Pregnancy Is Too Complicated for “Life Begins At X”

This article is published as part of a series by RH Reality Check and our colleagues in observance of the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade.

I was catching up on the live coverage of the America Life League meeting when the clinic called me to offer congratulations.  According to them, I was "almost ‘not pregnant’."

Considering what a struggle it had always been for me to get pregnant, I supposed it was only fair that I found it so hard to become unpregnant, too.  We spent a full year trying for our first child before we were lucky enough to conceive.  So it wasn’t so shocking when it took the same about of time to conceive our second.  The shock came later, at our first appointment, when we they couldn’t find a heartbeat.

We lost that potential life at 8 weeks 2 days, or just over six weeks after conception.  In the time that passed between that loss and the visit that showed us that it was gone, my body had soldiered on in pregnancy even though there was no longer a fetus, with my hcg levels increasing, pregnancy symptoms continuing, and my uterus expanding to a full 12 weeks.  Because my body was refusing to miscarry on its own, we had to schedule a D&C to have the "products of conception" removed.

I was nearly 12 weeks pregnant, and just finishing my first trimester.  It was Halloween.

Your body goes through many different things after a pregnancy is removed, and no two situations are the same.  But for those of us with missed miscarriages, we have follow up appointments to make sure our bodies are returning to normal, tracking, among other things, the level of pregnancy hormone in our body to make sure it returns to normal.

Some offices define "pregnant" as any hcg level over 25.  Others, any level over 5.  When you are having a successful pregnancy, your level doubles roughly every 48 hours.  After a D&C, your body should have a drastic drop, although some don’t.  And your levels should decrease in half every 48 hours, although some don’t.

Mine didn’t, and still refuses to.  Now, nearly 12 weeks since the surgery, I am at 21.  I am still, technically, "pregnant."

I think of these timelines when I hear people touting the personhood amendment, or declaring that life begins the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg.  They are so definite that that is the moment life that a woman is "pregnant."  But when, then, does a woman become "not pregnant?"

Was it when the fetus lost its heartbeat?  In that case, I haven’t been pregnant in almost four months.

Was it when I had the D&C and it was removed?  Then I haven’t been pregnant since October.

Or is it when my body chemically has everything out of my system?  If so, then yes, I’m still pregnant even without anything growing inside of me.

I find it hard to understand how people can be certain that a fertilized egg at that precise moment becomes a life. It hasn’t implanted anywhere where it can grow in order to live.  It doesn’t have a heartbeat.  It hasn’t become something that can survive without assistance.  How does it now develop total rights that surpass even that of the woman carrying it?

If the end of a pregnancy can be this fluid, how can "this is the exact moment that a human begins and has rights?"  Pregnancy is far too complicated for that.

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  • crowepps

    I had my ‘missed abortion’ in about 1974, at a time when OB care was far more paternalistic and patients weren’t usually told what was going on and nobody did things like hcg levels and they hadn’t yet invented ultrasounds.

    I went for a regular monthly checkup at about my third month and was told to ‘take it easy’. When I went in 30 days later for the fourth month checkup the doctor ‘fully informed’ me by stating, “Well, I guess we’d better do a D&C.” When I just about fell off the table in shock he informed me there had been no heartbeat at the previous appointment and there was still no heartbeat, that the pregnancy had “missed”, that this happened all the time and they had no idea why, “but probably it won’t happen again”. My logical thought was, “if you don’t know why it happened this time how do you know it won’t happen again?”

    I had been walking around for almost two months carrying a dead fetus. I continued to do so for almost a week until the D&C could be scheduled and then went into a regular hospital and my regular doctor did the D&C. I just cannot imagine how badly women feel when their regular doctor refers them to Planned Parenthood for the procedure because that’s where the experts work, and they have to walk through all the protestors in order to have their dead fetus removed.

    The fact that somewhere in the hospital there may be an RN or volunteer or cleaning lady who gets palpitations at the thought that the term for removing the dead “products of conception” is “D&C abortion” just doesn’t move me very much. There’s no way that stranger’s emotional reaction to a word is as important as the feelings of the woman who was looking forward to a child and whose pregnancy has ended disastrously.

  • religiousinstitute

    Thanks for the in-depth explanation hcg levels and your analysis on the difficulty of defining pregnancy. To read about Rev. Debra Haffner’s (sexologist and minster) thoughts on the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, go here:

  • cpcwatcher

    Thank you, Robin, for sharing your personal account with a difficult pregnancy. As a long-time reproductive rights activist and relatively new birth doula, I know how complex pregnancy and childbirth can be for many women. These complexities would easily be reduced by increasing access to comprehensive reproductive health care starting in the teen years. My main focus of reproductive justice advocacy revolves around "crisis pregnancy centers" and the ways they and the anti-choice camp at large work to limit not only abortion options, but contraceptive, sexuality, and childbirth options as well.

    Perhaps this is why those of us pro-choicers lose ground so easily. Pregnancy is complicated, and advocating for increased options simply cannot be argued in soundbites the way the points of the antis can. That’s why my mantra remains "trust women," trust that we can make our own decisions, but also trust us with legitimate information so we can do so.

    I hope the best for you and your family, that you will be able to heal and one day will be able to have a healthy baby to call your own! <3

  • marthasp6s

    From what I have noticed, the younger you are, the less chances are there of miscarriages. If you get pregnant at a very old age, you have more chances of facing unsuccessful pregnancies. Our body clock has not changed despite the change in our culture and outlook, and all those who believe that "life begins at 40" should understand that biologically we have not changed a bit over the centuries!
    Thanks for the insightful article.
    Martha Jones

  • joshuasgrandma

    It is next impossible to explain the complexities of pregnancy to people who think there is one simple answer to everything.

    We should be reminded of H.L. Mencken’s observation:

    "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."



    ‘The last time we mixed religion and politics, people got burned at the stake’