Silence breaking: Please tell a story about your experience with abortion.

reproductive-choice-button-0580I’ve occasionally posted an op/ed that once ran in several newspapers around the country about my own abortion. I believe, very strongly, that our stories are collectively the single most powerful tool we have in the battle for women’s reproductive rights, and that if we are to push back on the dehumanization inherent to so much of the anti-choice rhetoric, we have to claim those stories.

We are continuously shamed and cowed, frightened and belittled into silencing ourselves and denying our reality. If you have terminated a pregnancy or struggled with the idea of doing so, for any reason, and would like to tell your story, please do so here, at whatever level of anonymity that you would like to maintain. We did this once before, on the issues of sexual harassment and assault, and I think many people found it a useful, helpful thing.

One note: If you’ve never commented here before, or will be choosing to comment under a different name in order to preserve your anonymity, your comment will immediately go into moderation — I promise to fish out all moderated comments as soon as I can.

And finally, let me stress: There will be no shaming here. There will be no shaming, no doubt, no name-calling, no trolling. This is a space in which you can tell your story safely. I promise.

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22 Comments

  1. I told some of my story in yesterday’s post, but I very consciously didn’t share details in that piece, because I felt that on the pages of newspapers, it was valuable to make the point that it’s none of anyone’s business why I chose abortion.

    Here, though, I thought I would share some of the details.

    I had recently gotten together with the man who was to become my husband, but we were a very new couple, and though we were using birth control, that birth control failed. Within hours, I was prescribed and used “Morning After” pills, but they failed, too (as some percentage of Morning After use does). At the time, it was widely believed that taking that big a whack of hormones so early after conception would almost certainly lead to birth defects if the pregnancy were carried to term, and so I was able to view my abortion as the only wise choice I could make — but I also knew that, regardless, this man I had just started dating and I were not ready to become parents together, and I wasn’t ready to become a mother. “Ready” is a very amorphous word, of course, and means many things, but for me it was enough that both he and I knew ourselves to not be ready. I don’t know for sure that I would have terminated the pregnancy if I hadn’t been told about the fear of birth defects by medical professionals, but I have a feeling I probably would.

    One last note: All of this took place in Israel, where I had to go before a committee to get my abortion approved ahead of time. It was somewhat mortifying, but if I recall, the people on the committee appeared to be mortified to be there and that was actually helpful to me. There were (if I recall correctly) four “acceptable” reasons to get an abortion in Israel: severe birth defect, mother’s health, single woman, or pregnancy by someone other than a married woman’s husband. I had to attest to the fact that I was single, and I was in and out in no time; it was a very badly kept secret that married women who wanted to terminate a pregnancy would simply lie and say they’d had an affair.

  2. Van Anders

     /  January 23, 2013

    Emily,
    Very good and insightful post. As a male, I can’t speak directly from experience on this subject, but I thought I’d mention an analogous situation that I think reiterates your very important point that “it’s nobody’s business” why these very personal and agonizing choices are made. Hopefully you won’t think this off-topic, because I do think it relates.

    I separated from and then divorced my wife of 20+ years about ten years ago, at my instigation/choice. I expected, but was still overwhelmed by, the community-led judgmentalism (if that’s a word) directed my way, in part due to the various “sound bites” that were flung around: “he left her for a younger woman” (true, but not the reason or point); “he walked out on his children” (of course not; I’ve been greatly present in their lives both before and after the separation/divorce). Worst of all was my own sister, who took my 12-year-old daughter aside, told her that I (her father) was entirely to blame and she shouldn’t ever trust me again, and that my daughter’s new stepmother was a terrible and immoral person. That same sister had had an abortion at age 16, and I’d been completely supportive at the time of her right to choose.

    So I guess my point is, in these very difficult and personal situations (abortion and divorce being but two examples), there’s an enormous natural tendency of people to think they understand and can judge the situation, but they don’t and they can’t. It’s not up to them to decide the merits of the action. And if they’re friends or family, the default position should be unquestioning emotional support, not criticism.

    BTW, my name is a pseudonym, for hopefully obvious reasons.

