Last year, Farrah Day tried for months to get pregnant with her second child. The 32-year-old San Antonio–area mother hoped to finish building her family in her early 30s, while she was still relatively young. Doing so would allow her to commit fully to attending medical school, building upon her experience working as a medical researcher.
After going through “so many pregnancy tests that I lost count,” Day and her fiancé finally learned in the summer of 2021 that she was expecting. They were thrilled, but hesitantly so. The last time Day had tried to have a child, she’d had a miscarriage; for the first couple of months of this pregnancy, the fear of losing another child lingered.
But by the time she arrived at her doctor’s office for a routine ultrasound at thirteen weeks, Day was feeling healthy and optimistic. She’d announced her pregnancy on Facebook and had begun designing a nursery in the family’s new home. “We were so excited,” Day said. “As someone who reads medical literature, I knew my odds of having complications after twelve weeks were about five percent.”
Her excitement ended during that ultrasound visit. Day recalls the moment when her normally talkative ob-gyn went silent, a look of concern appearing on her face. Within hours, Day was sitting in front of a maternal-fetal specialist trying to wrap her head around devastating news: her unborn baby was suffering from a particularly severe case of hydrops fetalis, a rare condition that causes abnormal amounts of fluid to build up inside a fetus, which can lead to extensive damage of its internal organs.
Should she decide to continue her pregnancy for another six months, the specialist told Day, she would most likely give birth to a stillborn baby. If the baby didn’t die in utero, he said, it was unlikely to live more than a few days outside the womb. She was told that continuing to term could also put Day at risk for developing mirror syndrome (also known as Ballantyne syndrome or triple edema), a condition associated with hydrops in which an expectant mother develops severe swelling and potentially life-threatening hypertension. “I’d never heard of hydrops,” Day said. “When I found out, I couldn’t quite believe that, against all odds, this terrible thing still managed to happen.”
Though the underyling cause of fetal hydrops varies, the specialist said Day’s baby was likely influenced by Trisomy 18 (also known as Edwards syndrome), a genetic condition that causes fetal growth delays and, eventually, life-threatening complications. Dr. Saul Snowise, medical director of the Midwest Fetal Care Center in Minneapolis, said that Trisomy 18 is what doctors consider a “life-limiting condition.” “These babies will not survive,” he said. “The vast majority die within the first few hours and days after delivery and there is a risk for mothers who carry these babies as well—these patients can get very sick and maybe develop edema and life-threatening high blood pressure.”
So now, hours after she’d been buying new baby items on Amazon, Day found herself weighing a series of agonizing choices, each with its own set of complex repercussions. She could continue on her current path, allowing her pregnancy, and its potential health complications, to unfold without intervention. Or she could find a way to terminate her pregnancy, a choice complicated by Senate Bill 8, the Texas legislation criminalizing abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, which had been signed into law in May and taken effect on September 1, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue a stay to halt its enforcement.
“I kept thinking about how I wanted my doctor—someone I trust and who knows my body and who has been with me since my first pregnancy—to be able to be with me through this process if I decided to go through with an abortion, but in the state of Texas that wasn’t an option,” Day said. “Imagine how scary it is to think that you might have to find a random doctor in another state to deal with one of the most intimate choices a woman can make.”
Although her own potential health challenges were a concern, Day’s more immediate worry was for her son, as well as her fiancé’s two young children from a previous relationship. From her own research, and conversations with other pregnant women, she knew that some people in similar situations choose to carry the baby to term with the expectation that it would likely die soon after. She decided she couldn’t be one of them. “I couldn’t handle that,” she said. “I have three kids at home and they’d have to watch their newborn sibling slowly succumb to horribly painful skeletal issues, which would begin in the womb. Pro-lifers would say God should decide, but that’s a lot of trauma to ask everyone to go through, including the baby.”
Because she was nearly two months beyond the deadline for accessing legal abortion care in Texas, Day decided her best option was for her and her fiancé to split the driving on the twelve-hour trip from Central Texas to a clinic in Albuquerque. She felt there was no time to spare. The longer she waited, the more expensive, and potentially complicated, the procedure would be. Though abortions conducted after the first trimester are still considered overwhelmingly low-risk, the skill required to perform the procedure increases as pregnancy advances, which partly explains increases in cost.
