Whenever someone would bring up abortion, my canned response would always be, “I support a woman’s right to choose, but I could never personally make that choice.” Of course, I never dreamed I’d be in a position where I was faced with that choice, so it was an easy thing to say. I’d only ever had a few sexual partners and I was psychotic about taking my birth control every day and on time. Unplanned pregnancy would never happen to me.
Even though we’d been broken up a month, I was over at his place to have dinner the night I found out I was pregnant. When I stopped having my period in September, my OBGYN told me that wasn’t an uncommon thing while on the pill and that if I was worried about it, I should just take a pregnancy test periodically. I took one that night on a whim and was in the middle of telling my ex-boyfriend a story when I looked down and saw the faint blue line. I immediately started gasping for air and then felt the sticky, hot tears pour out of my eyes uncontrollably. He rushed into the bathroom and saw the positive test, but thought it couldn’t be right. “I want to take another test right now,” I demanded through my tears. He went out to the drug store while I signed onto his computer to read about the reliability of brand we’d used. By the time he got back, I was hysterical and we decided to go to the hospital and have a blood test done. Because he was a medical resident, he was able to access to my records before the doctor and calmly came over to tell me it was indeed, positive. I burst into tears and he took me home. That night, I laid awake in disbelief. I didn’t feel pregnant. How could this be happening to me?
The next day, I went to a dentist appointment and they wanted to take an x-ray. I told them they couldn’t because I was pregnant and the technician smiled and said, “Congratulations! You must be so excited!” I unsuccessfully tried to hold back tears. I didn’t feel excited; all I felt was loneliness and terror. A month after my boyfriend dumped me, my whole world had crashed again.
The next week is a bit of a blur. I remember going to doctor’s appointments, him kindly holding my hand while they drew blood. We talked to counselors and I cried to my friends. I couldn’t sleep or eat and agonized over what to do. My parents’ first instinct was to say they didn’t want me to get an abortion, but there were too many things I didn’t want to give up by having a baby. My ex was nothing if not supportive and kind about the matter, but I knew he didn’t want to have a baby at that point, much less wanted have one with me. Even though I was 26, the thought of raising a child alone made me feel sick to my stomach. I wasn’t ready.
I felt terrible that we were in a position to decide something so huge after he’d recently made it clear he no longer wanted me to be a part of his life. Now, he might unwittingly be forced to be connected to me forever. Let me be clear, I never once felt like this was my fault – I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong or shameful – but I did feel guilty and awkward that he had to be involved, after he’d so recently rejected me. I was afraid that people might think I’d gotten pregnant on purpose to somehow try to win him back. If anything, I was miserable that we were thrown in a position to have some much close contact again; when it was over, I felt like we had been through two breakups.
After one doctor’s appointment, he and I ran into his co-worker with her newborn on the street. We chatted for a bit, both of us pretending everything was normal but as soon as she turned the corner, I started running the other direction, tears streaming down my face.
We made the appointment for Friday the 13th of December. I was relieved we’d finally made a decision and at peace with the path we’d chosen, but I was also nervous about the procedure and upset because they wouldn’t let him come back with me. He had to wait in the crowded friends and family waiting area, with a bunch of other guys. I was worried there would be protestors outside of the clinic, but we didn’t see a single one. I sat in another waiting room with all the women, women just like me. I was surprised by how many different women were there. Some of them looked just like me: nice, well-educated, middle-class, white girls from the suburbs. There was one girl who looked like she was a ballerina, with perfect skin and gorgeous brown curls. There was another girl with a scarf covering her head. Most were young, but a few were at least in their 40’s, a stark reminder that unplanned pregnancy can happen to anyone.
The waiting was endless and I felt sick because I hadn’t been allowed to eat anything since midnight. They played “Bridesmaids” and “Clueless” and “Pitch Perfect” on the TV while most of us sat in silence. I talked to a counselor (thankfully, he was allowed to come up for that part) about what to expect and what type of birth control I’d be using moving forward. The nurses did a pregnancy test, took my blood and did an ultrasound. I opted not to see a picture of the fetus. I was only 6 weeks along, so I doubt there would have been much of anything to see.
After almost 6 hours, they finally called my name and I went to another room and changed into a gown. I had to remove everything but my socks and underwear. After more waiting, this time in a different room, I went to the procedure room. It was dark and busy and loud and I suddenly felt very small and terrified. I tried not to panic while the nurse told me to take off my underwear and lay down on the table. I cried as the anesthesiologist, who had a very thick accent that I had a hard time understanding, harshly told me that if I didn’t calm down he wouldn’t be able to put the IV in my arm. I laid back and looked up at the ceiling, where someone had taped a poster of a blue sky with white clouds. The doctor came over and asked why I was so upset and I told her I was scared. She asked me if I knew that abortion is one of the most common procedures and that one in three women have one before age 45. After she said that, I felt a stinging in my throat as the anesthesia kicked in and I passed out.
