How my miscarriage and pro-life ads made me even MORE pro-choice

Guest post by Kae Pat
Comic Sans
“Pro-life billboards… too serious for times new roman! … or proper italics.” –spanginator, CC BY 2.0

“Did you know? My heart beat 18 days from conception!” A smiling baby peers down at us as we drive north from the Twin Cities to Duluth to start a much needed vacation. Thank you, Pro-Life America, for reminding me that the embryo recently inside me did not have a heartbeat when it should have.

“Real men love babies,” reads another, and I can confirm that the “real man” in my life does love babies. You should see him with our nephews. But my husband will not become a father next January, as we had once thought. I had a miscarriage right around the time that another sign points out that my fetus would’ve had fingerprints — nine weeks from conception.

Had I not myself experienced pregnancy, I might have overlooked the nuance here. Nine weeks from conception sounds a lot sooner than 11 weeks, which is how the medical community and nearly every pregnant woman calculates the passage of pregnant time since their last menstrual period.

These signs infuriate me on many levels. I’d been pro-choice for as long as I could remember. As a born-and-raised Catholic, the pro-choice stance my mom handed down to me in a church pew was exceptional. While the priest went on about outlawing abortion, I asked my mom what the heck an abortion was. She answered, and explained that if the priest got his way, women would get hurt trying to do it themselves with coat hangers. (She would later apologize to my adult self, who recalled this conversation, for being so graphic). I was indeed young and impressionable and my mom’s words stuck over the priest’s.

That is all to say that I never gave this stance much thought or emotional energy until recently…

I feel as vulnerable writing this as I did sitting in a hospital gown at four in the morning discussing the contents (or lack thereof) of my uterus with an ER doc. But that served its purpose, as I hope this will, too. I know there are people whom I know and care about who disagree with me fundamentally on this topic. I am only sharing my journey — may we each have our own. My sympathies if yours is similar.

A month and a half prior to that ER visit, I had been ecstatic to find out I was pregnant. The internet advertisement stream I still get for baby products and services would tell you that my mind, and my search history, were bursting with babies. I am a planner by personality, and this fit with every plan I could possibly imagined — our already-booked vacation would be in the “safer” second trimester, my maternity leave would wrap up before the busy season at work.

I tried to stifle my excitement by adhering to the tradition of not telling anyone (aside from my husband, of course), my good news for at least 12 weeks (as most of the world counts it, not from conception), or seemingly forever. Eight weeks in, my older sister texts me that she is eight weeks pregnant. I am elated. How many people get to respond to a text like this with the words “me too!”? She thought I was kidding. I was ecstatic about raising cousins so close in age.

This excitement subsided a few days later when I found out I was possibly miscarrying. Then, probably miscarrying, then definitely miscarrying.

Sadness ensued.

The intensity of emotion I’d felt towards wanting a child was unreal and unexpected. It wasn’t something I’d felt before becoming pregnant, and certainly not what a formerly level-headed person who understands science (and the statistical likelihood of pregnancy loss) would expect to feel after a miscarriage. Biology (or bad luck?) stripped me of my choice to have this child. That was devastating.

I laid on the couch as my miscarriage unfolded, reading the news of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. I just can’t fathom denying a woman safe, legal, abortion.

I can’t begin to imagine how devastating it would be to have the choice to end a pregnancy denied by law. I suspect the intensity of the emotion these women feel towards their choice to terminate a pregnancy is similar to what I felt about my choice to be pregnant. I laid on the couch as my miscarriage unfolded, reading the news of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. I just can’t fathom denying a woman safe, legal, abortion.

Suddenly, I have a renewed sense of why I’ve always been pro-choice. If I want to choose to be pregnant, of course others should be able to choose to not be. Simple as that.

I’m infuriated by these signs reminding me that I’m not pregnant. I’m infuriated that I’m not pregnant. But mostly, I’m infuriated that these signs are here because someone thinks they know better than a women herself, about what should become of the contents of her uterus.

