We’ve Been Through The Religious Wringer by Laura Poll (March 1998)

My husband and I recently became subscribers to Freethought Today. Each issue encourages us and empowers us to follow our nonconformist way of life (he’s agnostic, I’m an atheist). We’ve both been through the religious wringer and have been subject to the usual hypocrisy and judgment endured by many of your members. Now, I have a story for you.
Last March, I suffered through one of the worst days of my life–after eight weeks, I miscarried what would have been my first baby. My OB-GYN clinic is located in a hospital named after the Virgin Mary, you know, Saint something-or-other. Don’t get me wrong–it is a fine hospital. The staff treated me with sympathy, kindness and sincerity. I did have to listen to the usual barrage of it being “God’s way . . . blah, blah, blah,” but I understand that. I realize where I live that people use God as a way to explain things. That’s fine for them. I would’ve preferred a more strictly scientific explanation coming from a hospital but, I realize some people perceive that as cold. Nonetheless, I chose the hospital based on credentials, not religion. I never assumed it would be an issue. I was wrong.

After I was told my fetus had “ceased to exist,” and that my body was in the process of miscarrying, I was given two options. One, I could go home and, for the next three or so days, I could let my body naturally expel the fetus and be subject to a lot of cramping, bleeding, pain and misery. Two, I could check myself into the outpatient services and they would perform a D & C (dilation and curettage), a kinder, gentler way of saying “abortion for dead fetuses.” I chose the second option. During this procedure, I was intravenously fed a sedative. The procedure itself was horrific and painful (details, of which, I will not go into). Let’s just say I felt like someone was hitting me in the abdomen from the inside out. Afterward, I was wheeled into a recovery room where I lay incoherent, depressed, crying and in pain (not to mention the fact that, I was forced to stare at a crucifix hanging over the room door). My stomach was cramping and I was weak from the sedative and the procedure. My husband, David, was there the whole time and was wonderful. He left my side for but a moment to make a phone call to a relative. Then a nurse came in.

Nonchalantly, she said she had these papers she forgot to have me sign prior to the D & C. She explained that they were consent forms. Since I was in a Catholic hospital, I was told that I had to consent to their “burying the remains of conception” as they believed that life began at conception. I, still incoherent, confused and broken, repeated what I thought the nurse was saying. She confirmed that I understood correctly. Briefly, I hesitated. My husband was still out of the room. I thought, “What if I don’t sign?” I could feel the words form, but I could not say them to her. “Would they throw ‘it’ in the garbage can if I didn’t sign?. . . Do I really care where ‘it’ goes?” I was afraid to argue. I was in no condition to contest hospital procedure. I signed the paper. I could barely lift my head to see myself sign the paper, but I did it.

I told my husband about it afterward and neither of us felt quite right about it. After we left the hospital, we discussed it further and agreed that, if I had been asked prior to being given a sedative and prior to undergoing the procedure, I would not have signed. If my husband had been in the room when they asked me to sign, he would not have allowed me to sign. We are not Catholics and, had I carried this baby to term and it was born dead, we would not have given it a Catholic burial. I’m not sure what it is they extracted from me, but it was a part of me, and my husband and I should have been properly informed of options for disposal–not given this religious lesson when I was half-drugged, alone and hurting. The nurse treated it as no big deal, yet she didn’t offer me another choice either.

After I’m done with this letter, I am planning on writing the hospital administrator a letter. It will make me feel better knowing I had been heard.

There is an addition to this story. The hospital did call me regarding my letter. They seemed truly concerned (this is the sort of thing people can sue for, you know). My letter ended up in the hands of the Vice President of Missions who called me and wholeheartedly agreed with me (although, what else was she going to do?). She explained that under no uncertain circumstances, in any condition and especially after the procedure, should I have been asked to sign anything. Added to which, she informed me that I was given the wrong information and that my fetus wasn’t even old enough to be “buried.” My experience, she told me, is forcing them to do a rein-service of people. Well, I certainly hope so!
P.S. None of this, by the way, has changed me from being pro-choice. Laura Poll and her husband David live in Wisconsin. Laura wrote in November: “There is a happy ending to my story–I’m three months pregnant and everything seems to be okay this time!”

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