to have unintended consequences for couples suffering a loss like ours.
"The challenge is (that) doctors who do dilation and evacuation procedures frequently are doctors that perform abortions. So, it may be harder to find specialists that do D&Es in Texas in the future," said the doctor, who asked not to be named because he's not authorized to speak for his hospital network.
I'm not sharing my family's painful story to take a stance on abortion. That's a journalism taboo. That's not what this is. I share our hardship to show how important it is to have options in reproductive health care.
Even in states without a restrictive abortion ban in place, "the D&E is not widely available," said Dr. Hala Bunni, an OB/GYN whose practice is in Florida. "You can't just walk in anywhere and get one. In our medical group, we only refer to one person [for this procedure]. I only have that one person whom I trust."
The fear is that "as a result of this law, we're going to lose specialists who perform D&E's," Bunni told me.
And "if D&E specialists are pushed out, a ripple effect could occur," said Dr. David Berry, an OB/GYN in Virginia. Women like my wife who are experiencing a second trimester stillbirth could be limited to having only one of the two available options: A D&E, or "a labor and delivery situation," Berry said.
"I think it would be a travesty if D&E's done properly couldn't be used to help a grieving couple experiencing a second trimester stillbirth," he added.
In the Virginia suburbs outside Washington, DC, my wife underwent the D&E with little fanfare.
While we hoped and longed for a baby, we needed the skills of someone trained to end pregnancies.
We have two beautiful, healthy kids, thank G-d. Hugs from my 2-year-old helped us heal. Snuggles with my 5-year-old brought us back from despair. We know what could have been with the third child. We know he could have grown from that lifeless image on the ultrasound screen.
I still dream about holding my fragile newborn. I imagine joys and experiences my unborn child could have had and it makes me weak.
That's what hurts thinking about the parents in Texas -- or Mississippi or elsewhere
-- who may have to birth a stillborn because of the ripple effect of politics. What does limiting options accomplish? For my wife and me, it would have inflicted agony.
The pain and screaming of labor and birth is supposed to be rewarded with newborn cries echoing down the maternity hallway. To deprive women suffering pregnancy loss a surgical option and leave no other choice but to go through labor and contractions to deliver a lifeless baby is heartless. To know the delivery is a doomed process, for many, would no doubt compound the trauma.
I can only hope that parents everywhere who suffer this same loss will have any options they desire to lessen the pain.