Let Me Tell You About My Friend Dana

One of the things that has made losing Grace a little more bearable has been the support from friends and family. I feel like that sentence is so generic it almost doesn't mean anything, but in the moments when you get a card/flowers/text/visit, it makes so a profound difference that no sentence could really capture it. 

I have friends and family that run the gamut across belief systems, including very conservative, Catholic family to deeply liberal, atheist friends and every single person has chosen to show us love and support to whatever extent they find possible. It's been an amazing gift in our lives as we navigate this. It's a unique sort of grief that comes with being presented with such a heartbreaking reality and decision for a very wanted child, and then additionally having that decision be so condemned by much of society. I have been called a murderer more than once. Thankfully, never by anyone whose opinion I value. 

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I quickly become overwhelmed by gratitude for our friends and family when I pause for even a second to consider their generosity of love and spirit, but today I want to put a little spotlight on my friend Dana, who I have known for around 12 years. She has been a great friend to me, from saving my cat's life to being one of two people (along with our friend Beth) that introduced me to Jim. 

Dana was halfway around the world on her honeymoon with her husband Ben when we learned about Grace's fatal fetal diagnosis, and took the time to send us a note expressing her condolences and support when she learned. Little did any of us know she would come home shortly thereafter and learn she was pregnant herself. It put us in a predictably awkward situation with me having just ended a pregnancy I had chased for nearly 4 years, and Dana in the impossible situation of trying to figure out how to tell her grieving friend she was pregnant. She was kind, considerate, and has made sure I feel remembered during her entire pregnancy. It has made a world of difference to me.

When I testified during Governor Greitens's 20k/day special session, I had to cancel dinner plans with Dana and a few friends to make the logistics work. Despite being around 30 weeks pregnant, working full time and facing the last minute nature of testifying (I found out at noon that I was leaving around 7 am the next morning), Dana dropped everything to join me. She drove with me 2.5 each way and sat in the Senate room all day with no breaks for the opportunity to support me and share her own perspective: that watching what the state of Missouri had done to Jim and me after we made what we believe so strongly to be a loving, humane decision to end our pregnancy had cost Dana comfort, security and joy in her own pregnancy. She realized it could happen to anyone, saw how deeply it affected us, and felt compelled to say something to protect other families. Her testimony was powerful, vulnerable and impossible to ignore. 

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I have always been and will continue to be grateful for Dana's friendship: at a time when it undeniably might have been more comfortable for her to distance herself from my circumstances in order to feel more secure in her own (especially as a first time mother), she pulled me closer. Dana put her own comfort and safety on the line and stepped out of her comfort zone to speak up for me, Grace, herself and every other woman in Missouri. I am in awe of her strength and her ability to not only own her power, but to also realize and capitalize on the absolutely true fact that anyone can advocate and make a difference: we all have a story, and Dana sharing hers truly made a difference. I can't wait for her baby to be born (any day now!) and to see what kind of mom she is, but no matter how she approaches it, that is one lucky baby to have such an amazing mom.

 

 

 

 

How Testifying Again Felt: Frustration, Grief, Helplessness and Determination

As I posted last week, I testified last Tuesday in Governor Eric Greitens' $20k/a day special session to restrict reproductive rights. Testifying for the second time in Jefferson City was more anxiety-inducing, and also more familiar and thus, calming in that way. That's a cold comfort though: that I have had to go twice in 2 months to fight for my and Grace Pearl's rights as well as and those of the other 1.5 million women of reproductive age in Missouri is discouraging and upsetting. And there is no end in sight. But this is something that is within my realm to do and I'll do it as much as I can/it makes sense to do to raise awareness, secure options for other women that might find themselves in our situation, and honor Grace.

As I mentioned in my last post, I testified in opposition of two bills, and I put my testimonials up on that post. But I didn't go into how it felt, which I think is just as important and honestly even more interesting than what I said. 

