“There’s your baby’s heartbeat,” said the sonographer, pointing to the screen as we listened to the thump-thump-thump that was the most magical sound I had ever heard. A week later, the next scan showed that this beautiful twinkling heartbeat had gone, and our baby had died. I couldn’t face having to wait to pass the pregnancy sac, so I opted for surgery: a procedure called an ERPC: “evacuation of retained products of conception”.
I remember thinking that “evacuation” sounded like something you’d have done to your bowels. “Products of conception” might be the correct clinical term, but to us, as a grieving couple, that was our dead baby: our much longed-for baby, who was already loved and anticipated as a unique human being, not simply an object to be discarded.
From the outset of your antenatal care, the NHS refers to “your baby”, acknowledging that the stage of gestation doesn’t determine the meaning of the pregnancy to the family. But as soon as the pregnancy is “non-viable”, there’s an immediate and stark switch in the language used. Bethan Raymond lost her daughter Bella at 16 weeks. “I was told over the phone that my – still very much alive – baby girl had a fatal chromosomal abnormality, and would therefore die,” she told me. “I’d barely had time to process this when I was asked how I wanted to dispose of the products of conception.”
Well, what language should we be using then? If you didn’t want the baby and were having an abortion then you’d scream blue bloody murder if we all went around saying you were getting rid of your baby, wouldn’t you? It’s a gob of meiotic cells or summat if you don’t want it.
And the thing is, what it is isn’t dependent upon your view. It is – it is what it is too.