If you live in a state like I do with no billboards, you will know what it’s like to be so overwhelmed by their presence elsewhere that you must read every single one. As the drive unfolds, I turn my anger into humor. I begin reading every sign aloud and adding “begins at conception” on to the end. It’s like adding “in bed” to the end of your fortune cookie.

“Wendy’s French Fries Exit 11 begins at conception,” “Recreational loans for ATVs and Snowmobiles begin at conception”…

Callous, perhaps. But those signs felt pretty callous, too.

Comments on How my miscarriage and pro-life ads made me even MORE pro-choice

    • You’re welcome. I’m honored to have been able to share this. Likewise, I found it hard to describe my feelings, which I think is why I focused not so much on what those feelings were, but rather the intensity of them.

      • I am from Canada. I had a late miscarriage so my baby was almost 12 weeks. After 6 months I got pregnant again and every day I didnt lose the baby felt like a milestone. At 6months pregnant I pulled over and lost my temper on protesters holding huge sign with pictures of dead fetuses. I explained how much pain they cause an expecting mother(which I used because pregnant I immediately transitioned to feeling that way). I explained how much it hurt many women who suffer miscarriages which many women do. How it hurts to be reminded of the same very much desired and mourned for fetus I held in my hands and my heart and couldn’t get back . I think I shocked them more than they shocked anybody. It gave them a different perspective, one they hadn’t thought about. Theses types if campaigns may not stop but staying silent on the topic of miscarriage is something women feel they need to do but shouldn’t. Maybe I just needed to talk about maybe others don’t but it helps to not feel alone. Ps. I have a beautiful baby boy now and am so happy. It doesnt change that I still had a loss.

  1. 100% this! My miscarriage turned me from pro-life to pro-choice, because no one should be shamed for their choices or denied medical care.

    I am so sorry for your loss, there’s nothing quite like the pain of a miscarriage especially when you’ve already emotionally bonded with the embryo or fetus and started planning for their arrival.

  2. I´m currently 11 weeks pregnant, with my third (yes, THIRD) pregnancy this year ( 2 miscarriages in the first trimester) and last night I saw a TV show where a 35-week pregnant girl didn´t even want to recognize she was pregnant, because she felt she couldn´t take proper care of the baby. Even being all hyped up with all the preg hormones couldn´t avoid me from empathizing with her. I fought (and still fight every single day) for this pregnancy to come about and prosper: I take a zillion meds a day, I take things (like exercise) realllly slowly and calmly (having morning sickness all day long really helps with that, LOL!), I eat (even) healthier than I used to, etc. Does she not have EXACTLY the same right to fight for the complete opposite? My cousin´s water broke one day after a non-desired pregnancy and she went to a watering station to have it. Of course THEY weren´t equipped for that, so they sent her to a (proper) hospital to have it. Imagine the staff´s face when she said she had decided to have NO PRENATAL CARE WHATSOEVER, because she had decided that she didn´t want the baby to live. (I live in a country where abortions are illegal). Her last obgyn visit had been years ago, she´d had no ultrasounds, never taken any pre-natal meds, NOTHING. She was forced to give the baby a name because she had exceeding the legal limit to get the baby inscribed at the local Registry, and the hospital took forever to let her and the baby go home because they felt she couldn´t be trusted to actually care-for and appropriately-nurture the baby. Not withstanding cases like Beethoven, how do you see this child´s life evolving after such a terrible start? (I know Child Protection Services does what (little) it can, but don´t get me started on all their blunders!))

    • I am so sorry for your losses and wish you all the best with this pregnancy. I hope your cousin will be able to find the support she needs now that she is raising a child; it is sad she did not have support or choices earlier in her pregnancy. Thank you for sharing your story.

      • Unfortunately, it was more like she didn´t WANT it. a few hours after publishing my comment, I remembered that in my country, pre-natal care is FREE, your health insurance is obliged to provide it (and if you have none, the State will provide it). That, and the fact the she disappeared from all family life (we have lawyers, medical doctors, the works!) during her pregnancy, only makes this story sadder to me. It´s not that she didn´t HAVE the resources, but that she purposefully refused to use them.

