Opinion

Opinion | Karen and Robbie Silverman

Why we had to get a late-term abortion

Not every parent would have made the same choice we did. But every parent should have that choice.
Globe Staff/Adobe

As we write these words, Karen can feel our baby girl swirling inside her belly. The baby is all elbows, legs and knees — especially active at night. We experience each belly jab as a gift, the baby’s way of reassuring us that, this time, our pregnancy will be OK. That in three more months, we will hold a newborn in our arms, kiss her head, and tell her how much we love her.

We crave this reassurance because last time it didn’t work out that way. Last August, we headed into the second half of Karen’s pregnancy with our third child — Baby Butterfly, as we nicknamed him. Our first morning back after a week on the Jersey Shore with extended family, we left our five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter with Robbie’s dad as we headed for an early morning OB/GYN appointment. It was our 20-week anatomy scan — a formality, we thought, after an earlier ultrasound and our regular check-ups all went as planned.

It had been a smooth pregnancy so far. We had a full genetic workup at 10 weeks, and when the nurse called to tell us that the results were completely normal — and that we were having a boy — we were thrilled. We surprised our families with the news by ordering “Big Brother (again)” and “Big Sister” T-shirts for our two older kids, who were so excited to welcome Baby Butterfly into our family.

We got the first inkling that something was wrong when the technician performing our ultrasound stayed abnormally quiet, left the room suddenly, and was gone for far too long. When the doctor came in to the exam room, she got right to the point. “There’s something wrong with your baby’s heart,” she told us. Karen screamed and started to cry. Our nightmare — every parent’s nightmare — had begun.

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After a consultation with the doctor, we got in our car and drove straight to Boston Children’s Hospital for a consultation with one of the nation’s leading pediatric and fetal cardiologists. We had a fetal echocardiogram. We spent hours in a tiny hospital conference room as the doctor drew heart diagrams on a white board.

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Our baby’s heart was severely deformed. The official diagnosis was “truncus arteriosus,” “double inlet/single ventricle,” and “situs inversus.” Our sweet baby’s heart did not have the correct number of pumps or valves, and it was flipped on the wrong side of his tiny body. There was no cure, only palliative options.

The doctor and a nurse practitioner carefully walked us through treatment options. Our baby would have faced at least three major heart operations, each with a significant risk of death, in the first two years of his life — beginning in the first week after he was born. He would spend a significant portion of his first year in the hospital, receiving food and medicines through a tube.

Even if Butterfly survived these initial operations, he would need heart, liver, and likely kidney transplants later in life, plus the significant possibility of complications, including intellectual and physical impairments and massive stroke. In the best-case scenario, his tiny existence would be consumed by pain.

After we had asked every question we could think of, the doctor and the nurse left the room. We turned to each other, eyes full of tears, and silently shook our heads. We both knew right away that we would terminate this pregnancy. We hugged, cried, and cried some more. And then we immediately called our OB/GYN and asked her to help us get a late-term abortion.

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Not every parent in this situation would have made the same choice. But every parent should be able to choose for themselves.

Parents’ ability to make the best choice for themselves and their family now faces the greatest threat in almost 50 years. With Justice Kennedy’s retirement, the future of the Supreme Court — and women’s right to choose — hangs in the balance. President Trump has repeatedly vowed to place justices on the court who are committed to overturning Roe v. Wade.

Just two Republican senators, Susan Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, hold the power to determine whether President Trump will be able to fulfill his vow. We could not imagine the government forcing Karen to carry our baby to full term, deliver him into a short life of never-ending suffering, and forcing both of us, in all likelihood, to watch him die. But unless Senators Collins and Murkowski stand up for moms and dads like us, instead of hiding behind a flimsy commitment to judicial precedent, that is what will happen. They will be responsible.

A dozen states already ban late-term abortion. President Trump’s Supreme Court may not ban all forms of abortion outright, at least to start — instead it may chip away in increments, with late-term abortion the first to go.

Women who receive late-term abortions often do so because of a story like ours. These women aren’t just changing their minds or acting carelessly or heartlessly. When we made our choice, we thought about having to leave our jobs to care for our son full-time, and how we would afford that. We thought about how our kids’ young lives would revolve around hospital visits, exhaustion, and grief. We thought about holding our baby boy in our arms and watching him die, and how we would ever go on living ourselves. Most of all, we thought about what was best for our Baby Butterfly. We loved him dearly, we would always be his mom and dad, and there was no doubt in our mind that our choice to have an abortion was the best decision for him.

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Every day in America, moms and dads receive equally horrific news. We implore Senators Collins, Murkowski, and their fellow senators to think of real stories like ours when they vote whether to confirm a new Supreme Court justice to a lifetime appointment. Our fervent hope is that no mom or dad ever faces the same choice we did. The only thing worse would be to have no choice at all.

Karen and Robbie Silverman live in Newton.