This week marks the three-year anniversary of the day I had my abortion. Happy anniversary to me! And just to be clear, that was not meant sarcastically: it’s a happy anniversary because I made the right choice. No matter what other heartbreak and despair I went through during this experience, I have always been able to say without a doubt in my mind that I made the right choice, and that is something to celebrate.
There are plenty of other things I’m not so proud of throughout the span of this journey, but I will get to those in a moment. Because as I have been reflecting on my decision—and the three years that have passed since—I realized that I have never once shown appreciation for myself. Not once have I shown appreciation for my ability to know from the moment I found out I was pregnant that having an abortion was the absolute right choice for me. My knowledge of self in this matter is noteworthy. There are so many things in my life I am unsure of and insecure about, but this was not one of them. I knew what my limitations were, I knew the future I wanted, and I made a decision that respected both of them. For a 20-year-old, I think that’s pretty impressive, and since I never acknowledged that before I’m going to do so now.
In all honesty, I’m not surprised it took me this long to find anything remotely positive about my abortion experience. Under different circumstances, I think my abortion would not have been this big, impactful event in my life. I would have had it and probably felt very neutral about the whole thing. It would have been clinical and medical and nothing more. But unfortunately the circumstances were not different: they were what they were. And what they were was a series of events that could only be described as a snowballing shitstorm.
The first snowball to cause this shitstorm actually didn’t start small, like you would expect from a typical snowball effect. The first snowball in my series of unfortunate events started out massively shitty and then proceeded to get even worse from there. You see, I didn’t get pregnant because we forgot to wear a condom in the heat of the moment, or because he didn’t pull out quick enough. I got pregnant on birth control: the birth control implant, to be exact—a phenomenon which I found out happens in less than 1% of cases. And because I didn’t think I could get pregnant due to my being on birth control, I didn’t realize I was pregnant until well after 3 months.
As much as I would love to be able to make peace with this fact and chalk it up to an unfortunate medical anomaly, I can’t. I am still angry and bitter and curse the universe for being so cruel. I do hope that, in the future, I will be able to think about this life event and let the knowledge that it was horrible and unfair wash over me without filling me with rage. But healing, I have come to realize, is not unilateral. There are aspects of a traumatic experience that will take longer to heal from than others, and that’s okay. You learn things about yourself when you look at what aspects of your trauma take you longer to heal from. I know now that it is harder for me to come to terms with occurrences that are out of my control. I know now that I need to work on accepting the fact that there are going to be things in life that I won’t be able to control, stop, influence, or change. That’s something I know about myself that I didn’t know before, and for that I am grateful. I can work on getting over my anger in time, but for now I will just hold on to that gratitude.
So there I was, 3 months pregnant and in such shock I could barely comprehend the situation. Now remember how I said there were some things I’m not so proud of throughout this journey? Well, here they come. Instead of going to my mom, or my older sisters, or one of my best friends, or even the guy who got me pregnant, I kept it to myself. I was paralyzed with fear and confusion and shame for not knowing I was pregnant. I was also heartbroken because I was in love with the guy who had gotten me pregnant. However, I knew he didn’t love me, so I ended things with him about 30 minutes after I found out I was pregnant—probably not the best time to add a break-up to my emotional load, but as I mentioned before, my choices were not stellar during this time. Perhaps if I had just reached out to someone for help or support, maybe my snowball would have stopped there. But it didn’t.
When I went to a clinic, I found out that I could not get the abortion pill because I was past my first trimester. I also found out that having an abortion as late along as I was made the procedure much more expensive—more expensive than I could afford on my own. So, like many other women who cannot afford to have an abortion (let alone a child), I found other means: I had my abortion done at an unlicensed medical facility. It was terrifying and lonely and painful and utterly traumatic, if I’m being honest. If there are any policy makers out there reading this, don’t take away a woman’s right to choose, and don’t limit our access to abortions. It won’t prevent abortions; it will only prevent safe ones.
If only I had asked my mom or anyone for help—if I had, I would have gotten my abortion done at a safe and licensed clinic and been on my merry way, instead of getting it done where I did. I wouldn’t have gotten a botched procedure. I wouldn’t have needed a D&C (dilation and curettage) to remove the tissue that was left in my uterus because of the botched procedure. I wouldn’t have gotten Asherman’s Syndrome as a result of the D&C, which causes scarring and adhesions on my uterus. I wouldn’t experience extreme pain every time I get my period (to this day) because the adhesions stick together and block the blood as it tries to exit my body. My endometrial lining wouldn’t be damaged to the point where every doctor I have seen says it’s highly unlikely I can ever have children. But I didn’t ask for help, and these shit snowballs occurred as they did.
Now I’m not recounting my tale to get anyone to feel sorry for me. I’ve done enough feeling sorry for myself to last me two lifetimes. I am recounting my story because for the longest time I lied about it. Right after I had the abortion, I couldn’t really hide my physical pain from my family since I lived with them, especially not when I had to go back in for a D&C. So I had to tell them something. I couldn’t say out loud what had happened, so I lied and said I had a miscarriage. This can actually happen if you get pregnant on birth control, so I stuck with that lie and told it for over a year. I needed the people in my life to know that I went through a trauma of sorts, because I needed support, but I couldn’t tell them the actual trauma.