        Of course, “choice” is a whole different matter. Even though we are a Catholic-raised family, I think that, had she had the choice to terminate, we (the family) would have supported her decision, the same way we ended up supporting her mom (when she became pregnant with my cousin), by the local priest. Also, we could have provided her with the safest options (remember, there are doctors among us) to go about doing the procedure.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. I was terrified of miscarriage throughout my first, very healthy, pregnancy, and assumed the second time around, that I no longer needed to worry about it. Until the midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat at what was supposed to be 11 weeks. Until I sat in a cold ultrasound room and listened to a faraway voice saying, “I’m sorry, but …”

    It so, so hard. And I’m glad that it seems as though more people are beginning to talk openly about miscarriage; it makes the loneliness of it less, of not the pain.

    And, as a devout Catholic, and someone who has always been very active in the pro life cause, it was really hard for me to consider the possibility of needing a D&C (thankfully, I was able to miscarry at home, naturally, even though me head knows it was absolutely morally right and potentially necessary, in case of a miscarriage. So I understand how some of the prolife messages can feel like they are messing with your head a bit, although to be honest, I was a complete mess anyway. It wasn’t really my beliefs, signs, or anything else at fault. The cute baby in the laundry detergent commercial wasn’t bad because he made me cry hysterically. The cheese aisle at the grocery that also made me burst into tears (because, when pregnant and nauseated, I would gag and dry heave when passing that aisle … and now it smelled good again) wasn’t the one at fault. I was just a complete wreck. (I could have taken antidepressants, but chose not to in favor of trying conceive again immediately, and I did within two months, and now have a beautiful rainbow baby.)

    I understand and respect your right to your beliefs on this issue, but I just want to gently lay out that there is another side to this issue. Being pregnant has made me extra aware of the preciousness of the life that woman can carry inside them. Pregnancy is not easy, and it requires a lot of courage to see it through sometimes. I can’t say that I have had to deal with any great difficulty, but having two adopted siblings (and sometimes I wonder … what made their mothers decide to carry to term rather than to terminate? And we are so, so grateful that they did), I often think about the mothers who do face such hardship.

    I’m not interested in debating this, I just wanted to speak up and give my perspective. I sincerely hope that you may have another, healthy full term pregnancy very soon!

    • I am sorry to hear about your loss as well. I understand there are different viewpoints, and respect that. I have long felt, that abortion would not be the right decision for me except for medical reasons (raised catholic, like original author), but at the same time, do not feel like it is my right to take away another’s choice. As a result, I feel pro-choice, but also pro-life, even though I do not align with the movement. Can you help me to understand why the pro-life movement is also so consistently anti-choice? especially when it would harm the health of the mother.

      • Allie, thank you for sharing your perspective and I’m so sorry for your loss. I can relate that I also felt upset over reminders of pregnancy elsewhere, you are right that these billboards are just one example. I’m glad you were blessed with a little one.

        Like Loo, I do not think that I personally would ever have an abortion. This is a conversation I’d had with my husband and previous partner long before we intended to get pregnant; knowing the failure rate inherent with any contraceptive. Still, it’s easy for me to say I wouldn’t have an abortion without fully knowing what it would feel like to be in the position of carrying an unwanted pregnancy. As I wrote, I was caught off guard by how strongly I felt towards wanting the pregnancy I lost. It was a planned pregnancy- I knew I wanted it, I just hadn’t realized how badly.

        Just as I couldn’t have predicted how I’d feel about a wanted pregnancy, I can’t predict how any individual, including myself, would feel about an unwanted pregnancy. If we can’t dictate our own feelings, we certainly can’t dictate the feelings of others, and to me that carries over into not wanting to dictate the choices of others.

        Allie, thanks for your honesty and kindness in sharing your perspective.

      • Loo, thank for you kind reply. I was hesitant to even come back and check the rest of the comments because I was afraid of the tone this conversation might take. So I appreciate it.

        Really, what it comes down to, in the pro life movement, is that at the end of the day, that baby is a human life, with all the same rights as the mother. And the dignity and value of ALL human life — no matter how old/young/sick/poor/inconvenient/etc. is a really important and basic value in the prolife movement and in Catholic teaching (obviously there are lots of prolife people who aren’t Catholic, too, though!).

