Editor’s note. This is one in a series of Right to Life of Michigan’s “Real Life” stories.
When Rachel Sobolic heard about New York and the many states pushing for unlimited abortion access, she knew she had to join the conversation.
“Hearing people argue that late-term abortion is necessary for medical reasons—it’s just not true, and it’s my story they are using to argue for this,” Rachel said.
Rachel and her husband had been trying for years to conceive a child. Rachel had twin teenage daughters before their marriage, and she and her husband wanted to continue to grow their family. When they found out they were finally pregnant, they were overjoyed, and went to get early blood work done to discover the gender of their long-awaited child.
At 15 weeks, they discovered their baby was a girl, but were also given the heartbreaking news that their daughter likely had Turner syndrome.
“It was basically a death sentence,” Rachel said. “The doctors told us that most babies with this condition pass before 12 weeks, and if she was born there would be challenges like growth issues, missing chambers of her heart, and other health issues. It was extremely devastating.”
They immediately scheduled a follow-up ultrasound at a hospital to further examine the diagnosis. This ultrasound brought further bad news: it indicated that the baby had developed fetal hydrops and cystic hygroma.
It was at that point that the hospital doctor told them most mothers facing this condition chose to terminate the pregnancy. He explained the process, telling them it would be a common and safe medical procedure. He said he would simply inject a medicine to stop the heart, and their fetus would pass peacefully.
“It wasn’t until we left the hospital that the full effect of what he was saying sunk in,” Rachel said. “He made it sound so normal and covered in medical terms. Then, all of a sudden I realized—oh my goodness, he wants us to abort our baby.”
Rachel remembers grieving and struggling for days after the diagnosis. When she and her husband faced the decision, they knew they could only choose life for their child. There was a small chance that she would live outside of the womb, but even knowing that she would not live long, they knew her life was not theirs to take.
“I remember going over what the hospital doctor had said—that he would inject medicine to stop her heart, a heart that was already struggling so hard to live as it was. I could not imagine that as an option,” Rachel said. “To have the first thing to come out of his mouth as a medical professional be about termination—it was very difficult to hear.”
Rachel and her husband were happy to find their obstetrician’s office was much more receptive to their choice to allow their daughter to live. Rachel remembers that one staff member gave her a prayer book, and the entire staff called her baby by her name: Jolie.
“This was a much better experience.” Rachel said. “They were so supportive. They told me I could come right in at any time with any questions: if you haven’t heard her move in a while, or if you just want to see her, come right in.”
Once they had chosen life, that path continued to present challenges. There became a risk of Rachel developing mirror symptoms to the baby’s condition, which could result in life-threatening heart failure for Rachel. She had to go in to get her blood pressure monitored every other day and constantly monitor it herself between visits.
“Even then, abortion was not necessary to save my life,” said Rachel. “If it ever came to a point where my life was seriously in question, they would have induced labor rather than abortion.”
Every week that Jolie continued to live was a new blessing for Rachel and her family and a new shock to doctors who thought she wouldn’t make it past 12 weeks.
“I knew her little life, however long, had a purpose,” Rachel said.
At 23 weeks, they met with an NICU team and began to talk about chances of a live birth. But at 25 weeks, on Rachel’s birthday, Jolie passed away. After a peaceful delivery, they were able to hold her, cry with her, and say goodbye as a family.
After hearing about the decisions in New York, Rachel reflected on what life would have looked like if they would have taken the initial recommendation to terminate the pregnancy.
“I cannot even fathom—had I gone through that way—how I could get by day to day, how I could get through Mother’s Day and other holidays,” Rachel said. “Now I can go to the cemetery; I have somewhere I can go bring flowers and grieve.”
Rachel wishes doctors would be encouraged to offer real support to families who experience a tragic diagnosis during pregnancy, rather than push for a “solution” that could only bring more pain.
“I was just devastated to hear that my exact situation was a situation they were giving as a reason for abortion so late in a pregnancy,” Rachel said.
Two years after Jolie passed, Rachel and her husband joyfully welcomed a new son to their family. He’s now 8 months old. They were blessed with a smooth pregnancy and a healthy baby.
“My ob-gyn office was so happy to see me again,” Rachel said. “They all remembered me and Jolie by name and were so glad I was having another child.”
Rachel is eager to share Jolie’s story, and to speak out against the idea that abortion is the only reasonable option for babies who likely would not live long, or even when the pregnancy could potentially affect the mother’s health.
Having every unexpected day with Jolie was a gift that Rachel said she would not trade for anything.