When people ask me what I write – I tell them creative nonfiction. It sounds a lot fancier than “blog post” and it’s exactly what I write – the truth in a creative way. When they ask me why I write, I tell them that it creates a sense of community. People all over the world, and right in my hometown, can read what I write and perhaps gain something from my experiences. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I take pride in my honesty. I may not share every detail about everything, but I share enough to make a difference.
I have been sitting at my computer for about twenty minutes just staring at the screen, my heart racing and my palms sweating. I am anxious and nervous as I sit here, getting ready to tell you what I am about to tell you. I have absolutely no idea what reaction I will receive, but I am confident that it will help at least one person struggling out there. I am not the first person to go through this, nor will I be the last, and it’s just too painful to keep inside. Most of my friends and some of my family know what I am about to tell you, so that sort of makes it okay, but there is a part of me that is terrified of what will happen when I write the following words:
One month ago, I had an abortion.
Deep breath. Heart continuing to race. Look at the word. Abortion. It looks funny. Its feels weird bouncing around inside my head. It tastes strange when it comes out of my mouth. I’ve used different terms to describe the same concept – terminate the pregnancy, “it’s over – all of it”, etc. Finally I just started to use the word abortion because it’s no use to let it have power over me. I am going to feel awful whether I find a gentler way to say it or use the actual word. Women all over the world have to or choose to undergo this procedure, and it is brutal. I wish to share my story so that others may learn, heal, and understand. I don’t mean understand me, I mean understand what happens during the procedure, and afterward, and the valuable bits of advice I have received from trusted friends and family that have experienced the same thing. Many may balk, judge, tell me I am going to hell, that I am a murderer, and that they no longer want to speak with me. Which is why I will start with this:
There is no easy way to end a pregnancy, and it is going to hurt. A lot. It will hurt you physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, socially, and beyond. I found out I was six weeks pregnant the day after Valentine’s Day. My immediate reaction was joy and elation. I have always wanted to be a mother. Always. I had been looking forward to this moment for a long time. It was an accidental pregnancy as a result of being irresponsible with my body. Not uncommon, but foolish all the same. At that moment though, it didn’t matter how or why I had gotten pregnant, I simply was. I laughed, jumped up and down, cried, and called my best friend immediately to share the news with SOMEONE. My partner was at work and I had to go to work as well.
His reaction was a lot different than mine, but I want to make it VERY clear that I am not angry nor do I judge him for anything he has said or done over the past few weeks. I will always hold a very special place in my heart for this man for many reasons, and it is not my intention to drag his name through the mud. I have the utmost respect for individuals who are true to who they are – and both of us were in this scenario – but on different sides of the fence.
We told a lot of people. Our parents, siblings, best friends, people we work with, complete strangers. We were just excited. And nervous. And scared. I felt very zen and calm – like I could handle this and he could, too, and we would be such a joyous little family unit. It didn’t matter that we were completely unprepared and had a million things to do, or that our relationship was not even a year old, I felt zen. He didn’t feel so zen, but he was trying to wrap his brain around it. I think, for men, there is a feeling of helplessness. A lot of men have told me they feel helpless when their partner is pregnant, even if it was planned.
We tried to be gentle with one another under the pressure, but it was just two weeks later when everything fell apart. We quickly realized that it would be hard enough to prepare for a child (being so unprepared ourselves) and also manage to want to be life partners. Everyone gets to decide – for themselves – the life they want to live. I firmly believe that. I also firmly believe that people should, at all costs, avoid hurting one another. I didn’t want to raise a child in an environment where the parents stayed together because “it was the right thing to do”. Nor did I want to rob myself, or my partner, the opportunity to find a truly loving and devoted relationship. This may sound selfish to you, but I was thinking of the baby. Even being opposed to abortion, because it ends a life, creating a life without the tools for raising a happy and emotionally-stable individual seemed worse than terminating the pregnancy. I chose the lesser of two evils.
There is a lot of pressure on pro-choice and pro-life and people get really heated when the subject comes up. I am pro-choice, which ONLY means that I do not believe it is appropriate to control someone else’s body. There is something called body autonomy – the human right that no one can use your body without your express permission – dead or alive. You can’t be forced to donate blood, tissue, and organs. You can’t be violated once you are deceased. A growing baby needs your express permission to use your body for life – without your permission, it cannot survive. By giving it more rights than the woman, you are saying that a fetus has more rights than any living or dead person. This argument sounds good on paper, but it was a cold comfort facing the choices I was facing. My options were: abort, carry to term and give my baby away, be a single parent, or co-parent with someone when we knew we weren’t right for one another. None of those options is pleasant in the slightest – not when I truly believe that families should start with loving, devoted parents.