The first bill I testified on was SB-6, which 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, which was sponsored by Springfield, MO State senator Bob Dixon. I think this is a sticky one, to be honest. I do respect that there are religions that do not believe in abortion, but I also believe that being pro-life means being far more than anti-abortion. This bill, in my opinion, exposes some of these holes in the argument:

Jim and me on the day of our egg retrieval as part of IVF. Should we discriminated against for doing this when there is no other way for us to have a biological child?

Jim and me on the day of our egg retrieval as part of IVF. Should we discriminated against for doing this when there is no other way for us to have a biological child?

  • While I respect that some people don't believe in some things due to religion, sometimes it brings a lot of harm to others, and I find that, personally, to be fairly contradictory to the messages that religion often proposes. I think it's an area that begs for further discussion, compassion towards both sides, and a compromise. This bill doesn't suggest that and instead feels hasty and I don't think passing a bill that allows for such broad discrimination is the right approach. 
  • If a woman can be discriminated against for using contraception, being pregnant, using assisted reproductive technologies (like IVF) and having an abortion, what state of existence CAN she occupy and be free from discrimination? Abstinence? Outside of child-bearing age? It's far too restrictive. It makes me feel helpless and furious. 
  • Where are the men in this? Pregnancy, the need for birth control, procedures like IVF and abortions are all created by two people, but these laws are aimed at women. 
  • One of our biggest supporters has been a nun of 50+ years. Catholicism is one of the religions that strongly condemns abortion and is spurring this bill, but between this nun and some of both of our friends and families who have shown us immense compassion and support despite being uncomfortable with abortion in general (and who am I to judge? To be raised in a faith since you were born that feels abortion is always wrong is not something to be brushed aside, in my opinion), it shows that there isn't even a unified approach towards abortion from people that practice the religions that are supporting this bill. Yet how some feel should be codified into law? Instead of removing St. Louis's exception from these laws, the laws should be corrected.

I think there are far smarter ways to show respect for religious opposition to abortion. More on that in a future post, but I want to make it very clear that I do not think think that those that oppose abortion for religious reasons are to be condemned, judged or dismissed. Respect has to go both ways.

Senator Robert Onder

Senator Robert Onder

Then there was SB-1, which 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. This one was harder for me. I felt anxious going into it because it is sponsored by Robert Onder, who coincidentally used to be my allergist. I can't believe some of the audacious things he's done as a senator though, and this is coming from someone who had a perfectly pleasant opinion of him before he started doing these things. Proposing that we rename the St. Louis Zoo the "Midwest Abortion Sanctuary City Zoological Park"? Pushing this special session at the expense of $20,000 a day when it's not an emergency? And worst of all, proposing legislation that is medically inaccurate using his medical degree as validity to do so (the bill asserts a fetus feels pain at 22 weeks, when all of my specialists noted it was 24-28)? I find Onder's doing so to be so insincere, so overtly political over sensible, and so dangerous that it makes me furious, nervous and highly uncomfortable. This is not someone I would ever trust to be my doctor again, and I can't imagine anyone I know who would want their doctor to use personal beliefs to dictate their care over medical and science-based facts. Yet he's proposing laws that will effect far more than his allergy patients. It's truly scary.

Specific to the bill itself, I explained that while Jim and I were lucky to be in St. Louis and close to excellent medical care and the sole abortion provider in the state at the time (Planned Parenthood), what if we happened to live in Joplin and had prior children we needed to find childcare for, and/of travel hundreds of miles for our care. As I explained how our immense privilege and how it helped us I grew more frustrated. While the senators were kindly looking at me, I knew it wouldn't change their votes. And that was the worst part of all. 

