Opinion: Harrowing medical story comes out of the shadows
Joi and her husband wanted a baby.
“We wanted to be pregnant in the worst way,” she says.
For more than a decade, they tried. So many tests, and then more tests. Blood draws and injections. In 2002, it happened.
They were expecting a daughter. They would call her Jordan.
Joi was in her early 40s with a high-risk pregnancy, but everything seemed to be fine until the 20th week, when she underwent amniocentesis. The test revealed no genetic abnormalities, but something wasn’t right. Their baby’s abdomen was swelling.
“I was in a panic, but I was laser-focused on figuring out the problem,” Joi says. “I’m a physical therapist by training. I believe the science. I also over-research.”
She called her sister to postpone the baby shower. She and her husband quit going to work. This was the next two weeks of their lives, as described by Joi in a letter to her congressman, 15 years later:
“Fearing something was dreadfully wrong, we began the gut-wrenching quest to determine what the future held for our child. Specialist after specialist, test after test, bloodwork, ultrasounds — both vaginal and transdermal — palpation, measurements of every one of her body parts, scan after scan, doctor visits from Morristown to Manhattan, and towns in between to final out all of the answers.”
In the 22nd week of Joi’s pregnancy, a doctor sat them down. “There is nothing we can do to save your baby,” he said.
Joi’s options, as described by one parent in their bereavement group, were horrible and terrible.
“Do I let that child disintegrate inside me, and any time it could fall out? On a floor? While I’m driving? Did I want to fish her out of the toilet? What if I’m home alone when it happens? It’s unfathomable.”
The other option broke their hearts, but felt more humane. She and her husband agreed to a process to induce early labor.
“I didn’t know the abortion restrictions in my state at that time,” she says. “I knew I was having a medical emergency. This is what a ‘late-term abortion’ — I hate that term — is. It’s not a ‘choice.’ You have no choice.
“I wanted to deliver her and meet her. You know, you get that one chance to meet them and hold them, and then in the same minute, almost, you have to say goodbye.”
She went into the hospital on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. It would take 12 hours, they were told. “It didn’t work out that way,” she says. “Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.” She was in labor for 45 hours.
Jordan was born on the morning of Memorial Day. They held her, and then handed her over for an autopsy and cremation.
“I was in a black hole for a long time,” Joi says. “My eyes never stopped crying for weeks,” Joi says. “Sometimes, I was sobbing. Other times, I was sitting and tears were just streaming down my face.”
I have never met Joi, who has asked that I not use her full name in syndication because she fears harassment from anti-abortion extremists. I heard from her after I shared a story quoting Pope Francis, who said last Saturday that abortion is unacceptable, even when the fetus is fatally ill.
“Is it legitimate to take out a human life to solve a problem?” the pope said at a Vatican conference on the issue. “Is it permissible to contract a hitman to solve a problem?”
“A hitman,” Joi says in a phone interview. “This procedure is so rare. And to equate devastated parents who get this medical diagnosis, who face this medical emergency in the hope that they can save this baby…” Her voice trailed off.
It reminded her of Donald Trump, who lied about abortion at a Wisconsin rally in late April.
“The baby is born,” Trump said. “The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby; they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.”
If a lie can be evil, this is it. There is no bottom to Trump’s desire to demonize women, and too many people willing to believe him. That is why Joi is increasingly speaking out. “Donald Trump knows how to speak to an emotional trigger in people, and they do his bidding.”
She saw this in some of her friends. Some of them are “fundamental Christians,” she says, “and they started posting this garbage. They knew about my experience, but I was not their first thought.”
She started sending them private messages, but it didn’t feel like enough. She had to do more. She shared “a helluva status update on my Facebook wall.” She has been writing more often to legislators, too. And now she’s talking to a columnist.
“For a lot of years, I couldn’t talk about this,” she says. “It’s very isolating. It’s in the shadows.”
Joi and her husband have a 14-year-old daughter now. “We’re lucky,” she says. “We have a family. That doesn’t always happen for couples who go through this.”
Had Jordan lived, she would have turned 17 this past Memorial Day. “It feels like yesterday,” Joi says, “and forever ago.”
Each year, she remembers Jordan in her own way. “I try to plant things,” Joi says. “I try to make things grow.”
— Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with Creators Syndicate.