A Letter To My 1-Year-Old Son About His Abortion

The author, his wife Jenna wearing her late-mother’s ring and their son

Son, one day you’ll ask us what it was like when you came into this world and for years, we will lie. We will say it was joyful and wonderful and beautiful and all the other –fuls we can think of, because the truth won’t be easy to tell.

That the story began nearly two years before you were born, when your mom’s obstetrician confirmed she was pregnant. That appointment was two days before my 36th birthday, and one day before your grandpa, Pop Pop, was diagnosed with incurable cancer.

We will fib, skipping over the parts about joy, wonder and beauty being clouded by a fear I was too afraid to speak of — that Pop Pop wouldn’t live long enough to meet his grandchild.

We will wait until you are older to tell you how that fear was upstaged by another, when a doctor explained the terms “nuchal fluid,” “chromosomal abnormality” and the three different trisomies: Down’s, Edwards’ and Patau’s. These are chromosomal conditions that cause severe and sometimes fatal birth defects.

The doctor presented us with options — options I was scared to share with Pop Pop because he was raised Catholic in the ’60s, which made him pro-life by default.

We will tell you white lies until you are grown, because we can’t share your story without mentioning Kate Cox, Nancy Davis or the Dobbs decision. We will only share the good parts, and none of the bad, because we won’t know how to explain to a toddler the simple fact that you might not be here if we had lived somewhere else.

We will tell you the view from the labor room overlooking the Hollywood Hills was beautiful on the day you were born, but nothing about the previous pregnancy 22 months before. We won’t explain what “chorionic villus sampling” is, a FISH test, or the agony of waiting for that God-awful call from the genetics counselor who confirmed that our unborn baby had trisomy 18 — Edwards’ Syndrome.

We won’t tell you how a genetic screening at week 13 of that pregnancy, the one before yours, had led to those tests, and waiting for lab results, and by the time there was an opening for an abortion, your mom was at 15 weeks and three days. That was just a few days over the threshold of the 15-week ban in Florida — which the state’s Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis have tried to trim down to six weeks, a point when many women don’t even know that they’re pregnant.

I won’t tell you how your mom woke up every morning knowing that if she continued that pregnancy, it was almost certain to end in a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. That if it had been taken to term, the resulting complications might have made your conception impossible.

I won’t tell you that when I finally explained the situation to Pop Pop, he told us to do what was right for our family. That his words came without judgment or guidance, and were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

We won’t tell you about the rage we felt 10 months after your birth, when Kate Cox, a pregnant mother of two in Texas with the same diagnosis as ours, had to go to court to request a medical exemption to terminate. Or how Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, appealed the initial decision to the state Supreme Court, which ruled against Mrs. Cox, forcing her to flee the state to get the health care she needed. We won’t teach you the word “zealot,” because we will shield you the from the awful extremists that tortured Mrs. Cox, when she only wanted the best possible chance to try again.

We will tell you about the wonder we felt the first time we heard your heartbeat at the six-week ultrasound, not how difficult it was to get pregnant again or how every day of your gestation was filled with worry, thinking that it might end like the last.

We will skip over the part of your gestation where, at 10 weeks, a different doctor explained the words “acrania” and “anencephaly,” and said with 75% certainty that you didn’t have a skull, and your brain would be exposed to amniotic fluid that would quickly destroy it.

We won’t tell you the obvious — that that condition is fatal — or how we scheduled another abortion for the day after the 12-week follow-up to confirm the diagnosis, because it would be barbaric to make your mom live one more day waiting to lose a pregnancy that was already lost.

I won’t explain how the ultrasound tech at the follow-up whispered, “Come on baby, come on baby, come on baby,” as she captured every one of your angles. Or how I thought, if she knows why we’re here, she’s either the cruelest woman on the face of the earth, or we might catch a break.

The author, his wife Jenna wearing her late-mother’s ring and their son

I won’t tell you how hard your mom cried when the doctor walked in and said the 10-week reading was wrong — that you did have a skull, and it would protect your brain from the fluids we had been told would destroy it. I’ll skip over trying to describe the depth of the joy your mom felt when she made the call to cancel the appointment that was meant to be your abortion.

We will wait to reveal how just six weeks after that triumph, your mom received a call that your grandma Dub Dub was rushed to the hospital, and that she might not make it through the night. Or how your mom got on a plane, flew across the country, and raced to be with her. When I finally got there a day later, she was curled up beside Dub Dub, who was unconscious in a hospital bed.

We will wait to tell you how your mom pressed her pregnant belly against Dub Dub’s side, and I hoped she would feel you kick, and how I just sat there, watching the three of you with tears in my eyes, until the nurse said it was time to take Dub Dub off life support.

We won’t tell you that seven months after your birth, Nancy Davis, a pregnant woman in Louisiana, fled the state to get an abortion after receiving an acrania diagnosis. That abortions were banned in Louisiana after the Dobbs decision and the condition wasn’t on the states’ list of exemptions. How doctors down there wouldn’t perform the procedure for fear of being sent to prison, compelling Ms. Davis to explain to the world that she would have had to carry her baby just to bury her baby.

We won’t tell you about the joy Dub Dub felt knowing you were on your way, or how hard Pop Pop tried to live long enough to meet you, only to pass away on the last Sunday in January, exactly three weeks before you were born. We won’t explain how heartbreaking it is to become a parent just as you’ve lost your own.

I won’t tell you how I tried to calculate the number of years I might have spent in prison for driving your mother to that abortion, or how many more her doctor would have gotten for performing the procedure if we had lived in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, or the 18 other states pulling their people backwards. We will wait until you are ready to tell you about the Rons and the Kens, because we will shield you from monsters for as long as we can.

We will wait to explain Roe vs. Wade, and make sure you know how to raise your voice when the moment demands it, because women shouldn’t have to face this fight on their own. We will wait to explain how dark our world was during that time, but never miss a chance to tell you that you were the one ray of light.

We will wait until you are older to tell you the bad parts, and how they outnumbered the good. We will wait until you are grown to tell you how fortunate we were to live where we did, because if we hadn’t, we might not have had you.

Matt Tente is a screenwriter and portrait photographer who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and one year old son. In addition to scripts for film and television, he’s working on a book about becoming a father, while losing his father. You can check out his photo work at www.matttenteheadshots.com.

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