Abortion: Real Experience, Not a Political Tool

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Abortion: Real Experience, Not a Political Tool

Panel 1

[Image] A woman with medium length hair stands in front of other women of varying sizes, shapes, and looks. All are facing the reader.

[Caption] 1 in 3* women will have an abortion in their lifetime. I am one of these women.
*Stats including trans men are not available

Panel 2

[Image] The crowd of women, shown from the side, and surrounded by three larger-than-life Caucasian men in suits, who look angry, and point at the women.

[Caption] But in the public sphere….

Man 1: Monsters!
Man 2: I KNOW what God thinks and He disapproves!
Man 3: MURDERERS!

Panel 3

[Image] The woman at the head of the crowd, now alone and facing the reader. She looks sad and afraid, and crosses her arms to hold herself.

[It’s hurtful, irritating and ignorant]

Panel 4

[Caption] The anxiety of tests. The pressure from family and your partner. The judgmental eyes from the doctor who’s supposed to help. The understanding and care from an excellent counselor. The cramps, the pain, the blood. The hormonal roller coaster, the vomiting. The friends who will sit with you for hours in support. The fear. The gratitude. The sense of pride in choosing the best decision. There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about my experience.

Panel 5

[Image] The woman facing the reader and holding her hands up, palms outward.

Woman: Why is it taboo for women to talk about their own lived experience? Why do old white men dominate the conversation? Without understanding what it’s like, we cannot make good decisions.

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Full story

I don’t understand why all the people talking about abortions are old white men.

That’s not fair: not all of them are that old. But every person I see on TV nowadays who wants to talk about how pro- choice women are monsters is inevitably a balding, just-past-middle-aged Caucasian politician who sprouts off declarative sentences that have no scientific basis. You couldn’t turn on a few American news channels during the most recent elections without the image of a god-fearing Midwestern congress-hopeful (or terrified seat-keeper bowing to the masses) using the most decisive argument in the country to his professional advantage.

Don’t get me wrong: men are perfectly allowed to have opinions.  But, on this matter, they are under-informed. They will never have the painful experience that is an abortion, will never have the anatomy to know how utterly frustrating it is. Though I don’t want to go so far as to say that in order to talk about abortion you have to have had one, many of the people who are discussing it in public forums and making laws are simply not informed decision makers. I don’t mind people having pro-life opinions.  They’re absolutely entitled to that. In fact, I would be very upset if someone’s opinion were suppressed.

But telling me what I can or cannot do with my own uterus is akin to me trying to regulate vasectomies.

It is particularly hurtful when I hear the responses to women who have had abortions – how they are called monsters. What irritates me more than anything else is how these reactions have made the topic of abortions taboo: voluntary abortions happen every day, all around the world, and yet we still don’t talk about it.  People turn a blind eye to something that is both common and, in a lot of cases, logically necessary. I want to share a portion of my own experience in order to push against the taboo of speaking about lived, real abortions, rather than ideological abstractions.

I found out I was pregnant in April of 2009. I had moved in with my boyfriend of four months because it made sense financially. (Anybody, everybody, knows that in my city this is utter relationship suicide.) Sexually speaking, we were stupid: no question about it. Shortly after said stupidity, I felt like I had the flu. But also suspiciously like I wanted a freezie dipped in sweet and sour sauce and nothing else.

So I peed on a stick.  And very quickly vomited at the results.

At that time I knew I didn’t want kids.  There was no second choice for me – having an abortion was a given.

My boyfriend did not agree.  He was very manipulative, and made me feel extremely guilty about my choice.  In a way, he was the personal echo of all those voices on TV.  But I knew what I wanted, and it ultimately wasn’t his decision because it wasn’t his body.

I went to see a doctor to confirm the pregnancy and ask about my options.  He was decidedly distant and clearly not impressed with me, but he gave me the leaflets I needed and sent me out. I did what I could: I took a buddy with me. The buddy system, guys: it works.  I can’t imagine having to do that alone; I think I would have cracked.

