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Spencer Rendahl: Reproductive Rights

04/27/12 7:55AM By Suzanne Spencer Rendahl
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(Host) Commentator and former journalist Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is following the national debate about abortion and contraception, and it reminds her not only of her own family's difficult odds with pregnancy, but the struggles of other families as well.

(Spencer) I spent my early 30s trying to conceive a child. Failure led my husband and me to doctors, who tested and informed us that we might never have children. And then, a miracle: I became pregnant. Doctors told me the fetus was at high risk of stillbirth. They measured, monitored, and gave me steroid shots to help my daughter's lungs mature, so that when she was born weighing less than 3 lbs at 32 weeks, she could breathe. It took seven weeks in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center's Intensive Care Nursery for her to grow strong enough, but one blustery November afternoon, she finally came home. Four years and two miscarriages later: another miracle, and my second high-risk pregnancy. After endless tests, another early delivery and a week in the ICN, we brought home a healthy baby boy. But other families weren't so lucky.

One day another mother in the ICN saw me struggling to soothe my crying daughter, then tethered to so many wires and tubes. "I wish my baby would cry," she said. "He's on too much painkiller to feel anything." A year and a half later, I saw her again at the hospital with her son. Both of our children were there for checkups. As my daughter ricocheted around the waiting room, her son lay silently in a reclined wheelchair with head supports.

After the birthing pavilion's pediatrician wheeled our son away to the ICN, I cried for 36 hours. And then I begged the neonatologist to let me hold him again. The doctor pointed to the plastic oxygen box covering my son's head. "Your son is using every ounce of energy he has to breathe" he replied gently, "and it's not good enough. We need to wait." So for the next two days I caressed my son's tiny feet. Once again, we were the lucky ones. As our son slowly improved, the baby in the next crib died. I watched the parents grieve and told myself "I can never go through this again."

Legal initiatives have been popping up in states around the country - including New Hampshire, where I live - that would restrict access to abortion. Even contraception is once again a matter of public debate.

My children bring me immeasurable joy every day, but I know from experience that even the most wished-for pregnancies can have difficult to devastating results. And I believe that the only people who should make decisions about a pregnancy are those who must live with whatever happens. They are the woman and her family, not lawmakers.

My precocious 6-year-old daughter has been badgering me for another sibling. "I have you and your brother," I tell her. "And that makes me the luckiest person in the world. But I don't want to have more kids. When you grow up, you can have ten kids or no kids. It's your life, your body, your choice." Fifteen years from now, I can only hope that will still be true.
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