So, from that point, my partner and I had a conversation about our options. In one conversation we agreed that to terminate would be the most responsible option. After all, we were irresponsible in the first place, and we both knew that we would not be the best thing for a child at this moment in our lives. It was a kind conversation, full of regret and tears, but also a firm belief in what our decision would be and why. I think, individually, we were both wishing things could be different – but you can’t build a relationship on wishful thinking.
From there, I contacted Planned Parenthood and scheduled the appointment. This is the part where it starts to get really hard. Up until you make a final decision, you want to believe that maybe you don’t have to accept your reality. At least, I think that’s how we both felt. Now that it’s said and done, we are just trying to mend the broken parts of our soul.
This is the part where I want to describe the experience I had, because I had a hard time finding a play-by-play online and it might help anyone who is wondering what happens next. First of all, there is an option to take an abortion pill, which stops the production of progesterone. When your body stops producing progesterone, the lining of your uterus sheds, and you miscarry. I chose not to do this, because sometimes the abortion can be incomplete and you have to go in to have an in-clinic abortion anyway. Plus, I read on the website that it can take several hours/all day for this process to happen, and I did not want to be alone while I had a miscarriage.
We went to the clinic and there were protesters standing outside. Thankfully, someone from Planned Parenthood came out to greet us so we wouldn’t have to listen to the shouting. Prepare yourself for that possibility, though. Also prepare yourself for not being able to sleep or eat for days leading up to it, feeling like you are about to ruin your life, and having no idea what will happen. As I said, I really believe this was the best option under the circumstances, but it took every ounce of strength I had to go through with it.
When I got inside, I filled out some forms. They were playing the radio in the waiting room. It was surreal and annoying to listen to Top 40 music while waiting to terminate. It just seemed out of place. I filled out a basic medical history form and they gave me a piece of paper outlining the procedure. I had already read the information on the website the day before, so I did not read it.
They called me back to meet with a nurse who took my blood pressure and checked my throat. She did a brief history and my ultrasound. They do the ultrasound to verify how far along you are, but you do not see the screen. She did ask me, however, if I wanted to know if there were multiples. I did not expect that question and I just started crying. She was very kind and patient as I blubbered away incoherently. She asked me if I wanted a picture of the ultrasound, which made me cry all over again. I couldn’t find the words, so she told me she would print it out, put it in an envelope, and I could look at it later if I wanted to.
After the ultrasound, I went back into the waiting room. I sat for maybe fifteen minutes and they called me back again. This time, I went into a different room with a different nurse for the “education” portion. We discussed the procedure in detail and all possible side effects. I signed consent forms. She pricked my finger (like getting your blood sugar tested) to see if I was Rh positive or negative. I can’t remember why this is important, but you can look it up. She explained the varying levels of pain medication that were available. I opted for conscious sedation because it’s the strongest stuff and someone told me I wouldn’t remember the procedure. More on that later.
We discussed birth control methods, so that I could leave that day with birth control in my hand. I told her I did not like hormones, and she suggested the IUD. An IUD in an intra-uterine device. The one I selected has no hormones, is 99% effective, and lasts ten years. She explained how it works and how to make sure it hadn’t fallen out. They have to insert it into the uterus, and since the physician would already be there, it would be a perfect opportunity to have it placed. I agreed.
After that, I went back into the waiting room for another fifteen minutes. I think they set it up that way to give you time to process your emotions and change your mind if you want to, as opposed to the whole thing happening all at once.
When they called me back again, I went into the recovery room to have my IV placed. If you’ve never had an IV before, it feels just like having your blood drawn. It’s a pinch with the needle and a little uncomfortable for a moment, but then it’s no big deal. It looks pretty strange coming out of your arm, but just be careful. They had me empty my bladder a final time before my procedure. Oh, that’s right, you are not allowed to eat or drink for six hours before the procedure. This is just in case you react to something, they don’t want you vomiting a double cheeseburger or tacos – you could choke. I was very hungry, and very thirsty, and my emotions were all over the place. One minute I was in tears, and the next felt detached and calm. A friend of mine warned me about this, and she told me to let my feelings play out naturally and to not try to force them down. Any reaction is a normal reaction.
I went into the exam room and undressed from the waist down. It was chilly so they brought me a blanket. The table I sat on looked just like a regular PAP/Pelvic exam table. There was a noise machine playing the sound of crashing waves quietly. While I waited for the doctor and nurse to bring in my partner, I took deep breaths and tried to relax.
