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Stateside Podcast: A couple's journey with abortion

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Michigan voters have a few more days to weigh in on a proposal to embed reproductive rights into the state’s constitution. The result will have huge ramifications for all Michiganders, as voters will choose what reproductive health rights look like in a post-Dobbs world.

Erin and Michael, a married couple whose full names we’ve agreed to withhold, offered Stateside a personal story about their experience with an abortion.

The couple has been married for 15 years. They have an 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, and are living in mid-Michigan. While Erin and Michael were eager to have a family, their path to parenthood wasn't straightforward.

“It was a very, very long journey, and very emotional all the time.”

A difficult decision

Her first son was born after two surgeries and three failed rounds of IVF. Michael and Erin also pursued several inquiries with adoption agencies. After their son was born, Erin and Michael were thrilled to became pregnant a second time, but it ended in a miscarriage after 12 weeks.

A year and a half later, Erin became pregnant a third time. Again, Michael and Erin were excited at the prospect of expanding their family. But after several weeks, Erin began to have concerning symptoms.

“So we went to a local hospital to see if labor was starting…” Michael recalls. “And basically, we were told in the middle of the night that we needed to go to a second hospital for more high-definition ultrasounds, because there might be an issue with the baby's brain.”

“We also, I think, were both trying to be really hopeful, because the heartbeat looked good, and the heartbeat was strong,” Erin adds. “So we figured, whatever it is, we can probably weather it, because the baby is alive.”

The follow-up ultrasound dashed their hopes.

“When we did the high-definition scan,” Erin said, “It was very obvious something was really wrong.”

The couple was told that their baby had anencephaly, a birth defect resulting in an underdeveloped brain and an incomplete skull. If delivered, the child would be missing part of their head, and would likely die within a few hours. Anencephaly has a 100 percent mortality rate — the vast majority of babies die within hours of being born. Doctors told Michael and Erin that the baby, if born, could not be an organ donor.

“We were basically grasping at straws. Trying to find, like, some kind of silver lining,” Erin said.

Though the pregnancy did not pose a threat to Erin's physical health, she said the thought of enduring nine months of pregnancy and well-wishes, only to watch a baby be born with no brain and to die in her arms was too much. The couple ultimately made the decision to terminate the pregnancy just shy of 20 weeks.

The search for an abortion

Because the baby had a heartbeat, and Erin's life wasn't in danger, no hospital could perform the abortion, which also meant she would not be able to receive general anesthesia. And because the pregnancy was at 20 weeks, they could no longer go to Planned Parenthood. With limited options, they found an independent clinic that would perform the abortion over two days, with Erin awake for all of it.

“It was honestly torture,” Erin said of the abortion procedure. “No human being should have to go through that kind of procedure wide awake and feeling everything.”

Erin has largely kept details of the procedure to herself.

“I honestly never told Michael what happened behind those doors. He doesn't need to know what I know.”

“It will forever, probably be the worst experience of my entire life,” Erin said.

Seeking support

Having an abortion wasn't a decision Erin and Michael wanted to have to make, but, they said, it was the only decision they could make. And they struggled to find emotional support in the wake of their traumatic experience.

“Neither one of us feels like it's something we did wrong or that wasn't, in the end, the right decision,” Erin said. “But, with how politicized things are, you never necessarily know who you can trust with that kind of information. … You didn't want to take the risk because you didn't want someone to hurt you even worse, you know, by what they might say about it or make you feel.”

They were able to find a support group for women and couples who'd had abortions.

“I guess it's a weird word to use, but it was wonderful to have a place where we could just talk about it, and our anger, and our frustrations or anger at society and the world,” Michael said.

Michael wrote a letter to his employer about their family’s experience seeking an abortion. Though the employer was supportive of their choice, and of the recovery time necessary, their health insurance didn't cover the procedure. It cost Erin and Michael more than $2,000.

“I guess I was not angry with our employer about this,” Michael said. “But I said, you know, when you have meetings with health insurance companies, I would like you to give them this letter to talk about it. ... The fact that people don’t talk about it just feels wrong.”

“Nobody sets out, you know, planning on needing to do this, or even thinking it's something that will happen to them until you're in a medical situation, maybe, where it suddenly becomes part of your life,” Erin said.

GUESTS:

Michael & Erin, married couple in mid-Michigan
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Looking for more conversations from Stateside? Right this way.

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Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.

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Laura is Executive Producer of Stateside. She came to Michigan Radio from WDET in Detroit, where she was senior producer on the current events program, Detroit Today.
Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Radio from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.