My son Carl would have turned 15 years old today.
I should be taking him to get his learner’s permit and teaching him how to drive. He should be driving me bonkers by being too loud with his friends and playing video games past his bedtime.
But I never got that chance, because 15 years ago today, I lost my son 12 days before my scheduled C-Section.
This is the hardest story I’ve ever had to tell, but it’s an important message, and I hope you will stay with me to the end so we can prevent what happened to me and my son from happening to anyone else.
On the morning of March 14th, 2007, I was at my weekly obstetric check-up. I was due to give birth within a couple weeks, but something went wrong that day.
The nurse couldn’t detect Carl’s heartbeat. For several minutes she flustered and fiddled with different equipment, trying to find a machine that worked. My first inkling that something was wrong was when the doctor suddenly pulled me in for an ultrasound.
My doctor told me to go to the hospital immediately. Believing that Carl’s life was in imminent danger, and that I was about to be rushed into the delivery room, we quickly arranged a babysitter for my daughter and went straight to the ER.
But instead of rushing me into treatment, the ER staff stalled me for five grueling hours before forcing me to get a second ultrasound to confirm what they, and my doctor, already knew. My son was dead – caused by true knots in my umbilical cord.
Little did I know, that was just the beginning of my long nightmare.
First, my doctor strolled into the room hours after my 2nd ultrasound and casually broke the news. Worse, he blamed me, claiming “this only happens late-term when the mother does something wrong.”
I was still reeling from the shocking news, trying to process what was happening, and without knowing anything more, my doctor told me this was my fault.
Two weeks earlier I had urged my doctor to deliver Carl early because I could tell something wasn’t right. He wasn’t kicking as much as he had been, and something just felt wrong. He dismissed me and insisted I was fine, saying, “Pregnant women worry all the time.”
Now, I was in the hospital and my nightmare had come true.
That same doctor who wrote off my fears while my son was still alive now gave me two options: I could remain pregnant and continue carrying my son while his body decomposed in my womb, putting me at significant risk of death, or they could perform a C-Section and remove my deceased son immediately.
My choice was obvious. I asked for the C-Section, but my doctor inexplicably dismissed me again. Despite having just detailed what would be an extremely graphic death if they didn’t remove the fetus, he told me “No, you’re not thinking rationally. Let’s just wait.”
The conservative Catholic hospital, St. Joseph’s in Joliet, IL, then sent three nurses and a priest to talk to me. All of them pressured me to continue carrying my deceased son, urging that this was what “God had intended.”
In a fit of despair and disbelief, I began to question them. What if their tests were wrong? What if my son actually WAS still alive and they were putting his life at risk by denying me a C-Section?
Only then, when I suggested my son might still be alive, did they agree to take me into the operating room – not when it was clear that my life was in danger.
The nightmare continued after the procedure was done. The hospital priest told me that my son wouldn’t be allowed to go to heaven because he hadn’t been baptized.
They made me take a drug test to determine if illicit drug use was to blame for my son’s death – ignoring the natural and common phenomenon of true knots that were clearly to blame.
In the months that followed, I joined pregnancy loss support groups and learned that many, many other women had been subjected to the same cruel treatment. One woman I met was actually arrested for homicide because doctors believed her to be responsible for her miscarriage.
Imagine grieving the loss of your child, your body recovering from a traumatic failed pregnancy – and then being arrested and accused of murder.
It’s been 15 years since I lost my son. I am still, and always will be, his mother. And I still grieve for him.
The pain feels as fresh today as it did 15 years ago – and all of it was preventable.
If my doctor had listened to me two weeks earlier, it’s likely my son would still be alive today.
I had to beg them for a late-term abortion that day. If I hadn’t been able to convince them, it’s very likely that I would NOT be alive today.
Why should I have to beg for life-saving medical care? How many other women have been forced into this position and lost their lives as a result?
The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world – in fact, American women die in childbirth at twice the rate of our peer countries. And women of color are most affected.
Even 15 years after my horrifying nightmare, women are still dying of preventable conditions because doctors won’t listen to us and women like me are coerced into suffering in silence.
Well, I won’t be silent anymore. I have to be a voice not only for the women like me who were subjected to physical and emotional trauma, but the women who didn’t make it and aren’t here to be heard anymore.
I’m running for Congress because abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right. I refuse to stand by and let men like Joe Manchin deny life-saving healthcare to women like me.
I won’t allow radical right-wingers like Marjorie Taylor Greene or my GOP opponent, Esther Joy King, moralize and grandstand at the expense of lives like mine. I’m running for Congress to fight for our rights – to abortion care, to healthcare, to housing, to living wages. Our very right to live. I do it for Carl, and for my two living children. And I will never stop fighting to make the world a better place for them.
Marsha Williams is a Brand New Congress candidate running for U.S. House in the open seat of IL-17. We share her heart wrenching story with you to highlight what is at risk with the unprecedented attack on the rights of pregnant people. Marsha is a fierce advocate for reproductive rights and the only candidate in her race running on universal healthcare, strengthening unions, and the Green New Deal. If you would like to help Marsha get elected, please consider a split contribution with her campaign here.