Let’s get into the more involved details.

There are two kinds of abortions at an early stage in pregnancy: medical and surgical.  The clinic I visited told me that I was under seven weeks along: I could have the less-invasive medical procedure.  They make you go through an extra-uterine ultrasound, and you have the choice to see the blastocyst if you want to.  I did see it.  I will never forget that for the rest of my life.  It looked like a splatter of paint on a newspaper, a spec of dirt on a potato

Tiny.

The place I went to – a women-run clinic – was excellent. They assigned me a counsellor to make sure I was happy with my care.  I was given options at every point along the way.  They understood how terrifying it was for a 22 year-old girl to need to have this procedure done.  I am so grateful for their understanding, and I can’t imagine how horrible the experience would have been if a politician’s agenda kept these women from doing their jobs. The doctors themselves were quite professional and clinical. I understood that: they have to keep a degree of separation from their procedures in order to remain non-partial.

A medical abortion involves four sets of tablets that you have to insert into your cervix to induce a miscarriage. I did it. It was not pleasant, though for the first couple of hours it was fine. I felt good: I felt like I could tackle whatever was coming.

They gave me three kinds of painkillers.  They told me, “if it starts to hurt, take the Tylenol.  If it hurts more, take the T3’s.  You’ll know when you need the Percocet.”  I took the Percocet about four hours in.

The counsellor told me it would feel like cramps.  Hey, whatever: I have those every month!  No big deal!  Right?

Wrong.  It starts like cramps.  Then it doesn’t go away.  Then it really doesn’t go away.  Even when you’re spaced out on T3’s, it’s there.  And then the bleeding gets really intense, and the Percocet and a makeshift diaper come into play.  This is hard enough if you’re in your own house, privately dealing with the process (or with someone supportive on the sidelines holding a towel and a bucket of morphine).  My boyfriend and I lived in a house shared by another couple and another man.  It was always full, and he hadn’t really been speaking to me for three days since I’d announced the pregnancy. It took him until the pain was really bad to decide he needed to help.  He did try, but I don’t think he really understood.   The only person who did was a friend of mine who had had an abortion herself.  She came as soon as her work let her go and she just sat with me, getting me through it. I remember a black Labrador puppy at one point. I hope that memory is real.

After the abortion is complete, you’re not quite done. You’re sore: you feel like you’ve been drained of everything wilful and energetic. You feel like you’ll never feel outside yourself again. (I still feel that, sometimes. Five years later.)

The body still has to pass everything placental.  Sadly, this happened while Boyfriend and I were walking back from the gas station (my first trip outside in three days), and I suddenly felt a shift in my uterus that shot up my spine. I went into shock almost immediately. I only barely made it to my home on time before I had a very unpleasant twenty minutes in the bathroom. Passing. Vomit. Sitting on the floor looking at tile. The feeling that something completely unutterable has just happened to you. More vomit.

On top of this, you still get the hormone imbalance that any regular miscarriage gets. And, if you’re unlucky like me, you spiral into a depression. This is not hard to spiral into. Easy, really: all you have to do is not go outside for quite some time.  This is my one big annoyance with the pro-life argument: do you honestly think that we don’t feel shitty enough after what we’ve done? We feel physically shitty too, as well as taking punches to our emotions.

Anyway.

After the abortion you have to have a follow-up ultrasound, to make sure it worked (because sometimes medical abortions don’t).  I went in terrified that I would have to go through the entire experience again.  Fortunately it did work, and I saw an empty uterus on the screen. I went home satisfied that I never had to have someone poke me up into my lady parts with an intrusive rod again. Which is, you know, not the thing that that sentence makes it sound like.

