My name is Miriam Kleiman. I have been happily married to my husband Jason for more than 20 years. We have two teenage boys. But we also had an earlier pregnancy: In July 2000, I was pregnant for the first time with a planned pregnancy. Jason and I had married three years earlier and were excited and ready to be parents. We had shopped for furniture, car seats, and just about everything hopeful first-time parents buy to keep our baby comfortable, warm, protected, and loved.
I took prenatal vitamins. I didn’t drink. I’ve never smoked. I avoided sushi, artificial sweeteners, deli meats and cheeses. I had all the usual tests, and everything appeared normal. But late in my pregnancy, my obstetrician said I was “carrying large” and suggested a level two sonogram, “just to make sure” my pregnancy was progressing as expected.
I anticipated another joyous look at our baby and insisted that Jason come to share in the excitement. And then everything changed.
The sonogram technician immediately detected severe problems. Our doctor was called in and told us that the condition was extremely grave.
Our world was shattered; we went from being happy, expectant parents to devastated, panicked people in immediate need of advice, options, and access to the best medical care possible. We were rushed to different hospitals and several doctors including a perinatologist, neonatologist, and radiologist examined me. The specialists told us that our baby had major brain abnormalities, including severe hydrocephalus, a malformed vein of galen, and problems with his heart and lungs. In other words, our precious baby boy would die in utero or immediately after birth.
It was clear that there was no medical miracle to correct our baby’s condition. Worse still, our doctors informed us that an abortion was not an option because the pregnancy, now at 28 weeks, was past the legal limit for termination in most states across the country. They said I had no choice but to wait and deliver our baby at term even though he was not going to live .
We were upset. We were angry. We cried. Our dream of becoming parents had been shattered. I cannot adequately describe in words the waves of emotions we were feeling.
We begged the head of our obstetric practice for any other options. He contended that there were none–that I had no choice but to carry the baby more than two more months until delivery at full term, unless the baby died in utero before that. We directly asked him about the possibility of termination. He glared at us and insisted curtly: “We call that murder.”
We sought second, third and fourth opinions. One radiologist we saw repeated the same heart-breaking prognosis for the baby: My husband turned to him and asked: “if this were your wife, what would you do?” He responded: “I would find any way possible to terminate the pregnancy.”
If we did nothing, we would be on a deathwatch for weeks if not months, merely waiting for our baby to die. This was totally unacceptable us. Personally, I was prepared to go anywhere, in order to seek access to high-quality, compassionate medical care, at any expense, to end our anguish . We loved our baby boy too much to suffer the misery of waking up every morning awaiting his impending death.
We made the dreaded phone calls to inform our parents that their long-awaited grandchild would not survive. Because Jason’s father and sister are physicians with a network of colleagues, we found out that we had actually received incorrect information. There was, in fact, an option. And we learned of a doctor who would help us — George Tiller, at Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita, Kansas, one of only three places in the country that legally performed a therapeutic abortion later in the pregnancy.
We left for Kansas two days later. Then, at our moment of greatest anguish, we were treated with kindness, warmth, respect and compassion by everyone we met at Women’s Health Care Services. Dr. Tiller was on a rare vacation when we were there, but we later had the opportunity to thank him in person for giving us a safe, legal, humane way to say goodbye to our precious son.
After the delivery, my husband and I, along with our mothers, had the opportunity to hold our baby, said a blessing, and bid him goodbye. He is buried at a cemetery near us in Northern Virginia.
It is hard to stress strongly enough that we did not “change our minds” about being parents. This was a planned pregnancy, one my husband and I had dreamed of, as we read and sung to our son throughout the pregnancy. We did then and continue to love our son, and we remember him and mourn his loss. Even in retrospect, more than nineteen years later, we know we made the right decision. This is not an easy story to share privately, let alone publicly. But we feel an obligation to tell our story so that people realize the need, albeit rare, for abortion later in pregnancy. In doing so, we remember the baby we lost, but still hold in our hearts.
Given our personal experience, we’re increasingly concerned as we see misinformation being spread about abortion later in pregnancy. These intensified challenges and increased restrictions to reproductive healthcare threaten to effectively eliminate all options for others like us, who have planned pregnancies but whose dreams turn to nightmares with news of devastating medical conditions. And these attacks on women’s rights to control their bodies and make the most personal medical choices for themselves are not only happening in courtrooms and in political arenas. Dr. George Tiller was murdered while attending church on May 31, 2009. Other doctors who perform abortions are regularly targeted and threatened.
Losing our baby was the hardest thing that we have ever experienced. But we are grateful that we could make this difficult decision ourselves and found someone who was able to provide us with high-quality, safe, compassionate healthcare. We sincerely hope that no one has to go through an experience as difficult as ours, but we know that other families will. And, when they do, we passionately believe that they deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect, and have access to the same protection, guidance, and quality medical care we received.