I am driving 2.5 hours each way, taking the day off work, paying for my own gas and meals and writing testimonials late into the night to share Grace's story. I think it's important, and one of the things I have heard while telling it over the past 7 months is that a lot of people had never considered this side of abortion - that people sometimes do it because it's the most loving, humane thing we can do while we suffer immense heartbreak at learning our wanted pregnancies won't turn into happy, healthy babies. But these elected officials are so tied up in politics, so tied up in Right For Life and other anti-abortion donors... they don't care enough to vote for my family and others like mine. They might feel badly for me, but not enough to acknowledge that this will happen to families again, and to demand smarter, more balanced, inclusive, compromising bills. Having that hit me again (this certainly wasn't the first time) combined with reliving Grace's story and how sad I am to not have her now made me start to cry. 

I live in the state with the third most restrictive reproductive rights, and they are still pushing forward these bills. They want MORE restrictions. Abortion is protected by Roe v Wade and 7 out of 10 people believe it should be legal. Yet I have to testify to keep these rights, and it's still not enough - sometimes these bills advance and become law. It's easy to see why people call this a war on women - when is it enough? When abortion is illegal and women die in back alleys and babies like Grace suffer needlessly? Is that truly what people want?

It's not that I'm absolute - I believe in moderate restrictions around abortion that takes all parties into consideration and has appropriate exceptions, support for those that need it should they choose not to end a pregnancy, and compromises between the two sides. Surely I'm not the only one. But even my desires for compromise feel helpless in the face of Missouri's Conservative politicians, especially as they are spurred on by Governor Greitens. When will we get politicians that care more about their constituents, including more than the unborn (and including them too, in the case of Grace who would suffer under these laws) more than playing politics? 

It's my very sincere hope that this changes some day. We ALL deserve better, no matter where you stand on this issue, and if you believe you still are 100% against abortion after hearing my story, I hope you remember your daughter, niece, cousin, daughter in law, wife, etc. could have this happen to her at any time. Men, this could happen to any woman in your life that is of reproductive age. Don't you want laws to include them? I wonder how Dr. Onder would feel if something like this happened to one of his 6 children when they get older. Simply wishing for nothing to go wrong and avoiding thinking about the reality Jim and I experienced isn't enough. 

With others that testified against the Senate Bills that would restrict reproductive rights in Jefferson City, June 13, 2017, including my amazing friend Dana (far right). 

With others that testified against the Senate Bills that would restrict reproductive rights in Jefferson City, June 13, 2017, including my amazing friend Dana (far right). 

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!

 

 

 

My First Time Testifying at the Missouri State Capitol: The Bad

As I mentioned in my last blog post, last week I testified against Senate Bill 408 at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, MO. SB 408 is one of the heartbeat ban bills that you might be hearing a lot about in the news lately, which prohibits an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (around 6 weeks of pregnancy). The summary of the bill is: "Requires the use of a fetal heartbeat detection test prior to an abortion and prohibits an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected"

Senator Andrew Koenig

Senator Andrew Koenig

I'm going to get into the actual bill in a bit, but first I want to talk about one of the more negative parts of the day, especially in terms of its overall implications. I got up at 5 a.m. to be ready and drive to Jefferson City to testify in time for the 8 a.m. hearing of SB 408. This bill is sponsored by Andrew Koenig of the 15th district, which covers a swath of St. Louis county. Senator Koenig introduced the bill discussion by giving an overview of the bill, and then the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Subcommittee opened up the hearing to proponents and opponents. 

I was the first bill opponent to give my testimony, which is very similar to my Washington Post Op Ed. I got emotional a few times during my testimony due to the grief I obviously continue to feel, but also because I feel so strongly about my message and that we should 100% have the right to do what we did for our family as it was done out of love, and also pride for trying to do everything I can to make sure people are aware of our circumstances. We are fighting for Grace and the humanity with which we were able to treat her.

However while I was prepared to feel all of these emotions, I was NOT expecting Senator Koenig to choose the few moments I took delivering my testimony to use it as an opportunity to look at his phone. I was literally sitting right next to Senator Koenig, maybe a foot or two away at most, reading my personal account of ending my very wanted pregnancy and he was looking at his cell phone instead of paying attention to my experience and perspective in relation to the very restrictive bill that he is proposing felt distracting and disrespectful.

