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Opinion | In a Post-Roe World, We Can Treat Mothers and Children With Dignity

The first person to see us was another ultrasound technician. Her voice got sharp when I asked if our baby had a heartbeat. “It’s not a baby, don’t talk like that,” she told me, as I lay on the table. Her voice softened a little, “You don’t have to think of it that way.” For her, part of providing care was denying there was any room for grief.

But when the surgeon came in, he began by expressing his condolences. He talked about our options, he talked about our baby as a baby. He answered our questions about recovery times from surgery as naturally as he did our questions about how to specify that we wanted our child’s body for burial. He took our request seriously and told us that we should know that as far as he could tell, our baby had already died and it was the placenta that was still growing and putting me in danger. But if he could, he would make sure that our baby wasn’t treated as just a tissue sample but as a child lost.

We worked through the hospital checklists and questions as people cycled through our room asking about my blood type, my experience with anesthesia, my plans for getting home. No one asked about our plans for the baby. No one asked the baby’s name. No one, before or after the surgery, mentioned support groups for loss.

But I had a checklist of my own, and as I lay on the gurney, I prayed that I would open my eyes again. I prayed that if I didn’t, I could offer my life for the people I loved. And I hoped that this would be the first baby I could hold, even if I couldn’t see the baby take a breath. Every other child I lost had been miscarried at home, too early to retrieve a body.

I knew that the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey would send us a tiny coffin, free of charge, as part of their ministry to bereaved parents. My husband knew that, if anything went wrong, I wanted him to order an adult-size one for me.

We didn’t get to bury our baby. My husband didn’t have to bury me. Our surgeon had been right — our baby had died some time ago, and all he could find was the placenta. But while I recovered at home, we had something to know our baby by. We named this child Camillian, after St. Camillus de Lellis. He was a 16th-century gambler, who was treated so poorly by his doctors that he founded a nursing order and ultimately became a priest and a saint.

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