NPR 1A: Our Story Will Be Featured Tomorrow, Thursday, May 17

Our story of learning about Grace Pearl's fatal fetal anomaly, our decision to terminate the pregnancy, and how it felt to be put through Missouri's abortion laws will be featured on NPR's 1A program tomorrow, Thursday, May 17th. You can learn more about the program here: 

Could Abortion Become Illegal In The U.S.? - 1A

New restrictions in some conservative states are urging a high court battle over a woman's right to an abortion.

1A is broadcast live at 10 am ET. Check with your local affiliate for when it will air there. In St. Louis, I believe it airs live.

An Interview with Lizz Winstead and Things You Can Do to Help RIGHT NOW

This article hitting Feministing regarding Governor Greitens' Emergency Session against reproductive rights to the tune of $20,000/a day of taxpayer money has prompted people to ask what they can do to help, which absolutely thrills me. I shared our story with the hopes it would raise awareness and prompt activism from people, and there are tons of opportunities out there. So without further adieu:

What you can do RIGHT NOW

Call and email your state senator and tell them to gavel out of this expensive, unnecessary, and politically motivated special session. Thank them for working hard on a compromise, and say what the House did is inexcusable. Ask them to please not allow the governor's dark money and political ambitions get in the way of democracy. 

More action items will come when the senate reconvenes. 

What you can do NEXT WEEK (but buy your tickets right now - it will sell out!)

Lizz Winstead, co creator of the Daily Show, is coming to The Blueberry Hill Duck Room in St. Louis next Thursday (June 29) with her Lady Parts Justice League Vagical Mystery Tour. You can find St. Louis event information here (and a list of all shows here). I highly encourage you to go for 2 reasons:

1) Lizz and her fellow comedians are SERIOUSLY funny. I got to see Lizz with Sarah Silverman a year ago and she knocked my socks off.

2) The show also features discussions with local providers and advocates, and provides ideas for ways you can get involved and make a difference looking at the skills you already have. 

I interviewed Lizz to learn more about the show, what they are trying to achieve, her perspective on reproductive rights, and the one thing that everyone can do to make a difference right now. (This content has been modified to be condensed and for clarity):

Tell me about one of the best things about the Vagical Mystery Tour

Lizz: The comedy show brings in a group of people (150-500 people) to have a great time and also have a meaningful talk back about opportunities available to them. We want people to be able to say this was a great experience, and then you’re giving me opportunity to do what I can, also with the time that I have, to make a difference. Some of these things take 20 minutes, an hour, etc.

I have a whole team of people who are excellent comedians, and they talk about life from these different lenses. We have black, brown, trans, white and gay comedians, and people can come to this comedy show and hear about their own lives. 

At the end of each show we have a conversation with someone from a clinic and from an activist group that supports reproductive rights and justice so people can sign up right then and there and learn what they need. We’ve been able to access handymen, painters, designers, landscapers, etc.

These are little things, and the providers are buried with work and care that sometimes they can’t even tell what they need. We have been able to go in, take a tour of the clinic and ask questions and then help.

What is your best advice for someone that wants to make a difference in the arena of reproductive rights?

Lizz: (laughing) Aside from not making your zoo the anti-abortion zoo… First and foremost, when you connect with your local clinic and activists, you can really get information on what’s going on in your state. You want to ask yourself "who is my go to person for information"? Get connected with them.  

While we all talk about all these laws encroaching on reproductive rights, people still need to get care and provide care, and so we need to ask how are we as citizens making sure that the caregivers and those that need abortion are being supported, and not being stigmatized? 

So for example some of the things you can do are escorting patients. Sign up for escort service where you are committing to helping patients get into care without judgment. A bonus is this also means being part of the community that stands with the clinics. You are showing politicians and your community that you are a face and a voice that thinks that clinics are important and are doing a great job.

Another thing you can do is getting together with your like minded friends who are also going "what can we do?" over and over and panicking, and meeting with them so you can open a bottle of wine and send postcards to share your love and support. These organizations and clinics always get so much hate mail, so getting your love and support really matters.

