I have two beautiful children, but my path to motherhood was not easy.

Like many Arkansans, we needed the help of a fertility specialist to get pregnant. When I got my first positive pregnancy test, I was so excited!

But my hopes were dashed a short while later when I learned through bloodwork that the pregnancy was not viable. There was nothing we could do but wait for my body to start to miscarry naturally. 

Those weeks of waiting were difficult.

My pastor came over, and we sat in our living room and prayed together.

We cried and asked God to be near to us in our pain.

I was swimming in grief, desperate to try again. I eventually started bleeding.

Later, after several attempts, I finally had a viable pregnancy that ended in the birth of my now 7 year old son. 

When it was time to add another child to our family, I went into the process with a much more guarded heart. I knew another loss was possible, but I was not prepared for what came next.

Not once, but twice, I got pregnant. Not once, but twice, I went in for my first ultrasound, only to see an empty sack on the screen. Not once but twice, I heard nothing but silence as the tech scanned over and over again for a heartbeat. Not once but twice, I was experiencing a non-viable pregnancy.

Each time, my doctor explained the options: wait for my body to miscarry naturally, take a medication to cause my body to expel the non-pregnancy, or have a surgical procedure called a d&c.

I knew how the waiting felt, and it was awful. I was also afraid of the medication causing a painful miscarriage that I would have to manage at home alone.

So, after talking things over with my doctor, my spouse, and my pastor, I elected to have the d&c procedure both times.

Not once but twice, I woke up in the recovery room and cried onto the shoulder of a loving nurse who soothed my battered and broken heart. When I finally held my daughter in my arms 18 months later, I cried tears of joy. 

Today in Arkansas, doctors have to jump through many hoops to offer women in my shoes the medical care I received. Right now, our state has a near-total abortion ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal fetal abnormalities.

Abortion-related and abortion-adjacent procedures are under extreme scrutiny. While the procedure I had was not an abortion, the medical code contains the word “abortion.” As a result, doctors are spending precious time–time they could be treating other patients–meticulously defending their plan of care for women like me, and asking multiple physicians to sign off on their actions. 

These extra steps are not because the care I received is dangerous, controversial or unethical. These extra steps are to keep medical providers from going to prison or losing their medical licenses and being unable to treat patients at all. As a result, what used to be a non-controversial procedure for women experiencing pregnancy loss has become complicated and high-stakes. 

I want my doctor to be free to focus fully on my healthcare needs and the needs of other women like me facing pregnancy loss. I don’t want their judgment impaired with worry about how a judge or team of lawyers with no medical training will interpret their actions. But since doctors’ primary objective is to treat patients, not fight legal battles, their options are limited.

It pains me to know that in a time of immense pain, a provider can’t be wholly focused on their grieving patient, and must also worry about defending their treatment plan to outside parties. 

I am glad I had the option to surgically end my non-viable pregnancies without unnecessary red tape. The procedure allowed me the space to recover and heal, without worrying for weeks about when my miscarriages would start.

The compassionate healthcare I received helped me recover faster, and enabled me to hold my baby girl in my arms more quickly. I want other grieving women to have easy access to that closure, too. 

The current total abortion ban puts politicians between patients and their doctors. When I got devastating news in the ultrasound room–twice–our state’s legislators were not the ones holding my hand and handing me tissues. My healthcare providers and my pastor were. Healthcare providers need the freedom to offer patients expedient options in a tough situation like mine. They need the freedom to rely on their years of medical training and expertise, without worrying about a distant third party calling their care plan into question. They need the freedom to support their patients as they build families in life-giving ways. 

Every pregnancy deserves to be welcomed with tears of joy. Unfortunately, some pregnancies are met with tears of pain and sorrow instead. In those heart-breaking situations, Arkansas women and their doctors deserve access to a range of medical treatment options. We need to trust our doctors and their pregnant patients to make compassionate, loving, and wise choices in difficult times. By taking healthcare decisions out of the courtroom and putting them back where they belong–in the exam room and in the living room–patients and their doctors can work together to assess their particular circumstances, weigh the risks, and make the best of a bad situation. 

Author

  • Elizabeth Henry-McKeever

    Reverend Elizabeth Henry-McKeever grew up in Arkansas and has lived in North Carolina, the Bay Area, and the DC area. Before ordination, she worked in non-profit communications and fundraising. Elizabeth is married to Alison, a public librarian, and together they are raising two young children and a rescue dog. When she’s not chasing children or dogs, Elizabeth enjoys cooking, walking in the woods, and beekeeping.