Terri’s Story

It takes three minutes to know if a pregnancy test will stay negative. It took less than 30 seconds for mine to come back positive. I was standing naked in my boyfriend’s dirty bachelor apartment bathroom. Having grown increasingly nervous over the previous week, I slipped out of bed early Saturday morning to take the test.

Even as I unwrapped the test, I did not really believe that I could be pregnant. My boyfriend and I used condoms. I had a pregnancy test on hand because I had been late a few months earlier, and bought a package of two. That time my fears were unfounded, and I expected this to just relieve my fear again.

I stood in the bathroom, staring at the two little lines, willing this to be a false positive. Finally, I crammed the test into the bottom of the trashcan and went back to the bedroom. My boyfriend was still asleep. I crawled back into bed with him, curling up with my back to him, pressed against the curve of his body. My movement woke him, and he pulled me closer. “Are you okay? You’re white as a sheet.” My boyfriend spoke in cliches; a habit I found endearing.

I stayed silent, and he said my name in a questioning tone.

It was a mistake to take the test there that morning. If I had believed there was any real chance of pregnancy, I would have taken the test at my own apartment. I would have prepared for his reaction and approached him on my own terms.

“I’m pregnant.” He pushed me away and rushed out of the room. I could hear him retching in the bathroom.

I already knew I wasn’t ready for a child. My job wasn’t terribly secure, my relationship was shaky, and my finances were in shambles. I knew I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. My boyfriend came back into the bedroom, and knelt at the foot of the bed.

“I’m not ready to be a father.”

“I’m not having a baby.”

We lived in separate cities, and I decided to go home on Sunday rather than staying and getting up on Monday morning to drive in for work. I couldn’t stay around after he studiously avoided touching me on Saturday.

I could do nothing more until Monday. I hoped that a second pregnancy test would prove I was wrong, and until then I wanted to pretend that my life was continuing as normal. I hoped the first test’s age and its storage in my boyfriend’s bathroom made it unreliable.

Monday I woke up nauseous and miserable but went to work. On my lunch break, I bought a second pregnancy test, this one a different brand. It took a whole minute to give me a second positive. I put aside my hopes that the first test had been in error and started making plans. That afternoon, I called Planned Parenthood, and they referred me to a women’s clinic. I called the clinic, and they told me that I had to be at least six weeks along before I could make an appointment. Already I just wanted the whole thing over. Knowing I would have to wait at least two more weeks to even make an appointment, and then even longer to have the surgery, I cried for the first time in the whole ordeal.

That evening I called my boyfriend. He was upset by my call, and didn’t really want to talk to me. He told me that he wasn’t comfortable going with me to the clinic and that he wasn’t dealing well with “our situation.” He was never able to say the word “pregnant” or “abortion,” and while he agreed to pay half for the surgery, he asked that I not talk about it. I worked in a small office with career-oriented women who looked on pregnancy with derision; my family was pro-life. With my boyfriend’s rejection, I felt suddenly, completely alone.

Like most sexually active women, I had thought about pregnancy before. My best friend and I had talked about the issue of abortion at length. I told him about my pregnancy over dinner. As odd as it sounds, there was a part of me relieved to discover that the convictions that I hold about choice held true for me when faced with my own pregnancy rather than just in theory or for someone else. My best friend agreed to go with me to the clinic. The procedure requires that the woman either be sedated or put under anesthesia, so someone has to be there to drive her home.

As a well-educated woman in the modern world, I had somehow come to believe that an unwanted pregnancy was a mark of ignorance, stupidity, or carelessness. Friends, ignorant of my condition, compounded my frustration with myself with comments about other women that reflected my own prejudices. My inner turmoil came to a head during an ugly confrontation with my boyfriend, when he told me that he believed my pregnancy was a punishment for his liking sex too much. I do not believe that sex is a sin, and I do not believe that pregnancy is a punishment or a sin. His hypocrisy in having sex, but believing that it was wrong crystallized my own belief that my pregnancy was simply an accident.

