The Raven Lunatic

Still trying to figure it all out

Bernadine Spitzsnogel

Bernadine Spitzsnogel
December 01
All material on "The Raven Lunatic" blog is copyrighted by the author. Author of "The Luxury of Daydreams"--available on amazon and all major book sites.


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MARCH 2, 2011 12:10PM

Products of Conception

Rate: 46 Flag

I was sixteen when Roe v. Wade became federal law in 1973. As a naive teenager with modest life experience, I understood little about sex and relationships. As a teenager, I supported a woman’s right to choose. I still do.

After Roe v. Wade in 1973, private hospitals sprung up in major cities, often near Catholic hospitals. I served as director of public relations for a private women’s hospital in Florida in the 1980s. Unlike the hospital across the street founded by a religious order, the hospital offered late-term abortions as well as infertility services.

In spring 1987, I learned that I was pregnant. Our baby was due in early December, weeks before my husband would complete graduate school. Although this was unplanned, we were thrilled.

One morning at work, I started bleeding vaginally. As a hospital manager, I had access to services right away. My physician sent me to Ultrasound for a check. With new vaginal ultrasound technology, I didn’t need a full bladder and fortunately didn’t have to wait for the test.

The black and white ultrasound screen showed a perfectly shaped peanut-size fetus. Yet one critical detail was missing: a heartbeat. This caught me completely off guard. I had not called my husband before the test.

When I told him the news, he implored me to leave work and come home. I ignored his advice; the hospital had a special event that afternoon I didn’t feel I could miss.

They were—we were hosting a press conference to introduce a couple who had successfully conceived triplet boys through In Vitro Fertilization. I was the hospital spokesperson. How could I not do my job?

The Florida IVF program was the second such program in America and attracted much media attention. A local newspaper printed a graphic of a giant test tube with a baby inside, suggesting an almost Frankenstein view of this new technology.

Staff physicians recognized the urgent need to explain the program; but their first priority was to their patients’ privacy. Reluctantly, they dealt with the media through me.

 Our goal was to educate the public about how in vitro works; since conception takes place in a Petri dish, even the term “test tube babies” is misleading.

That afternoon, the proud parents and the physicians talked about their experiences. The 3 six-week-old infants weren’t there; instead, the press was shown several videos. One was an ultrasound test at five week’s post conception. The images revealed three tiny fetuses, twins in one sack, another singleton.

Strikingly different from my own ultrasound that morning, the three little heartbeats nearly jumped off the video screen.

These dual moments within hours– viewing my own dead fetus and seeing the three little heartbeats of the triplets – still haunt me. The margin between life and death is slim.

After work, I went home and bled until I passed my own “products of conception,” the medical term for fetal remains. Losing this tissue is also called a spontaneous abortion. The following day I had a D and C.

Intellectually, I know a zygote or even an early fetus cannot live outside the uterus. In three failed pregnancies, I can’t say for certain what I lost. I believe in the soul, yet I’m not sure when a soul enters a body. Is there any scientific evidence that life begins at conception?

I was never comfortable in the early pregnancy loss support group community and my opinion about choice has not changed over the years. Yet emotionally, having one healthy baby made me grieve for the idea of the others. When I saw those three heartbeats on the screen in 1987, my own heart jumped with wonder.

What or who is a fetus at five weeks post-conception?  I still wonder about the beginnings of life; and I have no answers only questions.My ambiguity does not change my belief in a women’s right to choose in a complicated world.

 I stay in the middle, not able to offer a cogent argument either way about when life begins. I’m not ready to light a candle for those I lost, although I still have questions about the time of quickening. For those who object to a woman’s right to choose, I ask them to focus on hungry, impoverished, and homeless children, and adolescents in desperate need of a steady hand.

 First published at, February 2011.

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Reading this for a second time I am no less impressed by your powerful and sensitive writing. ~r
This is as moving now as when I first read it on Again, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and for such a thought-provoking perspective on this issue.
I so agree with your words.
Rated with hugs
This is very moving. I have been reading about theories on when life begins...It is fascinating.
"The margin between life and death is slim." - Sometimes that margin is minute and inexplainable.

