Diane’s Story

My story is typical of a woman my age; I am now in my 60s. I grew up not even knowing what abortion was, let alone that it was illegal and therefore dangerous. As a young woman, I married and gave birth to three children in four years. As much as I loved my babies, I felt that my life was out of control. I was nothing but a baby machine. It was only when the birth control pill became available that I gained some breathing room and was able to return to school and prepare for a career, a course that had been interrupted by motherhood.

My husband and I divorced, I went through a second marriage, and then settled into a single life. My kids grew up and went off to college. In my early 40s, I met a man who was interesting, but totally unsuitable for me as a husband. By this time, I was no longer taking birth control pills because of the ill effects they had on my health. I was using other methods of birth control, but one night he and I had unprotected sex. I knew within a week that I was pregnant. There I was, a 40-something school teacher whose last child had just left home. There was no doubt in my mind as to what I would do. I will say I did not make this decision lightly-in fact, I was angry at myself for getting into a position of having to make this decision . However, given my age, my job, and my lack of desire to spend the next eighteen years of my life tied to raising a child, I had no regrets.

I called a small clinic in a nearby city and was told I would have to wait a couple of weeks for the fetus to develop enough so that the doctor could safely perform the abortion. I could hardly contain myself waiting for those two weeks to go by. I was already experiencing the morning sickness that had almost incapacitated me during my first pregnancy, but this time, I had to deal with it while I tried to simultaneously deal with a bunch of rowdy high school students. I didn’t want anyone in my small town to know I was pregnant-I could have lost my job, which was my sole support for my college-age children and myself. And I didn’t want the hassle of the inevitable small-town gossip.

My boyfriend drove me to the clinic on the Saturday of the appointment. The waiting room was full of young women, many of them teenagers. I was the oldest person in the room. I had to meet with four other women in a group counseling session and talk about what we were doing and why. Once again, I thought I would jump out of my skin waiting for the procedure to get underway. I wasn’t afraid-I’d already given birth three times and nothing could be as painful as that.

Finally, I was escorted to the room where the abortion was to be done, given some drugs, I don’t remember what, and relaxed on the table. The doctor and nurse came in and the doctor started. The nurse talked to me while the doctor worked. At one point, the doctor apologized for hurting me. He said my cervix was misshapen because of the earlier births and he was having trouble completing the procedure. I remember thinking, “If it’s difficult now, what would it have been like to give birth with this condition. The pain was no worse, however, than a typical pelvic exam. I also remember that I was quite curious about what the expelled fetus looked like, so I tried to see it as the nurse was carrying it away. There was really nothing to see-a blood clot in some mucus, sort of like a menstrual period.

I went into the recovery room and lay down for a while, then my boyfriend and I started the 45-minute drive home. One protestor, an older nun, paraded around the clinic carrying a sign with a rose on it. I wanted to get out of the car and tell her she didn’t have the slightest idea what being pregnant with an unwanted child was like. By that point, however, I just wanted to go home and get my life back to normal. My boyfriend had to stop the car a few blocks away from the clinic so I could throw up. Then I wanted a hamburger, so we stopped at a drive-in so I could get one. The only emotion I felt was overwhelming relief. I still experience that emotion every time I think about the abortion.

We came home and I spent the afternoon and evening in bed. I was exhausted, I think as much as the mental strain as anything. My boyfriend and his brother had a huge fight that day, then a friend came over and they told her what had happened. I was really upset about that. This was a private matter and they had no business telling anyone.

My boyfriend and I broke up shortly after, a break-up that was long overdue. He resented me for getting the abortion, even though he had agreed to it beforehand. I didn’t care. I knew then and still know that getting an abortion was the right thing to do.

In many ways, that abortion was the defining event of my life. I had been pro-choice for years, but I was arrogant, thinking I would never have an unwanted pregnancy. This experience humbled me and helped me to walk in the shoes of every other woman who’d ever had that experience. Also, I went from being a passive pro-choice supporter to being an activist. I began doing clinic support and joined groups that campaigned for pro-choice legislators and lobbied for pro-choice legislation. I educated myself about reproductive issues. I became a prolific letter-to-the editor writer, refuting the propaganda from the anti-choice side. Most importantly, I felt the power that came from knowing I had taken control of my life. Only recently have I decided it’s time for me to let younger women take over and fight this battle for themselves. I am appalled that many of those women think they’re above the fray when it comes to reproductive rights.

I don’t think about the abortion very often. One thing I discovered, when I did start talking about it with my friends, was that many of them had also had abortions. They never talked about their experiences, so we were all living in ignorance, each thinking she was the only one to have been dumb enough to make a mistake. I still don’t talk about it often, only when I think talking about it will do some good. To me, it’s part of my life just as having children or getting an MA in English was.

Thank you for letting us tell our stories.