The Story Behind Sarah’s Abortion
I knew even before the two little lines appeared that I was pregnant. I’m not saying I had magic intuition or anything, just that I use a period tracker app that’s surprisingly accurate, I had sex on a day I was ovulating (it tells you that as well), & my period was late. It was the logical conclusion, but I will say that as a chronically ill person, I think I’m a little more in tune with my body than most people. Mostly because if my body is doing something different and I don’t pay attention to it, things could go downhill for me pretty quickly.
I’ve been talking about wanting kids with my husband for a few months now, but when we talk about it, our conclusion is always the same: I’m just too sick right now to have a baby. I’m the kind of person who actually does read the information packets included in my medications, and many of them say the same thing: “Do not use while pregnant, if you could be pregnant, or while breastfeeding.” My husband and I are realistic people (him probably moreso than me; the occupational hazards of being an idealist), and we knew it was impossible from the moment I screamed “FUCK!” from the bathroom (I’m a really romantic person, as you can tell).
I’ve had exactly one pregnancy scare before. It was within my first few weeks of college. I was 8 hours away from my family and my boyfriend, and living in a very conservative, small town in Iowa. I went to an Urgent Care clinic since I didn’t have a doctor in town yet. I had been throwing up, my breasts were tender, and I was spotting but wasn’t getting my period on schedule. I had recently changed birth controls, so I was sure it was that, but I needed a doctor to write the script for a new kind. So I told the doctor what was going on, and he immediately says, “You’re pregnant.” I explained the situation with my new birth control and how I was sure it was just that, at which point he told me, “There’s no way changing birth control would give you these symptoms. I’m 95% sure you’re pregnant.” I peed in a cup and sat there for 45 minutes while panic set in.
I had only recently gone from being someone who was ardently pro-life to a judgey “I’m pro-choice, but *I* could never have an abortion!” (which is a fine position, but you don’t actually have to say that last part). Yet as soon as the doctor said I was probably pregnant, my mind was already made to have an abortion. I wasn’t even done with one semester of college and I had high hopes for my future career that would have been destroyed (or at least very delayed) if I had a child at 18.
I texted my then-serious-boyfriend to tell him what was happening. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to abort his child. He would work 3 jobs to support the child if he had to, and I would have to drop out of my college to move back home. He consoled me by saying that if I wanted, I could probably transfer to University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee to work on my degree part time while I focused on being a mother. I had never felt so powerless. I would either lose my dreams or the man I thought would become my husband.
Fortunately, my decision was made for me when the doctor came back to announce that I wasn’t pregnant. “So it must be the new birth control, right?” I asked hopefully. “You should have told me you changed birth controls, then we wouldn’t have wasted so much time.” (Unfortunately, this was neither the first nor last time that I was gaslighted by a medical professional.)
As I matured and my views evolved, I moved past that relationship (as well as a few others), and finally met a great guy who I married two years ago. This time couldn’t have been any more different. My husband came into the bathroom after I screamed an expletive, and sat down with me as I cried on the floor. We talked a bit, and then had the following conversation:
“Well…what are you going to do?” he asked me.
“This isn’t a ‘me,’ decision, this is a ‘we’ decision.” I told him.
“No,” he replied, “It’s your body, and your decision. I will support you 100% no matter what you decide.”
THAT’s how you do it right, fellas. We talked and both shared our thoughts, weighed the pros and cons of either decision (like adults), but ultimately the final decision was up to me.
Obviously, you know what I chose.
I called Planned Parenthood the next day and made an appointment. Since Ohio has laws requiring a consult appointment and then a 24 hour waiting period, I had to make that appointment first. To prepare, I wore my “Women Have Options” shirt (they’re the abortion funds provider who I’ve supported through the local bowl-a-thon) and my Planned Parenthood hoodie. Most of the staff members I encountered told me they loved my shirt, and when I replied that I was one of the top fundraisers for WHO for the last few years, they all thanked me profusely.
At the consult, I had to have an ultrasound done. Fortunately, you have the choice of whether you want to see the ultrasound or not and whether or not you want to hear the heartbeat. I marked “no” on the form they gave me, but during the ultrasound the technician asked me again. I was curious, so I said yes (I had marked no because I’d had panic attacks before when getting ultrasounds and I didn’t want to repeat that, but this technician made me feel safe and well-cared for). She pointed out a circle the size of a nickel and asked if I could see it. “Is that the baby?” I asked.