- Thanks for this, Bea...
I agree with Joan and Alysa. It's just as thoughtful the second time I read it.
This is excellent..for a short time, before they deemed me too old, I was an egg donor for the USC in vitro program. They don't tell you of any successes, so for all I know, I have children out there somewhere.
As to the question of the soul..don't know if you saw an earlier post of mine. The question was answered --to some extent--for me ( )
Definitely food for thought!
Hmm, didn't all paste.
No matter what my opinion on the subject is, I do believe in choice. It's a womans body, she has to make the decision, period!
What an excellent account of events. Choice! There has to be choice. Thank you for this.
I cannot imagine what it must have taken for you to go to that press conference and watch the video of those little heartbeats "jumping off the screen," only to go home and have a miscarriage. The irony had to have been almost too much to bear. I also had a miscarriage, after the first trimester. I'd heard the heartbeat and for some reason, that was like the green light to finally start thinking of an abstraction as a child. The experience hasn't changed my feelings regarding abortion; I'm firmly pro-choice. But that doesn't mean I couldn't grieve for what I'd lost. This was as powerful the second time around, Bernadine.
I cannot imagine what it must have taken for you to go to that press conference and watch the video of those little heartbeats "jumping off the screen," only to go home and have a miscarriage. The irony had to have been almost too much to bear. I also had a miscarriage, after the first trimester. I'd heard the heartbeat and for some reason, that was like the green light to finally start thinking of an abstraction as a child. The experience hasn't changed my feelings regarding abortion; I'm firmly pro-choice. But that doesn't mean I couldn't grieve for what I'd lost. This was as powerful the second time around, Bernadine.
This is an individual choice that must be made by the woman. I don't want to take away any options for anyone.
As Joan and Alyssa said, still a thought provoking post. -R-
I've read this post before, but I'm not sure where! I enjoyed reading it the second time as much as the first time. Since I believe in the soul and don't know when it enters the body, I am against all abortions, but I can not force my faith , my beliefs, or my spirituality on anyone. All I can do is share my views and abide by my own rules.
Thanks for sharing.
These are hard questions and your wrote of your experience so well. I had an abortion in 1970 when still illegal. I should write about it. Thanks for this, Bea
Wonderful post, thanks for writing this.
I've never been able to justify my feelings about abortion based on the homless...that path leads to gassing folks when their mortage is in default.

On the entire issue, I'm too old to have strong opinions on it anymore, and too young to leave it alone. I pray someday I have the wisdom to know what is right, and give thanks that I've never had to deal with it personally.

Bless you for writing this though.
Bernadine - your writing is beautiful. And you've voiced so well what I think so many women feel and grapple with. Thanks for sharing this!
This helped me. Thank you.
sadness came to me as i read ur blog! I 2 went through a misscarage! I was 8 weeks they think. My husband and I were trying to get pregnant for a few months.I have a condition that makes it next to impossibe to concieve. well after about 5 to 6 months of daily sex just to get preg. I found out I was preg. we were sooo happy. i made my obgyn appt for as soon as possible to find out how far along (as i dnt get reg.menstrul cycles) well at the appt we first disscussed my plans for brest feeding ect. then it was time for ultra sound. then the doc. wanted to listen and c 4 a heart beat....he said well i dnt hear anything but at the beg. of a preg. that happens. then he examaned me..he aske have u been bleeding recently i said no not for months. he then made me wait in waiting room 10min. later his nurse tells me i need to go to get a better ultra sound my appt. was for the next morning. well we went home about 2 hours later i began bleeding severly. i went to the er where the assholes made me wait in waiting room for 2 and a half hours while my bleeding got worse an i began suffering extreme abdominal pain. finally i am seen the doctor tells me well u were about 8 weeks preg. but u misscarried then gave me a prescription for pain. I asked if she was going to remove the fetus in which she replyed no u need to go home and it will eventually come out in ur blood! WTF? so i went home knowing my baby only 8 weeks but still my baby was dead inside me. 4 hours later the bleeding got so bad i was changing pads every 10 to 15 min. my husband called 911. i was taken to another er. they to would not remove the fetus. I then told them i have oneg. blood and i need to get the shot. they did that and prescrimed me iron pills. i went home my husband left to pick up my prescription. while he was gone i took a bathe. when i stepped out i felt a huge amount of blood release i looked down at the floor and there was my fetus! i was in such shock and pain. i did not know what to do with it. i sadly had to flush it dwn the toilet. i now wish i was in frame of mind to barry it. my husband dsnt understand y i went through a major depression after that. well he did not have to carry our dead baby in him and then have to flush it away!!
I am so glad you posted this here. It needs as wide an audience as possible. You show the deep complexities of this issue through your emotional, personal story. R
I really appreciate this post. For what it's worth, I don't doubt that termination is the decision to end a life. I accept that. It's a hard decision and sometimes it's a necessary one. Nature is cruel that way. And profligate. We see the evidence of it all around, in every species of animal and plant. It's a part of being a woman to have this responsibility and this power to decide. Just as when a woman gives birth she is fundamentally responsible for that child in a way no one else, not even the father in my experience, is. I think our culture needs to accept the power of women over life and death in this way. It's there. Whether we like it or not. All we can do is empower all women to make their reproductive choices, and ensure every child is a wanted child.
This is really lovely, sensitive, and sad. I have a lot of the same questions myself.
Congrats on the EP!! I enjoyed reading it~ rated!
More evidence that each woman has different feelings about becoming pregnant, and each pregnancy is an individual event and circumstance. A woman who miscarries a much-wanted fetus is devastated. Whereas a woman who aborts a much-unwanted fetus is relieved, many times without conflicted emotions or turmoil. I've been and known women of all types. We come to our conclusions after much thought. Government has no right to step into the process.
yes, as others have said...strong, stunning and powrful work, Bea, even more so second time around. Your experience and insight make this a must read...There's so much here that a clueless zealot(congress)man could never in a million years fathom or wrap heart and mind around. Love you. xo R x millions
I cannot imagine how you got through that day.