Any woman who chooses to have sex must be prepared for possible consequences, and I was prepared. I made the decision to have an abortion. I was not shirking my responsibility; I made the decision not to bring a child into the world that I would resent and not to tie myself to a man that I could no longer respect.

The next several weeks were painful. I often woke up nauseous. My skin broke out. I suffered from indigestion. There were moments of dark humor. My best friend and I laughed at the cultural conditioning that made me feel guilty about having a drink, even after I had made the appointment to terminate the pregnancy. My boss- a concerned older woman with a child of her own- asked me if I was pregnant, and even when I assured her I wasn’t, still stocked soothing teas in the office kitchen and didn’t ask me about the personal day I scheduled during our busy season.

I finally decided to confide in a few select close friends. Some part of me rebelled against the stigma abortions have in our country. They are absolutely a private matter, but I had done nothing wrong, and going through this process alone without the support of friends and family seemed like an unfair punishment. I told a few close friends. I felt a little guilty about my own surprise at my friends’ support and comfort.

I searched for information about exactly would happen to me in the course of the abortion. While general information about the procedure was available, I could find no details. I found medical descriptions of the surgery, and I found anti-abortion propaganda about the negative effects. I found no good information about what would happen to me after I got to the clinic. My ignorance led to my only misgivings about my decision. In Kentucky, where my abortion was performed, women are required to listen to a recording listing everything that could go wrong, including uterine perforation. While most procedures require disclosure of possible effects, for an abortion the disclosure must be given at least 48 hours in advance. It amounts essentially to a waiting period. Given the dearth of knowledge about the procedure, I suspect this recording dissuades many women from having an abortion. More, I suspect that while women’s clinics try to present the information in as non-threatening a way as possible, it is intended to scare women away from this legal option.

On the day my abortion, I was nervous, but ready. I was the first patient of the morning. I opted to be awake during the procedure, and the clinic recommended a light breakfast before I arrived. I had three biscuits. My best friend drove me to the clinic. We made light jokes along the way, him telling me that I should have gotten him a shirt made that said, “Platonic Friend Who Cares Enough to be Here.” I signed in, and they required that I pay them in cash, up front. The procedure was $400. My friend had to sign a legal form saying that he would take responsibility for getting me home safely and that I wouldn’t be driving.

Ultimately a woman has to go through the procedure alone. Bomb threats and legal wrangling have made security at the women’s clinic such an issue that I was asked to go behind locked doors to fill out my consent forms. In addition to security concerns, the clinic wanted to ensure that I wasn’t being coerced into the decision. There is a lot of legal paperwork, pages of stuff to read and go over. They ask your medical history, to verify that it is your decision to be there, that you understand the procedure, that you have asked for additional information if you want it, that you understand the risks involved in both an abortion and in a to-term pregnancy, that you understand that the father is required to pay child support even if he encourages you to have an abortion, and a host of other small things. It’s a bit overwhelming.

Next I had an ultrasound, as that is the best way to both assure that a woman is pregnant and to make sure that she is far enough along to have an abortion safely. The technician assured me everything was fine. Everyone at the clinic was really nice, competent, and professional.

When I got back to the inner waiting room, another woman was there filling out her paperwork. Throughout the rest of the procedure, every time I went back to the room there were more women there. At first I was uncomfortable because I was worried about someone freaking out or recognizing me, but it was actually really comforting having other women there.

We began to talk to each other, and I was amazed at the differences in age and experiences. Many of the women already had multiple children. One was a teenager who had only had sex once. Some had very supportive husbands or boyfriends; others had chosen to not even tell their partners about their pregnancies. The women ranged from young to middle-aged and were of every race and economic class.

Next they took some blood for blood work- they tested for anemia and my blood type to make sure I wasn’t RH negative. Another nice feature of the clinic-they told me what each procedure was for, so that I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on.

After the blood work, I was sent to talk to a counselor. She asked me if I had talked to anyone about my decision, and if I had any doubts or questions. She also witnessed as I signed all the documents I’d read earlier. The only thing we discussed at legnth was the father’s feelings about my pregnancy, since I was comfortable with my decision. It was clear that I could have talked to her for longer if I’d needed or wanted.

