This one’s long…

5 May

I watched the film “Happy Endings” on Sunday night. I got it from Netflix because it starred Steve Coogan as a gay man. Ten seconds into the movie, I knew I’d seen it before. But it wasn’t until Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character appeared onscreen that I remembered the plot, the year it came out, and how I reacted as I viewed it in theatre, with a girlfriend next to me. As Maggie’s character laid on a clinic bed moments before getting an abortion, I wept uncontrollably. This past Sunday, I was touched by the scene, but more emotional about another storyline.

My story starts at 21, as I entered last year of college. Because I was a dormitory resident assistant, I arrived on campus two weeks earlier than the rest of the student body for “Residence Life” training. Several days after settling in, I woke up nauseated and puked my brains out for thirty minutes. My sexual partner (we’ll call him ‘Friend’) wore condoms during sex, but as I kneeled on the dorm bathroom floor, alone, before heading to a full day’s training with chipper resident assistants, I was fucking sure I was pregnant. Only a few days of persistent morning sickness went by before I realized there was no running and hiding. After urine and blood tests at University Health Center, the registered nurse confirmed it. I think I nodded and said, “yeah, I know. Are abortions done here?”

I was referred to Planned Parenthood, where I had a meeting with a counselor. I was asked questions such as “are you in an abusive relationship?” “did anyone influence you in making this decision?” and “have you spoken with your parents and religious leader about your decision?” Then it came time to choose the method (though I was told I had a few days to change my mind): abortion pill or in-clinic aspiration method. My memory of that conversation is hazy, but I recall being scared by the counselor’s warnings of what could go wrong with the in-clinic procedure: life-threatening anesthesia side effects, the possibility of “not removing all contents” of the uterus (and having to return for a second procedure), infection or damage to the uterus that might result in infertility. The abortion pill, on the other hand, was “simple,” and more “natural;” I’d feel period-like cramps, abdominal discomfort, and heavy bleeding for four to six hours. I’d later realize that this young woman being paid to provide unbiased information was delivering some fucking biased information. No matter what I found on Google after that visit, I couldn’t shake the fear of being broken and infertile at 21, so I chose the abortion pill. The earliest appointment I was able to schedule was for two weeks later. Thanks to health insurance, I had only a $30 co-pay.

On that day, I also had an ultrasound. I was told everything was fine health-wise, and I was a good candidate for the abortion, being only 6 weeks pregnant. I asked to look at the image; my uterus looked huge on the screen, and the embryo was a tiny bean on the bottom right corner. For some reason I asked for a print-out of the picture. I kept it for a while but threw it out years later.

I was alone on a dorm floor for 40 students, and the only people on campus were my co-workers – very nice people, but not close friends.  Friend was back home but we talked on the phone every day, and he was positively supportive. “Whatever you choose to do is OK with me, and we‘ll do it together.” His voice quivered on the phone line, and while I knew he meant his words, I also knew he was scared of fatherhood. I wanted to be a wife and mother someday, but “not now. No way,” I told him mid-tears. I assured him I wanted an abortion.

The appointment was scheduled for a Friday, after the start of classes. My friends were all back on campus and we were seniors; everyone was partying but I was exhausted by nine every night. My mornings began about an hour earlier than usual; I’d get up to vomit, walk around my dorm room drinking tea and watching the news until the sickness stopped, then I’d get ready for the day. There were a few days of afternoon and evening sickness too – those were most inconvenient and tiring.

Friday came and my Friend waited in the PP lobby as I moved from room to room; paperwork to fill out, another counseling session, another urine test, questions by a doctor. A couple of hours later, I was finally led to the room where the pills would be administered. The nurse showed me to my seat and left me alone for a few minutes until the doctor returned. As I waited. the thought entered my mind, is this what I really want? I saw a calendar on the desk, and knowing I was eight weeks pregnant, I looked for the date 32 weeks ahead – May 22nd, 2005. That was the week of college graduation. I imagined myself at home (the gap in this scenario being “how would my parents react?”), waiting to give birth, as my friends finished finals with their caps and gowns hanging in the closet. Fuck that. No way. There‘s no way, I thought. The doctor came in, watched me swallow the first pill and instructed me on when to take the second at home. Friend and I went back to my dorm room, I took the second pill, and what followed were the most excruciating and miserable hours of my entire life.

I had insanely painful cramps – they felt like contractions. At times I couldn’t find a single comfortable position in which to lay, I was biting on cloth so as to not make too much noise (again, I was in a dorm room), while squeezing my friend’s arm with my hand. I made a conscious effort to breathe regularly during the pain, mid-tears. I would fall asleep crying and wake up thirty minutes later – my Friend sat next to me the entire time, watching me, holding my hand, wide-eyed, looking helpless in a comforting way. In between the abdominal cramps (the drugs indirectly force the uterus to contract and “expel its contents”) I would run to the bathroom as I could feel “content” was about to come out – it being lots and lots of blood. In clumps. (You’re welcome). This lasted for about five hours on Friday night, as the rest of campus celebrated back-to-school. My Friend stayed with me through Sunday, and on Monday I was back in class.

