When I walked into the ultrasound room, I immediately noticed the patient’s red-rimmed eyes and cloud of mussed-up brown hair. My eyes tracked the defeated curve of her back and its stark contrast to the sterile environment of the obstetrics and gynecology exam room, with its muted grey and blue tones. A forty-year-old woman, she had used in-vitro fertilization to become pregnant because she wanted her toddler son to have a sibling. She had come to terms with the arduous process of in-vitro fertilization. Still, she had not anticipated the severe nausea and vomiting that greeted her during her early pregnancy, deciding to take root and become a permanent fixture through a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum. A once healthy, physically fit woman, she had lost ten pounds during her pregnancy and now got weak standing up for any extended period of time. Despite all of her suffering, this patient had dearly wanted both this pregnancy and this baby. Even though she was fortified by the hopeful promise of a new family member and a sibling for her son, she still expressed feelings of misery and resentment.
Even more recently, I met a patient who had also undergone in-vitro fertilization to get pregnant with her first child. Both she and her husband had painstakingly worked repeatedly through multiple failed IVF attempts to get pregnant. Unfortunately, her pregnancy was not without complications, and she developed gestational hypertension with persistent severe-range blood pressure readings. She would often come into the clinic and then go to the hospital to undergo more extensive monitoring and testing due to her high-range blood pressure readings in the clinic. Her pregnancy disrupted her ability to work and function as a normal human being. This patient, who had tried again and again to get pregnant, now had to worry about a slew of possible complications from her gestational hypertension. The threat of placental abruption, eclampsia, and stillbirth loomed over this patient during the final weeks of her pregnancy, poisoning a normally joyous and exciting time for both her and her husband.
Both of these women earnestly desired their pregnancies. They were thrilled at the prospect of being mothers and braved the immense physical toll that pregnancy places on one’s body because they were delighted about the chance to experience parenthood. Yet, during their respective pregnancies, these women both expressed that they were frightened and miserable.
Pregnancy is not a harmless condition. As a medical assistant in obstetrics and gynecology, I’ve witnessed pregnancies that were met with elation but also pregnancies that were met with fear, dismay, and resentment. People with uteruses should not be required to continue unwanted pregnancies just because they can. Each pregnancy incurs a cost to a person’s body. It is a sacrifice of time, energy, expectations, and bodily functioning that should be chosen rather than dictated. Women should be allowed to exercise autonomy about their bodies and their medical care.
Caroline Berberian is a medical assistant.