“Pregnant Prison” is a phrase I first heard when I was locked up in the HRP (High Risk Pregnancy) ward. I spent my first 5 or 6 days connected to a lot of machines and wires, so I could barely turn my body from back to side without someone running in the room to adjust everything. Once I got off the monitors, I could “roam freely” but only within the steel doors of the ward, because otherwise an alarm somewhere in the hospital would go off if I went “off the grid” and they lost the input from my cardiac electrodes. I took “laps”around the HRP ward sometimes to keep my bp and heart rate up and just to break up the afternoon, but I never saw another patient! Almost every room was full, but there was never anyone out and about; they were all on bedrest. I got pretty stir crazy, so when I was granted permission to attend the support group for moms just outside the confines of the locked steel doors-woo hoo, I was in!
A small circle of women arrived in a fleet of wheel chairs, and I could tell that some of these ladies were veterans to the ward…one had been here since Thanksgiving! The vets really had it down, sporting bedazzled pajamas that read “mama” or wild yet cozy leggings and turbans that covered their “hospital hair” fashionably. A sassy-mouthed little spit-fire rolled up in a caddy of a hospital bed. For most of them, it was not their first time in “lock up”, and they had a lot of good info that I listened to with greedy ears…which of the hospital meals were edible, what you could order off menu, and other insider tips. My drugs kicked in partway through the social outing, and I ended up losing my privilege as the only ambulatory guest at the party and was resigned to a wheel chair. Bummer, but I think I held my own in the meeting regardless and managed to kick in a few good bits despite my “newcomer/short-term status” of only 8 days at the time.
Medically, for baby Grace, things took a turn for the worse; the mood and activity level in my hospital room changed. A sign went up on my door, they quit cleaning the room. No one came to dole out prenatal vitamins and the other meds administered went down to a “comfort level” after Grace’s condition was deemed terminal, completely untreatable. After we double-triple-quadruple-etc checked our terrible diagnosis and outcome, we decided to leave. Some of my best nurses came in to say goodbye and give me tearful hugs or supportive words. I didn’t know when I would be back, but I was told it would be soon.
During our discovery phase of those last few awful days in the hospital, we were overwhelmed emotionally. We were at one point informed that there were “choices”, but the next day that was retracted and we were told that in this state there is only one way that this can go. We didn’t really know how we felt about all of that, except that it added a new element to the word “pregnant prison” for me. A small amount of research turned up the 2 out-of-state options, oh scratch that- one was a doctor that had been murdered in church 2 years ago by a pro-life extremist. The other was a man who works behind 5 sheets of bullet proof glass, a barb wire fence and rides around with armed marshals. Hmmmm, okay. We were told our sweet girl had such low function in her heart, that survival through the next days or weeks would be unimaginable. Thank goodness we did not have to make an unimaginably difficult choice like that. I’m a mom, and it didn’t sound safe in more ways than one. But it’s always good to know that you have “choices”, right girls? I would just hate to think that a lawmaker somewhere who has no medical background and knows nothing of my personal health circumstance would be the one calling the shots when it comes to my baby and my body. Surely these tragic circumstances are left to be decided between grief-stricken families and their informed medical teams, right? Nope. I just want to let you know that it is not the case. When you are born with a uterus and the ability to become pregnant, you automatically surrender all decision-making to the lordly knowledgeable lawmakers of your state. You will be imprisoned in one way or another: either sentenced to jail for taking matters into your own hands or sentenced to the physical pregnant state of your body regardless of a terminal diagnosis for your baby, regardless or your sanity and regardless of your health, until it becomes absolutely certain that you will die from your condition unless there is medical intervention. Some lawmakers are pushing for more extreme versions of this scenario (Terry England http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/03/12/442637/georgia-rep-compares-women-to-animals/ ) and feel that women, much like cows and pigs should also carry stillborn fetuses throughout duration of their pregnancy (even if it means infection and death to the mother)….you know how passionate pro-life advocates can be to “save the life” of a terminally ill or deceased baby.
For the record, the bill in GA is called HB 954, and I will point to it stamped on the belly of my shirt the next time a co-elevator passenger merrily tells me it won’t be much longer until my little bundle of joy arrives! For my out-of-state or out-of-country friends, check your laws: they are probably not as different as you might assume.
Baby Grace’ specific situation and the way it came about is very rare, and what we are left with is the kind of ethical/medical hypothetical situation that’s barely even dreamed up in debates. I calculated the odds of our medical happenstance once and it was beyond 1 in 6 million, and might be less than that now. I am in a new kind of pregnant prison now, one of solitude. I belong nowhere. I have become the new pariah of legal/ medical nightmares and social awkwardness. If I call for a second opinion medically, I get the feeling no one would come near me with a ten foot pole (crank caller, crank caller). The OB office wouldn’t squeeze me in one day when I called with quite alarming symptoms and no support group yet represents the loss or status that defines me. This sucks. I am so frustratingly physically limited by my swollen physical state, migraine headaches and other symptoms, that I have to rest most of the day so that I can muster up the energy for the things I enjoy most like being with my kids and family. Guess I’m not feeling so upbeat or strong today, sorry guys 😦