        So, with all possible compassion for a struggling mother, it would take A LOT to decide that her life is more valuable than the baby’s and that he should die so she can live. Now, without going into deep theology on how a moral act is defined, there ARE cases like this in Catholic teaching. For example, if you’ve ever heard of St Gianna Molla, she is considered to have exercised HEROIC (=not required, going above and beyond) virtue in choosing to carry her 4th pregnancy to term, knowing full well it would take her life (which it did. And she was a doctor herself, so she totally understood.) There are cases in which the pregnancy is a very direct physical threat to the life of the mother, in which case something like having a hysterectomy of course results in the death of the baby, but that was not the *goal* of the act. St Gianna would have not have been morally guilty if she had chosen that instead of giving up her life for her child.

        But things like financial difficulties, emotional difficulties, mental illness — these are not considered moral reasons to terminate. It can’t just harm the health of the mother, it has to be threat of actual, direction, physical cause of death.

        Maybe we can think of it like self defense? I can’t hurt the creepy guy in the park eyeing my child who hasn’t actually done anything to imminently harm him … even if I know the guy has a record, or I feel really really sure he has evil intentions. But if an intruder breaks into my home and has his hands on my child, that changes the situation quite a bit.

        It is sad that we don’t have an ideal way to help mothers in need, and although there are wonderful groups out there doing a lot of good … it isn’t enough. I think we need more shelters that’s have the resources to provide the financial help to get people stable, that have mental health resources to get women through a difficult pregnancy, etc.

        But the “anti choice” element basically comes down to the belief that this IS a baby human, and a “person’s a person no matter how small.” The baby isn’t getting a choice… I’m not in any way saying that dealing with the nine months of pregnancy and then birth is a small thing, I’m really not. But if that baby is a person …. then whatever it takes, to get through that, so that another person can have a full life ahead of him/her … I believe that tiny person deserves the chance to get a choice, too.

        Thanks again for making a space to have a safe and respectful conversation about some very difficult topics!

        • Hello Bernadette,

          Thank you for your thoughtful response. It does seem rare that such “hot-button” issues are discussed civilly, which is so important for progress to be made on any issue where there is disagreement – especially topics that are clearly so emotional.

          I think the differences in opinion regarding abortion might be distilled down to a difference in assumptions, which you clearly stated – “a person is a person no matter how small.” Typically this assumes that personhood begins at conception — this is not a belief I hold, for a number of reasons, which I think are beyond the scope of this discussion. In making decision on this issue, we face a problem that people choosing opposite sides of this argument are starting from a different set of assumptions, based on different underlying values. We run into a problem because there is no way to prove that one set of assumptions is correct (i.e., there is no way to prove whether or not a soul enters/personhood starts when sperm meets egg), and we are just arguing beliefs. How do we move forward and make decisions when we are arguing something that isn’t based in facts (the opposite of the global warming discussion, for which we have facts)? In my opinion, we need to look at the consequences for the different decisions/policies options and evaluate the costs and benefits of each to society as a whole. However, I do understand why that idea doesn’t sit well if the underlying belief is that personhood starts when the sperm and egg meet.

          • Sorry, I accidentally was signed in as a different username I use sometimes on another blog … oops!

            You are right, at some point this comes down to a belief about when human life starts. And is further complicated by the fact that it isn’t just over whether life begins at conception, but at many other various points (4 weeks? 12? Viability?) I would still maintain, respectfully, however, that the philosophically, and morally, safe thing to do is to protect that potential (if one sees it only as potential) life. Because we know that it can only develop into a human life, not into anything else. It’s a bit like if you’re hunting, and you see movement in the bush, but you’re not totally sure if it’s a deer or a child, it is not okay to shoot untill you are 100% certain it is not a child! Not a perfect analogy, but it’s kind of how I see the argument about “it might not be a human life.”

            I guess I feel, that if we can’t get everybody to agree, we need to give priority to the most vulnerable persons because they are the least able to protect themselves, if that makes any sense?