I used to think I lied about it because I felt shame for having an abortion so late in the game. But that reasoning was never congruent with my beliefs: I do not believe a fetus is comparable to a human life until well into the third trimester. I think I felt like I needed to feel guilty. The dialogue surrounding later-stage abortions is thick with judgement because many people do believe that once a fetus has a heartbeat, it’s equivalent to human life. I disagree. However, at the time, I wasn’t aware of the real reason behind my lying, so I glommed onto the most readily available reason. It wasn’t until quite recently that I realized I lied as a defense mechanism—I was trying to protect myself from feeling the whole trauma of my experience. Going to the place where I got the procedure done left a larger scar than I realized at the time.
It’s taken me until practically now to be able to think about what happened there without falling apart. So it’s no wonder I felt the need to protect myself with a different version of events. It’s much easier to think about a miscarriage that happened of its own accord than to think about that room with the smell of disinfectant so strong it practically burned my nose hairs, the pure anxiety I felt waiting for my turn, the excruciating pain I felt during the procedure, the sheer terror I felt when I felt blood streaming down my thighs, and everything that happened after. I couldn’t deal with my trauma at the time, so I created an alternate reality. The only problem with an alternate reality is that your actual reality isn’t gone—it’s still right there waiting for you.
Soon my reality came bubbling to the surface. For a while, the lie did help, because I wasn’t ready to face what had happened. But after about a year, it became apparent that not coming to terms with my trauma was causing more harm than good. I kept trying to force the memories down with drugs and sex and partying, but they couldn’t stay buried. They would surge through my mind every time I smelled disinfectant, or drove remotely close to the neighborhood of that clinic, or encountered any other number of things that were triggering for me. And I had no outlet for my grief and pain because I hadn’t told anyone, so it just kept building and building. The metaphorical dam holding back all of my psychological stress burst one night when I was belligerently drunk. I don’t remember exactly what triggered me, but I remember sobbing in the stairwell of my apartment with my two best friends, and I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. Almost a year after having the procedure, I finally told them that my miscarriage wasn’t really a miscarriage. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to tell someone until the words had left my lips.
My full truth came out in pieces over time. It wasn’t all easy. Telling my mom about it was the hardest—not because she is by any means against abortion, but because she was so upset that I didn’t come to her when I needed help. Over the years, that has remained my biggest and most painful regret—it will haunt me for the rest of my life. And that, my lovely readers, is the second reason I am sharing my story: to spread the snippets of wisdom I gained from my abortion journey, so that maybe I can prevent other women from experiencing the trauma and regret that I experienced. In particular, I have three pieces of advice I’d like to share:
1. If you’re facing the possibility of an abortion, you don’t need to do it alone. You shouldn’t do it alone. No matter what the circumstances are (and I know there are so many possible circumstances surrounding this situation that are much worse than mine were), please don’t carry the burden on your own. Whatever you may be feeling, you deserve to have your loved ones there to help and support you. And if you don’t have anyone you can or want to turn to, please feel free to contact me. I will provide help or support or assistance in any way that I can. I may be a stranger on the internet, but I am no stranger to the situation you are going through and I don’t want anyone to go through it alone. I am here.
2. If you’ve had an abortion, I’m glad you made the right choice for yourself. That is always something to be proud of. If you are struggling, hold onto the reason you had the abortion. In the haze of trauma and grief and whatever else you may be feeling, that knowledge can be your guiding light. But if that doesn’t help, then I urge you to seek help from professionals. There are countless support groups and counseling centers out there specifically for women who have had an abortion. I have been to a few groups, and they definitely helped. There’s no shame in asking or needing help. There’s no shame in being human.
3. If your loved one is getting or has had an abortion, please do not judge her in any way, shape, or form—no matter your personal feelings. Even if you don’t pass judgment outright, you should still be wary of the manner in which you say things or the attitude you have towards her. You don’t know exactly what she went through, and making assumptions can cause serious emotional damage. If she wants to talk, listen. If she doesn’t want to talk, don’t push her. If she feels upset about it, validate those feelings. If she doesn’t feel upset about it, validate those too. It’s not your place to decide how she should feel about her experience or for how long she may feel it. Just be there.
The third and final reason I am sharing my story is to make peace with it, and to make peace with those who were a part of it.
To the guy who got me pregnant: There are so many things I want to say to you. I suppose the first is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lied to you about what happened. I’m not sorry that I didn’t tell you at the time, because regardless of what you said to me I was going to have the abortion. It was my choice and I didn’t need your judgement. But I am sorry for lying to you about it when I actually did tell you something. To this day, I don’t think you know the full truth, and I wonder all the time if I should tell you. But I don’t know if I would be telling you for the right reasons. In all honesty, I think I want to tell you because I want you to experience just a sliver of the burden I have carried. I am furious that my life was riddled with consequences and pain and trauma, and you don’t even know what happened. We both engaged in the sex that resulted in my getting pregnant, yet you got to walk away scot free with a new life, while mine was changed forever. I think I might hate you a little bit for that. But I know it’s not your fault, and I am working on that. I hope the day will come that I don’t feel anything negative towards you. That’s the best I can do for now.
To my mom: I hope you know that the reason I didn’t come to you for help wasn’t because I don’t trust you. You have always made me feel loved and supported, and you created an environment where I felt safe enough to tell you things. The only person to blame for my not reaching out to you is me. That is my mistake, not yours, so please don’t carry that. I wasn’t ready to come to terms with my situation, and because of that I handled it alone and without your help. I will regret it forever. I’m sorry, and I love you.
To my friends: Thank you. Thank you for supporting me endlessly throughout this journey. Thank you for not judging me when you found out I lied to you for so long. Thank you for sticking with me through every tear-filled conversation and every bout of depression. Thank you for being the type of support system that made me keep living even when I didn’t want to. Thank you for everything.
To me: Try to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made throughout this journey.