A few things happened after that. Mainly, my relationship with my boyfriend completely fell apart.  He tried his best, he did, but I could tell that he was still very angry. (Now, I do think the man – in a committed relationship – should have a say.  Maybe only 3.5% of a say, but a say. It just so happened that this say was the opposite of what I wanted to do.)  I spent all my time indoors, just not wanting to go outside. He didn’t want, or know how, to take care of me. And it ended.

There has not been a day that goes by that I haven’t thought about my experience.  Men don’t get that: they don’t get that it stays with you for the rest of your life.  Some men certainly don’t get how important it is, given the decision stays with you, to make the right one. If someone had said to me four years ago, “you’ll forget this eventually” I would have believed them.  But it hasn’t happened yet.  I quite honestly doubt it ever will.

There are those who would say I’m a monster; that I am guilty and morally repugnant.  They are happy to say so, content in their penis-laden bodies and safely far away from anyone actually experiencing this kind of decision. I don’t feel guilty about it.  I am actually very proud of myself: I made a logical decision.  I didn’t do it out of spite, or to hurt anybody. I did it to prevent a child being born into a completely unhappy relationship.  Because who knows what kind of damage I could have inflicted on an innocent life if it didn’t have the proper emotional, financial and familial support with which to grow up.  I did it because I am an adult, and I make my own decisions.

Now back to my point – why is it still taboo to “come out” as having had an abortion?  Why is the story I have told here so rare, whereas talk about closing abortion clinics, or hearing about attacks on abortion coverage are all too common?  Without understanding, or at least knowing, what a woman in this situation goes through, we cannot make good decisions, nor elect the people who make them for us.

So, male legislators of the world, until you’ve been through what I’ve been through: get your political agenda out of my vagina.

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Comments

10 responses to “Abortion: Real Experience, Not a Political Tool”

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  1. Ashley says: |
    December 9, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I’m glad to be reading this today after reading some ignorant anti-abortion rhetoric from commenters on another site. Empathy goes such a long way in understanding this issue. Women need to have choice about their own bodies and their own lives and no judgement about those choices. Women aren’t stupid, they are capable of making their own decisions and the vast majority do not do so lightly. I empathize with anyone who has ever had an unwanted pregnancy because even though there are choices NONE of them are “the easy way out.” It’s a bad situation to be in with only a hard choice and even harder repercussions.

  2. Charlotte Taft says: |
    December 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Since Roe v Wade nearly 57,000,000 women have had legal abortions. That also means 57,000,000 male partners, and at least 57,000,000 involved friends and family. That means that shame and stigma have silenced some 171,000,000 Americans.That represents the total population of several of our largest states. A corrupt and arrogant religious tyranny has dominated our culture for years. No one has successfully challenged the hypocrisy and venality of human beings who are convinced that they speak for god. None of us is immune from this tyranny. And we stay silent. Charlotte Taft, Director Abortion Care Network

  3. Sarah says: |
    December 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    The writer is brave for sharing her story, and I really send my respect to her for that. I’m sorry that what she went through was so painful and difficult, but grateful that she was able to make the choice that she did in a safe way. It’s really clear that she did the right thing in her particular context.

    My own experience was very different from this writer’s. I was deeply anxious about getting an abortion, despite it being the option I was absolutely clear I wanted to choose, but had the best healthcare experience I’ve ever had (caring, compassionate, empowering, and kind) at the clinic I eventually visited (after, it must be noted, seeing a male doctor at a walk-in clinic who made me feel about 2 inches tall with his judgmental garbage). I also had a supportive partner and a physician as well as friends who respected my decision. Sometimes I think that I was lucky, and other times I choose to believe that I was actually deserving, and that everyone should have that.