            Again, thank you for your respectful discussion 🙂

  4. Thank you for this article.

    I found that going through a pregnancy made me even more pro-choice. If there is one thing that pregnancy has taught me, it’s that a woman should really want to go through it, should want that child with all her heart, and should not be forced to go through it. Pregnancy isn’t a punishment for being sexually active, and it shouldn’t be treated that way.

    Taking care of a baby doesn’t start on the day it’s born. It starts the day you find out you’re pregnant (and if you’re trying, it may even start months before that). Pregnancy and birth can have a lifelong effect on a woman’s life, and she should be able to choose that for herself. Birth is not a risk free task.

    I’m currently pregnant with my second, and I feel like almost everything I do involves a thought about what is in the best interest of the fetus in my uterus. I worry everyday that I may miscarry. I think about what I eat, what activities I engage in, how I take care of myself when I’m sick, etc., because I want to protect and take care of my future child to give it the best possible outcome.

    I also terminated a pregnancy when I was 23 years old. I had no doubts about it then, and I haven’t regretted it for a second. At the time, I wasn’t ready and having now gone through pregnancy and caring for a child, it makes me even more certain of my past decision.

  5. I became openly pro-choice because of my two medium risk pregnancies. Each shot I gave myself (roughly 2200 between the two pregnancies), each blood draw, each extra doctor’s appointment taught me that you have to want to be pregnant to have a shot at a healthy pregnancy. (Every other week until 26 weeks, then 1 a week until 33 weeks, then a NST and bio test 2 a week until delivery.) It’s expensive and has to be wanted. I have excellent insurance but I get not being able to afford pregnancy.

  6. I became more pro-choice when I miscarried a pregnancy I did not want.

    I mean, imagine it: you do not want this pregnancy, but you’re trying to decide whether you could do this, trying to count beans and decide if you can afford, trying to grow and expand and have patience and grace and wisdom and maybe even some joy? And then poof! No, not poof. Red, angry, grinding guilt. It’s not like you can complain to anyone because you didn’t tell anyone and now you feel responsible, like you did it. Even if you could call into work to deal with the grief, you don’t, because how do you explain it? Just pain and hollow laughter when someone brings a baby around or when you see that stupid billboard or when someone says “heartbeat” even though they have no idea what that means.
    If I had chosen to end it, I couldn’t even imagine. Who would think this was the easy way out?

    • Just because you weren’t ready/didn’t want that pregnancy doesn’t mean that it didn’t impact you, and doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t mourn its end. Making a choice to end a pregnancy means exactly that – you had a choice. You made the choice, weighing all of the pros and cons, and you were at peace with whatever that choice was. Miscarrying takes all of that away. Please take the time to mourn all of that, if you haven’t. Just because no one knew, or just because it was unwanted, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the opportunity to make peace with the situation.

    • I’m so sorry to hear you are going through this. For me, reading about miscarriage was helpful, and my decade-old copy of Our Bodies Ourselves offered some wonderful reassurance that my experience, physically and emotionally was not unique. It touches on the subject of miscarriage after unwanted pregnancy in a way you may be able to relate to. Many public libraries carry this book, I hope it is helpful. I, too, have felt the need to hide some of my pain. My hope in sharing this blog was to take one more swing against whatever that invisible barrier is that is keeping all of us from taking about these issues. I know your barrier may feel even larger in your situation, I can only offer my sympathy for that.

  7. I had an early miscarriage and it made me MORE PRO-LIFE…Why is life so effing precious when YOU “want”‘it? But all of the sudden, if you don’t “want” it, you can dispose of it like it’s trash? Disturbing. Your wants, don’t make that fragile life any less precious than it is, sorry. It’s not your choice, when you chose to have sex, you chose to have the possibility of becoming pregnant. That is called a consequence, grow up.

    • This kind of judgmental attitude is very disturbing. I don’t understand the vitriol. There are other pro-life people in this thread that have acted respectfully about differing opinions, so it is clearly possible.

    • Not every case of conception is the result of someone choosing to have sex. You may need to find an argument that holds more water.

      Additionally, “pro choice” does not mean “pro abortion”. It means “wanting women to be able to have a say in what happens to their own bodies”. It does not mean “enjoys killing babies.”

