Senator Wendy Davis Shares Her Heartbreaking Story of Terminating a Much Wanted Pregnancy

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One in three women in America terminate a pregnancy at some point in their lives. Most them are already mothers. All of them face overwhelming cultural stigma that often prevents open, honest communication about the procedure and their experiences.

In her new memoir, which will be released next week, Senator Wendy Davis shares that she is one of those women.

Her book, Forgetting to be Afraid, touches on several deeply personal events and decisions that have shaped her life—including her decision to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy in 1997 after learning that her unborn daughter, Tate Elise, had a brain abnormality and would probably not live outside the womb.

In our doctor’s office, with tears flowing down both our faces, Jeff and I looked at our baby daughter’s beating heart on the sonogram screen for the last time,” she wrote. “And we watched as our doctor quieted it. It was over. She was gone. Our much-loved baby was gone.”

According to the San Antonio Express-News, Sen. Davis’ pregnancy with Tate is “a key part of her memoir.” She dedicates the book, “For my daughters, Amber and Dru and Tate, who taught me a love deeper than I believed was possible.”

Davis shares that she became pregnant with her then-husband Jeff Davis, but learned of their daughter’s acute brain abnormality during the second trimester. The doctor told her that her daughter would probably not survive for the rest of her high-risk pregnancy or through delivery. Even if she did survive, “she would probably be deaf, blind, and in a permanent vegetative state.”

The diagnosis shocked and devastated Davis. “I couldn’t breathe,” she wrote. “I literally couldn’t catch my breath.”

In the two weeks that followed the diagnosis, she and Jeff consulted with at least three other physicians. Meanwhile, Davis wrote, “I could feel her little body tremble violently, as if someone were applying an electric shock to her, and I knew then what we needed to do. She was suffering.”

From an excerpt obtained by the San Antonio Express-News:

“The following morning, after spending my last night with Tate, talking to her, sobbing as I felt her tiny body tremble inside mine, I managed to rise, to dress, to take Jeff’s hand as he helped me into the car and drove me to the doctor’s office. The previous night, as I lay awake, I was unsure if I would be able to muster the strength to make my body move toward the inevitability of what would follow from each of those movements. But somehow, and with Jeff’s support, I did.”In our doctor’s office, with tears flowing down both our faces, Jeff and I looked at our baby daughter’s beating heart on the sonogram screen for the last time. And we watched as our doctor quieted it. It was over. She was gone. Our much-loved baby was gone.

“Afterward I accompanied my doctor to the hospital and delivered Tate Elise Davis by cesarean section, just as I had when Amber and Dru were born. The following day a dear friend who was a nurse in the unit where I delivered Tate brought her to me. She had dressed her in a tiny pink dress and placed a knit cap on her enlarged head. On her feet were crocheted booties, and next to her was a small crocheted pink bunny. Jeff and I spent the better part of the day holding her, crying for her and for us. We asked an associate minister from our church who was a trusted friend to come and baptize her. We took photographs of her. And we said our good-byes. The next day, as I lay in the hospital sobbing, my hand over my now-empty womb, Tate’s lifeless body was taken away and cremated.”

After she terminated the pregnancy, Davis wrote, she experienced “a deep, dark despair and grief, a heavy wave that crushed me, that made me wonder if I would ever surface. It would take me the better part of a year to ultimately make my way up and out of it. And when I finally did come through it, I emerged a different person. Changed. Forever changed.

Davis’ decision to share such a personal, heartbreaking story is brave, especially in light of the attacks from the right that she has endured in the past year. Her memoir truly highlights the insensitivity of comments like “it’s unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example” and “Abortion Barbie” quips.

Sen. Davis had previously disclosed that in 1994 she was diagnosed with another high-risk, ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies pose a serious threat to the life of the mother and the vast majority end in loss of the pregnancy. Davis discusses the loss of “Baby Lucas” in the memoir as well and wrote that ending the pregnancy left her “heartbroken.”

According to the Texas Tribune, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said, “I am very proud of her courage to share something that was a very tragic part of her life.”

Natalie tweets from @nsanluis.

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About Author

Natalie San Luis

Natalie is a native Texan, a feminist, and a writer, focusing on reproductive justice, race, and pop culture. When she's not writing (and sometimes when she is), she's brewing beer, drinking beer, and reading stuff on the Internet. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, xoJane, The Billfold, Culturemap, and E3W Review of Books. She tweets from @nsanluis.

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