Think about what can you do to lengthen the life of your clinic. Can you throw a fundraiser? Have a mixer at your house where people can get to know your provider or your abortion fund. Treat them like the treasures that they are.

Finding out what the clinics and advocates' needs are. Get together with friends, let a clinic vet you so they know you’re a trusted source, and find out what they need. Often people don’t look at their own lives and skill sets and see how they can help out. If you’re a great graphic designer, or if you’re good at landscaping, you can help! If you’re a good baker, you could bring cupcakes to the clinic 4 times a year to show your appreciation. Maybe help an advocate with their website that needs a new logo. Offer to paint a clinic's fence or do some gardening to maintain the clinic so when patients come in they feel like it’s a nice space and feel welcome, and the people that work there walk in and feel great that their community supports them. Translators especially are needed for refugee cities where Arabic or Spanish are helpful for a patient care advocate. It's nice to have someone on call that can help. These all kinds of things that might be in your personal wheelhouse.

Finally, get on an email list to work with your local advocates and clinics so they can reach out to you whenever you need something and then you can network. The thing is that a lot of times, a clinic that provides abortion services in a community... lawn services or gutter cleaning services won’t come because the clinic provides abortion care. Simple things other business can get just by looking in the yellow pages aren't available to clinics that provide abortions because the providers don’t believe in what the clinic does, or they’ll be targeted by anti-choice people at their business.

I am loving this because it has an avenue for everyone. If there was ONE thing everyone could do, what would it be? 

If you’re too busy, and care about this issue,  I ask every single person to stop using the term pro-life. They are anti-abortion. I have seen clinics that have been firebombed and vandalized. I have friends who are targeted. Patients who have gotten death threats for having abortions*. We cannot cede the term pro-life because they aren’t pro-life. Physicians that are friends of mine - their best friends have been murdered. This is being done by anti-abortion activists. It’s only fair to call them that. Language matters.

 *Robin Note: This is a HUGE reason more women don't share their stories. Trust me. I know a lot of women who have been in my shoes but they don't share publicly. 

Has your approach to LPJL and the Vagical Mystery Tour changed since Trump took office and there has been a bigger proliferation of falsehoods? 

The interesting thing about it is I’m glad we started this organization long before Trump took office. So many people in so many state legislatures were already passing these laws before Trump was in the picture. Oregon is the only state that hasn’t proposed crappy legislation. Really. it's every other state: red states, blue states, purple states. But in the wake of Donald Trump, it’s just gotten worse because the federal legislation and the Supreme Court are very scary.

We need people to understand and pay attention to state legislatures and demand their birth control and abortion care because we are owed them. We must demand from men and women both that they recognize reproductive rights are part of our human rights. 

I know you were raised Catholic, which believes abortion is a sin and murder. How was that transition to where you are now?

I definitely was. The bottom line is I realized I can’t believe in a God that is cruel and retaliatory. I know when I wake up every day that I am doing my best to be a good person. And there is not one word about abortion in the bible. Science says something else different from Catholicism too. 

And the real fact is Catholics have abortions at very high rates, and they use birth control. 


The Vagical Mystery Tour is Thursday, June 29th at Blueberry Hill Duck Room. It starts at 7:30 pm, and you can buy tickets here.

Guest Blog: Read Darla's Story if You Think You Would Never End a Pregnancy

It's been nearly 7 months since we said goodbye to Grace Pearl, and in that time we have met so many other people that have been through similar situations to our own - far more than you'd ever think, which tells you a lot about the stigma around this that a lot of people have to make these sorts of choices, but are afraid to share because of how condemning society can be. And I get it... there are people out there that 100% are against abortion, even in our situation, and yes, I do encounter them.

How I feel about that is another post for another time, but I always want to ask what people that say we made the wrong choice and shouldn't be able to do so would do in my amazing friend Darla's situation. And I don't mean this in an antagonistic way: I truly wonder what people would do in Darla's impossible situation. If her family's case isn't one that compels for the need for smarter, more inclusive laws and increased awareness and compassion, I don't know what is. 

