Sep 032010

First of all, I feel like I don’t have to justify my reasons for getting an abortion, but I am offering them anyway. I knew at the time that abortion was the only choice I could live with; I was perfectly fine with that choice and I have never had any regrets. From time to time I’ll think, “Wow, if I hadn’t had that option, I would be struggling to raise a [insert number here]-year-old, probably all alone. Whew! I’m glad – both for my sake & for a child’s sake – that I didn’t have to do that!”

My story isn’t heart wrenching or particularly remarkable. I didn’t have to face insurmountable odds to get an abortion. I wasn’t in a horribly dire situation. There weren’t even any protesters at the clinic that I remember. I feel like I am just like many, many women who get abortions – I was a young woman who knew beyond a doubt that I wasn’t ready to have a child and abortion was the best option for me.

I was 21 years old, still lacking at least two years of college, unemployed, and barely getting back on track after several years of confusion and poor choices. I was taking a year off from school so I could figure out just what I was doing with my life, get my act together and find a purpose. I was in no way financially or emotionally ready to be a parent. I believe that parenting is a huge responsibility that should never be taken lightly. I knew that the most irresponsible thing I could do would be to bring a child into my world at that time.

I had just started dating someone. We were responsible and used condoms, but one broke. I went to get emergency contraception, but was told by the counselor that I had “picked a good time in my cycle to have an accident” and that I didn’t need it because my chances for getting pregnant were slim. At the time, I wasn’t empowered enough to know that I didn’t always have to listen to what a medical professional told me. I don’t blame this person for my unplanned pregnancy because I know I should have spoken up and demanded the emergency contraception anyway, but the submissive nature of patriarchal Western medicine still had a grip on me. I went along with what I was told. Unfortunately my body didn’t read the medical practitioner’s handbook!

Three days after the broken condom incident, I left to go spend three months volunteering at a camp for Central American political refugees. The camp provided me with food and shelter, but I had almost no income and no savings. I knew that after I left the camp, I would be returning to my college town with no money and no job – no way to provide for a child.

About a month later, I decided to end the uncertainty of a missed period and almost constant nausea and fatigue. The plus sign on the pregnancy test showed up immediately and was still there after the five-minute waiting period had elapsed. After chain-smoking for about half an hour, I got up the courage to call my boyfriend, who was very supportive. He asked me what I wanted to do and I answered with an unwavering, “Take care of it as soon as possible. I want to have an abortion.” While we talked, I had the yellow pages open in my lap to the “abortion” section. I made an appointment immediately, though I had to wait another month until I could go in.

I decided not to tell anyone in my family except my siblings. I knew that my parents were pro-choice and had always supported my activities in the pro-choice movement in college. But I didn’t want them to view my boyfriend as “the boy who knocked up their daughter” and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to them about it. When I was growing up, we didn’t really talk about sex or the reproductive system. I didn’t tell anyone when I got my first period; the sanitary napkins just started showing up in the bathroom cabinet. I communicate much better with my parents now and part of me suspects that they probably know I’ve had an abortion, but we’ve still never discussed it.

At the time, I was almost completely broke, but fortunately my boyfriend offered to pay for most of the cost of the abortion. In my present work with an abortion fund, I always keep in the back of my mind that if my circumstances had been just slightly different, I might have been an abortion fund client. I’m one of the lucky ones, though, and the stress of finding money wasn’t added to the situation.

There were also no state-imposed waiting periods at the time, which I’m thankful for now. I had to travel to get an abortion and I had to time the appointment for the few days I would be away from the refugee camp so my boyfriend could take me to the clinic. And, as I mentioned before, I had a month from the time I made the appointment to the actual procedure, which is a more than adequate waiting period! I would have been deeply insulted if I’d been told that I had to come back 24-hour hours later to get the actual abortion.

My appointment was very early in the morning and there were lots of other women there. I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work and at the time, I felt annoyed at the process. First they called each woman in for medical history, bloodwork, vitals, etc. and then it was back to the waiting room. Then I was called back again for a sonogram. The nurse couldn’t locate the fetus because apparently I have a tipped uterus, so I had to go back for another sono once the doctor came in. After another eternity in the waiting room, staring around at the diverse group of women – some with partners, some without – I was called in for counseling.

