I am part of a big family with many strong women who have chosen or been forced to care for themselves and their families. Some have had abortions and some have chosen to give birth despite difficult circumstances. My aunt had an abortion when she became pregnant in an abusive relationship and my mother for medical reasons. It was not really dinner table conversation, but nor was it a point of shame for either woman to speak openly about it with me in private.
I became sexually active a bit later than some, but knew that birth control and, if that failed, abortion were choices that I had access to in order to plan when I was going to become a mother. I was very careful, using diaphragms and spermicide when the pill caused bad side effects. As I worked in the outdoors and camped with my man a lot I finally got an IUD to keep things cleaner in the backcountry. I spoke to my mother after I got it, and she told me of walking furious out of a small rural doctor’s office when she was my age after the physician had essentially done some good old fashioned ‘slut shaming’ because she wanted an IUD before marriage.
I slept safe in my backwoods cabin next to my boyfriend that night listening to the fire and the rain on the roof reflecting on how different the two experiences had been.
Fast forward a few years, and I had worked my way into a demanding, male- dominated job in the outdoors. I returned from a long trip and we must have been particularly happy to see each other, because about a month later I noticed that my breasts were unusually tender. I just knew. My boyfriend had made some comments just one day earlier about pregnancy or babies, so I think on some instinctual level he knew too. Like so many 20-somethings we were broke, living in a shithole and working two and three jobs apiece. A brighter future was in reach for us, but not with a baby. We wanted children, but not in the world we were living in.
The folks at Planned Parenthood, that much-maligned organization that saves and improves so many women’s lives, were so professional and competent. I felt safe and that my experience was confidential the whole time – between me and my doctor, just like it should be. Our business. My business. The saddest part of this whole thing is the secrecy my boyfriend and I maintained about it. I did not want word to get back to the ‘old boys’ club’ I had fought so hard to work my way into, and we live in a tight community that loves gossip. My boyfriend could not tell his boss why he wanted the day off, and therefore could not get the day off. I went to get the abortion alone. Since I was driving I had no meds. There was very little pain. The doctors and nurses and pretty much everyone I talked to there were amazed that I had gotten pregnant with an IUD. “The odds against that are 99%!” Yippee, I beat the odds. There was great irony, and vague sadness. My aunt said she was ‘sending the soul back’. Not ready to be born yet. I told that little soul that – you come back when we are ready. We will be waiting for you.
I walked out of that clean, legal clinic into the gray summer sky after I drank some juice and a new hormonal IUD had been implanted. I felt cramped but ok. The parking lot was empty and nobody was holding graphic signs of fetuses or telling me I was going to hell. My boyfriend took care of me that night. Two days later I was back at work, holding it all to myself and keeping up the tough facade for the men who think women can’t do the job I was doing. The abortion was hard because we loved each other and wanted a child, but it was not extremely painful or dangerous BECAUSE IT WAS LEGAL AND CONFIDENTIAL. The laws in the state I lived in respect my right to make decisions about whether I am going to reproduce or not. It was a private ordeal and I am so, so grateful that it was that way.