      • And letting pregnant people have the choice whether they wish to terminate a pregnancy before it becomes an active threat to their life. And letting them choose whether to end a pregnancy that’s already failing for about 10% of the cost, as opposed to waiting. And letting them choose to terminate a pregnancy that was unfortunately impacted by drugs, alcohol or terrible life situations before they were aware they were pregnant. And letting them choose to not be pregnant even though they took every conscious possible avenue to prevent pregnancy, yet it still happened. And letting them choose to be an autonomous human.

        Being pro-choice doesn’t mean that I think every pregnant person who has a doubt should go get an abortion. But I think it should be a safe, legal option for some people who have the facts and make decisions based on their individual circumstances, which I can never know, so I can never judge.

    • You can think that all life is precious and still make the choice not to continue a pregnancy. You can make a choice, in the best interest of the baby, that results in termination: situations where there are severe birth defects, situations of poverty/not being able to afford a healthy pregnancy/birth, situations of abusive relationships, etc. There are many situations where you can both acknowledge the preciousness and fragility of life and choose termination.

    • I always find it interesting how much weight people put on the potential of life. Because that is really what people are taking a stance on: the possibility of life for the fetus. The possibility it will be carried to term and be healthy. THEN there is the possibility that it will become a function human being and will then become a good person. Of course everyone believes in this possibility-no one wants to think about the fact that there are bad, bad people out there who were all babies at one point. But the human imagination is such a powerful thing-it’s hard to not paint a life onto something that is the size of a peanut.

      But fun fact: no insurance agency will allow you to put your newborn on your insurance before it is 10 days old. For the first 10 days of your life, you cannot even be insured as a human being.

  8. I work 2 blocks from a big brand new Planned Parenthood and thus walk by those big ugly dead fetus banners and posters that get displayed at pro-life rallies regularly. I have had a very hard time putting into words how my own miscarriage, high risk pregnancies, and extremely premature births have shaped my pro-life opinions. And my very visceral reaction to those banners. I just want to say thank you for writing this.

    • You’re welcome. As you may imagine, sharing this piece wasn’t exactly easy, but your comment has reaffirmed why I chose to and that I am not alone in this. You are not either.

    • This, exactly this!

      I had a still birth. Right in that 2nd trimester period that’s post-20 weeks but before the baby can truly survive on its own, where so many abortion fights are fought. I also lived at the time in a very liberal but also heavily Catholic city that was getting a brand new Planned Parenthood. You can imagine what the signage was like.

      I can’t put it in to words either, but that still birth (and the days spent in a hospital bed trying to save my daughter, and the post-partum surgeries, and the $20k+ hospital bill) made me more pro-choice. And my subsequent – successful, but only after 8 months of bed rest and two intense surgeries! – high risk pregnancy solidified that belief even more. My doctors’ (yes, plural) office and hospital were on the road that the pro-life folks chose to cover in “your baby can survive at 21 weeks” banners, while I was desperately fighting to get my baby to the point where it could *actually* survive and thrive. My only thought at the time “FUCK YOU”.

  9. I understand how hard it can be to lose a baby and then be reminded of that loss everywhere you go, that would not and does not make me pro-choice. I have had four miscarriages, three of those pregnancies were considered the most dangerous type of pregnancy for women. What breaks my heart was the discovery that even though left untreated my pregnancies could be dangerous, with care I would be perfectly safe and my babies would have had a better chance of survival. The only thing is because abortion is legal trying to save my babies was not the preferred method of treatment medical abortion was, death was my only option. I understand women wanting choice but I would love facilities to be more mindful of women who are being pressured into abortion against their will who aren’t given a choice. The biggest cause of death for pregnant women is murder, sexual assaults are routinely hidden with abortion, thousands of female infants are killed in India and China (so much so that many men cannot find wives and crime rates are soaring), and the founder of Planned Parenthood herself (Margaret Sanger) was a racist who wanted to wipe out the black population (the vast majority of clinics are still in poor and minority communities). I believe in women’s rights, but there must be a better way to help women in need.

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