“No…that’s your ‘yolk’ that feeds the fetus at this stage. Do you see this tiny little circle underneath it?” I squinted and nodded. “That’s the fetus.”
“So…it’s like the size of peanut?” I asked.
“No, not even. This magnifies it. It’s like the size of a really small seed at this point.” (According to BabyCenter.com, it’s about the size of a sesame seed at that point.)
After my ultrasound, I got to meet the doctor who’d be doing my abortion. She was very kind and compassionate, and I liked her right away. She had to go through state-mandated counselling where I had to sign a paper that said something to the effect of “I am aware that I am terminating the life of my unborn human child.” (I wanted to take a picture, but the clinic specifically forbids pictures due to privacy concerns, and I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, especially since they had all been so nice to me.) I openly scoffed and mocked the language, and went on a short rant about how it’s inherently sexist to force women to undergo a medically unnecessary “waiting period” before a procedure, as if we don’t understand what we’re doing and aren’t capable of making decisions on our own. The doctor smiled at me and said, “Everyone has different feelings and reactions to having an abortion, and they’re all valid.”
I replied, “But you know it’s bullshit, right? That this is just the state’s way of controlling women? Ugh, don’t answer that, because if I’m a Live Action plant I don’t want you to get fired or sued or whatever. I know this isn’t your fault and you’re just following the law, but the law is bullshit. Okay, I’m done now.” and I signed the sheet. (Live Action is the group that sneaks cameras into Planned Parenthood and selectively edits them to make it look as if Planned Parenthood is some scheming baby-killing operation. I’m not even going to link to their website because fuck them.)
(If I sound harsh toward anti-choice activists, it’s because I am. I think they are sexist (even though women are not the only people who have abortions, but I still think claims of sexism are valid). I think they are forcing their religious beliefs on other people. And I also think they are fascists for supporting terrorism against people seeking abortions and abortion providers (if you don’t think it’s terrorism, go volunteer as a clinic escort for a few weeks), as well as the fact that they want to control womens’ medical decisions. If all you do to end abortion is pray, then I don’t care. But the minute you start lobbying to create laws to restrict other peoples’ rights, harassing them on their way inside the clinic, or creating misleading “Pregnancy Centers” where you provide inaccurate medical information, we’re going to have a problem.)
Anyway, back to my abortion! Luckily, I was able to schedule an appointment a week out from my consult. I was offered the choice between medical and surgical abortion. If you’d like to read more about the differences, this website is pretty informative, but the gist is that a medical abortion is a pill you can take at home, and a surgical abortion involves mild to moderate sedation. Since my friends who have had abortions said they experienced a lot of nausea from the medical abortion, I opted for the surgical route with moderate sedation. They told me to wear loose clothes, to have thick pads ready for when I got home (though they would provide me with a pad to wear home from the appointment), and that I would need a driver as I should not drive for 24 hours after my procedure.
The night before my appointment, I had a lot of feelings. I don’t want to say I was worried I was making the wrong choice, because I knew with complete certainty that I was making the right decision for me. Being pregnant was hell on my body. I had constant morning sickness, to the point where I felt like calling it “morning sickness” was a cruel joke. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I was just in constant pain. So my feelings were mainly rooted in the realization that I may never be a parent because I may be this sick for the rest of my life. My husband stayed up late with me and talked to me. He told me his number one priority was that I was as safe and happy as possible, which helped my fears that he would resent me if I’m never able to give him biological children. This would have been a lot more difficult if he wasn’t talking to me through this process or if I didn’t completely trust that he was being forthright.
The morning of my appointment arrived. I was ready to face protesters, but fortunately there were none. They took me into a special waiting room and got my vitals. The nurse gave me a 4 mg tablet of Zofran (anti-nausea medicine) and I laughed and said I’d need more than that, because my doctor prescribes me 8 mg since my nausea/vomiting are especially bad. I made a comment about how I basically hadn’t stopped vomiting for two weeks, and a woman in one of the chairs replied that she also had bad morning sickness. We bantered about how the name “morning sickness” was awful, among other things. It felt nice to have some camaraderie with someone who was going through what I was. They took me to a back room and told me to take off my pants and underwear and cover myself with one of those paper sheets. At this point, I started tweeting under the hashtag #SarahsAbortion.