I’d always been openly pro-choice, but once I had the abortion I felt incredible shame. Now I know why: I was very alone during those two weeks; I was young and working alongside my peers six days a week through the sickness and constant headaches. I would call home and have to talk to my mom as if nothing were happening. By 6pm I was back in the dorms, alone. I felt very alone, but I dealt with it by suppressing my feelings. During the pregnancy and after the abortion, I focused on schoolwork and barely allowed myself to acknowledge and process what I‘d gone through.

A few months later I watched “Happy Endings” in theatre, and the 30 second “implied abortion” scene broke me down.  I think that was the first time I acknowledged everything that I had bottled up. The truth is, the abortion process was traumatizing. It was painful and scary and it felt unbearably long. I still see it advertised as a method “of dealing with abortion in the privacy of [my] own home,” “similar to the morning after pill,” “simple,” and “a way to avoid surgery and anesthesia.” I will preach this until the day I die: my experience was painful, it was scary, it felt like a barbaric punishment, I couldn’t tell if the bleeding was normal or if I should be alarmed and call the doctor, and above all, it felt unnecessary. I wish I’d told a girlfriend, I wish my assigned counselor had kept her opinions to herself, and I wish I’d found what I spent hours googling: one girl’s story. An honest, non-judgmental account of her experience – someone to relate to. Not having that, I think, played a major role in the anxiety and guilt I felt.

Years later, while on the pill, I became pregnant again. I’d missed a pill here and there, but had taken it less than 24hrs later, as it happens with virtually every woman on the pill. It’s hardly ever a problem – except for me, the most fertile woman on the planet. My hang ups about abortion were non-existent this time around and I knew with certainty that I’d choose anything but the abortion pill. The non-surgical aspiration procedure consisted of this: local anesthesia (though I could’ve gone to sleep completely – I just didn’t see the need), a bed, and spread legs, much like a GYN visit (yes, boys, just like that). The doctor inserted things in the vagina: “this is to numb the cervix,” “this is to dilate the cervix,” “now we’re going to remove the contents of the uterus.” Within twenty minutes, including the initial anesthetic, I was done. The time spent on the bed was probably half that. I felt a bit nauseous because of the medication and had some abdominal discomfort that day, but my boyfriend fed me ice cream and we watched Robocop all afternoon. I wondered why the fuck I had ever chosen the abortion pill the first time around.

Pregnancy happens. I used contraception and still became pregnant.  Having a child was something I did not want – I would’ve been devastated if I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I have no hang ups about my abortions. There is nothing wrong or immoral about it. It is more common than one might think; once I felt comfortable talking about it, I found out four of my friends had one. It most certainly isn’t a walk in the park, but neither is having a child; pregnancy is fascinating and beautiful, but a woman should get to decide if it’s something she wants, and she shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for wanting control over her life.

Good reads:
Penelope Trunk
Emmie
On the abortion pill

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19 Responses to “This one’s long…”

  1. Sara May 5, 2010 at 10:40 #

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. If I was in that position, I might do the same thing. It wouldn’t be fair to raise a child when I still feel like a child myself. If you’re using protection, that’s really the most you can do.

  2. inna May 5, 2010 at 11:11 #

    this sucks thank you for sharing
    i’ve never heard of the abortion pill, and i’m glad i hadn’t (i probably would have chosen it… the $650 was pretty tough to cough up freshman year)
    😦

    • Juliana May 5, 2010 at 11:15 #

      you won’t pay less than $450 for the pill either. ain’t that fucked up?

  3. hisredhead May 5, 2010 at 12:48 #

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have always had reservations about having children, but my thoughts were along the lines of what Sara said. I was just 18, still a child myself. I feel terribly guilty about it because we were married. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a 6 year old now and how different our lives would be. The worst part about the experience though is how very alone I felt, and still feel when it comes to the topic.
    Seriously, thank you so, so very much for writing about this.

  4. Matt May 5, 2010 at 14:34 #

    All jokes regarding “Happy Endings” aside, this was a powerful, brave and heart string pulling post.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Martin May 5, 2010 at 18:07 #

    My girlfriend got pregnant when we were in our early 20’s. It was a tough decision, but we made the right one. The protesters outside of the clinic infuriated me to no end, and it was an emotionally traumatizing day. Abortions suck, whether you are pro-choice or not, but it is a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils in my opinion.