Thank you so much, Darla, for sharing so bravely. 


I Tell Their Story

One year ago, we learned some of the most devastating news parents can learn. My husband, Peter, and I sat in the doctor’s office after our routine 20-week anatomy scan discussing our dinner plans. The twin girls I was carrying were craving Mexican food, I claimed. So we planned on going to famed local Austin eatery, Chuy’s. After over an hour and a half of waiting for our doctor to come in after the ultrasound – a rarity for our doctor – he walked in somberly and asked me to move from the examination table and sit next to Peter. I knew we were in for bad news.

The rest of that appointment is a bit of a blur.

“I’m surprised she’s still alive.”

“Encephalocele… might be open… very small head… possible missing digits… large cleft lip and palate…”

“Other baby is healthy.”

“Referral to a specialist… only one doctor in town who will perform the procedure if there’s no hope…”

“I’m so sorry.”

He called the specialist’s cell phone from his own cell phone while we sat across from him bawling. It kicked off a wave of appointments, including a trip out of town on a Saturday for a four-hour ultrasound to make certain what we were told was actually going on. It was.

Our baby B, Catherine Sophia, had essentially a terminal diagnosis. Microcephaly, an open encephalocele that was allowing brain matter to leak out and was causing ventriculomegaly, an underdeveloped cerebellum and prefrontal cortex, and a large cleft lip and palate were her major issues. That she had survived this long was unbelievable, but she would not survive to make it home with us if she lived through delivery. And she posed too big of a risk to her completely healthy twin sister.

On June 22, 2016, we said goodbye to her. I clutched the panda bear we had purchased for her at the Vienna zoo the day after we learned of her conception (the girls were donor egg babies from the Czech Republic – a story for another time, one I love telling). I cried, not from any physical pain, but from the grief that had already settled in 12 days before when we received her diagnosis.

Darla and Peter with Olivia

Darla and Peter with Olivia

I walked around in a cloud of depression, grief for months. I delivered the girls in September and lost myself in the role of mother to a newborn. My beautiful Olivia Adele brought me such joy, but still, as I looked at her, I found myself torn between delighting in her and missing what should have been.

When Olivia was five months old, I realized what I needed to do. While Catherine may not have been meant for my arms or for this world, her story was. She was meant to help bring her sister into this world, and she was meant to open eyes.

So I took it upon myself to tell her story. I shared it in a large, almost exclusively cause-friendly Facebook group first, and then got up the courage to write an article that I guess you could say went viral. To see people sharing my words, commenting on my life, was surreal. Comforting and angering at the same time (never read the comments, right?).

But my daughter, the one who was never going to have a chance to make her own mark on the world on her own terms, was making a difference. People who were pro-life were saying they’d never thought of situations like ours, they’d never thought of gray areas before, and that my children had made them think. Because I had told her story, people’s eyes were opened.

Cate and Olivia

Cate and Olivia

Along the way, my sweet girls have helped me find myself. Olivia has helped me truly see the mother’s soul in myself, the soul I always thought I had but had become afraid I’d never get to express. And Catherine has helped me dig deep and find the survivor and the fighter within myself. Having only been the child in the parent/child relationship up until this point, I never knew that a parent could be changed by the relationship. But they can.

I told a reporter once, after she apologized for making me relive our trauma, that I would tell my daughters’ story every single day for the rest of my life if it opened even a few eyes. And I will. I will continue to tell their story because as long as I live, I will make sure that they do, too. Both of them.

Cate's footprints

Cate's footprints


What would you do in Darla's situation, if you think you would never support pregnancy termination, even in Grace's situation? What if you were pregnant with twins, and learned one would never live, and was taking energy, resources and space from the other one, thus endangering her? It's hard for me to even think about, but I can't just stop there and think about something else. The laws in our country very much effect people like Darla and myself and our options in these situations. Apathy or avoidance isn't a choice for us. 