They all came in, and my partner sat in a chair facing away from the foot of the table. I lay back and he held my hand and looked directly into my eyes. The doctor explained to me that this was my choice, and asked if I wanted to do this. I started crying and told her it was the right choice for me but I was sick about the whole thing. The nurse then administered, into my IV, a pain medication. Then she administered the sedation. She told me it would work within moments, and I may feel funny, but not to fight it and try and relax and let it wash over me.
Being consciously sedated affects different people different ways. For some, they are so relaxed they almost fall asleep. For others, they go into their own minds. For me, I was aware of everything that happened. Every word that was said. Every feeling. It wasn’t exactly that I felt relaxed, but more like I felt drowsy. It sort of felt like I didn’t have the energy in my body to escape what was happening, but mentally and emotionally I felt every bit of it.
First, they do a few injections of a local anesthetic – like Novocaine – into the cervix. This hurts. It feels like any other shot, but in a pretty sensitive place. It’s a pinch, and then it’s over. I would say that all of it hurt, but also that it hurt more because I knew why it was happening and felt the weight of my reality.
After the injection, she inserted a series of rods into my cervix to dilate it. This is just like gauging an earlobe – first she put the smallest one in, and gradually increased until she had, in effect, gauged the entrance to my uterus. This was very painful. I could feel the rods going in and out, it felt a lot like when they do the swab at a PAP smear, except it hurt a lot more and for a lot longer. I remember that the nurse and doctor were talking, but I was in too much pain to hear what they were saying. I remember looking at my partner and tears streaming down my face while he dabbed them away with a tissue. I was whimpering and squirming but also trying to hold still, not wanting to injure myself or make the doctor’s job harder. I can’t really communicate how it felt, just that it hurt and I was immediately pissed off that I felt it when I didn’t think I was going to. I wasn’t mentally prepared for that kind of pain.
I did keep reminding myself that the entire abortion only takes five minutes from start to finish. Four hours of sitting in the waiting room and going in and out for a five-minute procedure. The doctor kept telling me I was doing great and she was moving quickly, but all I wanted was for it to be over. I just kept thinking: I can do anything for five minutes, no matter how hard it is. It’s just five minutes. You can do it.
After the dilation was complete, she used a vacuum to empty my uterus. It was a hand-vacuum, so it wasn’t like I heard a whirring noise, but I did feel it. The only way I can describe it is like vomiting from the bottom end. Because the uterus is an enclosed space, when something is sucking on it, it doesn’t have anywhere to go. Just like vomiting, you feel this horrible pull during the climax of throwing up, and that’s sort of what it felt like – but on the other end. At this point, I was so teary and miserable and in pain that I didn’t even register what was happening. I don’t remember it hurting, I just remember feeling like I had about sixty seconds left in me before I had a complete mental breakdown. All the stress and pressure from the breakup, moving into a new place, and associated emotions, coming to a head.
I know she placed the IUD, but I was so exhausted that I didn’t even notice or feel it. I just knew when she was done because she stood up and said she was done. The nurse squeezed my hand and rubbed it and my palms were all sweaty. I kept crying and taking deep breaths and felt sick about the whole thing. It was over and I was unprepared for how mentally and emotionally troubling it would be, despite my research and efforts to be prepared. Even worse, I was still starving (who can think of food at a time like that?) and thirsty and I just wanted to go home.
The nurse brought over my panties (complete with maxi-pad already on it) and my sweatpants and she dressed me. She took my hands and helped me sit up and told me not to stand for a few minutes. She instructed my partner to help me stand and to be very careful. As soon as she left the room, he and I embraced each other. We both cried so hard and apologized so many times. To each other, to our God, to our baby, to ourselves.
The nurse came to collect me and brought me to recovery, where I sat with a heating pad and a blanket while they monitored me. They gave me some ginger ale and teddy grahams, and I have to say that nibbling on those little bears was probably one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I was so devastated, and hungry, and miserable, and somehow a teddy graham helped. The doctor told me I did great (gee thanks?) and wished me well. The nurse took my blood pressure and a few minutes later she let me leave.
I did look at the ultrasound picture, which is really just a blob in a black void, and I vowed to always keep it to serve a reminder of how grave the consequences can be when proper precautions are not taken. We left the clinic and headed home.
In the month, things have been very tough. Physically, I am in a considerable amount of pain. My body needs time to heal, and the uterus has to return to its original size. The side effects vary from woman to woman, but for me, it has been a lot of cramping (think menstrual cramps but worse) and bleeding. Also, there are clots that pass through (like in a menstrual cycle) and sometimes they can get stuck and that hurts a lot. Every little twinge and pain I feel is just a painful reminder of what happened. I got a heating pad the day of and it has been very helpful, and they also told me to get Advil, which I did. I spent the first five days mostly laying in bed, watching Netflix, unless I was going to work.
