I really had my heart set on December 27th for my abortion.
December 27th meant I would only have to get through one, maybe two holiday celebrations with the clandestine knowledge that a body of cells was evolving inside me. I would disclose to my mother, but it’d be much harder to force a smile for the rest of my unsuspecting family, when all I could think about was how the wine in my glass was hurting something that would soon be nonexistent. My biological instincts had kicked in, and I felt the urge to nurture my accidental six-week-old cluster of matter, despite the illogic.
The date came quickly enough, if I ignored the constant nausea and inner emotional turmoil that kept me glued to the couch all vacation. Having avoided a private number that left me multiple voicemails out of fear of facing a prior medical debt, I was informed upon arrival at my appointment that those calls had come from the clinic. They wouldn’t operate without a heart monitor that they didn’t have, so I’d have to reschedule at a local hospital. I cried in the waiting room of the clinic, despite my best attempts to keep it a dry-eyed visit.
I scheduled my second appointment for December 31st, New Year’s Eve. I thought this a decent replacement, as I wouldn’t have to scramble to find celebratory plans with friends I no longer felt close to. Again, the idea of pretending that I could even begin to think of the coming year 2013 when I had more pressing matters to deal with felt disingenuous. I mentally prepared for my second appointment only to be informed this was another consultation, not a surgical procedure. I cried myself to sleep by 9:30 PM on the last night of 2012.
My third and final appointment was scheduled for January 3rd and this made me downright furious. Yes, I was mad at myself for letting this happen, and I was mad at the other guilty party for letting it happen too, and now I couldn’t even control the date of the procedure. I desperately wanted, needed to leave every inch of this behind. Another year, another me. I couldn’t carry this baggage into a new set of 365 days in which I’d already vowed to be better. Hell, I’d already given up smoking! Okay, sure, it wasn’t really by choice. I had out-smoked myself in the two weeks since learning I was pregnant and couldn’t stand to put another one near my lips. But it was a start, wasn’t it?
I can only liken it to feeling like I was losing my virginity, not that I gave that much weight the first time around. Would everyone know I’d had an abortion just by looking at me? Was I now a reluctant new member of the 1-in-3 club of women who donned some kind of modern scarlet A? Would it be like all the movies I’d bore sympathetic witness to so many times before, or would it be scarier and more painful? (I can only now understand years later that Mother Nature was pumping the progesterone overtime, so my irrationality was at an all-time high, fueling my already habitual catastrophic thinking.)
By the final date, I was more nervous of all of the needles than anything. I had used up all my emotional investment on December 27th and 31st. The IV took at least three tries, per usual, but the nurses kept me talking and distracted. They assured me this would be the hardest part of the day. I didn’t tell them it had already ruined my year, though in terms of the physical aspects of the procedure, they were right.
Before long I was propped up on the table and sedation was on its way into my veins, causing the ceiling above me to grow hazy, and my mouth to start running. My cervix decided to clamp up tight to make up for my mouth, but at that point I couldn’t have cared less about the local anesthetic (i.e. extra needle) I usually would’ve panicked over to remedy this. It was all done in under two minutes and I felt fucking giddy, from the moment I got up from the table and through the minutes I spent puking into the sink when I got home. Even the intense cramping I felt for the rest of the night felt like a well-earned battle scar for which I denied all forms of pain killers. I wouldn’t let myself off the hook too easy.
Nowadays there is a lot of pressure as a feminist to feel unrelenting pride in one’s abortion. As a staff member at an abortion clinic, I understand why. We need to combat the stereotypes that abortions ruin women’s lives, that we’re all murderers, and that the termination of a fetus is always accompanied with regret. I don’t feel any regret whatsoever about my abortion. But as feminists, we can’t undermine the gravity of the decision to the point where we’re forcing ourselves and our fellow women to put on a brave face just to meet an ambiguous political standard. As if we’re less committed to the cause if we show emotion or look back on them as anything but objective, medical procedures.
Abortion. Is. Hard.
Maybe not the decision itself, but the procedure is no walk in the park. A surgical abortion is very invasive and the medical abortion isn’t painless either from what I’ve heard, involving lots of cramping and sitting on a toilet for hours (though to be fair, some women have had an easy time with the pill – different strokes for different folks). It can be a long process and it sure isn’t cheap if you don’t have top-tier health insurance; in Massachusetts, it can cost up to $700 up front. I was lucky enough to have transportation to all of my appointments and to live in a state with little restrictions around abortion, and I don’t take this for granted in the least.
If one can get past the logistical hurdles, there are a multitude of social consequences to deal with as well. I had supposed ‘friends’ at the time telling me there was no way I could have a baby. While I knew that our ultimate conclusions were the same, only those who had previously had an abortion understood the emotion weighted in the decision. And still I struggled with the selfishness of the idea. Was it more selfish to get the abortion or to live with the consequences, even if I wasn’t financially or mentally ready? Both were in their own way, but my gut knew the answer long before that stick showed me a blue line. I would have the abortion.
I would have the abortion, but I would shed many tears along the way too. It’s not a position anyone wants to be in, and it is okay to feel upset about it before, during, and even years after. I grappled with the idea that maybe with this person I wasn’t sure about, living 2,000 miles from home, maybe it was my time after all. Sure, it wasn’t how I envisioned it and it wouldn’t be easy but if I gave up my chance now, would I get another one?
I’m still not ready for a child, though I’m counting down the years until I am. I can’t remember a time in which I didn’t want to be a mother. Yet three years after my abortion, I still fully support my decision because I know it was absolutely the right one, if not the hardest decision I’ve made thus far in my life. And it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t sure. It was hard because it was what I wanted, just not at the right time.
So every January 3rd I take a moment to revisit my life and my goals and take note of what I’ve accomplished because of my decision. Every year I’m more and more grateful than the last. And I’m just as much a feminist, if not more, than I was before.
(Previously published @ graceless.me, ‘Baby New Year’)