As Mother’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking about the second time we got pregnant. Unlike the first time, it happened as soon as we started trying.

We should have been thrilled and beaming. But everything was different. Instead of being overcome with the joy and anticipation of preparing for a much-wanted baby, I felt nothing but worry and foreboding. I was numb. And soon, that numbness was replaced by two constant companions — anxiety and panic.

It took me a while to notice, but my loving and supportive husband was in the same exact mindset — anxious, standoffish and worried. For weeks, and then months, we avoided what was really on our minds and silently went through the motions of pretending all was fine — perhaps as a protective shell to ourselves and a kindness to each other.

We were like this because we were all too familiar with all that can — and will — go wrong in a pregnancy, especially in a state like ours, Tennessee. Just like the other 13 states that have criminalized essential abortion care — the state we live in treats women more like maternal vessels than actual humankind. My state now denies standard and necessary health care to pregnant women in emergent medical circumstances, even when their lives are at risk. Even, and especially when, the most effective treatment is a termination, an abortion. It is no place for those of us of reproductive age to safely build or grow a family. It’s too risky.

I say that because it’s what happened to me — to both of us — in our much-longed-for first pregnancy. Because of Tennessee’s cruel laws, when things went terribly wrong, and our son, Grayson Daniel, came far too early and could not possibly survive, putting my life and health at risk, my trusted doctors said their hands were tied so long as he still had a heartbeat. The risks to them of defying the state’s new abortion bans were enormous: loss of medical license, high fines and up to 15 years in prison.

I knew and they knew that what I needed was an abortion. I could see the pain and frustration in the doctors’ faces as they sent us home, a 45-minute drive from the nearest hospital, to wait for Grayson to come out on his own, knowing that the longer it took, the more my own health and life would be in peril. My husband Dan was certain he was going to lose me and his first child at the same time. And sure enough, by the time I birthed Grayson, 10 days after learning that he could not possibly survive, he was stillborn and a potentially deadly infection was raging in my uterus. One doctor told me I was lucky to still be alive.

So, it’s not hard to understand how scared we were to be pregnant again. We were afraid to live in the moment, to experience joy.

Looking back now, the decisions we made together were the polar opposite of our first pregnancy. This time, we chose to keep everything secret, holding the news tight even from our parents, and waiting a ridiculously long time to share it with our dear families, friends and coworkers.

We were afraid to consider that everything might be ok. I had lost Grayson because of an “incompetent cervix” and, during this pregnancy, I insisted on getting a peremptory cerclage (the stitching up of my cervix) weeks before they are usually performed. I kept setting new milestones at which point I could allow myself to feel safe and calm. But each time I passed one of them, I would set a newer milestone further out: another blood test, another anatomy scan, until 30-plus weeks when premature babies have a better chance at survival.

When people would see I was pregnant and ask how far along I was, instead of saying how many weeks, I’d reflexively answer with her odds of survival. I memorized the chart — percentages by weeks along.

Alexis Eller A.E. Photography

I’m not crazy. Tennessee’s cruel laws did this to me, to us. To all families who live in abortion ban states and are considering becoming parents. It’s terrifying.

Before we got pregnant again with Willow, I had already decided to do all that I could, personally, to overturn these insidious laws that deny pregnant women of their human rights, dignity and personal autonomy. And that’s why I have joined with eight other Tennessee women and physicians, supported by the Center for Reproductive Rights, to change the law so pregnant women can get the healthcare they need.

My story has a happy ending. Our Willow was born safe and healthy in November, almost exactly a year to the day we lost our beloved Grayson Daniel. My angel baby has a sibling, and I know the joy of being a mother with a baby to hold and raise. I get to celebrate Mother’s Day as a mother. But I am still angry that the state of Tennessee, by intruding into our private lives, has robbed me and my husband of what should have been a magical and joyful time.

Katy Dulong, along with six other patients and two physicians, are suing the state of Tennessee for its restrictive abortion laws with the help of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

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