I woke up in a chair in the bright recovery room with several other women seated next to me. I started whimpering, feeling overwhelmed and disoriented. The girl recovering next to me stroked my hand and told me everything was over and that I was okay, but I didn’t want her to talk to me. As soon as they let me, I staggered to the bathroom, an oversized pad lodged between my legs to soak up any blood, and to put my clothes back on. Then I shoved a graham cracker in my mouth and downed it with some apple juice and made my way down to the lobby where I met my ex, relieved it was all over. He hailed a cab and we went back to his apartment, where I slept. I woke up later and he made pasta for dinner and we watched a movie on his computer. The next day, my good friend, Sarah, came to take care of me for the weekend, which we mostly spent laying in bed watching trash TV and eating junk food. I felt so grateful for her sweet presence during that time.
As the weeks went on, I felt fine physically but incredibly fragile emotionally, which was foreign and uncomfortable for me. I cried at the drop of a hat. Christmas was a terrible day. I called him a lot, sometimes multiple times a day, sobbing into the phone. I felt sad, guilty for feeling sad, embarrassed for continuing to rely on him so much, angry because this had happened to me, the girl who’d been so careful. I also felt terribly alone; I hated having this secret, having to act normal like everything was okay, when nothing was okay. My usual coping mechanism is to seek advice from trusted friends and family, but in this case, it seemed no one could relate to my struggle.
A month later, after I had moved to a different state, I went back to Planned Parenthood for a follow-up appointment. I begged my friend, Kelly, to go with me. We met for dinner and then went to the office where the PA did a pregnancy test and confirmed that my hormone levels were receding enough to where they knew I wasn’t pregnant anymore. She told me that in a few weeks, the HCG hormone would be out of my system and I would start feeling more normal again emotionally. That night, Kelly, who had been desperately trying to have a baby with her husband, told me that she’d recently had a miscarriage. In fact, we found out we were pregnant on the same night. I felt solemn thinking how incredibly different that night must have been for each of us; her, overjoyed with the thought that she would finally have what her heart had been longing for and me, terrified, overwhelmed and anguished by whatever lay ahead.
At a certain point, my ex and I decided it would be best if we cut off contact and I felt more alone than ever. After the breakup, I decided to move closer to my family but to a town where I knew virtually no one, especially no one I could burden with this secret. I started seeing a therapist, but I still felt overwhelmed by all the changes and sadness that consistently clouded my days. Not only was I dealing with moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone, I was still devastated about the end of what I thought would become a permanent relationship and the shock of the pregnancy and the big decisions that came along with it. Any one of those things would be a lot to handle, and I had to deal with all three at once. Not to mention the pregnancy hormones which still hadn’t left my system!
Around that time my friend, Naomi, sent me an invitation to her baby shower. My therapist and my mom encouraged me to go, but the thought of seeing her pregnant belly and playing silly shower games overwhelmed me. The last thing I wanted to do was cry in a room full of strangers as she opened her gifts. I went anyway, forcing myself to buy something cute like bunny bath towels or ballerina socks from her Target registry. The shower actually ended up being fun and my anxiety about getting upset was unfounded.
Now, almost 5 months later, I’m happy to report that I’m in a much better place in all facets of my life. My love life has been revitalized in ways I no longer believed possible and I’m thriving in a job that I love. I’ve made new friends and have been able to share my story with more friends and family, who have shown me nothing but support.
In fact, I don’t think about the abortion very often anymore, certainly not on a daily basis. I feared that my abortion would haunt me forever, and while I don’t think it’s an experience I’ll ever forget, I don’t feel irreparably damaged or scarred. Abortion is something that happened and has become a page of my story, as it has for so many other women.
An abortion is never a thing I thought I’d have to go through, and it’s something I never want to experience again I certainly hope my daughters and friends don’t have to experience it. At the same time, it didn’t destroy me in a way I hear crotchety old men in Midwestern state senates warning me it will. And while I did feel a sense of loss, I never regretted my decision. I’m not ashamed of the choice I made. No form of birth control is 100%, except for abstinence, and “low risk” doesn’t mean “no risk.”
Now, when someone brings up the sensitive topic of abortion, I hope I will continue to be brave enough to share my story. Everyone knows someone who has had an abortion and the more I talk about it, the more I realize that is true. In fact, I now know that at least two women in my family have had an abortion! Perhaps if we can put a face on the issue, it would be more humanized, instead of politicized. I’m sure I’m one of the last people my acquaintances might expect to have had an abortion, but unplanned pregnancy happened to me, through no fault of my own, and I was lucky enough to live in a time and place where I had the option to choose abortion.
We all have our stories. I’m excited about having babies one day, but for now, I’m at peace with the fact that I made the right decision for the situation I was in. It wasn’t an easy experience, but I’m proud of myself for handling the choices I made and for finding the strength to make it through the other side.