I wanted my twin boys more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. After having my oldest son, William, I suddenly saw myself as something I had never imagined — a boy mom. It was clear to me just minutes after having William that we would have three boys, and that the youngest two would be twins. This is perhaps stemming from the fact that my husband is the older brother to two identical twins, but regardless, it was clear to me.
So when I found out that I was having twin boys, I was excited, but not surprised. We had three boys’ names that we liked, and now we’d get to use all three of them. What a neat package tied up with a pretty bow. We purchased items for the twins, and prepared the nursery. They were growing nicely and I could feel them swimming around in circles every night.
Had I had any choice in the matter, I would have chopped off my own arm without anesthesia if it meant not having to say goodbye to Theodore and Holden. When I went into preterm labor, my worst nightmare was realized. I was far away from friends and family in a strange city, pumped full of drugs, put on hospital bed rest and told that there was a 90% chance that even if they did everything they could, I would lose both of my sweet boys. For several hours, my husband and I held each other close and prayed for a miracle.
When my labor intensified and it was clear that I was dilating quickly, the attending physician sat down by my bed and told me, in the kindest words possible, that things were about to get a whole lot worse.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “If you were back in Wisconsin this would be different, but because of Ohio law, we can’t do anything to speed up your labor and deliver your twins. That would count as harming a fetus. If your water doesn’t break on its own, then we’ll have to wait to deliver until we can get two doctors to agree that your life is in danger.”
And then he left.
I had given birth before, and so I knew that I must quickly be approaching 10 centimeters. I writhed in pain not only from the contractions, but from the anesthesiologist, who needed three tries to place my epidural – and from the torment of knowing there would not be a happy ending to this birth. Eventually my epidural was placed; hours had passed since I had felt myself in transition.
The doctor’s words hadn’t fully registered; why weren’t they delivering my babies? Where did everyone go? Surely I must be dilated enough to deliver, considering how tiny my babies still were...
I lay in that hospital bed for hours, eventually getting some narcotics to knock me out and allow me to sleep for a while. No one came aside from the nurses, who did their routine blood pressure checks and watched as my blood pressure slowly climbed. They watched as Holden’s heart weakened on the monitors; and still, no one came to deliver them.
Morning rounds came; and with them, the doctors from the previous night. They examined me and shook their heads. I was 10 centimeters dilated, but my water still hadn’t broken. I wasn’t in quite enough danger yet for them to consider delivery a life-saving measure. Was it because there was still some hope, I asked? They looked uncomfortable. No, they said — at this point, at this gestation, there wasn’t any hope for my babies. They weren’t able to deliver them strictly because of Ohio abortion laws. I had to continue to lay there, in labor, as my epidural slowly wore off, knowing that I was about to deliver babies that wouldn’t live.
Holden’s heart continued to fail.
Eventually and slowly, my water started leaking; and before long, they were able to jump into action and help me deliver my two youngest sons, Holden and Theodore. Theodore came first; and besides being tiny, he was absolutely perfect. We got 20 minutes with him before he died. Holden was equally gorgeous, but was stillborn. His heart hadn’t been able to handle the stress of that much time in labor. We never got to meet him while he was alive.
I’ve always been a proponent of abortion rights — I won’t lie. I don’t think, however, that I fully understood the political reach of these laws until I was fighting for my life and for the lives of my babies; I was forced into 12 extra hours of agony and torment, and was denied meeting one of my sons all because a group of politicians decided that they knew what was best for pregnant women.
Some women need abortions. Some people disagree with that. I have a hard time imaging, however, that these laws were put into place in order to force mothers that desperately want their children into further torture while they are simultaneously preparing for the worst event of their lives.
I’ve had people say to me that I must feel more strongly pro-life after having my twins, having seen how tiny and precious life is so early on...
I do not.
I feel more strongly than ever that women know what their bodies and their babies need, and that any political interference between mother and doctor is only prolonging people’s torment — and not only people who don’t want their babies, but those of us who desperately do.
Helen Werner is a mother to four children – two twin boys in heaven, a rambunctious toddler, and one currently growing in her belly. She lives in Wisconsin, where she is getting her PhD in Archaeology, and spends her professional time teaching, digging, and working in a lab. In her free time she dances in her kitchen with her son, gets academically themed tattoos, and tries to overthrow the patriarchy. She blogs at helenwerner.com about her experience with infant loss.