You can find Darla's Facebook page (and link to her blog) here, and if you'd like to make a donation to NARAL Pro-Choice Texas (a state in great need of support for reproductive rights, and where Darla has been holding a fundraiser on behalf of Catherine Sophia) you can do so here

 

My Second Time Testifying in Jefferson City: About the Bills and What YOU Can Do

Dana (right) and myself at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, MO

Dana (right) and myself at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, MO

I went to Jefferson City with my very good friend Dana today so we could testify to the Senate Families, Children and Seniors COmmittee about Senate Bill 1 (SB-1) and Senate BIll 6 (SB-6).

You can read about the bills (including full text) below, but the summary of each is as follows:

  • SB-1 (link) does a variety of things, but tries to circumvent Judge Howard Sachs' injunction based on on the Whole Women's Health v Hellerstedt ruling in the Supreme Court, noting that based on that ruling, Missouri's one abortion facility in the entire state constituted an unconstitutional burden on women seeking this reproductive health treatment, in addition to overly lofty requirements for abortion-providing facilities.
  • SB-6 (link) would remove St. Louis's ruling that organizations and companies cannot discriminate women for things like using contraception, being pregnant or getting an abortion based on moral or religious beliefs. 

I testified against SB-1 to note that while we were lucky we lived in St. Louis when we learned about Grace Pearl's diagnosis, had we lived further away, had children we had to find care for, had jobs that were not gracious in their flexibility with our sudden scheduling needs or couldn't afford the thousands of dollars necessary at such short notice (abortions are not covered by insurance in Missouri except for rare exceptions), we couldn't have terminated by the deadline of 21 weeks, 6 days (we terminated at 21 days, 5 days as it was). Such limitations would have absolutely hurt Grace, the unborn baby the bill is purporting to protect. Our story proves these bills need to be more thoughtful, considered and inclusive. 

You can read my full testimony for SB-1 (which I used to paraphrase from, and provided to the Senate Committee) here.

I testified against SB-6 noting that I should not be able to be discriminated against for terminating my pregnancy, as it's not appropriate to make assumptions as to why women choose to do this. We terminated our pregnancy out of love and concern, and feeling strongly that it to not do so was absolutely cruel. We also noted that while this is being proposed in defense of organizations that don't want to hire women that use contraception, are pregnant or have terminated a pregnancy (note: this is inclusive of nearly every single state a woman of reproductive age can exist in), the religious people in our lives hold beliefs that cannot be so simply assumed or compartmentalized, and it's inappropriate to try to do so to allow organizations to practice discrimination. Many of the people these organizations would be speaking on behalf of don't even agree with them. 

You can read my full testimony for SB-6 (which I used to paraphrase from, and provided to the Senate Committee) here.

In both testimonies I told the story of Grace Pearl, that we felt that it was the only humane, loving, moral choice we could possibly make, and that we and women like us deserve to be able to make that choice without hurdles, timelines or discrimination. I have two friends that had to do this just last week. It will continue to happen, and that is a reality that needs to be included in Missouri's bills and laws. 

I will post more very soon talking about how the day felt as a whole, but for now, we have urgent work to do: 

CALL, CALL, CALL!!

  • Call your state senator! To find out who that is, use this link. From there you can get the phone number. Tell them that you oppose Senate Bills 1, 5 and 6 because they are not based on medical necessity and are not making Missouri women or the unborn any safer, and that Missouri women deserve intelligent, inclusive bills that do not discriminate against them or make it more difficult for them to obtain constitutionally protected reproductive health medical care. This is critical for right now - the bill is still in the Senate and if we make our voices heard, we can make a real difference!
  • Call Governor Greitens! His number is (573) 751-3222, or you can text him via Resistbot if you're a Missouri constituent by noting you want to send to governor (you may have to unlock this level, but may not! Can anyone confirm?) Did you know you can send faxes from Resistbot from your Facebook Messenger? It's awesome - so much easier for typing than using my phone! You can use the same messaging as up above for the senators. 
  • Call you state representative! You can find out who that is here. Tell them that you oppose all new bills restricting reproductive rights as they are not considered, inclusive of all scenarios that prompt a woman to get an abortion, are unconstitutional as they apply undue burden, and are not actually pro-life. You can see the list of bills the are reviewing tomorrow (it's uncertain which ones they'll hear, but you can bet it'll be the ones that are AGAINST reproductive rights) here if you want to to review and mention them. 