    • I think you’re right – there’s a great deal of assumption making, and information-free judging. Emotional support far too often comes only when there’s personal empathy.

  3. fleeting expletive

     /  January 23, 2013

    Twenty-two years ago. I was 44 (!), had a child under two years old, had been fired from my job so no health insurance. Had I carried to term, it would have been my third C-section. Also, the conception was the result of marital rape.

    Did not regret my choice then or now. The experience itself was unremarkable, no protests and no hassles.

    • Thank you – and I very much hope that your marital circumstances have changed. When we’re told that we may not have access to this procedure, there is so often an assumption of innocence on the part of the men involved – your story is an important corrective to that. Thank you.

  4. veryslowwriter

     /  January 23, 2013

    I had an illegal abortion in the early sixties. The young man I was having sex with (I won’t go so far as to say “boyfriend”) somehow found out about a woman in south Los Angeles. She was alleged to be a nurse. All I remember was that she was a middle-aged Black woman. She was very matter of fact and very kind. The whole process was a matter of minutes. I think it cost $200.
    I went home and over the next few days, my body sloughed off the pregnancy. I was sick/crampy/feverish for a while (less than a week) but I was no longer pregnant. The main emotion I felt was relief. In fact, I was elated. I was fortunate in that the lady was careful, capable, and clean so I suffered no lasting effects. But I tell you I would have had that abortion under ANY circumstances. I would have died rather than stay pregnant.
    Women who have access to legal and safe abortion can’t know what it was like in those days. I hope you never have to find out.

    • Women who have access to legal and safe abortion can’t know what it was like in those days.

      I think that’s a very, very important piece of the story. Making abortions illegal doesn’t end abortions – it just damages more women.

      Thank you.

      • ExpatJK

         /  January 23, 2013

        Thank you for this, and thank you veryslowwriter for sharing your story. Fortunately for me, I grew up in a California where there was access to legal and safe abortion. My father didn’t and I’ll never forget his story of going with friends of his, a couple, who had to find an abortion in those days. As you say, Emily, it doesn’t stop abortion, it only harms women.

  5. djshay

     /  January 23, 2013

    I was in my 20s. An active alcoholic, pot smoker along with other recreational drugs. No job and no insurance. Did I mention I was a raging alcoholic? The fact that I was pregnant would not have changed this. No power on this planet could have persuaded me to stop drinking and doing recreational drugs. The child would have been born with multiple medical issues and seeing as how I had no job and no insurance, it was absolutely the right decision. It is more cruel to bring a child into this world under those conditions. Especially because the right continually defunds programs for children’s health issues.

    • Thank you. I find it really interesting that in the midst of all of that, you had the presence of mind to understand that this was a step you had to take. I’ve known my fair share of active alcoholics, and they’re not always so clear thinking….

      Thank you.

  6. I was a single mother, living on welfare. I had stopped using The Pill, because the side-effects were nasty and I was getting no relief or help from my gynecologist. I was in a relationship with a man who I could tell that things were not going well, any longer, despite being together for three years, and he had just lost his job with no promising prospects in sight. We had always been careful about using condoms, but one night, he got drunk and rolled over, in the middle of the night, and started having sex with me, without a condom, while I was still sleeping. I found out that I was pregnant about six weeks later. We got to talking about keeping the baby and I even accepted the fact that I was pregnant. But as week after week went by and he had no job, we started talking about our options. Abortion was out of the question for him and he was okay with adoption, only so long as his family took the child. Something about his matter-of-fact tone: you’ll have the baby and my family will adopt it, rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t want to have another baby floating out there that I couldn’t be with (my oldest sister was adopted by my grandparents when my mother was young and that actually messed up my family quite a bit, especially when my sister found out that she was adopted. To this day, I don’t think she has gotten over the fact that my mother gave her up, especially since her upbringing was still pretty bad with my grandparents and there was some emotional confusion since my mother had other children at the time, but only gave her up). I couldn’t do that to “this child”, in light of the fact that I already had one child. Plus, I was going to college, trying to get off of welfare, and I knew that having/keeping another child would make that difficult, if not impossible. I finally got rid of the boyfriend and knew that my only choice was to have an abortion, so a dear friend of mine helped me raise the money and took me to Planned Parenthood. I sat through the usual health and personal questions, certain, despite my Catholic upbringing, that this was the right thing to do. I had my abortion a few days, later. I eventually got a good job and got off of welfare and met a good man and got married and we had two more children, together. Sometimes I think about my abortion, not with regret, but with relief. I made a decision that was not only good for me, personally (I wouldn’t forever be attached to a man that I no longer loved and knew I couldn’t/wouldn’t marry) and financially, but also for the child that I was struggling to make a life for, at the time.

