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Life My abortion isn’t a punch line

Oct. 18, 2021
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In the 2000s era of sex education à la Mean Girls, accidental pregnancy often felt like a joke. Looking at how movies like Juno recount pregnancy or abortion with humor and ease, I realize how naive we young people are when it comes to accidental pregnancy. Despite warnings to use a condom, seeing those two lines on the pee strip often felt like a myth to me. Pregnancy wasn’t a concern; abortion never even crossed my mind. That is, of course, until I experienced both.

I want you to imagine this scenario: you are a 21-year-old Muslim girl studying abroad while working a full-time internship. You are also in a relationship with a white man, of whom your parents do not approve. Then, one month into your postgraduate degree, you find out you’re pregnant. 

That was the situation in which I found myself. It had been almost five weeks since my last period, but I had all my usual pre-period symptoms: tender breasts, lower back pain, irritability. “Any day now,” I kept thinking. But that day never came. My boyfriend at the time wasn’t concerned, but my anxiety was through the roof. This was the second man I’d ever slept with, and my only long-term sexual partner thus far. I didn’t know much about anything.

At the five-week mark, I told myself I’d take a pregnancy test, just to be sure. It was 6 A.M. when I found myself tiptoeing to the bathroom, leaving my then-boyfriend sound asleep in bed. Within twenty seconds of peeing on the stick, the two lines that screamed “pregnant” appeared. I was in shock—the type of shock that renders you silent.

I woke up my boyfriend to tell him the news, immediately breaking down into tears. These weren’t tears of doubt, but certainty. I knew there was only one thing to do, and I scheduled my abortion. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone.

Two days later, I was at the abortion clinic. I didn’t want to scare myself into not going through with it, so I never looked into what an abortion actually entails. I went in completely blindsided. A warm smile invited me in and handed me a consent form, and then a nurse asked me whether I wanted a medical abortion or a surgical abortion. A medical one sounded more gentle, so I opted for that. 

She wanted to know how I was feeling, and I put on a brave face, explaining my decision from a rational perspective with fake bravado. She nodded throughout my explanation as though she could see right through me and asked me to lay on the medical table. 

The image of my five-week-old fetus haunts me to this day. It wasn’t a ball of cells to me; it was my baby. Even though I knew the fetus wasn’t actually a child, I still felt attached to the idea of something that might eventually be. I asked the doctor for a print of the ultrasound scan. I needed to have something that gave the whole experience significance. 

The doctor explained the procedure to me: I had to take a mifepristone pill to stop the pregnancy hormones, then insert four misoprostol tablets inside my vagina 24 hours later to induce the abortion. She explained the worst-case scenario in terms of side effects, but told me I shouldn’t worry too much. Before handing me the water to go with the first pill, she warned me that there was no going back after this. I didn’t let myself think twice, swallowing it without hesitation.

The following morning, I took two painkillers and laid in bed with misoprostol tablets in hand and tears in my eyes. Although the deed was more or less done, knowing that the embryo was physically going to leave my body killed me. I couldn’t go through with it alone. That day, my boyfriend inserted the four tablets inside me, one by one, while I sobbed in silence.

When the blood started pouring out in clots, it pulled at every heartstring I had. That, for me, was the point of no return. I was mourning something I had chosen to lose, a necessary evil that crushed me nonetheless.

The physical effects started with discomfort, but eventually, it turned into hours-long waves of unimaginable abdominal pain. It was a relentless, agonizing reminder of the loss I was experiencing, both emotionally and physically. My screams and wails caused our neighbors to check on us. My boyfriend didn’t know what to say aside from mumbling that I wasn’t feeling well. How do you tell someone your girlfriend is having an abortion? 

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my boyfriend’s childhood trauma meant he couldn’t be in the same room as me. My wails and pleas to the skies reminded him of his mother, who’d often endured heroin withdrawal when he was a child. When it got bad and all I could focus on was the pain, he’d put on his headphones and leave the room, agitated. For hours, it was just me and God.

A short while later, my boyfriend and I broke up. We hadn’t properly spoken about the abortion. But at this point, he was still the only one that knew about it. The thought of telling anyone disturbed me. When others sensed my sadness, I blamed it on my break-up—but ending my relationship was nothing compared to what I’d felt after my abortion.

It’s difficult to explain my grief. Because I chose this for myself, I find myself questioning whether I even have the right to feel sad. But the thing is, it was never an easy choice to make. Even though I’d make the same choice again if I had to, I still hurt. 

After grieving for months, I looked online for refuge. It was hard to avoid religious content shaming women for having abortions. Eventually, though, I found anonymous blogs and websites where women were sharing their experiences. Grief, guilt, remorse, relief, happiness—I learned that these are all common emotions after an abortion, and they’re all valid. These sites were deeply comforting. It was nice knowing that I wasn’t alone, even though everyone’s anonymity speaks volumes about how abortions are still perceived in society.  

Abortions aren’t at all like popular media portrays them. Young pro-choice people often fall into the ideological trap of framing abortions as an insignificant act, a joke, a TikTok punch line (e.g. “yeetus the fetus”). For me, though, nothing about abortion is abstract. It is not a frivolous decision to make, and definitely not an easy thing to experience. In reality, beyond the political arguments, abortion is deeply personal. I am beyond thankful to have had access to an abortion when I needed it. But it is still the most traumatic event I have experienced. Even though I know I did not kill, I still think about how I stopped life from forming. That still keeps me up some nights.

Five months after the procedure, I was strong enough to tell my best friend about what had happened to me. I cried while she reassured me, telling me that her mother had an abortion at my age, too. That was something I didn’t know I needed to hear. It added a face to the anonymous women online. Now, seven months after my abortion, I am no longer overwhelmed by grief and sadness. I am finally allowing myself to be forgiven releasing what could’ve been and embracing what is.