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August 5, 2009

The Abortion Debate: What Would You Do?

Tricia Miller was thrilled to be pregnant. But when doctors found the fetus had a fatal genetic abnormality, she had to decide: Would having the baby mean letting it suffer?

abortion debate

Photo Credit: Melissa Ann Pinney

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I'd always dreamed of having four children in a traditional French Quarter home near a streetcar line.

My husband and I had been married for six months when we decided we were ready to have kids. I was 28 and about to finish grad school, and we had just moved into a three-bedroom starter house in the suburbs of New Orleans. It didn't take long to get pregnant, and I still remember the morning we knew we had conceived, in November of 2006. I had woken up at 5 a.m. and taken a digital pregnancy test. "Pregnant." My heart stopped—I was overwhelmed with excitement. I ran to the bedroom to show my husband, who smiled from ear to ear. He pulled me down for a hug, and as we lay in bed together, we talked about how, by this time next year, we'd have a baby with us to celebrate the holidays.

I have a mild form of cerebral palsy, and my doctors had warned me that I might not be able to carry the baby to term. And yet, other than morning sickness, the first trimester was going smoothly. When I was about 10 weeks pregnant, I went for my regular OB checkup. There was no prenatal testing, no ultrasound—it was still too early in the pregnancy—but my doctor said the baby's heartbeat was excellent, that I was measuring well, and that I wouldn't need to come back until my second trimester examination.

My father-in-law happens to be a perinatologist. His office is right across the street from my doctor, so after my appointment, my husband and I thought we'd stop by to get an ultrasound and take a peek at the baby. It was just for fun. My father-in-law spread the cold, wet jelly on my tummy, and my husband and I were giddy as we pointed to an outline of the baby's skeleton on the screen; we giggled as we pretended to know whom the baby looked like. But 20 minutes later, I noticed my father-in-law staring at the machine intently, pausing now and again to write something down. He never stopped to point out the baby's heart or its nose. He would not look at us or speak. When I tried to break the uncomfortable silence, he shushed me.

When my father-in-law pulled us into the patient room, he was very serious—too serious—and I was somewhat offended that he seemed to have gone into doctor mode instead of dad mode. That's when he said, quite frankly and directly, "There is something wrong." He never said that the problem might be "something else" or that it could be a mistake—there was something wrong. My husband and I just nodded in silence. My father-in-law said I would need a slightly more invasive test called a CVS to determine what we were dealing with. Then he picked up the phone to make an appointment with his partner for the same week.

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