This has been the post I have always wanted to write and have simultaneously been terrified of writing. It is both the “why" I started this blog, and the “why I hardly ever write” this blog. It is what I have wanted to share since I was about 25 years old, and what I have lived in fear of sharing since I first thought of sharing it. It is not an extraordinary story by any means. In fact, it is quite common and so ordinary in its simplicity and lack of drama, that I wonder where all the fear and shame has come from that has prevented me from sharing it until now. It almost feels anticlimactic.
It is, of course, my own abortion story.
I first wrote down my abortion story in 1998, when I was 25 years old, and I shared it with a small group of friends - about 4 or 5 people. I had thought at the time that it could be the first chapter to a book (I was 25 and full of optimism for my future. I was just shy of my 1-year anniversary of my first job out of college, and I had my whole life ahead of me.) My story was mostly well received by my friends at the time, but for reasons I no longer remember, outside of not having any clue about where I could have shared this story at the time, I never shared it beyond that small circle of friends. The original resides on one of a number of unlabeled 3-inch floppy disks I still have in my basement but have no idea how to retrieve the information from. Thankfully, I had opened that floppy at a few of my jobs in the early 2000’s; edited and updated the piece, and then e-mailed it back to myself, so I still have edited versions of it in my Gmail from 2007 and 2008. I am grateful I wrote it down then, as it was fresher in my mind. There are many little details I would not have remembered had I not written them down then. I don’t even remember exactly when I had my abortion. I think it was January 1995, when I was a senior in college, but I am not 100% sure. My factoring of the date comes from my memory of telling my college roommate at the time a few months after I had the abortion. Based on the roommate I remember telling, I have guessed the year. It could have been November or December of 1994 but given that in my original 1998 account I wrote it had been January, I am going with January 1995.
But before I get to 1995, I feel like I would be remiss if I did not tell you some important facts about who I was in the years prior to that day. Mainly, that in high school and through my first semester in college, I identified as “pro-life”. I didn’t carry signs or protest outside of abortion clinics or anything, but when we were given a survey to fill out in my Senior Government class asking a range of questions about abortion, I stated that I was against abortion in all cases – including those that result from rape or incest. When a fellow student asked me how I could possibly think that way, I answered with all of the confidence of a young woman who had never had sex and had never actually thought about the issue at all, “My church tells me it’s wrong, so it must be wrong in all cases. A life is a life.” When he asked me questions like, “What about the woman? What about her life?” I just shook my head and said, “Pro-life means pro-life.” I remember him saying something to me along the lines of, “Wow... I thought you were smart.” I don’t remember my answer to him, but I don’t remember being offended, either. Mostly I just shrugged off the whole conversation. I didn’t get what the big deal was either way. It was an issue I was certain I would never have to deal with, so who freakin’ cared?
Another fun memory from my “pro-life” days in high school comes from my junior year, I think. There was a girl in the senior class who had gotten pregnant. I remember being in gym class with her and seeing her growing belly and one day going up to her and saying, “I think what you’re doing is just wonderful.” She stood staring at me like a deer in headlights, as I smiled and walked away, thinking I was brave for having said something, and that my religious education teacher would be so proud of me, representing “our views” (think Mandy Moore’s character in Saved for the tone, but picture it being said by Tracy Gold from Growing Pains or Becca from Life Goes On. Google all of those references, kids.) Imagine my confusion, when I heard the young woman burst into tears as I trotted away on my high horse, and I heard her chorus of friends comforting her saying, “She’s an idiot. She has no idea. It’s okay, honey. It’s okay.”
“Why would she be upset”, I thought? “She’s doing the right thing.”
I am so sorry I hurt that young woman. I am so sorry that my smug little asshole self only thought of myself in that moment and how I looked and what I was saying and why I was saying it, rather than how it might be received. That is a lesson I still struggle with to this day but do sincerely try to consider every time I open my mouth about anything.
I was not “pro-life” in high school because I had been presented with arguments on both sides and had come to an informed decision after hours of contemplation and self-reflection. I was “pro-life” because my church and my mother told me to be, and I did as I was told. It was easier to follow the rules than it was to think for myself. I didn’t even have a self at the time. I had shut off as much of my individual self as possible in pursuit of trying to be my mother’s “perfect daughter”, and part of that narrative I constructed and the role I was playing meant being “pro-life.” There was no thought involved. I believed what I was told and regurgitated talking points I had overheard. It made life very simple, albeit pretty miserable.
Fortunately (although there have been many days and even significant portions of my life where I have felt it was unfortunate), my world expanded exponentially when I got to college. Although I had remained part of the Catholic Church and joined the campus Catholic youth group my first semester freshman year, the pedestals on which I had placed my parents and the church, and the bedrock on which my worldview’s foundation had been laid; cracked, crumbled and were beyond repair by the time my second semester had started. I was 19 years old, and for the first time, I had to truly think and make decisions for myself – and not just things like which classes to take and what major I should pick, but as I said in my December 2018 post, I had to rebuild my emotional life from the ground up. I had to figure out what I believed in; what my values were; and figure out who I was; how I fit into the world, and where I would go from there.