I know that the clinic now does individual counseling, but when I went for my abortion in the mid-90’s, we did the counseling in a small group. The counselor asked each of us if we were there alone or if we had support, if we’d had an abortion before, how we were feeling, what we planned to do for contraception, etc. She explained in detail what would happen during the abortion, what to expect afterwards, etc. There was an option for further one-on-one counseling after the group session, but I felt comfortable and didn’t do it.

After more waiting, I was called in to speak to another person who talked with me a little more about the abortion and asked for payment. Then it was back to the waiting room.

I guess my whole experience centered around waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. Why do we need waiting periods? There was PLENTY of time for me to back out of my decision. But I was resolute. Don’t get me wrong. I knew that what I had growing in my uterus was a future human being. I knew that the potential for that embryo to develop into a person existed and that by having an abortion, I was wiping out that possibility. I also viewed the pregnancy as “an invasion” or “an alien inhabiting my body and feeding off of me.” I did not want to be pregnant. I did not want a child. I could not raise a child. Like the wolf mother that eats her pups when she senses the danger is too great for their survival, I knew my ability to successfully reproduce – not just to produce a baby, but to provide for, care for and nurture that child into a productive, healthy member of society – was extremely limited.

I don’t think it’s right to have a baby just because you can. I feel like the world would have far fewer problems if everyone were to become responsible parents with a vested interest in raising well-adjusted, responsible children and would do so when they felt they were ready. I also feel like no one should have to be pregnant if they don’t want to – and this is not just for the woman’s sake, but also the fetus. The fetus is wholly dependent upon the woman for its health and growth and if a woman isn’t ready for the responsibility of eating healthily, giving up vices and taking care of her body, mind and soul while pregnant, then it’s simply not fair to either the woman or the fetus. Suddenly becoming pregnant does not make you a healthy, responsible person and it doesn’t magically turn you into a nurturing parent. And woman are not breeding machines. They are people with feelings, thoughts, emotions, needs, careers, loved ones, LIVES. They deserve the right to be pregnant only when they are equipped to do so and as a society we should honor women, respect their autonomy and have concern for their health.

Firm in my beliefs, I went forward with my abortion. But that’s not to say that I’m completely callous. I remember a moment standing in a sunlit hallway outside the bathroom door. I looked out the window at the sunny sky and I put my hand on my abdomen. I closed my eyes and thought, “Sorry, but this is not meant to be. Maybe another time.” I did feel sadness. I was sad because I knew I wasn’t ready to be a mother and I was consciously passing up this opportunity to be one. I was sad because I would never know what would happen if I took a different path in life. I was sad because I was falling in love with a wonderful guy and maybe someday we would have a family, but not then. But the sadness was fleeting. I knew what I was doing. I knew that each day we take paths and make decisions that could be potentially changing the course of our days, if not our lives. We can only imagine the outcomes of the paths we don’t take, but it doesn’t make the path we’ve chosen the wrong one. We live with the path we choose to take and we make the best of it.

Eventually my name was called again and I was given a pill to help with pain. After the pill had time to take effect, I was called into the room for my abortion. My only regret about the abortion was opting for the nitrous oxide. Yes, it was painful, kind of like bad cramping during my period. I think the pain would have been lessened if I didn’t have such a distorted sense of time and reality from the nitrous. I felt like I was having an abortion on acid and my memories of the actual procedure are blurred. There was a young woman there holding my hand and telling me to take deep, slow breaths through my nose and to try to relax. I don’t remember much about the doctor. He was nice and occasionally had to ask me to try to calm down (the nitrous was freaking me out), but that was about it.

It was all over rather quickly. I don’t really remember feeling much. Actually, I had expected to feel sad or traumatized or massively relieved or something and all I really felt was surprised that I didn’t feel those things. I guess this confused me. Abortion was supposed to be this horrible thing that women undergo when they feel they have no other choice, right? If you listen to the dominant voices in our society, you’d think that abortion is this great evil that leaves women run over like yesterday’s road kill, devastated and destroyed. But it wasn’t. It was over and I felt rather normal.

After a short time in the recovery room, I collected my prescriptions for antibiotics and went home. I had a short cry in my boyfriend’s arms, but that was it. My life went back to normal. I didn’t feel bad. I’ve always been able to talk about it and I have never regretted having an abortion. I feel no shame.

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