By Amanda Pohl
*Trigger Warning: this story includes information about pregnancy loss
There was a moment in 2016 when I decided I would run for office as soon as I was ready. Like all candidates running for office, I’m often asked why. And, like all candidates running for office, there are many reasons, including, for me, that the current representation does not reflect the values I see in our community. However, there was a moment in late 2016 that I made the decision.
In October 2016, my husband and I found out we were expecting our third child. We were so excited. We had planned for this and we were ready to expand our family. We heard the heartbeat in November. We told close friends and family. We even shared with our daughters that they were going to be big sisters. We started making plans of how we might arrange our home to welcome a new child and what other life changes we might need to make. I was experiencing morning sickness, but I didn’t care.
In late November, I felt “off” one Sunday night. I woke up the next day and didn’t feel pregnant anymore. I wasn’t sick and had an appetite again. I joked with my mom how strange this pregnancy was compared to the other two. The next two days, I was feeling less and less pregnant. My previously growing baby belly was disappearing. Something felt wrong. I called my doctor and they tried to convince me it was ok, but I insisted on coming in to be seen. It was a Wednesday afternoon and my normal doctor was doing surgery, but there was someone I trusted available, so I saw him instead. I didn’t even tell my husband I was going to the doctor; I didn’t want to worry him. I did tell my best friend who calmly told me to just wait and see what the doctor said.
I remember the doctor coming into the room and telling me it was probably fine, but he wanted to get an ultrasound to be sure. As I lay in the stirrups, cheerful Christmas music bellowing from the speaker above, the ultrasound tech probed my body to find any semblance of hope. The doctor came into the room and took my hand and said the heartbeat was no longer there. As my tears began to flow, he asked me if I wanted to listen and if I wanted to see the ultrasound. He told me my very wanted baby had died in utero several days prior, likely when I felt that “off” feeling because the baby had stopped growing at that point. He told me it wasn’t my fault. He explained my options, the best and safest one being a dilation and curettage; an abortion procedure.
I had not had anything to eat or drink that day so I asked him if the procedure could be done then and he said no, they would need to wait until the following day. I was traumatized, tired of being a tomb and terrified of getting an infection and risking my fertility so afterwards I called another provider and explained the situation to see if they could get me in sooner. They told me that because of Virginia’s so-called “informed consent” laws, I would not be able to have the procedure sooner with them. My doctor’s office ended up working me in at exactly the 24 hour mark for the procedure, which in Virginia is considered a termination of a pregnancy, whether the fetus has a heartbeat or not.
We had to find someone to stay with our family overnight in case my body decided to start spontaneously miscarrying on its own. Can you imagine having to drag two small children to an emergency room while their mom is hemorrhaging? I was a chaplain for more than ten years; I wanted to prepare and keep their trauma to a minimum.
We had to take time off work. I had to exist for the full 24 hours knowing that my body had failed to do the one thing I was supposed to do as an expecting mother – protect my child. I spent part of that time speculating on whether it was because I took an allergy medicine or drank a soda that I lost my baby (it was not) and part of that time wondering why Virginia’s legislators thought they knew better than my healthcare provider and me what was best for my body.
As hard as all of that was for me, my family had a lot of privilege that thousands of women do not. Many women lack access to health insurance, abortion healthcare services, doctors who are supportive, paid time off from work, child care in emergencies, transportation, and close proximity to a healthcare facility.
I wrote one of my legislators a few days later and shared my story and urged her to do something. She had voted for this bill in 2012 without considering all the consequences. She never wrote me back.
I realized in that moment that if things are going to change, I have to be willing to make those changes. My daughters needed me to step up and change the future for them. I realized that my advocacy work was important, and yet to make real change I would need to run for office and speak for myself and other women like me who have been affected by these and other harmful laws.
After healing from that experience, I realized I was ready to step forward and be a voice for change. I’m running for state senate because I am tired of legislators making decisions for individuals and families without considering the full weight of those decisions and without considering the people behind the policy.
I hope you will stand with me and vote Amanda Pohl at the polls on June 11, 2019 in the 11th District Democratic Primary and on November 5, 2019 in the General Election.