Photos provided by Ali and Alex Peaslee.
Tone Madison is publishing oral histories related to abortion, miscarriage, birth control and reproductive health from people in the Madison area. Read more about this project and find information about sharing your story. We are also publishing brief messages of support for storytellers.
We ask that these stories are not reprinted in other outlets.
Below is a verbatim account from Ali and Alex Peaslee:
I was raised Catholic, which means I was taught that abortion was an unforgivable sin. I took that at face value, and never questioned it. I knew that the Church said abortion was bad, so I was against abortion. Open and shut. It was pretty much a moot point to me, anyway. Roe v. Wade had been decided fifteen years before I was born. Legally protected access to abortion was the Supreme Law of the Land. I didn’t have to agree with abortion, but access to abortion was always going to be guaranteed.
I was privileged to go about my life without ever thinking about abortion. I went through eight years of college to become a Doctor of Pharmacy, survived Residency training, got a job, met Ali, the love of my life, got a couple dogs, and eventually got married in September 2018.
We talked about starting a family soon after, but expected our fertility journey to be difficult, so we just stopped trying not to have a baby. And it worked. Quickly! In December, I came home one morning to find Ali in tears. She was holding a pregnancy test. I was so excited, I started crying. But we had different tears, at first. I was so happy to be a dad, while her gut reaction, after at least 16 years of being told she should not, could not, MUST NOT get pregnant, under any circumstances, were not happy tears.
That was a fleeting moment of panic, and we quickly became immensely excited to have a baby. I bought ALL the fatherhood books. We’re Pregnant, The Expectant Father, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook For New Dads, everything. We bought a crib and we decorated our nursery. The irony of these preparedness books telling me what to expect? They didn’t prepare me AT ALL for what was about to happen.
I took a half-day off work April 12, 2019 for our anatomy scan. We scheduled it just after 21 weeks, because that’s what worked for our schedules. We didn’t want to know the sex, so we joked the entire anatomy scan. We didn’t notice the ultrasound tech was a little quiet, but at the end she said “Congrats you two, the doctor will be in in a moment!”
The doctor took much more than a moment to come in. And we instantly knew something was not right. He dropped a bombshell on us, that our baby’s heart hadn’t formed properly, that his kidneys weren’t right, that he had severe intrauterine growth restriction. We rushed from Meriter to the Children’s Hospital to get more detailed looks at Baby’s heart.
We spent the next week going to different doctor’s appointments, getting different tests, meeting with pediatric heart surgeons, getting second opinions, third opinions. Over the course of the week, we found out baby A was a boy. We named him Adam Ray. We debated whether we should give it a try—at that time, we didn’t know the whole picture, and the heart surgeon had filled us with some hope. We’re a pharmacist and a nurse that live just down the road from a prestigious children’s hospital—of course we can handle it, right?
Our last meeting was with a maternal fetal medicine doctor, who explained how dire the situation truly was. There were facts we had missed in our previous conversations, with the shock of it all. It was no longer a question of if Adam would die, but how soon. He would never grow large enough to undergo the heart surgery to fix the heart defect. He probably wouldn’t survive gestation, but if he did, he would know only pain as he slowly died in our arms over the first few days of his short life.
This was just after 22 weeks gestation. Abortion is illegal in Wisconsin at that gestation. We made an appointment for the three-day abortion procedure in Chicago. We were just going to meet the limit in Illinois if we moved quickly. No time for any more doctor’s visits, for any more tests. Because of arbitrary legal limitations, we had to rush into the most difficult and painful decision of our lives and act IMMEDIATELY.
No matter what, losing a wanted child would have been the most painful experience of my life. But legal restrictions made things so much more traumatic for both of us than they needed to be. We experienced so much shame and guilt having to flee our state to receive fundamental healthcare. We had to leave behind our healthcare providers, our dogs, our home, to hide out in a hotel room in downtown Chicago.
I remember Ali calling her midwife in the middle of the second night. The procedure was essentially causing her to start going into labor. She was scared. We were scared. We were out-of-state, newly married, unsure if we could even afford to go to an out-of-network hospital if we needed to. Ali was sobbing on the phone. It sounded like her midwife was crying with her. It was so unfair that we couldn’t be with the people we trusted, our people.
The following day, April 24, she underwent the final phase of the procedure. She was terrified and wanted me with her, but the clinic did not allow fathers. I sat in the lobby under the watchful eye of an armed guard, while my wife went through the most traumatic experience of her life, totally alone.
When she woke up, she found that a kind worker had hastily grabbed Adam’s footprint. Just one footprint on a crinkled piece of scrap paper. That’s all we have, other than the tattoos we would later get together on Adam’s due date, August 24. I got the August birth flowers; a poppy, red for remembrance, and a gladiolus, blue for our little boy, in front of a sun’s rays to represent Adam Ray. These are all we have to remember Adam by.
We have friends who had a miscarriage at Meriter. They received grief counseling. They were asked if they wanted to hold their baby. If they wanted to keep their remains. We got a bill, and a chance to walk through some anti-abortion protesters.
As difficult as this was for us, I can’t help but reflect on how fortunate we were. We were able to take time off work. We could afford to travel out of state, to stay in a hotel, to pay for the procedure. My heart breaks for every pregnant person not as privileged as we were. For those who don’t even have 22 weeks. Who don’t have a neighboring state to help. Who don’t have resources.
I share my story not for pity, but because I want us, as a society, to do better. I don’t want another person to have to feel guilt, or shame, or fear for receiving basic, fundamental healthcare services. I don’t want another couple to have to decide with an arbitrary legal clock ticking. Abortion is reproductive healthcare, end of story. The right to healthcare is an absolute fundamental right for everyone. It’s a decision between a woman and her doctor, not for grandstanding politicians with an agenda.
I’d ask the Supreme Court to please reconsider while they can. More importantly, I call on our legislators to take action to encode these fundamental rights into law. I call on everyone reading this to pressure your legislators to do this. And if your legislators don’t care to listen, vote in new legislators who will actually do their job, representing their constituents. The majority in our country don’t want to restrict reproductive health access, and we need to be represented properly. Thanks so much for listening.