No one is pro-abortion, we just realize that in some cases it is the only answer. Saving the life of the mother needs no further explanation. I have been known to ask rabid pro-life folks how many neglected, abandoned, addicted or otherwise ill babies they have fostered or adopted. Some times they tell me and I thank them.
My heart ached for you when you described seeing those three in-vitro heartbeats the same day you saw your own inert fetus on the ultrasound screen. The courage you demonstrated in doing your job despite that awful private knowledge you carried into the news conference makes you a hero in my book, Bea. And my heart continues to ache.
Did you know that the life of the earth can turn sand to soil without fertilizer? Just needs care.
It's actually very simple. A fertilized egg or a clump of cells is not a viable life yet. A pregnancy doesn't occur until the zygote successfully implants in the uterus. Thanks for sharing your story. I had 4 miscarriages and told my hubby the next one would kill me. Never did manage to have a child. Oh well.
Of course we on the prochoice side of the fence can be conflicted about abortion. Unlike the opposition, we don't simply let politicians, church officials or TV preachers do our thinking for us. We live the adult version of life. And thinking like an adult sometimes means grappling with seemingly contradictory thoughts and feelings surrounding certain issues.

And on that note, I am sorry for your loss; an intentional pregnancy that goes wrong is a dream denied.

Congratulations on the EP from me as well. Rated.
A well written piece, showing the diversity of feeling regarding choice.
I'm not sure where it begins either Bernadine. I certainly don't equate the microscopic entity at conception with, say, a five year-old child. Otherwise I'd be obliged to consider the morning after pill the equivalent of lacing Junior's milk with strychnine, which I emphatically don't.

The issue reminds me of a philosophy paper I read as an undergrad. I forget lots of it but one question was if you start dropping grains of sand one-by-one on a clean floor, at what stage do you have a pile?

The point was that's it's somewhat arbitrary to state that after x number of grains, hey presto there's your pile. And different people can have different opinions on when the pile comes into existence.

That is part of the reason why I think it's best to leave it to the woman contemplating an abortion. I doubt there can be any definitive moment where most people would agree that now, this is indubitably a life.
I'm so glad you posted this again. It really makes you think about life and death and the slim boundaries. Thank you!!!
It is a biological fact that "life" begins at conception. Whether this is "a" "life" is a philosophical question.
The question of "when life begins" is really a religious one. Some Christians I know have told me that the bible refers to "quickening," which I think means when the mother can sense movement. It seems that there is not much Biblical support for life beginning at conception.

Science has a hard enough time defining "life," and I believe there will never be a responsible scientific study to determine the beginning of human life. All scientists and doctors can study is viability, and that is what is used in some legal situations as marking independent life. Viability is a useful concept, although it's slippery, too, as technology makes it possible for more and more prematurely born infants with no possibility of independent life to live in glass boxes that simulate the protection of the uterus.

I think the easiest concept to grasp is whether a woman wants to carry a pregnancy to term or not. If she does not, it's best that she terminate.
A human soul is created at conception and lives forever after that.
We have two healthy adult daughters. There was a spontaneous abortion at 4 months between the two pregnancies. My wife grieved for the "products of conception" as much as for a child whose face she had kissed. Very moving and well written.
Appreciated, tenderly written.
This is the hardest thing to fathom. I am pro-choice 100%, but when the fetus gets farther along, it suddenly seems very different. I also wonder about the soul...when does it enter? Was it there all along? Is it in the egg, the sperm, or is it a latent spark ignited by the joining of the two?
I enjoyed this just as much the second time through. Very strong writing.
Only a woman could write this. Well done.
Thanks for writing Bea. Three years ago I had an early miscarriage, no more than five weeks along, and it was neither planned nor wanted to be pregnant at that time, or with the person. When I miscarried, I went through physical and emotional hell even though I knew I did not want the life that would have come with that child and that father. I looked at those "products of conception" for signs of life, not just cell forms, hoping to make a connection and there was none. My loss was not of a future child, to me, but sadness of having trusted the wrong person at a time of great vulnerability to me. I asked the universe to take it out of my hands, and it did. I imagine I would have felt very differently had I been with someone who would have cared for me or both of us.
Totally rated for thought-provokingness and bravery and really strong writing.
I find that the women who write here at OS are strong, resilient, intelligent and so brave. Bea, you epitomize that notion.
I feel sad thinking about you standing in the dark watching that video presentation, knowing what you knew. How hard that must have been.