Twenty years ago today, I had an abortion.
The thought struck me as I drove home from work, or rather, as I drove to my seven year old daughter’s science fair at her elementary school. The thought came again, once I went home and made supper for my eleven year old son, my daughter and her dad still at the science fair.
Somehow, I am at a point in my life when I measure things by decades.
Trauma has a way of either binding or erasing memories from our memory. It is an actual chemical process that happens in our brains.
On that particular day, twenty years ago, moments were seared into my memory as if someone held a tattoo gun to my grey matter.
I wore a pink sweater and black pants. I carried an alpaca shawl with me that I’d been sleeping with for years and named Mr. Snuggly. Even after the nurses made me change into the johnny, I still had Mr. Snuggly draped around my shoulders. They made me take it off when I went in for the actual procedure. I felt so suddenly cold.
Have you seen the Netflix show Sex Education with Gillian Anderson? There is an amazing abortion scene in that. My abortion was partially like that and partially not. I watched that series not too long ago and found myself thinking wow… they got it right... but then when I thought about it today, about my experience, I thought about all of the ways it was different for me.
The strange, awkward camaraderie of the women as they waited their “turns” in the show was totally resonant with my experience. I’ll never forget the women who told me stories and tried to comfort me. But I got suddenly sick to my stomach and a nurse made me go into another room by myself to wait on a bed with bleached, white sheets. Maybe the nurse thought the other women, who had been through it before, scared me. They didn’t, to be honest.
To this day, I remember those women and feel the wave of comfort they imparted to my pale, conflicted soul.
Ask me anything.
Ask me if I was scared; the answer is yes.
Ask me if I was sad; the answer is yes.
Ask me if I felt certain; the answer is yes.
Ask me if I cried the entire time so hard, the nurses threatened me that if I didn’t stop the doctor wouldn’t do it and would make me come back another day. Yes.
Ask me if I wanted to die along with whatever bloody tissue they scraped out of my uterus that March morning. Yes.
Ask me if I regret what I did. . . the answer is no.
At the time, my boyfriend, and I use the term loosely because I learned later he cheated on me during our entire relationship, was a Marine. We had been together for a little over a month when I found I was pregnant. He was menacing, and became even more so after I told him I was pregnant. He doubted the pregnancy was his. He accused me of being unfaithful and deceitful. He told me I was ruining his career and his life if I continued the pregnancy.
Then he decided we would make great parents and he said he would allow me to keep the baby. That lasted for about two days. When I couldn’t make up my mind in the market over something minor, he berated me. He told me I’d make a horrible mother. He brought me to tears with harsh words, then soothed me, as he proved his point I was an unstable human, unfit to have a child.
But that was not all.
Statistically, abuse increases for pregnant women in domestic violence situations. I was part of this statistic.
He’d squeeze the tender flesh above my knees or my elbows, then scream at me when I recoiled in pain.
I found a grenade in his closet one night when I was hanging my clothes for work the next day.
He told me not to worry about it. It wouldn’t actually kill me; it would just create a shattering force to concuss me and render me unconscious.
Then there was the night he dumped a gallon of ice water on me in the dark. Out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it, so I screamed. I swore. He grabbed me by my hair and dragged me into the next room and told me to get my filthy mouth out of his house and to never come back. Soaking wet, he threw me out of his house.
At that point, I realized I could not have a child with this man. I was terrified for my own life, but even more for the life of an innocent infant that I might bring into the world.
Of course all the pro-life people will rail against me and tell me what an evil harlot I am. I should have considered so many other options. I should have worked it out. I should have left.
Well, when you are being dragged by your hair and when you are staring at a grenade sitting above your freshly ironed blouse, options seem rather scarce.
You may not understand or believe my reasoning, but at its crux, my decision to have an abortion was about being a parent.
It was about being a parent to that little cluster of cells that had nested in my gut way back then in that unfortunate winter, and about the world into which I did not want to bring it.
And it was about being a parent to the children I would eventually have– to Jack and to Emily. I shiver to think of how my life would have been irrevocably altered had I carried that pregnancy to term. In some subconscious part of me, I knew to become a mother at that part of my life would have subjected me to unspeakable trauma that would have ruined not just my life but the life of an innocent. I never would have been available as a human to parent other wonderful, spectacular, complex, humans.
He was thrilled. He promised he would stand by me. He became unspeakably kind.
I made the appointment. He drove me there.
He drove me home and made me a sandwich. He left it on the bedside table, and then he left me. I saw him maybe one or two other times again in my entire life. It was a blessing in disguise.
Ask me if twenty years later I still feel such a profound mix of emotions that I am reluctant to admit I had an abortion; the answer is yes.
Ask me if any day of any week I can tell you how old it would be. Yes.
Women are shamed for all sorts of choices.
Women are shamed for having sex. Women are shamed for not having sex. In extreme cases, women are subjected to violence for their choices.
Today as I drove home from work and realized it was the twenty year anniversary of my abortion, I realized I no longer felt shame.
It took me a long time to make peace with the images of that day imprinted on the coils of my mind. It still makes me feel a bit sad to think of the rainbow socks of the woman in the recovery chair next to me, how they were those socks with the individual toes.
For so many years I sanitized my abortion with euphemisms. I’d say, oh I lost a baby. Or, I had a pregnancy loss. Maybe those things are true. But it is also true that I had an abortion, and it is no less shameful.
You know, many years later, some time after becoming a mother to my son, I got pregnant again. The pregnancy was not viable. I tried to miscarry at home, and I ended up hemorrhaging in a grocery store because some tissue got stuck in my cervix. It was violently ugly and utterly traumatic.
The so called miscarriage was nothing more than science to me. I was only eight or ten weeks pregnant and I understood that the fetus was not biologically sound. But the horrors that my body endured as a result of that event was just not expected or safe. I wound up on an operating table having what they call a D and C. Basically, it is the exact same thing as an abortion. They scrape out the contents of your uterus and you go on your way.
At that point, it had been 13 years since my miscarriage, but I remember feeling triggered by the procedure. It brought back a flood of feelings and thoughts that were unpleasant and unwanted, unlike any of the times I’d discovered I was pregnant. I’ve been pregnant four times and I have two children. All of my pregnancies were wanted; they were all just not tenable.
Here I am. Twenty years after my abortion. No longer scared. No longer ashamed, but still feeling things and still wanting to hug those crazy, generous women who were there with me that awful morning.
Abortion was a gift to me on that fateful day, just as it was 13 years later when it saved my life during my miscarriage. I didn’t know it at the time in 1999. It took me a lot of years to be able to see it for what it was and to get past the trauma, not of the abortion, but of the circumstances that brought me to that point.
Abortion should not be a dirty word. Nor should it be a gift. Abortion should be a right for every woman who needs or desires one. If you don’t want one, don’t have one. If you want to adopt unwanted children, go do it- there are plenty. But please, do not judge, blame, ostracize, or malign women who need or want this medical procedure.
This is my story. It is mine.
There is so much more to it. This is just the tip to the iceberg.
But this is what I wanted to share today, on this anniversary. Because I am no longer ashamed or afraid, of the word abortion, or of my story.
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