Part of that tumultuous time included finding Feminism and Women’s Studies. But despite my excitement at everything I was learning in my Women’s Studies classes, and how right Feminism felt to me, I did not want to just believe what I was being told again, so I always remained somewhat skeptical. Part of that skepticism was a reluctance to embrace a firm, pro-choice stance. I no longer identified as “pro-life”, but I wasn’t exactly pro-choice either. By this point, I had actually gotten pregnant once and had a miscarriage, but I still somehow thought that abortion wasn’t an issue I was ever going to have to deal with, so I didn’t think much about it.
But then came January 1995. There is so much I remember, and so much I don’t (mainly the exact time frame, so forgive me if it doesn’t quite make sense. It’s as close to accurate as I can get without a time machine.)
I remember having sex with my boyfriend and the condom broke, but we didn’t know it had broken until we were done. At that point, we both were in a panic, but it was late at night, and there was nothing we could do about it, so we went to sleep. The next day, I went to the campus medical facility, and asked for the “morning after pill”. I remember being given a disclaimer that said it had an 85% effective rate, and that if I got pregnant, they recommended having an abortion. I signed the disclaimer and took the pills. I assumed they would work, and I went about my life as usual.
At some point, I realized that I hadn’t gotten my period for a spell and was hoping that my body was just messed up from the stress and the hormones from the pills, but I went back to the university medical center, and took a pregnancy test. It came back positive, and I remember the nurse asking me, “What do you think you are going to do?” Without any hesitation whatsoever, I answered, “I am going to have an abortion.” The quickness of my response surprised even me, but I knew there was no fucking way I was going to have a baby. There was no way in hell I was going to tell my mother I had gotten pregnant. She would have pulled me out of college and brought me back home before I even packed up my dorm room. She would have brought me straight to confession, and then she would have made the rest of my life a living hell. I doubt she would have made me marry my boyfriend at the time, because he was a man of color, but who knows? Her desire for me to not have a child “out of wedlock” might have actually outweighed her bias against him, so I’m not sure.
I then remember going to Planned Parenthood. I remember telling them I had taken a pregnancy test at school, and it came back positive. I seem to recall the woman saying to me that there were certain things she could not recommend or say to me*, and asked me what I thought I wanted to do, and again, I said, “I want to have an abortion.” I don’t recall whether I had a pelvic exam or not, or an ultrasound, but I assume I had one or both, as it was determined that I was 10 weeks pregnant, which is just under the 12-week cut-off period that existed at the time (and people will notice well past the 6 or 8 week period that is used in the so-called “Heartbeat” bans sweeping the nation today.) I was then given an appointment for an abortion for later that week.
The following is from what I wrote about my experience back in 1998:
“I remember the day I went to have my abortion. I woke up early on a cold, gray, January, morning, boarded a city bus with my boyfriend and headed downtown to the local Planned Parenthood. I was very quiet and very nervous. We got some breakfast at the Dunkin Donuts on the corner and walked down the street toward uncertainty. As I approached the building, I saw a handful of protestors with picket signs and immediately stiffened. I waited for their barrage of shouts, “Sinner! Demon! Baby-killer!” Thankfully, they appeared to be on a break. They stood quietly sipping some coffee that a man had just brought them, and I swiftly walked by unnoticed.
I entered a small vestibule, and was greeted by an imposing armed guard. I stated my name, and told him I had an appointment. He checked his list; found my name, and allowed me through the heavily locked and bullet-proof door. I filled out the necessary paperwork and sat in the waiting area with the other nervous young women. All of us carefully avoided eye contact with one another, and anxiously leafed through the various magazines on the table. Those of us with partners whispered when we spoke, if we spoke at all. Then my name was called.
I was brought to a room toward the back of the clinic and given a hospital robe to put on. I uneasily stripped; replacing my jeans and sweater with a flimsy blue robe, and sat up on the bed to wait for the unknown. A jovial man seemingly in his fifties walked in soon thereafter and introduced himself. He explained what the procedure would be like. First, he would numb my cervix with a local anesthetic administered through a needle. He would then insert a series of instruments into my cervix, causing it to dilate. Next, he would scrape the lining of the uterus, and using a vacuum aspirator, would remove the contents of my uterus. He did an ultrasound, and asked me if I had any second thoughts. I quietly said, “No,” and he said, “Let’s begin.” He explained what he was doing along the way, but I mostly tuned him out. I was concentrating very hard on the music playing in the background. At one point, Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window” came on, and I began to hum out of nervousness. The doctor began to make small talk with me – what’s my major; what do I want to do when I graduate? We chatted, and I heard the machine go on. Again, I concentrated on the music, trying to mentally distract myself from the situation. All along I was squeezing the hell out of a nurse’s hand.
It didn’t really hurt; it was more uncomfortable and unpleasant than painful. Toward the end I felt some stronger discomfort and then some real pain for just an instant. I squeezed the nurse’s hand a little harder, and then, just like that, it was over.
