It’s been 46 years and my memory is fuzzy. Some of the details of my experience are burned into my mind and I think they are true to what happened. Other memories may or may not be entirely true. I don’t remember the exact date; it was the winter of 1970 and I had turned 20 that fall. I remember riding in a car during the middle of the night; that part I know is true. The destination was a dingy, country motel out in the middle-of-nowhere South Carolina. The sky was pitch black and I was sitting alone in the back seat. It seemed like a long ride, but I was anxious and I didn’t know where we were going so it probably seemed to take longer than it really did. I think they wanted to keep me from knowing where we were going, keep the place hidden so I couldn’t tell anyone. But I had no plans to tell anyone.
We met the “doctor” in the motel room. At least, they told me he was a doctor. I don’t remember much about what happened in that room. I remember lying on the bed and then he got to work. It didn’t hurt much. They may have explained the procedure to me, but I was scared and I don’t think it registered. I just knew this was something I had to do and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.
While I had engaged in risky behavior, I didn’t think it was risky at the time. I thought I had protected myself. I was young and naïve, inexperienced, having learned whatever I knew about sex from books I could find in the university library. I was living on my own, estranged from my family and working my way through college. I had no idea I was pregnant when I went to the student health center after feeling nauseous and vomiting everyday for over a week. I think they told me they were going to do a pregnancy test, but I must have dismissed it until I got the phone call. Someone from the health center called a few days later and told me the test was positive; the rabbit had died. I was so taken aback; I couldn’t believe it at first. How could this have happened? I had been careful! Then the crying and panic started. I was alone, and just barely taking care of myself. There was no way I could take care of a child at that point in my life, and I couldn’t fathom carrying a baby to term and then giving it up. I knew immediately what I had to do. I had to find some way to get an abortion. I was determined and I was resourceful.
In those days, before Roe v. Wade, you couldn’t just walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic or call your doctor and say you wanted an abortion. You had to know someone who knew someone, someone connected with the “underground.” Luckily, I’d briefly dated a guy a few months prior and I thought he would have “connections.” He told me he could help me if I had the money. It took me awhile to collect the $400 I needed. I was working part time as a telephone operator and taking classes at the state university. I mustered the courage to ask the guy with whom I’d had the one-night-stand that got me “in trouble” (as they said back then) if he would help. He reluctantly agreed to pay half. I gave a sigh of relief and a couple of weeks later found myself riding in that car in the middle of the night.
After I got home from the procedure, I don’t recall much except being anxious and hoping it would “take.” There was a reddish, rubber tube inside me and I was supposed to remove it at some point in time. Or was it supposed to fall out? I can’t remember that part. I do remember seeing what eventually came out. That detail is one that’s burned in my mind. While it’s a painful memory, and something I wish hadn’t happened, I tried not to dwell on what I’d seen or what I’d done. I knew I did what I had to do.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the ordeal. I had to eventually go to a “real doctor,” a gynecologist. While I knew I was no longer pregnant, the bleeding wouldn’t stop. I don’t remember how long I waited, weeks, months? I thought it would stop, but I finally got worried enough to make an appointment. I had to tell him what I’d done. From his reaction, I don’t think it was the first time he’d heard the same story. Fortunately, he found no serious problem and gave me some medication to help me heal. But he scolded me and told me I was lucky to be alive, poured on the condescension and shame. His words still ring in my ears. He made me feel ashamed, but he also made me mad! What right did he have to talk to me like that! How could he ever know what I had been going through!
It’s now mid-November 2016 and I’m writing this story after the most devastating national election in my lifetime. A misogynistic, “pussy-grabbing,” demagogue will soon be entering the White House, along with his VP choice, a governor who has waged a war on women and the LGBTQ community like no other. Republicans will have a majority in both houses in Congress. The future does not look bright for reproductive justice in this country. My experience had fueled me in the past to get involved in the pro-choice movement and more recently to try to educate others about the broader reproductive justice movement, to advocate against state laws that were eliminating access to safe abortions, and serve as a clinic escort. I can see now I will need to ramp up my actions, become more vocal, take better care of my younger sisters so none of them will have to experience what I went through (or worse).