Perhaps this is common, but as a first time testifier, it felt disrespectful and dismissive to me, especially since Senator Koenig has three children himself and fosters. Furthermore, it was very distracting as I was focusing on my message; I don't work in politics every day. This is all new and unusual for me; I'm just a regular person with a regular job like everybody else, and took a day off of work (and drove over 2 hours each way) to testify. This, simply put, is and was a very big deal to me. It's vulnerable and hard. All while we're grieving the loss of our very wanted daughter.

Speaking more broadly than Senator Koenig's decision to engage with his phone rather than with me, I would hate to learn that this behavior is the norm for any lawmaker towards any individual testifying. This isn't a partisan issue, this is a respect issue. No legislator or representative should, in my opinion, be dismissive and distracting to a person that has made the effort to come to share their perspective on a bill or initiative that they are proposing and sponsoring. I feel strongly they should want to hear all sides of the issue to ensure truly good, intelligent, fact-based legislation that encompasses all of the the wants and needs of the constituents that it impacts as much as possible. In my particular case, thankfully the members of the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee that heard my testimony were far more attentive and appreciative of my testimony, even if they didn't agree with it, than Senator Koenig.

I think that all politicians should want to make laws that are as fair and inclusive of as many impacted parties as possible, but Senator Koenig's proposed bill leaves out a surprising number of his presumed constituents. It's easy to assume that the constituents that Senator Koenig represents are not as conservative (and presumably pro-life) as he is. I cannot find very specific data around how his district (District 15) voted, which happens to be right next to the one that I live in and is more Liberal than Conservative, but both are part of St. Louis County which voted Democratic in the major 2016 elections:

The 2016 Presidential Results by Demographic in St. Louis County

The 2016 Senate Results by Demographic in St. Louis County

The 2016 Governor Results by Demographic in St. Louis County

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You can review these graphs here.

This tells me that despite Senator Koenig, a Conservative, being elected, the constituents he represents are not likewise overwhelmingly Conservative themselves, and at a minimum likely not absolute in their politics. I tend to want compromise and legislation that serves as many people as fairly as possible instead of legislation serving a few at the expense of many, so I definitely have a bias, but I feel that Senator Koenig might do a better job representing his constituents than he currently is by proposing more moderate, fact-based, prevention-based reproductive rights legislature. In fact he is arguably an ideal candidate to offer more balanced, compromised-based legislation than a representative in a far more partisan district. I know another woman who lives in Senator Koenig's district who has had to make the same heartbreaking choice that we have, and I feel so sad for her that this is the person representing her. Senator Koenig isn't proposing logical ways to limit abortion such as bills that encourage sex education or contraception; instead he is proposing a 6 week abortion ban, one that doesn't even have exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomaly. It truly is a horribly-designed bill with potentially disastrous consequences that won't actually stop abortions, it will just make them far more dangerous.

Heartbeat bills have well documented arguments against them, including that women often don't know they are pregnant soon enough to meet the proposed law's restrictive timelines, and that laws that outlaw abortion this early have been ruled in the past to be unconstitutional based on Roe v Wade (see here and here). All of this doesn't even take into account that states spend a lot of money fighting these rulings that overturn these laws. I would love to see us putting those funds towards sex education or contraception.

I hope my future experiences testifying are more positive experiences. While obviously I knew Senator Koenig and I have opposing views on reproductive rights, I didn't expect that my views would be so dismissed by him. I'd hoped he would at least be curious about my perspective, but if he was, it was not demonstrated to me in any way. I fear that this is how the vast majority of legislative debate goes right now, and it's very discouraging. We, as constituents, deserve far better, and I still hold out hope that the respectful, compassionate discussion that I built this website for can happen, but listening, which Senator Koenig failed to do, is a critical step.

