Every time polarizing political views about abortion and women’s reproductive health appear in the news I am triggered—not by people’s opinions, but by my experience terminating a pregnancy. A Google search reveals texts on abortion as it relates to political agendas and religious indoctrination, but not enough is written about women’s experiences actually having one. I once heard the act of abortion being described as a silent witness in our political discourse.
My abortion came with a slew of complications,both physically and emotionally. Before I had an abortion, I didn’t understand how grief and relief could coexist. I had a hard time wording those emotions because although I did grieve my abortion, I don’t regret it.
At 27 years old, I terminated my 12-week pregnancy. After months of gastric issues and an unsteady menstrual cycle, I dismissed my early pregnancy symptoms as acid reflux and exhaustion from having to keep up with a new job. I thought that in my late 20s I would think twice about having an abortion. Late 20s meant I was in a stage where it was socially normal to have children. The night I learned I was pregnant, none of my theories mattered because I was certain I could not have a child.
I visited Planned Parenthood to get the abortion pill thinking I was just a few weeks ahead, but the ultrasound revealed I was more than 10 weeks along and would need a vacuum aspiration procedure. Contrary to the pill, or set of pills one might take to terminate a pregnancy, the in-clinic procedure uses suction to empty the uterus. To my surprise, Planned Parenthood didn’t have any immediate openings and I had to wait a week and a half for the procedure.
It was a transformative week in my life, marking a time I felt complete peace, power and a strong sense of connectedness to the universe. I was anticipating feeling anxious or afraid, but I remember feeling the happiest I had been in months. I felt ethereal; almost as if I was functioning in the world but wasn’t really a part of it. It’s something I can vaguely describe now, but back then I was immersed in the present without even trying to be. I knew it was temporary but I was happy with my little secret, who I called my baby bean.
When I arrive to Planned Parenthood for my procedure they had me take a few pills, consult the doctor, and lie in a chair until I felt what they told me was “something close to contractions.” The pain of several of the younger girls in that room was palpable; some would return to the room sobbing after their procedure. I remember thinking I was strong and decided and I wanted to set an example for the younger girls, letting them know it was not so bad. So after my excruciating procedure, I came back into the room with a smile on my face. It was really bad, but I was relieved.
The following week I had nightly fevers. Because I had to fly to Los Angeles for work—and because it was a new job—I decided to take care of the fevers after my trip. Turns out, I was sent home early from my trip because my boss noticed I was unwell. When I arrived back home, I went to the ER because my gynecologist wouldn’t see me on account that he did not perform my abortion procedure and did not want to be responsible for repercussions. These are the types of anecdotes that don’t get discussed but are so indicative of callousness and judgement from some medical staff regarding abortion. I understand medical liability, but his complete lack of help when I was at my most vulnerable is something that I will never forget. I visited the ER and was hospitalized for three days with high fever from a uterine infection caused by the abortion. I was discharged and the following week was admitted back into the ER because I developed C. Diff Colitis due to the amount of antibiotics I had been given. When that was all over, grief came. Of all the other pains, this one was the most persistent.
I’m not someone who believes I was being punished or that I did anything wrong, yet for months I thought of all the ways an abortion could have been avoided. I had the support of my family, my friends and my partner at the time; I feel lucky to have had people to turn to who respected my decision and have never judged me for it. Even then, after months of talking to them and processing it, I was hesitant to continue bringing it up in conversation. Although I felt a desire to talk about my experience, I also understood there was nothing else to discuss, and had no further conclusions to reach aside from replaying of the same moments.
Because of my self-imposed restrictions regarding the subject, I searched online to find a sense of community or therapy and I found a free abortion help phone and text line that aided my mental health. The website is called Exhale Pro-Voice. I chose them over others because it was the first abortion-centric help line I found that had a textline, and I didn’t have to share any personal information aside from my phone number. I spoke to someone about my conflicting feelings: grief, relief, joy, pain. She helped in many ways, namely by confirming that grief can still be present even while knowing it was the right choice for me. She said, “Sometimes grief can get delayed if you weren’t ready to experience it yet,” and asked me to walk her through how I was grieving my loss. She asked me questions like, “Would you say grief and loss are the main feelings coming up for you?” and “Would you want to brainstorm some coping strategies we could do together?” She also recommended books on healing and said at any point in my life I could come back and talk to them.
I’m telling my story to provide resources to anyone experiencing something similar, especially during a global pandemic. This textline helped me at one of my lowest points and helped me move forward. My abortion was neither a curse nor a blessing. In every way, it was a remarkable experience in my life because it helped me come closer to my autonomy and to unconditional love. Like so many other women who experienced the same, or life’s different types of suffering, I now know how to endure, grieve, and move forward with love.
Below are additional resources for help and counseling during abortion.