    • but also for the child that I was struggling to make a life for, at the time.

      This is one of the pieces that so often gets glossed over – in addition to so many other things that we have to weigh, there are often other children, actually among us and in need of our care and resources. I think it’s really telling that you do reflect on your abortion, and do so with relief.

      Thank you so much for your story.

  7. annonymous

     /  January 23, 2013

    It was 1964 towards the end of the year, I was 21years old. My parents refused to let me go to college so I was working. Many of my High School friends were in college and sexually active. I was very curious and not dating. An older divorced man was attracted to me and I to him. We eventually had sex once and I instantly became pregnant. I did not want to marry him and he did not want to marry me. I was living in the midwest and abortion was illegal; although the pill had just come out you had to have a marriage lic. before your Doctor would give you a prescription. After much research I found a Doctor in a neighboring state, one would drive to his house in the country and spend the weekend there cared for by his wife. I called on Friday afternoon as instructed to confirm my arrival that evening; the Doctors wife answered the phone and said “Oh my dear, I am so sorry the good Doctor died last night.” I was completely stunned as my research had not turned up anyone else. Finally I went to the south side of Chicago to a second story walk-up under the “L” with a sign that read something about marriage help. There was a black man who packed my uterus with surgical tubing and gauze. I was to leave this inside me for 3 days and then remove….nothing happened. After some time I went back to the same man and he repeated the procedure….again nothing. Towards the end of 4 months I became very ill with an infection. I was taken to a Catholic hospital given anti-biotics and a muscle contracting fluid which induced the most horrific pain throughout my body; it seemed as though everything from my nose to my toes was contracting but not my uterus The hospital put me in a cleaning closet and shut the door on my cries of pain. I passed out for a time and awoke to have my body expel twin male fetuses inside the cleaning closet. Eventually someone checked on me. My emotions were disparate and traumatic; there was a sense of euphoria that I had given birth to twin boys and a sense of relief that I was not pregnant. I was fired from my job on moral grounds and my mother called me a whore. Within two weeks I left town for California, I had 60 cents in my possession when I got a job in SanFrancisco. I did move on eventually to a short marriage and no children.

    • Thank you so much for telling your story here. That is just heartbreaking, and horrifying. I think it’s very easy, under our current circumstances to forget that these are the options, when abortion is illegal. It’s not pro-life, it’s anti-the woman in question.

      Thank you so much.

  8. RosiesDad

     /  January 24, 2013

    Emily:

    Think about participating here:

    http://www.facebook.com/thisismybodyproject

    You are doing a good thing here. As the father of 2 daughters, I thank you.

    • Thank you so much for this. This is incredibly powerful. This is exactly my point – these bodies are ours, or we’re not human. Thank you..

  9. fleeting expletive

     /  January 24, 2013

    Thank you for your kind words, Emily. Yes, my marital status changed, finally after several more years–that man was a piece of work, albeit a socially acceptable person on the outside.
    When I was in college in the mid sixties, I knew of two girls my age who had illegal abortions. One was a girl on my dorm floor who became septic and had a raging fever. All I knew was that she was taken to the hospital. That small college town hospital had to deal with botched or septic abortions all the time. The other was a good friend of mine. She had the whole ordeal, just a phone number from a friend-of-a-friend. She was blindfolded, pushed down in the backseat of a car, driven to some unknown place, someone did the procedure, she was returned home with some pain pills and the hospital’s phone number.
    There will always be abortions because until contraception is infallible and always available, and until predators no longer attack women, some women won’t want to continue pregnancies.
    Thank you for this post.