Because I told so many people I was expecting, I had the unpleasant reality of having to explain (at one point or another) what was going on. People would have started to notice eventually when I didn’t start showing, or pop out a baby in October. Because I can’t stand lies, I have been honest if someone asks. Sometimes I say “I decided to terminate… and had the procedure last week” or I will say “It’s over… and I mean all of it… it’s just all over” and people get the hint.
One of the hardest things has been some reactions, the pity look, and the fallout from my relationship ending. I lost a best friend, a lover, and a baby… all in under a week. I had to find a new place to live and still figure out how to get up in the morning and go to work to wait tables and pretend to like my life. Fortunately, I have had a lot of support. Many of my friends have listened to me talk, hugged me, and even set aside their own personal feelings to help me heal from this choice. I’ve heard a lot of people throw phrases around like how women can just have abortions willy-nilly – like it means nothing – and it’s just not true. It’s not true at all. The truth is that it is one of the most life-altering and devastating experiences I have ever had.
I never thought I would have to, or would, make that decision. In my darkest moments, I feel ashamed. Ashamed, guilty, depressed, heartbroken, angry, grief-stricken, confused, lost, and just empty. Hollow. For the first few days, I physically felt hollow, and jiggly. It feels kind of like when you drink a lot of water on an empty stomach (like several glasses of water) and you walk around and you can feel the water swishing around. Jiggly. Walking to work one day, I noticed that my abdomen felt jiggly on the inside, and it just made me miserable. I am exhausted and at a loss for words on most days.
Although I truly believe I made the best decision I could under the circumstances, I still have to deal with the fallout. There have been certain people that have judged me, or don’t want to talk to me, and it really hurts. Spiritually, I am struggling with justifying what I did. Most people don’t know what to say to me, they just have that lost look on their face like they wish they could say anything and they can’t think of a word, and the entire situation is very uncomfortable.
My advice to anyone facing such a scenario… give it some thought. You have time. In-clinic abortions can be done up to sixteen weeks. You have lots of options and community resources. But, at the end of the day, you have to make the best choice from within, and you have to be resolved that you are making the right decision. There is no guarantee that anyone will stand by you, although it is unlikely that everyone you know will shun you, and I will always be here to understand. One thing I have found – this is a lot more common than people realize. Every woman I know either A) has had an abortion herself or B) knows someone who has. It creates this web of networking where everyone understands that these things happen, and there’s just no handbook on how to deal with it.
Rest is very important. Whatever you feel you need is very important. For me, it has been a combination of spending time with friends trying to have a few laughs and laying in bed, miserable. Part of me feels like I should suffer for what I’ve done, and I am letting my emotions play out however they will. Grief and sadness are a process that cannot be tamed or controlled, so I just ride it out. Also, it is very scary sometimes to feel your body doing new things, because you don’t know what’s going on. Some mornings, I have cramping so sharp and intense that it wakes me up from a dead sleep.
Being isolated is something you should avoid – accept any support you are offered, no matter who it is from. Try to find balance and do what you need – but if a friend invites you out, try to go even if you don’t want to. It’s not healthy to sit in a room for days in isolation. As guilty or miserable as you may feel, take a break from that and recharge.
Don’t make any huge decisions about your life, wait until the dust clears. Handle yourself however you want to – but I chose honesty and dignity. Anyone who wants to can judge me as much as they want to, but I know what I did was right, and I’ll take that to the bank. I have plenty to support without needing it from every single person, and there is much love to balance out what I am lacking. You can’t control how others will feel about your body and your choices, but you can control how they make you feel. You’re going to feel awful enough as it is – don’t make it worse by taking someone else’s opinions personally.
As a closing statement, I suppose I should just say that this is tough real-life stuff. I feel like I aged ten years overnight. Bad breakups, divorce, abusive relationships, destructive friendships, crappy places to live, debt – I’ve experienced a slew of bad shit in my life. This is another thing, but it’s not another thing on top of all the others. There isn’t a limited number of times I can fall on my face, and this is a part of growth. Do I wish I had done things differently? Hell, yeah. But, you never really know what this kind of consequence feels like until you’re in the situation. That’s the most crucial thing about having an abortion – or any experience, really – the only ones that know are the ones that know. I sincerely hope you don’t have to ever know, I don’t want you to be a part of the club, it sucks here. Be careful with your body, take care of your body, and use precautions. But, if you do find yourself in a situation where you have abortion as your best option, it’s still one of the worst things that will ever happen to you, and you’ll be a part of the club. Everyone woman I’ve talked to about her abortion gets this look on her face… the look we all share… of some deep sorrow we wish we didn’t carry. I hope you never have to, but if you do, know that there are lots of us that have hugs to give and a kind word to share. These are mine.