Monday, 26 September 2011

"Pregnancy reduction" - pro-choice vs. pro-twin?

Mid-June 2008.  9 a.m.  I am pregnant for the second time.  We have a scan later that morning.

"I don't care what they tell us about this baby. Just as long as it's ok. And as long as it's not twins."

Same day. 11 a.m.  Still pregnant.

"Are there twins in your family?...Because I think I can see two... "

Last night. 10 p.m.  An article in the Guardian Magazine on Saturday has me leaping out of bed and scurrying along the corridor to sit in the dark in S and A's room...

I'd never heard of Pregnancy Reduction until last night.  This is the deal: you are pregnant with twins.  And you don't, for whatever reason, want twins.  So one baby, selected, usually, by the doctors on the basis of accessibility and viability is...well, is what?  I can't pick the right word.  Is terminated.  Is aborted.  Is "extinguished".  Is reduced.

It was late when I read this article. I was tired.  I wanted to snuggle down and go to sleep.  But instead I got up, padded along the corridor and sat with my twins for a minute or so.  Just to remind myself that they were there.

Why?  What is it about this article, about this possibility, that got, and gets, me so het up?

I didn't want twins.  I really didn't.   So I can understand, in part, the fear that drives this decision. But as soon as that sonographer told me I was having twins, I wanted them both, fiercely and protectively. So I can also say that had I even known that this was a possibility, I would never have considered it. 

But why not?  I am pro-choice.  I have, fortunately, never had an unwanted pregnancy, so I can't possibly say what I would do in that situation, but I am, in principle, fiercely in favour of another woman's right to choose.  If I am accepting and supportive, as I have been of friends who have had to make that choice, why and how is this different?  Why is it acceptable to me to "reduce" one baby to none, but not two to one?

Why, if I read an article about abortion, do I not insist on going to sit with L, or M, or indeed A or S, to reassure them that they were wanted?

This is, I realise, utterly illogical.  But I am not alone.   One of the early pioneers of the procedure (all these words are so nuanced aren't they? I hesitate in using each one) no longer performs it, after all his staff, from the sonographer to the receptionists, confirmed that they were not comfortable with what he was doing.

Why?  My twins are special, of course they are.  But if you asked me whether their specialness was bound up in the fact that they are twins, I would fiercely deny it, and point, instead, to S's charm, and A's determination, or A's demands for cuddles, and S's hesitations before she speaks.  I am certain that twins, any twins, are individuals before they are a pair. 

So if I have no moral objection to terminating a singleton pregnancy that would have produced a child that would have been just as special in its own way, why does the idea of destroying half of a pair feel so wrong?


  1. I found that whole article disturbing. I agree completely with you on women having the right to choose, but I think I am a bit more 'all or nothing'. Pregnant or not pregnant. There is a much greater chance of multiple pregnancy following IVF that I think you have to be prepared for that to be a possibility from the outset. But to then be pregnant with twins and then say, as that first woman does in the article, that she was too old, too financially insecure, already had children, then it strikes me that she shouldn't be going down the IVF route.

    She later says she thinks that by having two she would be a 'second-rate parent' because she could only give each twin half her attention, and possibly half her love. What about the children she already has? Won't she still be a second-rate parent because surely the introduction of another single child will still have a reducing effect on the attention and love she has for them. It would appear that she is someone who only has a finite amount of love to give. Poor thing.

    Actually, I think they have just chosen someone for this article to provoke emotion. I don't like her or agree with her decision at all. I don't think there should be a difference as she suggests whether the babies are conceived naturally or in a test-tube. That to me has no bearing.

    All that aside I'm in agreement if there is a serious risk to health (either child or mother) that meant that by reducing a multiple pregnancy to a single one would help.

  2. I also found the article upsetting; in fact, I had to stop reading it as there was something about it that unsettled me so much. I am also pro choice but it had the same impact on me. I agree that we should have the choice and right to have an abortion but of one twin just seems so alien a concept. I had not even realised that people did this until I started on the article. Interesting to hear that that doctor no longer does so. The whole thing unsettled me so.

  3. I'd never heard of this but it makes me really uncomfortable. To be honest, I'm not comfortable with abortion in the first place but this really does feel a step further somehow.

  4. I have a very good friend who was desperate for children. She had IVF and became pregnant with twins. At about 20 weeks she was told that one of them was 'not viable' and she was strongly advised to undergo a pregnancy reduction to improve the chances of the 2nd twin of being born healthy. After much soul searching she did so.

    She wanted both, she really did. But the first twin would not have survived and was seriously impacting the ability of the second to develop normally.

    Sadly the second twin also had some serious problems and she lost the second twin as well a few weeks after.

  5. Fiona - I agree. I felt a bit brutal thinking "well, if you didn't want twins, you shouldn't have had two eggs implanted" but that is what I was thinking... (I do however have a lovely friend who didn't want twins and only had one egg implanted, which then split....! I can't tell you how delighted she is with her beautiful girls now...)

    Kelloggsville - 'nuff said...

    English Mamma - me too. I found it all very uncomfortable. I knew it was possible because it's something they raise with you when you're expecting twins in case something is very wrong with one of them (as Pants with Names mentions) but I never knew it was possible as a choice...

    Circus Queen - glad it's not just me. It is different isn't it?

    Pants - I think that's totally different though. These women were reducing the number of pregnancies because they couldn't cope with twins not because of a risk to either baby or the mother. Our consultant when we had A&S specialised in the selective termination of twins when one was endangering the other. I found it slightly freaky talking to him each time knowing that we could at some point be put in a position to need him to do that. My heart goes out to your friend.

  6. I had never heard of a pregnancy reduction before. Personally I don't really feel comfortable with the thought of an abortion or the reduction, but I agree with you that reduction seems worse. I think it has to do with the fact that with reduction, the woman actually wants a baby, where as with an abortion the woman does not want a baby.

  7. Interesting. I hadn't really thought about the wanting or not wanting point, but I suspect you may be right.


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