The doctor said it was complete, and I was able to get dressed. I sat up slowly, and we made some more small talk until I felt ready to stand up. He asked me how I was feeling. I said I was okay, so he left to allow me to get dressed. He left a sanitary napkin on the table for me and told me I would bleed for a little while. The amount and length of time varies from woman to woman, he said, but if I felt I was bleeding too much or felt any extreme pain or discomfort, I should call Planned Parenthood’s emergency number or 911 immediately. He asked me if I had any questions. I didn’t, so he left to go to his next patient. Before he left the room, I thanked him.
After I was dressed, I was led to a sitting area where I was given some juice and cookies. My boyfriend greeted me with a hug and sat with me while I ate a cookie in silence. He got us a cab, took me back to our dorm, and took care of me for the day. I shed a few tears, but mostly I slept. The next day, I was back on my feet, and began taking the antibiotics prescribed to prevent infection. A week later, I went back to Planned Parenthood for my follow-up. Everything was fine – I was healthy. I left Planned Parenthood that day and didn’t return again until the following year for my annual exam.”
Interestingly enough, even after I had my abortion, I still didn’t feel passionate about the “pro-choice” label. I started looking more into the issue as a whole, politically and personally, and I ultimately came to be passionately pro-choice, but I will go into that more in the future. For now, I just want to share my story.
There are some people who will read this and be horrified. There are others who will read it and be reminded of their own experience. I am sharing it now because I feel safe to do so. Safe in my job. Safe in my marriage. Safe in my family. But just because I feel safe, does not mean that I am not scared. And just because I feel scared, does not mean that I feel regret or shame.
I want to make that abundantly clear. I do not feel regret; nor do I feel shame. It was actually a very easy decision for me at the time. My fear of my mother; my fear of not graduating from college; knowing the man I was with, although smart and kind in a lot of ways, would have been a disaster of a partner; being far too young and stupid and insecure myself to fathom being a mother all outweighed my fear of pain, harm or potential eternal damnation. There is no other conclusion I can imagine having come to at the time, given who I was, and what my life was like at that point. I am eternally grateful that abortion was legal, safe and accessible when I needed to have one because had it not been, I can't guarantee I wouldn't have tried something illegal.
The only shame or regret that I feel now is that I did not share my story back in 1998, when I first wrote it. My silence, especially in the face of my awareness of what has been going on politically and electorally for the past 25-plus years in this country, has allowed countless people – mostly young, rural, poor, immigrant and people of color to suffer restriction on top of restriction to their reproductive healthcare. I speak out now in solidarity with so many others this week, as we react to the Alabama, Georgia and Missouri bans passed, but these horrifically restrictive bans are just the culmination of a more than thirty-year-old, long game that the Republicans have been playing. The Trump-Pence White House may be driving this frenzy, but make no mistake: this plan was in effect long before they got here, and it will still be in effect after they go. My words are not a partisan attack. They are political fact.
But let’s think about that for a moment. For the majority of my lifetime, the Republican Party (with the assistance of some Democrats from time to time – for sure), but the Republican Party as a whole – as part of its party platform and strategy, has been driving steadily toward the day that they can overturn Roe vs. Wade. They have been gutting Roe for decades, but public support for safe, legal and accessible abortion remains high – a significant majority of Americans support it. Horrific, unconstitutional bans have been passed in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri this week alone, but abortion remains legal today, in all 50 states. New York has passed groundbreaking legislation to codify reproductive healthcare access even if Roe falls, as did Virginia, and Vermont is trying to enshrine abortion access in its constitution. Other states are working to repeal outdated laws that pre-date Roe, sometimes by a century. Thousands of people work every day, on the ground in every state, to protect clinics, doctors and patients; to provide financial assistance to those who need it; to pass positive, pro-active legislation where they can, and fight against TRAP laws and bad legislation when they can’t. I share these facts not to quell your anger, but so we remain hopeful and fight.
What you can do:
On Tuesday, May 21st, there is a National Day of Action planned. Look for an event near you: #stopthebans or www.stopabortionbans.org.
For great examples of grassroots and local organizations you can donate to, check out this article from The Cut:
Sign up for alerts from Planned Parenthood, Center for Reproductive Rights, Physicians for Reproductive Health, or The National Institute for Reproductive Health and NIRH Action Fund (<== full disclosure: I work for them now – yay!)
Thank you for reading, and thank you for you support.
*(Note: I looked up whether there was a gag rule in effect in 1995, and it appears there was a Title X gag rule that had been enacted during the Reagan-Bush years, which prohibited healthcare facilities receiving Title X funding from discussing or recommending abortion as a healthcare option, but that had been suspended by Bill Clinton in 1993, and then formally repealed in July 2000. Given that it had been suspended in 1993, and I thought I was at Planned Parenthood in 1995, I don’t know if I am totally wrong with my recollection of the year I got my abortion, or if Planned Parenthood was being very careful so as not to lose its funding. Given my other memories around why I think it was 1995, I think it was Planned Parenthood being careful, but again, I could be wrong.)
Sharing my thoughts in hopes of defining myself and connecting with you.