  10. Some of you might be familiar with the works of Ursula LeGuin. Here is her story about her abortion: http://books.google.com/books?id=QK6TYg32CocC&lpg=PA78&pg=PA75#v=onepage&q&f=false

  11. I just wanted to thank everyone for sharing!

  12. nc

     /  February 2, 2013

    I’ve had two abortions, both the result of improper pill use, both during my senior year of college. I was lucky that I found out about my first pregnancy at the beginning of fall and I had all of the money for the coming school year in my bank account. I would not have been able to afford the $450 abortion otherwise and it was still a huge financial burden that required me to budget obsessively for the next few months. I had already had bad experiences at Planned Parenthood, but it was the first place I thought to go. I wanted a medical rather than surgical abortion, but I didn’t know how far along I was and I was scared that it would be too late. The Planned Parenthood in my county told me that they could not provide a medical abortion unless I knew when I conceived (it felt like they were shaming me for being sexually active and not knowing when my bc failed), so I had to make an appointment with the Planned Parenthood in the next county/city over. I arranged for a friend to drive me over for my early morning appointment. The clinic had not given us instructions on where to park and we parked in the lot behind the entrance. Unfortunately, this made us a target for protesters who came directly up to my friend and started asking her about her situation and begging her to make a different choice. A protester had left a basket with various baby supplies–diapers, blankets, pacifiers–outside of the clinic with a sign promising to provide any expectant mother with help. Clinic policy required that they call in the police in case it concealed a bomb. We waited for nearly two hours before they canceled all of the appointments and decided to reschedule everyone. I will never forget the older woman who was there with her husband, both looking tired and prematurely aged in worn clothes, who could not make either alternative appointment they offered her. She had looked desperate, then angry, then resigned. She mentioned that she already had children. I took the earliest alternative they gave me, but worried that the week and a half might put me over the limit for getting the procedure I wanted. My friend could not take me to the second appointment, which was during the week. Luckily, another friend took off work to drive me. We once again were told to arrive early in the morning. I was at the clinic for over seven hours, but probably spent less than a half an hour total with staff. They had everyone arrive at the same time and then the women who had been rescheduled waited while all of the other woman were called in. I had an ultrasound, then back to the waiting room. I talked with a counselor, then back to the waiting room. Hours went by before I was finally called back to sign some papers, take a pill under their supervision, and then given the rest of the medications I needed to complete the abortion at home. My friend was in a different waiting room and was totally panicked. She thought that something terrible must have happened, that I must have been too far along and had to have a surgical procedure. She had tears in her eyes when they let her into the back waiting room so I could update her. The entire experience was already incredibly frustrating and it wasn’t over yet. When I took the second set of pills to expel the fetus at home, I ended up becoming incredibly nauseous and throwing up within fifteen or so minutes. I was given painkillers, but no one told me that I should take them well in advance. When I threw up, I threw up the undigested pain pill and also worried that I had thrown up the other medication. They had provided a second set of the pills and I wasn’t sure if I should take them or not. I had talked at length with another woman at the clinic, also rescheduled so we spent over six hours in the waiting room together, who chose surgical over medical, reasoning that the first was less scary because you’d have a medical team with you the whole time. I had been totally confident in my choice, but now I was in the worst pain of my life and had no idea what was happening, if the abortion was working or not. I called Planned Parenthood, but was told that my situation didn’t warrant speaking to the nurse on call. If I bled through 2 pads in 2 hours or hadn’t miscarried in 24 hours then I could call back and be connected to the nurse. Although I ended up not pregnant, I felt completely screwed by Planned Parenthood and never went back for my follow up appointment. A friend of mine ended up getting an abortion shortly after mine at a different Planned Parenthood. They asked her about her salary and she only paid $280. I wish the money thing hadn’t bothered me so much, but all I could think about is how much pressure it would’ve taken off of me to have had that extra $170. I had told them I was a student, and yet they still never asked me about my income or mentioned the possibility of sliding scale rates at other PP clinics. I was dumbfounded when I found out I was pregnant again less than six months later. I was on the road trip from hell when I had to throw up a half an hour after we pulled out. I had been miserably symptomatic (super sense of smell, strong food aversions, nauseous and tired all the time) the first time I was pregnant and I instantly knew, even before seeing the results of the pregnancy test I took in a rest stop bathroom in Texas. I had stopped taking the pill, but my boyfriend and I had been using other forms of protection. We had had a condom break, but I got Plan B immediately. I chalked it up to incorrect use of the sponge, a device recommended by a friend that I had never used before. I didn’t realize until I saw the fetus that I had been totally wrong about when I got pregnant. I had gotten pregnant during the last month I was using the pill and had already been pregnant when I was using condoms and the sponge and took Plan B. The timing could not have been worse. My roommate had become near-psychotic after her boyfriend broke up with her a few months earlier. After that disastrous road trip, one of my best friends–the first one to know I was pregnant–and I stopped speaking. I was in my final semester of school and was struggling with personality differences with a professor who was teaching two courses I needed to graduate with my second major. And now I was sick as a dog again. I could not get enough sleep, was always tired, had trouble focusing, and was constantly on the verge of puking after catching a whiff of something. The aforementioned professor actually figured out I was pregnant (and was very supportive despite our rocky relationship), I think because one student in our class always brought leftovers I could smell through the tupperware in his backpack and she noticed the herculean effort that I had to make not to leave the room and throw up until class was over. I knew I wasn’t going to carry a child to term, but I was also completely unwilling to go back to Planned Parenthood. I tried a couple of herbal remedies, but none worked. I still had the extra set of pills PP gave me, so I had one half of the medication I needed to abort myself. This time I told my mother, a physician, that I was pregnant and that I was going to take care of it myself. I don’t think she knew quite how to respond, so she just asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to have the baby. She (obviously) couldn’t help me get the medication I needed, but she did print off information on dosages for medical abortion (I already knew much of this information). I ordered the other half of the medication from an online pharmacy. Online pharmacies are a shady part of the web. There are no customer reviews, and there are plenty of alarmist warnings that you never know what you’re going to get from an online pharmacy. Well, I was lucky and got the medication I needed. The worst part was waiting three miserable weeks for it to arrive from India. I panicked when it arrived crushed, but my mother told me to just take the fragments with yogurt. The whole abortion process worked and was much less traumatic this time. I took my leftover pain medicine way in advance and it never felt like more than moderate period cramps. What I did was illegal and quite possibly dangerous, but I have no regrets. It cost $55 instead of $450, and I felt like I was making the decisions that were right for me instead of letting an organization treat me like shit again during an already difficult time. And after getting pregnant twice in quick succession, I became extremely paranoid that I would become pregnant again. I worried I was pregnant every single month until I got an IUD (another less than satisfactory PP experience, sigh). I could only afford an IUD when I had to get emergency surgery and maxed out my HSA deductible. If that hadn’t happened, I probably would have ended up pregnant again, needing an abortion again. I do not regret my abortions, and I was lucky to have a strong support system, but they did affect me emotionally. I’ve only ever admitted this to my best friend, but I actually still have the fetus from my second abortion preserved in alcohol. I didn’t know what to do with it, and I still don’t.

  13. I was young and hot in the BEST time ever for American women: after The Pill and before AIDS. One time, I worried that I was pregnant by a really stupid guy whom I had come to realize I did not love………and didn’t even like very much. I went to a clinic for a pregnancy test. While waiting, I decided that it would be horrible to be linked to this jerk for life just because I had made a stupid, unprotected mistake. My life played out before my eyes: years of single-motherhood interrupted by visits from jerk-dad. It gave me a stomach-ache and a head-ache just to imagine it. Living it would be a nightmare. My test was, thankfully, negative. But if I had needed or decided to get an abortion, I was SO GLAD that choice was available to me. Like “kiss-the-ground” glad that I could make that choice. I want that choice to be always available for any woman who prefers to NOT carry a pregnancy to term. Keep it legal………………and please, be smarter than I was that time. If you have control over a sexual encounter, make it one that won’t cause a pregnancy if you aren’t ready for it.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this – these are questions that we find ourselves asking at the most surprising moments, questions to which only we know the correct answer for ourselves. Thank you.

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