But before going to Albuquerque a few days later, Day needed to request time off from work and arrange babysitters and meals, and a kennel for the family’s four pets. (She was able to set up an appointment at the clinic in New Mexico without delay, though a subsequent flood of Texans has subsequently pushed wait times to four weeks at some clinics since Roe was overturned, forcing some women to opt for a procedure instead of abortion medication. Medication abortions are typically used to terminate pregnancies before twelve weeks, when abortion pills are considered most effective.) Between talking to doctors, researching her options, finding a suitable out-of-state clinic, working a full-time job, and attending to her family’s needs, Day said she had no time to grieve the impending loss of her baby. “It was a whirlwind from hell,” she said. “But you don’t have time to sulk because you’re dealing with the fire in front of you and it has to be put out.”
Once arrangements were in place, Day and her fiancé packed into her Jeep and headed west, driving twelve hours overnight, stopping only at convenience stores for food and gas. At the clinic in Albuquerque the next morning, Day found herself sitting in a waiting room surrounded by other women from Texas, many of them exhausted, anxious, and alone. Most had arrived by car, but some had flown to Albuquerque and were relying on Ubers to get around town. Day felt lucky to have her fiancé with her. Because she was already in her second trimester, her procedure cost around $1,000. She estimates that her total trip, including gas, babysitters, the pet kennel, and food on the way home, cost another $1,200 or so—for $2,200 total. For Day and her fiancé, both working professionals making more than six figures in combined income, the expense was absorbable. But she overheard other women in the clinic negotiating payment plans with more than a hint of desperation in their voices.
Her procedure was performed without complications. Afterward, as she had requested on her intake form, clinic employees gave Day a box of her baby’s ashes, a slip of paper with the baby’s footprints and a blue blanket (indicating a boy) like one would’ve received at the hospital after giving birth. “It was not the gender reveal you’re hoping for,” she recalled. “It was more like a funeral.”
After her abortion, the couple planned to race home, but Day began hemorrhaging, a rare and potentially serious complication. Feeling weak, and worried that the bleeding might intensify, the couple lingered at a gas station in Roswell for several hours; otherwise, they risked being caught in the desert without close access to medical care. Looking back, Day fears that her condition was a prelude of tragedies to come. “We were afraid to leave Roswell,” she said. “There’s a real chance that women returning to Texas who experience a medical complication could bleed out in the desert on their way home.”
When she eventually did make it home, Day waited for her body to heal before telling her family and friends that she’d had an abortion. There was no uncomplicated path through her grief for the first few months, Day said. For weeks, she was unable to open the door to the unfinished nursery. She considered tattooing her baby’s tiny feet onto her body, but decided the image would ultimately be too triggering. When one of the children asked Day why her belly was still bulging if the baby was dead, her words turned into tears as she tried to explain. “It felt like a bomb went off in my life and my ears were ringing and I’m disoriented, but the world doesn’t stop for you,” she said. “My kids still have to eat, I have to pack lunches and go to work and handle bills. You want to take five minutes just to process what you’ve been through, but people are relying on you.”
Nine months later, the grief remains. But Day has no regrets about her decision. She keeps her baby’s ashes and his blanket in a closet at home— one she refers to as the “no-open closet.” It’s still too early, she said. But in the wake of Roe v. Wade having been overturned by the Supreme Court on June 24, she said, some of her grief has turned into rage.
With abortion in Texas now effectively illegal in almost all circumstances, Day knows that even more expectant mothers with unexpected complications during their pregnancies will find themselves in the same position she was in. They’ll be forced to choose between upending their lives to receive a costly abortion somewhere far away and remaining in a state that forces their unborn child to suffer and places their own health—and the family members who rely on them—at risk.
Day is infuriated by the narratives from conservative Texas politicians, in particular, that have long suggested that women approach abortions later in pregnancy casually—a conceit that deliberately strips reproductive choices of the heart-wrenching complexity they so often involve, and which, she believes, made it easier for anti-abortion advocates to demonize the procedure. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 percent of abortions were performed at or later than 21 weeks’ gestation in 2019.) Day’s frustration about how abortion is debated partly explains why she’s decided to allow her story to be made public. “Most people don’t know a woman that has gone through an experience like mine,” she said. “I’m happy to be the person that helps people understand how these laws will affect the women you do know.”
In the end, she said, she is convinced that getting an abortion was the ethical and humane choice for everyone involved. Her abortion was not an act of recklessness nor an act of violence, she said; it was, as far as she’s concerned, an act of love for herself, for her immediate family, and most important, for her unborn son. “At some point during my pregnancy my baby was going to suffer, and is that what you want for your child’s introduction to the world—terrible suffering?” she asked. “You can’t soothe them, you can’t hold them and make them feel safe or make the suffering go away. Honestly, allowing that to happen would have crushed my soul.”