    My surgical abortion itself was nearly painless, and my recovery was swift. But it wasn’t easy by any means. I felt weak reading this article at first, because even when things go well, as they did for me, it can take such a toll on our bodies and our hearts. It can be painful and messy and complicated. It was months later before I realized that I was actually grieving because of the experience. I didn’t want a child and am 100% happy that I made the choice that I did, but I still felt – and feel, sometimes – a deep loss that was completely unexpected and strange. Probably some anti-choice folk will read that to mean that it’s proof I made the wrong choice. I didn’t. That’s what I feel like is so lacking in the public debate around abortion: the acknowledgement that this can be a contradictory experience, and that that’s ok. People feel conflicted about other kinds of medical procedures too (eg. chemo), but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to choose them.

    I only worry that women who read this article will think that this writer’s experience is how it is for everyone. It isn’t. There are so many different ways that this experience can go, and every woman’s story is unique to her. This is why sweeping anti-choice laws are so insidiously cruel – they totally fail to consider that every single woman’s experience, needs, values, health status, social supports, and everything, are unique to her.

    Again, much respect to the writer for sharing her story. The more we talk about it the more it’ll start to feel ok to do so.

  4. bizz says: |
    December 19, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    thank you for sharing!

  5. Jan says: |
    May 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I have never had a moments regret for my abortion. I had it for very similar reasons. I know that I was not capable of being a parent at the time. My happy ending was marrying the guy and we have two grown sons, who never would have existed if I had been forced to continue that first pregnancy. My sons are totally pro-choice, they owe their life to it! Wishing you joy and the future you choose.

  6. Lynne says: |
    May 19, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    I had an abortion after I got pregnant while still nursing my second child and using a diaphram. I had two kids under 5 at the time and really felt like my husband and I were good parents to them, but that we really were at our limit for what we could do well. I know that some people might think this selfish or that some people in the same situation would make a different choice, but for us it was right choice. Also because I was nursing, my options for birth control were pretty limited. So I felt like I was doing what I needed to do to not get pregnant and that failed. I do believe in God but I really didn’t think that my contraception failing meant that God wants me to have another child.
    There are several reasons why I don’t talk about my abortion to almost anyone. It’s a really private decision that I’m not willing to have people judge me on. I know that some people feel really strongly about destiny and God and that they think an abortion is messing with that. I understand why they feel this way but I don’t agree and I don’t want to have to defend that decision. Some of those people are immediate family members and while I’m willing to go there with my sister who loves me anyway unconditionally, I can’t say that for my mother-in-law, and it would affect our ability to have a loving relationship. I don’t think coming clean is worth that. Another is that I don’t really want my two girls to know that they could have had a younger sibling. While I think it was the right decision, I also recognize that it means that I made a decision that in a way takes something away from them.
    I also think that having an abortion after you’ve had kids is more common than you might think. When I took a friend to have an abortion I was astounded to see the amount of adult women with their partner who had babies with them.
    So I know that we should all be telling our stories, but we need a way to do so anonymously. It’s too private otherwise.

  7. o.t. says: |
    October 30, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    Thank you for writing this.

  8. Amelia says: |
    December 18, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I really appreciate the writer coming out with this. It is very similar to my experience, and to many, many others like us. I was thrown out of my apartment for the “other woman”. I was pregnant, broke, alone, and scared. Once it was over, I was told to “act like I was happy” because “[you] should be happy it’s over!” by one of my two supportive people. I look into the backseat when I get into the car and know there could have been a baby carrier there, and a little two year old kicking their feet at me. But I made the best decision I could then. Homeless and broke is no way to raise a baby, and I don’t think it’s fair that people who don’t understand us make laws about this choice.

  9. Lise says: |
    March 4, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for sharing what so many of us can’t. Your story and many of the commenter’s stories resonated so strongly with me and mine. My partner is the only one who knows about my abortion almost one year ago, and luckily he has been as supportive as he can, but he can only try to understand what I mean when I say I think about it everyday. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. I know that it was the right decision but absence of the alternative life that could have been stays with me. I feel stronger and more confident in myself and my decisions but stifled that I am unable to share my experience with those who may need it, and frustrated that the choice may end up being taken away from people who need the option.