  6. Susie Q May 5, 2010 at 20:55 #

    I was on the pill and we doubled up with a condom. Yet somehow I still got pregnant. My decision was to keep it. However that wasn’t to be. And my experience was like yours; miscarriage, without being chemically induced. I think I would’ve preferred the “impersonality” of a surgical removal.

    I’m 100% pro-choice.. I mean, in the end, there are already too many children in foster care and group homes, there are too many young mothers struggling to survive because they didn’t have a choice. So why bring any more pain in this world of ours? But when it comes to me, if it ever were an issue again, I know what my choice would be. I’d go through with it. Why? Because the UK social care is good enough for me to be able to provide for a child even if I were a jobless bum and mostly because I personally couldn’t do it. There’s just some sort of a mental block there.

    If only life was easy…

    xx

  7. Juliana May 6, 2010 at 07:56 #

    i *really* appreciate each of your comments. you make me happy.

  8. fallingfromprams May 6, 2010 at 20:58 #

    Thank you for being so strong and sharing this. I can’t even imagine… You have helped me realize that the stand offishness and insecurity I felt about sharing my story on my blog over the last week or so was something good.

  9. dagnydarling May 7, 2010 at 18:06 #

    This was very well done. The best thing we can do for one another, as women, or as future parents, is making sure that there are people to talk to…. that there’s someone you can ask questions to… even if it’s an anonymous blog.

    You’re a stud of a writer and actually, what seems like a pretty bad ass person in general.

  10. MissLiv May 8, 2010 at 08:34 #

    I loved reading this. I too have had an abortion…just typing that feels…weird, because I have only told two people in the whole world. One being my Mum who helped me through the time even though she is so against it (being Catholic) but she knew it was the only decision I could make, and then my boyfriend, 3 years later. I often think about it and I have no doubt that it was the right decision for me but I still think about it and hope that one day I still can have the children I so desperately want…when I am older. Not one of my friends know what I did and so I know how you feel in regards to being alone in that time. It was the most exhausting and draining time of my entire life, I remember it through a cloud now almost, as though I have blocked most detail out.
    Thank you for sharing. It was an incredibly brave thing for you to write, and it helped me address some of my past demons 🙂

  11. Juliana May 8, 2010 at 14:18 #

    thank you, boys and *girls*. i’m really happy this gets us talking 🙂

  12. Jodie Layne May 11, 2010 at 08:25 #

    This post and its comments are so interesting to read. Thanks for being brave enough to realize that this is something to be shared for the benefit of other people going through the same thing or who may one day.
    You are absoltely elloquent – I haven’t been able to stop reading back posts, but had to comment on this one because it hit so close to home. Although I wasn’t pregnant, I honestly thought I was and had to realistically look at what I would do in that situation. I was alone in a third world country where abortion was illegal, potentially 4 months pregnant taking a 30 dollar pregnancy test in a bathroom with rats and cockroaches. I get where you are coming from.
    Thanks for sharing your story with tact, grace, and a bit of humour.

  13. wanderingmenace May 12, 2010 at 07:49 #

    I love that this is out there for any girl who was in a position like yours, not knowing which option is better-to read. Powerful post and it shows so much about you as a person. Great way to spark some interesting discussion about an issue that is so powerful and important. I’ve never had one, but I went with a friend when she did and held her hand through the process. I remember it was more emotional on her that she had anticipated, but I know to this day she is glad it was the choice she made.

  14. Sam May 18, 2010 at 00:35 #

    Oh.my.goodness. I was just putzing around 20sb, and I clicked on your site for one reason or another and this is the craziest synchronicity I have ever experienced.

    I just started an anonymous blog about unplanned pregnancy in college, because if I don’t talk about it, I’m going to go crazy. I’ve been researching abortion, and had mostly decided to go the medical route. I’m going to take your experience into account and rethink my decision. I can’t thank you enough for writing this. It’s so good to not feel completely alone.

  15. Miles June 5, 2010 at 15:27 #

    I am pro-life.

    • Juliana June 5, 2010 at 23:13 #

      me too. i love life.

      thanks for reading 🙂

  16. subject-verb agreement June 14, 2010 at 13:17 #

    jules, this was an incredibly brave thing to write out loud. i wish more women were able to share their stories, because then, we, as country for and by the people, could pay attention and figure out how to make sure we are doing everything we can to promote the physical and emotional health of women, before and after the procedure. many of them suffer in silence. and that is god damn bull shit. no one has the right to stigmatize a woman [or man] for making the tremendously difficult decision to have an abortion. i will go head to head with anyone who would like to debate otherwise. and i will destroy you.

  17. Steph July 5, 2010 at 21:55 #

    Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me that I am not alone. I know that I made the absolute right decision back then, 3 years ago, but it’s been a constant struggle letting of my shame and guilt. Every day. Only 2 people in the world know my secret.

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