One of the nurses started an IV, and then the other nurses (or technicians, I’m not sure what their titles were) and doctor came into the room. I was talking and joking around with them when the nurse gave me something by IV. I was mid-sentence when I stopped and just looked around the room, wide-eyed. They could all see that the sedation meds had hit me, so they laughed (I laughed too– I at least had enough temporary self-awareness to realize what was happening). And then…I don’t remember a thing. The next thing I recall is sitting in the special waiting room again. (This is completely normal! One of the drugs they give you for sedation is called Versed, and it causes temporary amnesia. I’ve had it before so I knew to expect that.)
They let me rest in my recliner for a bit to make sure I didn’t have any adverse reactions to the procedure or the meds. They brought me crackers and water, and so I sat and chatted with the woman I had been commiserating with before my abortion. As she told me her story, I felt my anger at the system growing.
Without giving too many of her details away (I want to protect her privacy), she was telling me how her insurance didn’t cover her abortion, so she had to pay out of pocket. She said she wouldn’t be able to afford rent this month, but she hoped she wouldn’t get evicted if she could scrounge up half of it and promise to pay the rest as soon as possible. She also said she had a lot of anxiety about the procedure, but couldn’t afford the stronger sedation since it was $100 more. I tried to help by pointing out that this Planned Parenthood should have money from Women Have Options, but the nearby nurse told us that they ran out of WHO money three months ago, so there was really nothing they could do to help her.
Can you even imagine having to make that decision? It’s so upsetting that the system is stacked against women this way. She said she knew she’d be worse off if she had a kid, but what do you do when you have to decide between possibly getting evicted and being forced into giving birth? What kind of society do we live in? Even if she gave the child up for adoption, there’s still the fact that she’d have to take off work for prenatal checkups (and pay for those as well), not to mention all the (unpaid) sick time she’d have to use for days when she isn’t feeling well. She already told me her morning sickness had been just about as bad as mine, and I basically didn’t leave the house for as long as I had morning sickness. How can you call yourself compassionate when you’re okay with all of this happening to a woman who doesn’t want this?
Talking to her was a stark reminder of my privilege in life (thankfully, my husband and I were able to afford my abortion fees without having to worry about not being able to afford other bills this month) and a fresh reminder of why fighting for abortion rights and funding abortions is so important. I will definitely be participating in my local bowl-a-thon in 2015 (they’re usually held between April and June, but you can start fundraising earlier in the year), and hopefully I will be able to make an end of year donation to my state’s Abortion Fund (you can find the one nearest to you here). I encourage you to do the same if you’re financially able to this year.
Now that my abortion is over, how do I feel? Honestly, the biggest feeling I’m experiencing is relief. I also feel better (physically) than I have in almost 2 months. I don’t have any regret or guilt. I also haven’t thrown up from morning sickness since before I had the procedure done! So aside from some cramping, overall, I feel pretty good.
So why did I write this massive article about my abortion? A few days before my consult, I ended up in the ER due to lower abdominal pain. I knew I was pregnant at that point, so I told the ER staff. The doctor was concerned I had an ectopic pregnancy, so they gave me an ultrasound. While I was waiting for the ultrasound, I remember fervently hoping that it was an ectopic pregnancy, so if people found out I was having an abortion, I could say I had a “good” reason for getting an abortion. And once they told me my pregnancy was fine, I realized how totally fucked up it is that I was hoping I had a life-threatening medical condition just so people wouldn’t judge me for having an abortion. The really messed up thing is that I’m not even in a situation where I would face serious social repercussions if people found out about my abortion! I have some very serious medical conditions that I’m open about, so people already know how difficult pregnancy would be on my body. I’m not working, so it’s not like my job or coworkers could give me a hard time for it. My family is generally pro-life, but they know how sick I am, so they supported me. My friends are all extremely pro-choice, so that’s not an issue, either. So what repercussions could I face if this became public knowledge (that I’m not already facing for being an outspoken feminist online)? Not to mention that fact that I 100% believe in abortion on demand without apologies, so even if I didn’t have a “good” reason for getting an abortion, it doesn’t matter, because it’s my body and my choice.
That’s how serious abortion stigma is. And that’s why I did the best thing I could think of to help end the stigma: sharing my story publicly. I hope if you’re in a similar situation, you’ll consider doing the same.*
*But please don’t feel compelled to share your story publicly if it will endanger your personal safety or well-being!