Have any questions? Feel free to use the contact me page to send me a note!

Missouri's Capital building in Jefferson City, Missouri

Missouri's Capital building in Jefferson City, Missouri

I jumped into Dana's selfie with the Capital building. We both were running on little sleep, no lunch, a 2.5 hour drive (so far) and a day of hearing bills and testimony. I just couldn't stop myself!

I jumped into Dana's selfie with the Capital building. We both were running on little sleep, no lunch, a 2.5 hour drive (so far) and a day of hearing bills and testimony. I just couldn't stop myself!

 

 

 

Action Needed: New York's RHA Needs a Vote. How You Can Help.

This last presidential election was the most divisive in my lifetime, and one of the hot topics was abortion. I vividly remember watching the third debate, and wondering why someone would need a late term abortion, but also assuming that surely it would not happen that late in any statistically material way because someone just changed their mind about their pregnancy. I wanted to learn more.

I ask you to consider me, and women like me who are the faces of abortion statistics. We are slowly inching out from the shadows, as angry as we are devastated. Only 1.3 percent of abortions happen after 22 weeks, but each of us has a unique story.
— Erika A. Christensen

Less than a week after the debate I stumbled onto this story in Jezebel, which consumed my attention and brought me to tears. I occasionally rubbed my growing belly to reassure myself that things were still going well in my pregnancy. Little did I know then, Donald Trump would be elected on November 9, and we would learn that Grace was not viable on November 17th. The loss of Grace, and the governmental threats to my reproductive rights are impossible to exact from one another. My feelings about abortion weren't so clear before that. But now that I understood what a late term abortion looked like, and was about to experience one myself, I found myself grieving and furious with not just the awful hand that had been dealt to Grace and ourselves, but also the one that the government was handing us: a judgmental and intentionally painful process that was beyond insulting given our circumstances.

By coincidence I later virtually met the writer of the Jezebel article, and enthusiastically shared that her story was key in motivating me to share mine. And now again, Erika is stunning me with her eloquence, vulnerability and exceptional ability to unpack the complicated and articulate a messy emotional and legal situation in poignant and relatable ways. 

To shine a light on New York's Reproductive Health Act (RHA) S2796 bill, Erica wrote this excellent article in Rewire (later discussed in Jezebel as well). I could have pulled quote after quote from Erica's words, as they resonated so strongly with me:

Still in shock over this tragic turn of events, I lay on the table, looking up at the ceiling. My internal questions played like a tape over and over in my mind: Why am I here? Did New York expect me to carry this baby to term, only to watch him suffer and die?

Since then, I’ve tried to answer that second question. The only answer I’ve come up with is: yes.
— Erika A. Christensen

The Reproductive Health Act (RHA), S2796, which Christensen is advocating, does three things: (1) It takes abortion out of the penal code and puts into public health law; (2) it allows for abortions after 24 weeks in cases of non-viability, and in cases where either the life or health of the woman is at risk; and (3) it allows for advanced practice clinicians (APCs) to administer abortion care within their scope of practice. 

As Christensen points out, "The Roe decision hinged on the notion of viability, only allowing states to limit abortion access after a fetus was viable, which is generally considered around 24 weeks. In our case, our baby would never be viable". While I agree with all of the things the bill does, the bill allowing for abortions after 24 weeks in cases of non-viability is sufficient for me to believe this bill is incredibly important, and it's critical that it be heard by the New York State Senate.

