I want to talk about the tiny moments and realities that made up the sum of a personal experience with abortion. Choosing abortion is never a decision made flippantly, but anti-choice lobby groups reduce it to stark, simple, ahistorical ideas.
This telling is a small effort to set that record straight. It is raw in some places, so take care of yourself in knowing what you can read and what will be too upsetting for you.
When I told the man who impregnated me that my period was late, his cool response was, ‘well I like you and everything, but we’re not on that level.’
This conversation happened while I was on the way to the drugstore for the pregnancy test. Fate had placed him on the same street that day as I ran this major errand. My stomach turned cold when I heard his detached unconcern.
He and I went our separate ways after we walked into the drugstore together, me clutching the test, and I called him later to tell him that the test was positive. He reiterated that we had just been having fun together and he expected me to ‘deal with it’. I was hurt.
We were in our mid-to-late twenties – not children by any means. Not to mention the fact that I thought we were growing more serious anyhow in our relationship up to that point, so I expected a more emotionally supportive conversation.
I called the Morgentaler Clinic in my city right away to schedule an abortion.
I quickly assessed the situation: I pictured beginning to raise a baby that next year by myself with no maternity leave because I was self-employed and a contract worker; my apartment was really expensive, more than what I’d get each month on social assistance; I’d have to leave the city and go live with my parents who lived in poverty in the small town I’d left behind years before; I knew no one with babies.
I thought about the familial and systemic racism the future child would face because the guy was black and I am white. I thought of a potential person who would have no relationship with a biological father his or her whole life and be cut off from their cultural identity and history.
I knew I wanted to be a mother deep in my bones, but this time was not going to work.
The abortion was scheduled six weeks after I called to make an appointment and filled out in-person paperwork with an intake worker who was about eight months pregnant herself.
The six or so week interval felt interminable. I went through a very self-destructive period to ensure that I felt no attachment to my pregnancy or feelings of any sort. The guy and I stopped seeing each other.
I ate cucumbers with salt for daily nausea. I got involved with someone else much too soon, and drank alcohol every day. I told a good friend and my mom about the abortion, so I was not alone in what was going to happen. My mom volunteered to come and stay with me, which she did for a day or two afterwards, but I went to the procedure on my own.
The lead up and aftermath were the only difficult parts. It would have been better if I had been able to get the abortion right away, such as when I was one or two weeks pregnant.
I was nine weeks pregnant, which a technician confirmed by ultrasound as I went in for the procedure (the image was only for them to see).
I wore a vaguely menacing, funny message t-shirt, which made the physician laugh and comment ‘that’s dark’. The staff were lovely. The surgery was quick and I recovered in a sunny room with maybe four or five others who were on their own or with partners.
I remember feeling incredibly light and grateful walking back to my place. I bought a coffee. More than a dozen years later, I can still picture that coffee cup in my hand and the bright blue October sky. My mom’s visit later that day helped me to focus on positivity, moving forward, and I felt physically okay.
It was several days later when I was alone again that the after effects that complete the procedure happened.
While the doctor at the clinic told me that I would have some bleeding and cramping afterwards, I didn’t realize that I was going to haemorrhage large amounts of endometrial and other tissues.
I had somehow thought most of it was taken away in surgery. I’ll never forget the feeling of sitting on the toilet and the deluge of chunks coming out of me by surprise in the middle of the night. I was afraid the toilet wouldn’t flush because there was so much.
For a moment or two, I felt like I was going to die. I felt shocked and broken.
Follow up support by the clinic would have been so good, such as someone checking in with me by phone or in person.
They make do with the limited resources they have, the need to serve such a demand, the daily threats by protestors and funding cuts.
There is a real chemical grieving process that happens from hormonal changes that you undergo becoming pregnant and then suddenly becoming not pregnant.
The nightmarish bodily purge that night additionally triggered distress and body memories of trauma I had experienced earlier in my life. I wish I had been reminded of what to expect so I could have psychologically planned better for it.
Many months later, I was at a staff meeting at the women’s shelter I now worked at and we talked about accompanying and supporting a resident through an abortion. Suddenly half of us had disclosed in matter of fact terms that we’d had abortions and what we needed afterward.
It was a quietly revolutionary experience for me in solidarity and a nuanced emotional reconciliation within my own self.
Because I was able to access a safe medical abortion, my fertility wasn’t affected and I was able to have a healthy pregnancy later when I was really ready.
I won’t say that I didn’t worry about that in between the abortion and becoming pregnant again, though. My child was so, so wanted. Having had an abortion had lent urgency to my personal ticking biological clock.
The experience of being pregnant with him from the beginning was completely different than the previous time. I had no nausea, no fears and knew I was ready for the unknown from day one.
It feels good to tell this story, although some pain re-emerges in the telling and the reliving of detail. I want women who are contemplating abortion or who have had difficult abortions to know from me that whatever reason you opt for this is the right reason, because it reflects your circumstances.
You can’t choose to have a uterus, but taking control over it to some degree and choosing when or if you want to be a parent are true measures of freedom that we can’t ever let the state remove.
I wish I could tell you my name, but I don’t feel safe to do so in print. Reproductive rights are under attack again this millennium and too many people in our community judge what they cannot ever experience or understand.
Someday, I hope I can tell you my name. Today, what I can tell you is that I had an abortion. And I can tell you that we are not alone.
For referrals and information on abortion in Peterborough, contact the Women’s Health Care Centre, located at 1 Hospital Drive (Peterborough Regional Health Centre), by phone at 705-743-4132 or online at http://www.prhc.on.ca/cms/women-s-health-care-centre.
If you are interested, you can watch the film I Had An Abortion (2005) by Jennifer Baumgardner and Gillian Aldrich: http://www.jenniferbaumgardner.net/i-had-an-abortion/