Our Visit To Washington D.C. (Part 3: About the Folders I was Holding, and How I Felt)


You might have noticed in my picture in my blog post from attending Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing that I had several blue and green folders with me:

Meeting Senator Feinstein and Senator Grassley.  Photo from PBS NewsHour

Meeting Senator Feinstein and Senator Grassley.  Photo from PBS NewsHour

The folders were assembled in a bit of a rush, because I didn't have a lot of notice that I was going to get to attend the confirmation hearing. But they held information I was absolutely proud to carry and deliver, including:

  • Jim's and my testimony. I have sent our testimony about how we learned about Grace's fetal anomaly, subsequently terminated the pregnancy, and how it was to undergo this in the state of Missouri in letter format a few times when there are bills being evaluated, and so on. Jim shared his testimony when he testified against HB 757, a 20 week abortion ban being proposed currently in Missouri. You can read the bill here. You may notice that the bill does not have exceptions for fetal anomalies. It is also scientifically inaccurate according to five doctors we've talked to so far, all whom independently said a fetus doesn't feel pain until 28 weeks, not 20 as the bill asserts. So HB 757 is a great example of a bill being both based on false and/or disregarded medical science (where the law is designed to allow politicians decide when a fetus feels pain over experienced medical professionals that specialize in this), and without fully considering everyone that might be impacted by it. 

You can watch Jim's heartbreaking testimonial and the responses here (starts immediately): 

Missouri Progressive YouTube Channel

  • My Op Ed in the Washington Post. Senator Feinstein referenced my Op Ed in her opening remarks, so I felt it was important to include.
  • Others' Stories. This was a big one. We are not the only people that have gone through this. In fact, on an infertility support group that I participate in, of the 130 members, at least 3 other women have had to terminate pregnancies for medical reasons due to fetal anomalies. Once I joined Ending A Wanted Pregnancy, an amazing support group for women that have faced similar circumstances and have had to, like us, choose the the "best" from unimaginable options, I found other women that had shared their stories too. I highly encourage you to read the stories that I brought with me to Washington D.C. here

While each circumstance is different, the common threads of utter shock upon the news of a fetal anomaly, feeling 100% that termination of the pregnancy was the best option, government interference and astronomical expenses show up in nearly each story. 

I gave the folders to Senators, legislative counsel representatives and other individuals where their understanding of the issue and its impact is very important; these are some of the people that need to know the realities of who these laws fully affect and in what way, so they can be enabled to support and/or make different policy decisions in the future. I know it won't change every mind, but I am very hopeful that raised awareness will help in even a small way. It's discouraging to think that a lawmaker would know of our circumstances and still choose to pass a bill that makes carrying out our decision, made out of parental love, even harder, but at least they will have been informed rather than just unaware. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to personally hand these packets to Senators and other individuals of great influence. Being invited to Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am still overwhelmed 2 weeks later. Being in the room while people like Sandy Philips told the story of her daughter losing her life to gun violence in the Aurora, CO theater shooting was one of the saddest privileges of my life. The impact was overwhelming, and I wasn't the only one moved to tears by her testimony.

Watching testimony like Sandy's as well as watching the Senators interact with each other and with the witnesses served as a great reminder that we're all human beings. We all have feelings and senses of humor and things that outrage us. Many of us are really putting ourselves out there hoping that in exchange for letting people evaluate and assess us based on what we're sharing (even Sandy was subject to some of that), that the payoff will be educating some people and bringing about some change. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story, and to the other women who have so bravely shared their stories. We are all possibly subjecting ourselves to having our accounts of their darkest days ripped apart by strangers, all for the chance to hopefully educate the public and our elected officials on the realities of later term abortions, and to hopefully help usher in some change. That's absolutely the hope of every single person that shares. That's how strongly we feel about it. I can assure you the attention we garner is more negative than positive, and some days it's hard to keep going. We share to hopefully help prevent other families from facing at least the legal and stigma-related pain in the experience.


Do you have a story about ending a wanted pregnancy? Please feel free to contact me. Every single story helps make a difference!