Author's note: I share my personal story because the reversal of Roe v. Wade ruling impacts abortion as healthcare in many different ways, including the medical management of very wanted pregnancies and in conditions where the life of the mother and her reproductive health are at risk. There is a lot of overlap between the medical management of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy with abortion.
I was 33 and just wrapping up my first semester of nursing school when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. My fiancé and I had planned on starting a family soon, but I had just returned to graduate school and so we had our wedding and trips planned for the following year.
In truth, I didn’t know I was pregnant initially. I had started bleeding at the same time my period was due, so I had no reason to think anything was different. In any case, I was too busy and stressed with my final exams and the upcoming holidays to pay much attention to the details of my cycle. Except that when my “cycle” should have ended, I continued to bleed on and off. I finally called the midwifery practice where I had been going for routine gynecological care. The midwife told me to take a pregnancy test, and I remember thinking “there is no way I am pregnant”, I ‘got my period’ relatively on time.
When the positive line popped up on the test, confusion was soon replaced with elation. After the initial shock wore off, my fiancé and I celebrated, starting to calculate due dates and talking through plans. But then I remembered: I had been bleeding for what had been weeks now. We called the midwife again and she directed us to the emergency room (ER) for evaluation. It was Christmas Eve and we were out of town visiting family. My fiancé drove me to the closest ER, our hearts simultaneously full of joy and concern.
I remember the look on the ultrasound technician’s face when she scanned my abdomen. She cleared her throat and quickly told me to change while she shared the results with the doctor.
I was eight weeks pregnant when they discovered my ectopic (when a pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus). Ectopic pregnancies can happen to anyone and can be fatal.
I was mad at myself for not seeing the warning signs. We had actually just covered ectopic pregnancy in my maternity course at nursing school. Except that I didn’t have any of the typical textbook symptoms (heavy bleeding, one-sided pain) or risk factors, and the timing of my bleeding was easily confused with a menstrual cycle. I wasn’t trying to get pregnant and we had been using protection.
This is what we mean when we say "abortion is healthcare"
The obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) on call in the ER that night was kind and competent. She explained my choices given the location and size of my pregnancy: medical management to end the pregnancy with a medication called Methotrexate, or surgical removal of the pregnancy. Without treatment, a ruptured ectopic pregnancy can result in internal bleeding, infection, and even death. The placement of my ectopic was also somewhat rare with a risk for more severe complications.
This story is important because the OB/GYN managing my care used her medical training and judgment to inform, recommend, and proceed with the safest and most appropriate treatment to save my life.
Under the conditions of the recent Roe v. Wade reversal, healthcare providers in states where abortion has become restricted or illegal are not able to practice freely and without fear of prosecution should their actions (to save the life of the mother by removing the pregnancy) fall outside the statute of current abortion restrictions. When you hear providers say “abortion is healthcare,” this is what we mean – the ability to use our training and expertise to save the life of the mother.
Women with ectopic pregnancies are already being turned away from ERs and clinics in states with abortion restrictions and bans. I cannot imagine the stress (not to mention the race against time) to access life-saving treatment — the same treatment that I was able to receive without issue before.
I eventually recovered from the ectopic pregnancy and completed nursing school. I went on to become a nurse at Planned Parenthood, helping women access safe and legal abortion and contraceptive services, while I worked towards my women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) degree. I had always dreamed of working for Planned Parenthood because I believe so strongly in their mission to protect and defend reproductive rights for all people. My personal experience only increased my desire to support women in making safe and informed decisions about their bodies, their health, and their futures.
Treatments that saved my life, qualify as abortion
When the timing felt right (physically and emotionally) my husband and I decided to try for another pregnancy. I went on to have eight more pregnancies after the ectopic, but miscarried six of them. This time I was a women’s healthcare provider and I was lucky to have support and access to reproductive health colleagues (nurse practitioners and medical doctors) while I navigated my recurrent pregnancy loss.
Almost all my miscarriages required medical treatment. In two, I retained the pregnancy for weeks after the heart had stopped beating. To remove the pregnancy I needed medication or surgery. In another, I hemorrhaged from the bleeding and needed emergency care. Another resulted in a uterine infection requiring antibiotics and close follow-up.
These procedures now qualify as abortion in states with abortion bans and restrictions. Any of these could have killed me if I did not have access to medical care. If this happens to a woman in a state with abortion restrictions, she could die.
For those of you who have suffered from miscarriage and recurrent pregnancy loss, I see you. I know intimately the feeling of grief, disappointment, confusion, and self-blame. In the USA, we barely have paid parental leave, let alone leave for pregnancy loss. I worked throughout all of these losses, crying and changing my pads in the bathroom in between seeing patients. I remember feeling left behind while my friends grew their families. I made excuses to avoid baby showers because it hurt too much. Remember that you are not alone.
Our reproductive futures are at risk
As a result of the appropriate and timely treatment for my ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages, I did eventually go on to conceive and carry two pregnancies to term. All with the help of reproductive specialists and compassionate nurses and providers who held my hand through the anxiety, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of recurrent loss, and the complications that arose along the way.
Medical treatment to save your life should not depend on the state you live in and it should not be a privilege. It should simply be healthcare.
Today, I hug my rainbow babies (a term often used for a pregnancy after a previous loss) extra tight. I have already started talking about reproductive autonomy with my curious five-year-old daughter and plan to raise my one-year-old son to be equally knowledgeable and empathetic. We talk about bodily autonomy and consent regularly and create an open space where no question or topic is taboo.
Under today’s current circumstances, where our reproductive choices and futures are at risk, we need all the allies we can get. This doesn’t just include empathetic future-adults, but policy makers, fearful but fervent medical practitioners, people who suffered as I have, and anyone who has a platform to defend, protect, and advocate. We need you now more than ever.
At Clue, we believe everyone deserves the right to make their own health decisions, free from judgment, misinformation, or shame, informed by personal choice and/or the guidance of a healthcare professional. This article is a personal story from a member of the Clue Community and reflects their individual experience and/or opinion at the time of writing. Your healthcare provider can give you advice on your specific needs and situation.