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April 15, 2007

Real Life: Why I Chose Abortion

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It's holiday season 2006, and I'm deep inside the concrete bowels of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. Down hidden elevators and along desolate corridors littered with abandoned filing cabinets, I see the sign I've been searching for: "H.O.P.E. Memorial Service," written on blue construction paper. It stands for Helping Other Parents Endure, a support group for families who've terminated a pregnancy due to fetal abnormalities. Tonight is its annual memorial service.

It has been three years since I ended my pregnancy. Gathering with strangers feels awkward. The room is too large for such an intimate gathering. The event organizer hands me a 14-page program, filled with beautiful poems and letters submitted by other parents. I didn't submit anything. She asks me to sign the guest book with my baby's name and take an ornament-pink angels for little girls, blue ones for little boys. I tell her I didn't know whether my baby was a boy or a girl, and we never gave it a name. She feels bad that she didn't consider that circumstance. I feel bad that maybe I didn't mourn properly. After a few words by the chaplain, the social worker leads us through a door onto a dark concrete patio. In a tight circle, we light candles off one another with shaking hands. "I light this candle in honor of . . ." each person says, then recites the child's name. Abigail and Travis and Grady. I say, simply, Baby Voss. "Now we'll blow out the candles," the social worker says. "But the light your child brought into your life will never be extinguished." I lower my head to blow out my candle, but the flame is already gone. The freezing wind blew right through my protective hand and took the light away from me.

It's an awkward process. Just a month before, I find myself sitting in the dining room of the Concord Country Club at a baby shower for a pregnant friend. Over plates of salmon, the foursome at my table shares hilarious tales of raising children. Then the woman next to me turns and says brightly, "I want a third child, don't you?"

I don't know what to say.

These women are aware only of the two healthy boys I've had in the past two years, not my first child, whom I will never know. As I sit in the members' dining room, I feel like an outsider. Pregnancy, for me, is an experience I associate with sheer terror. How do I explain to this woman that carrying my two sons to term left me exhausted from worrying? That as I consulted genetic counselors and gobbled down massive doses of folic acid, I floated in an emotional no-man's-land, completely unable to attach to the new life in my belly?

While I scramble to find some suitable answer to her question, I can feel the ears of a friend at the next table prick up. Last year, in her 18th week, she, too, terminated a pregnancy that had gone horribly wrong. She knew my story-her parents and my in-laws are friends-and she called me. I remember her asking through tears, "What am I going to tell everyone? What if people judge me?" "Just tell them you lost the baby," I said. "It's nobody's business, anyway." We talked for a long time that night. But we haven't talked about it since. Turning to my cheerful tablemate, I briefly consider telling her the truth. Then, instead, I mumble something lame, like, "Kids are a handful- I think we're all set with two." As the words leave my mouth, I feel like my silence is letting all of us down.

On one level, it's nobody's business, I realize. But on another, isn't it everybody's?

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