If you feel like I do (that this bill is a common sense approach to making abortion laws in the state of New York more accurate, inclusive of all needs and thus pro-life, and common sense), here's what you can do, regardless of where you are:

If you're in New York:

The end of the legislative session on June 21. It is crucial that pressure is put on not only Sens. Flanagan and Hannon, but all of the senators. With that, here are four steps:

  1. Identify your district and senator here.
  2. Write/call your senator and express your support for the bill, and more importantly, for a vote on the bill.
  3. Get vocal on social media (RHAVote.com).
  4. Focus on the whole state. Got a friend in the Hudson Valley? Their senator is on the fence. Know someone out on Long Island? That’s where Flanagan and Hannon’s districts are.

Not in New York? Share, share, share! Please share this with your friends and family and ask those in New York to be engaged. Every little bit counts and makes a difference, and you never know when the person impacted could be your sister, daughter, friend, or you. 

You can find the homepage for the RHA here, and read Erika's piece in Rewire here: 

New York Forces Women Like Me to Carry Nonviable Pregnancies to Term - Rewire

New Yorkers, we need to act quickly: There's a bill making its way through the state legislature that can help people like me, who are the faces of abortion statistics, to access the care we need in our home state.

Helpful Resource: Ending a Wanted Pregnancy

One of the most amazing pieces of advice I got when we had just learned that we'd be terminating my pregnancy with Grace Pearl was to check out a website called Ending a Wanted Pregnancy

Ending a Wanted Pregnancy

Not all pregnancies have a fairy tale ending. If you've received a severe prenatal or maternal diagnosis and have decided to end your wanted pregnancy, this website exists to provide you understanding, comfort, and support. Here, you will find the empathy, compassion. and solace you deserve following this uncommon, traumatic and often misunderstood form of pregnancy loss.

 

It took me a bit to find the mental space and energy to visit the site, but I was so thankful I did once I was there. It provided two things: compassionate, lovingly-provided information, and a private group where I met other families that had been in the same situation I'd been in. I can't say what the latter did for my sense of isolation in both the situation Jim and I found ourselves in, as well as the decision we made in response.

People very often don't talk about their abortions (1/3 has had one, meaning you absolutely know women that have had one even if they haven't told you, including your mother, daughter, sister, niece, aunt, favorite grocery store checker, mail woman, lawyer, accountant... the list goes on and on). But in our case, everyone knew we were pregnant. We'd announced it and registered and were planning a baby shower with beloved friends. No, I didn't have to tell anyone that we aborted Grace, but I didn't want to feel ashamed of our decision, which was an absolutely appropriate one considering increased pain she'd feel if she were born, the increased risk to me, and the safety of the procedure. It may make people uncomfortable, but the fact is I had an abortion with Grace, and while I 100% loved her, I also 100% believe it was the right choice. It is important that people know our story to dispel the shame around abortion. So we wanted to tell people, once we were ready. People knew we were pregnant, it was just about how to say the pregnancy ended, and that was where Ending a Wanted Pregnancy came in to help me feel less alone. 

I devoured the website, which helped me see other stories and diagnosis information from people that had pregnancies end for Grace's diagnosis. Reading the practical information helped decrease my soaring anxiety (more on that another time). I felt understood and calmer. There was also an excellent undecided section for those that are still exploring their options and deciding how to proceed with their pregnancies. I loved that they offered resources for people that decided to continue with their pregnancies, indicating that they truly are there for full support, no matter what.

The private support group took all of this to another level, where I met other people that had gone through the same process. After applying on the website, I was welcomed with non-judgmental, open arms, and have taken great pride at welcoming others. I have never seen a word of judgment or condemnation; only acceptance, support, care and gentleness. It truly has and continues to make a huge difference in my grieving process, and has helped give me the strength to advocate.

If you or a person you know has had to face the tragedy we have, please share Ending a Wanted Pregnancy with them. It's a wonderful resource, and I can promise they will find valuable support. It is a 100% free site (I'm not writing this from any place other than just to tell others that may be in our situation about the site), and can make a huge difference.