When Twins Are One Too Many


When Bettina Paige used fertility treatments, she wanted one more child — not two. And so when she conceived twins, she considered selective reduction — a process that challenges our usual view of reproductive choice.

In Elle, Paige writes that she and her husband already had a toddler son when she found out she was pregnant with twins, the result of a combination of artificial insemination and fertility drugs. She’d very much wanted one more child, but neither she nor her husband felt they could raise two. She writes,

My husband was convinced that twins would radically change our lives for the worse. We’d have to leave our beloved neighborhood for a place with cheaper rents and better public schools — there was no way we could afford private education for three kids. We’d kiss goodbye any hope of career advancement, at least for the foreseeable future. To his list, I added the loss of my income, necessary to meet our expenses. I couldn’t see how I’d be able to resume working after the birth since we could never afford full-time help, and — no matter how well they napped — two infants wouldn’t leave much time for anything else.

Selective reduction — aborting one of the fetuses — was an option, but Paige was torn. She asked herself, “Wasn’t sacrifice part of what being a parent was all about? Was it more accurate to say that we didn’t want to handle twins, rather than we couldn’t?” And indeed, her dilemma is a thorny one, even from a pro-choice perspective. As she points out, selective reduction of triplets to twins dramatically reduces miscarriage risk and increases the chance of having healthy babies. And we usually think of such procedures in the context of women carrying many multiple fetuses at once — if anything, pro-choicers sometimes judge women carrying three or more fetuses if they don’t choose to reduce. But reducing from twins to a single fetus doesn’t carry the same benefits — and like women who abort after IVF, Paige was in the strange position of potentially terminating a pregnancy she’d tried hard to achieve.

For some, it’s not a grey area at all. Comedian Sara Benincasa tweeted her reaction to the article: “‘Oh, I’m well-off and I paid for IVF [actually, Paige didn’t, since she got pregnant via “the turkey-baster routine”], but eww, my husband hates kids, so the boy has got to go.’ Convenient blame.” And, more disturbingly, “I’d like to retroactively abort this woman and her husband.” It’s true that Paige’s husband doesn’t come off well in the piece — at one point he says, “I told you when you started all this that I didn’t want twins.” But she doesn’t use him as an excuse, and the “retroactive abortion” gag is no funnier now than it was when Ann Coulter applied it to Dr. Tiller.

Ultimately, Paige chose to abort one of the fetuses (the male one, as referenced in Benincasa’s tweet). Of her decision, she writes, “I know it sounds selfish, but I wanted to protect the well-being of the people already in my life — my son, my husband, and, yes, myself.” Yes, her husband could have been more supportive, and no, not all of us in her situation would have made the same decision. But true reproductive freedom means freedom to make choices that not everyone approves of. If we allow only abortions for “unselfish” reasons, we start down a slippery slope. Is being single a valid reason? What about being in school? What about being at a point in your life where you just don’t want a child? Paige’s abortion may seem less “justified” than others, but that’s not really our call to make — and protecting our own right to choose means defending Paige’s, even if she exercises it in ways we might not like.

Fertility Treatments: Would You Get Selective Reduction? [Elle]
SaraJBenincasa [Twitter]

Image via Loskutnikov/Shutterstock.com

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