Taking Gemma’s Pain: Ending A Wanted Pregnancy
By: Megan Hofbauer
I am a mother of three handsome boys and one beautiful daughter or at least I imagine she’s beautiful. When I close my eyes, I see a beautiful little girl with dark brown hair, soulful blue eyes, and olive skin but then I open my eyes and she’s gone. The reality is sometimes suffocatingly painful.
The moment I gave birth to my daughter Gemma can only be described as the most beautiful ending to the worst day of my life.
If that was the worst day then the 7 weeks leading up to it would mark the beginning of the most traumatic and difficult period of my life.
We received a call from our doctor at the beginning of September 2016 letting us know that our daughter most likely had Trisomy 18 and that it was not compatible with life. Devastated does not adequately describe what I was feeling. Two days later, any hope that she didn’t have Trisomy 18 was dashed when an ultrasound started revealing life threatening anomalies.
While further testing was required it was obvious to everyone that Gemma definitely had Trisomy 18.
After meeting with our regular OB and having talked to our high-risk doctor, our options were laid out. There was a 95% chance that she would miscarry. We could wait for that to happen. If by some chance she went full term we could intervene medically but that would only lengthen her life by hours or days.
Could I subject my baby to a short life full of pain only to watch her die anyway? That option seemed selfish to me.
If she went full term and we didn’t intervene medically then she would die within seconds or minutes. Could I watch and listen as her only time alive was in pain and dying, possibly suffocating to death because her lungs didn’t grow properly?
The last option was to terminate the pregnancy. Would I be able to reconcile my Catholic faith with that choice if I made it? These options were all I thought about for weeks.
I started having nightmares that I would be at a store and I’d miscarry in the toy aisle or I’d be at a kid’s soccer game and would have to be rushed away in an ambulance. Maybe I’d be at home by myself or with the kids and it would happen. Worse were the nightmares that she’d go full-term and I’d have to listen and watch as she suffocated to death. I couldn’t do that, put her through that pain. I wanted her birth to be beautiful and happy and loving, not traumatic and devastating.
By the time of my amniocentesis in October, I had spent countless hours researching my options. At night I would escape to take a shower and cry until well after the water turned frigid.
I had to try to find a way to take all of Gemma’s pain and put it on myself. It was a lot to carry, and I was reminded every second of every day of my looming decision.
We finally made the least selfish and most loving decision we could make, to be induced into labor. Being induced wasn’t actually offered to us but through research I had read a few stories about it. After meeting with our OB and discussing that it could be physically and emotionally more difficult for me but also recognizing it would also be cathartic to go through labor and delivery as well as give us a way to validate her life, our OB and hospital agreed to move forward with an induction but not until we had confirmation of the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 18. Just 2 days after receiving Gemma’s diagnosis at almost 18 weeks pregnant we walked into labor and delivery on October 27th, 2016 knowing we would be leaving without her.
It was only days before the presidential election and one of the big issues on every news channel and radio station was a woman’s right to choose. I couldn’t turn anything on without being reminded. Would the conservative side of my family still accept me, still love me after finding out about my decision? Would my liberal friends back up what they were saying and still be my friends when faced with my decision? Who could I trust to still be there for me? In the beginning, my husband and I chose to only tell a very small group of people about our decision.
Gemma was no secret, but the way in which we said goodbye would remain a secret we kept close to our hearts. Publicly, we didn’t say how we lost her. We let people assume we miscarried to protect her and to protect our decision. I was sorry for the lie of omission until our fears seemed to come true when after telling some close friends they began to pull away from us.
I felt so alone. Alone because we lost a child, and nobody talks about losing a child. Alone because we had to make this difficult decision and nobody talks about it, at least not from the perspective of ending a wanted pregnancy. Thank God I found Share. Without the support from the Share community, I wouldn’t have the courage to tell Gemma’s story, and Gemma wouldn’t have a space outside of our hearts to live.
Outside of Share, we continued to keep our decision a secret but then something happened that would force our hand.
On May 15th, 2019, I woke up to gut wrenching news that both Alabama and Missouri were passing restrictive abortion laws. I’d had enough, enough secrets, enough hiding, enough misinformation. I was done with all of it. I spent that day gearing up emotionally for battle. That day, I finally told my family about how we ended our wanted pregnancy. That was scary but I did it for me, for Gemma, for other families going through this difficult choice. Then I sat down at my computer and wrote a shortened version of our complex decision, ready to blast everyone who had something negative to say.
After posting my short essay to social media on May 16th, I sat back and waited for the negativity to fly at me. I expected it. To my shock and amazement, it didn’t happen!
People were commenting and sharing by the hundreds in the most positive way. The few negative commenters were engaged by me into a meaningful discussion. I started receiving private messages from dozens of women all over the country who just needed to tell their story to someone. Some of them even found the courage to publicly tell their story. That’s when I knew sharing my story, Gemma’s story, was worth every sad and angry tear, every painful conversation, every hurtful comment. I’m grateful to Gemma for allowing me to support families going through a similar journey. I’m grateful to Gemma for showing me that even in the midst of unimaginable heartache, I could find peace, love, and community.
Now almost 3 years into this journey, October 27th has become a day of celebration. My living children regularly include their sister in their daily routines; whether it’s including her on their school papers, adopting what we’ve always considered Gemma’s favorite color, purple, as one of their favorite colors, or pointing out something they think she’d like. They regularly cuddle up with me and their Gemma bears which were given to them when they came to meet and say goodbye to Gemma in the hospital. When it storms outside, they even get jealous of the games she’s playing with her angel friends; rain is squirt gun battles, lightning is flashlight tag, and thunder is bowling. My husband makes dinner reservations under her name. I cherish each memory I continue to make with Gemma by helping others. I genuinely love being asked if I’m Gemma’s mommy and being introduced as her mom at parent panels.
I still miss her every day. I still grieve every day. The grief is just quieter, calmer. I will never regret my decision. I can’t even regret hiding that decision for so long.
Do I wish she was here? Yes, 100% but I also wouldn’t change the last 3 years. Gemma gave my life a new purpose. She gave us her baby brother who has a heart shaped birthmark that we call his Gemma button. If you press that button he laughs. I like to think of it as his special connection to his big sister. Gemma gave us the gift of a rainbow baby; she clearly even picked him out for us and placed her mark on him.
I’m grateful we had a choice and am blessed to call Gemma my daughter. I hope I’m able to continue to help others be brave and find their voice to share their stories.
I hope that by sharing our loving decision caregivers, friends, family, and strangers have a better understanding of the love, heartbreak, and careful consideration that goes into ending a wanted pregnancy.
About Megan Hofbauer
I live near Chicago with my husband and our 3 sons. When I’m not running around after my boys, I can be found reading, volunteering as a Sharing Support Volunteer at our hospital, or filming a video for our family Youtube channel (Planet Funhouse).
These are controversial topics and many that people don’t realize other families face.
Share’s mission is to support those whose lives are touched by the tragic death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or in the first few months of life. Share does not take a political stand on these issues. Share is not responsible for guiding or counseling families in their decision-making process. We all grieve and mourn for our babies. Some of our parents have had to choose the day that they were going to lose their baby. But the truth is still: each family wanted and love their babies. We all search for support, healing and hope. All grieving parents deserve that.
As a support organization it is always our goal to provide a safe and compassionate place for every family who has suffered the great loss of their baby.
We hope this conversation allows for continued healing and an understanding from others of the great need for long-term support for every family making difficult decisions. If you are in need of support after making the decision to terminate for medical reasons, please reach out to our Bereavement Care Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-821-6819.
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