Elise Marthe (31) and Henry (2). Elise is a previous project participant, you can view her original photo and story from 2017 here.
Elise shares -
“I have been pregnant 5 times now, and I have one living child.
My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I was devastated. A few months later I was pregnant with my living son. There were complications, but ultimately I ended up with my son so it was all worth it. My kiddo is the light of my life. He is brilliant, funny, kind, and adorable. Objectively - the greatest human to ever exist. When my son was 1 year old, my husband and I decided that we are obviously very gifted at making perfect babies so we decided to "remove the goalie." I became pregnant very quickly, and we were ecstatic. I knew better than to get excited too soon, so I dutifully waited until we had the first (early) ultrasound before I went out and bought a “best big brother!” shirt and told my family. Everyone was so thrilled - my sister burst into happy tears. My husband told his family as well.
The next OB visit was at 9 weeks. Since I had the early ultrasound they just did the sonogram looking for a heartbeat. I lay on the table while the OB scanned for...nothing. She gave me the usual, “it’s too early to find the heartbeat this way” line - but I knew too much. I tried to keep calm, but dissolved into tears as she “stepped out to check on some things.” When she came back she found me sobbing and immediately booked me an ultrasound to look for a heartbeat. First they tried an external ultrasound… nothing. Then they tried the vaginal ultrasound and finally found a heartbeat. I couldn’t fully relax though - because looking at the ultrasound something looked wrong. The baby looked like they were holding a beach ball, and the tech was taking far too long and too many pictures for a simple heartbeat scan. I put on a brave face and acted excited as I told my husband that, “Everything is fine! There is a heartbeat and everything!”
The phone call came after hours, which is never a good sign. My OB called me to let me know that “the baby’s nuchal fold looks thick, and there seems to be a growth on the baby’s chest. But of course, all of this could be totally normal! Let’s just plan on doing a few extra tests...just to give us peace of mind.” I had every test possible in the next several weeks, and everything culminated in the 12 week genetic testing ultrasound. I found myself laying on the ultrasound table, my husband and I silently staring at the screen as the tech chatted about what pictures she was taking. I could see that the beachball the baby was holding had grown considerably, and the baby kept throwing their head back and opening their mouth instead of staying in the typical curled position that babies are usually in. But it could all be normal...right?
When the doctor came to talk about the results, she came with three other doctors. Another bad sign. She sat down and explained to me that there were some serious problems with the baby. I won’t go into all the details - but the news was bad. They started to talk about how this is a high-risk pregnancy and what my care team would look like. I asked, “is this something people consider termination for?” My OB looked at me and said, “Some people terminate for less. Some will continue the pregnancy with more serious conditions.” We wanted this baby, we had planned for this baby, we already loved this baby. I always thought I was pro-choice for everyone else, but I would never have an abortion myself. I was determined to take whatever life threw at me. We opted for every possible test to see what hope we had. Second opinions. Third opinions. Specialists. Pediatric surgeons. I met women online who had kids with similar conditions to find out what life would look like. After everything, the prognosis was grim and getting worse. If baby did make it all the way to birth - there was a high chance they would suffocate shortly after being born.
My husband is Christian. I am not. He prayed, I researched. Everyday I imagined I had made a choice, and I would go through the day seeing how that choice felt. One day I started spotting red blood and I thought, “thank goodness, please take this baby naturally so I don’t have to see them suffer.” I never imagined a world where I would wish for a miscarriage. My husband and I both came to the same conclusion. Neither of us could doom our beloved baby to have a short and horrible life. We have both seen creatures die of respiratory distress, we couldn’t do that to any newborn baby, let alone our own. I also knew I couldn’t go through that and still be a good, present mother to my living child.
Aborting my very wanted and loved baby has been the most horrific thing I have gone through. My OB tried to protect me, but due to Wisconsin's laws I was humiliated every step of the way. The questions to answer, the additional ultrasound I had to have (as if I hadn't been getting scanned every other day). It changed me as a person. I have a job where I am presenting in front of people all day, so I had to keep my “performance face” on at work through all of this. I am a person who processes things by talking about them, but I felt I couldn’t talk about this. I have many very anti-abortion friends and family members. Who did I know who would comfort the woman who aborted her own baby? Instead of talk about it, I just kept it to myself and learned how to carry my grief. I was totally destroyed, a mother grieving my child, and no one knew. I quit social media because I couldn’t stand all the anti-abortion articles my friends and family were posting. They have no idea what it’s like to be backed into a corner where there are no good choices.
My baby’s due date was December 20th. I was supposed to have a new baby for Christmas, but instead I got to go to all the parties and act happy while not a single person remembered my baby except me.
After taking time to heal emotionally, my husband and I decided to try again. Luckily I was quickly pregnant again. I thought the universe might be kind and give me another perfect baby after my traumatizing loss, but no luck. I had a miscarriage at 7 weeks. A very kind and astute nurse suggested I try a different OB who specializes in women who have gone through loss, and my original one had retired.
The specialist OB is amazing, and she immediately set me on a series of tests to find out why I am having so much trouble. We didn’t find anything conclusive. I had the option of further testing to know for certain or to try again and see what happens. I decided to gamble and tried again. Well, right now I am experiencing my third miscarriage, fourth loss. At this point I have the system down - get a 6 week ultrasound to see a slow heartbeat, go in again at 7 weeks to see that the heartbeat has stopped, cry in the car on the way home. It won’t pass naturally, so take the pills. Pills don’t work, finally get a D&C. Pick myself up and carry on with life.
I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant with my fourth and fifth. I’m terrified someone will find out my whole story and say, “See? You’re being punished for your abortion.” Logically I know that’s not true, but the thought sneaks in every once in a while. It can be difficult to be surrounded by people who think you did the wrong thing. And honestly, I hope they never go through this. If they do, I hope they have the ability to make whatever choice is right for them, their family, and their baby. Someday, I hope to be brave enough to tell the people who supposedly love me - but today I’ll take the first step by telling this community of women and families.
I’m not sure if I’ll try again or not. Maybe there will be a pile of babies in my future, or maybe we’ll just stay as a pod of three.
How has parenthood impacted your body image?
I'm working on feeling like my body is amazing. And it is! It gave me my son, it can run, play, hike, and swim with my family. At one point I felt like it had failed me, but I'm working on being more kind to my body.
What is your truth? What is one piece of knowledge you'd pass along to your former self, or a new parent?
At one point I felt white hot rage when I saw a pregnant woman complaining. How dare she, when she doesn't know what the alternative is? After my 3rd pregnancy I suddenly softened. I don't care what that woman is saying. THANK GOODNESS she isn't going through what I did. Who knows what she went through to get to this point in her pregnancy? I'm so thankful for every happy, healthy pregnant woman I see.
Why did you choose to participate in this movement and share your story?
I would love my story to reach someone. Someone who will realize that abortion isn't a black and white issue. Someone who will be a little kinder when talking to women about pregnancy. Someone who will feel less alone.