I was sent back to the inner waiting room again, and then called to go start the procedure. Two of us were called together, and we were both given valium and ibuprofen and then put in a third waiting room, this one back behind the station where the blood work is done. She and I talked the 20 minutes or so it took the valium to take effect, and after about 10 minutes a third woman joined us. We chatted and talked about why we had decided not to have the babies and about motherhood in general. I was the first one called back. A nurse helped me to the surgery room, as I had a little trouble walking on my own from the valium. I took off my underwear and pulled my skirt up. The clinic recommended comfortable, loose pants or a skirt and told me to wear underwear when I made the appointment.

The doctor came in, and I was surprised- he was male. He was the first man I’d seen past the open waiting area. He did a pelvic exam, and then the procedure began. The procedure hurt. Not as much as I thought it was going to, but it was none-the-less painful. It felt like really horrible menstrual cramps. I almost threw up. The nurse told me that my uterus tensed up and that’s what caused the pain. Not everyone who has an abortion experiences pain like that.

It was over really quickly; the nurse put a pad inside my panties and pulled them up for me. Then I had to go sit in a recovery room. I was in shock, and the recovery nurse gave me a cookie and some 7-Up and covered me with a blanket. I started crying and asked if my friend could come back and sit with me. They said that for security reasons, they don’t allow anyone back there. The counselor stepped in to check on me too. I was in a lot of pain at first- cramping, but it subsided to discomfort fairly quickly. The other patient from the valium room joined me in recovery shortly after that, she had less pain than me, but more discomfort.

Once my heart rate and blood pressure returned to normal, they gave me a list of post-op things to read, and then sent me home. The clinic gave me several prescriptions- an antibiotic, a pill to discourage hemorrhaging, birth control, and painkillers. Bleeding may last 2 to 14 days after the procedure. I bled about a day and a half. I had minor cramps for about a week and was not allowed to take a bath, swim, or have vaginal sex for seven days.

The end of the surgery left me with mixed feelings. Physically, I was sore and dirty. While the doctor was gentle and thorough, there was a lot of blood. I went home afterward and showered for nearly an hour to feel clean again. Emotionally, I was in shock and feeling a little violated, but I was incredibly relieved that the pregnancy was over and there was no doubt that I’d made the best decision for me.

After the abortion was over, I chose to share the experience with a few more of my friends. I was shocked to discover the number of friends who had been through the abortion process. One was only 17 when she’d been through it. Another was in her late 30’s. One was in her late 20’s like me, and had never told anyone. She took a cab to the clinic and back. Sharing the experience with me helped her to work through her own grief and shame and to feel less alone. An unwanted pregnancy is traumatic and terrifying. It brings home all of the questions about what we believe about sex and motherhood. It’s an outrage that we feel like we have to make a decision that profoundly affects our future without access to real women who have made the same decision.

It has been nearly three years since I had my abortion. Contrary to the claims of anti-choice radicals, I have never had a doubt that I made the right choice for me. Less than a year after the abortion, I was laid off from my job, and I’ve opted to go back to college. My relationship with my boyfriend dissolved. Had I kept this child, I would have gone through the pregnancy with no health insurance. I would be stuck now: No job, fewer options, and I’d have a baby I resented. I would be tied through that child to a man I have no desire to have in my life in any capacity. No one should be raised in the environment I would be providing, even with the best of intentions. Some women in my place would have chosen to have the child. I respect that choice and am glad that there are many loving homes available. I made the right choice for me.

You probably know someone who chose to have an abortion. Among the women you know and care about, chances are, one of them has experienced an unwanted pregnancy. She made the best choice for her at the time. She may have had to make that choice alone because even though abortion is legal and sometimes the best option, we live in a cult of silence. According to Planned Parenthood, around 1 million women have abortions each year. It is difficult to get information about the procedure, difficult to talk about the choice not to have a child, and difficult to trust even the people we care about to support our decision. I hope that my story provides some clarity into the secrecy that shrouds abortion. We have a responsibility to women to make information about what to expect behind the doors of the clinic widely available. No one can make an informed decision without all the facts.