Smile Politely

Our stories: Thirty-eight years since Roe

Abortion has been legal for my entire lifetime, and abortion is available in my state and community. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s most recent data, one in three women will have at least one abortion in their lifetime.

Saturday marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a case that changed the way we look at reproductive rights in our country. Whether or not we agree or disagree with abortion access, there are unplanned and unwanted pregnancies in this country. There are unloved and abused children; there are doctors getting murdered; there are men and women who pray for something larger than themselves until it feels like their hearts will fall out of their chests. There are folks who kneel outside our clinics until their knees bleed through their jeans; there are people who post hurtful comments on public message boards judging others they’ve never met; and there are women getting abortions all over the world regardless of the procedure’s legal status. These are facts.

When I put out a call for local women’s stories about abortion, I didn’t specify any limits about what kind of stories I wanted. I just asked any woman who felt comfortable doing so, to tell me her story. The more stories I read, the fuzzier my brain became and the more difficult it was for me to think clearly. I wanted to make it all better, I wanted an answer. Do we need more education? Health care? Prayer? Abstinence? Funding for research? Research on birth control? Birth control for everyone? Everyone for human rights?

I don’t have the answer, but I have three stories to share. Each story is extremely personal and individual, and does not represent any other woman’s experience beyond the woman who is telling it. There are millions of women with stories to share, yet many of them will never tell another soul, let alone post their experience in a public venue.

If you feel the need to comment after reading this, I personally challenge you to post without judgment.

If you would like to read more women’s personal stories, you can find some here and here.

MaryAnne, 53

I always knew growing up that I did not want to have children and I never “dreamed” about being married. Long-term relationships? Great, but I did not want to get married.

The first time I asked my doctor to tie my tubes was when I was 25. He told me, “No, you’re too young and you’re not married.” I waited until I was 30 and asked another doctor (also male) to tie my tubes, he also said no. Again, the reason was my age and that I wasn’t married. When I turned 35, I asked yet another doctor for a tubal ligation and again was told no. He reasoned, “You’ve never had children and you’re not married.”

At age 39 1/2 I became pregnant while dating a man who was not a serious relationship. During that time, I was in a prominent position in my profession, and you cannot be a single woman who gets pregnant and work for the clients that I did (they frowned on that). I believed that my job would have been in jeopardy and I did not want a child. Thank God for abortions being available in my area, because I do not know what I would have done otherwise.

I was almost 40 years old, had the abortion, and then my doctor finally approved me to get my tubes tied. That part angers me the most. I had asked three times. I had asked three different doctors to tie my tubes and had been refused each time. If I’d been able to have my tubes tied when I originally asked I would have never needed an abortion.

I told two people beforehand and they were both very supportive and both offered to take me to the abortion appointment. Afterward, I told friends who are not religious, but none of my family knows. I did not want to hear their religious rhetoric. God and I will talk about this issue when I get to Heaven, and if I don’t make it to Heaven because of the abortion then it was still my choice.

I felt shame and anger at having the abortion. Shame because I did not take care of birth control (I never used the pill. I used condoms, sponge, or those foaming inserts. The foaming insert was obviously not the effective one). I was also angry at my previous doctors that I had to face this decision at all, because it should have been taken care of when I wanted to get my tubes tied a long time ago!

When I was seeking sterilization, I was told that married women who get their tubes tied need to have their husbands sign the form too. When are our bodies truly our bodies and not someone else’s to rule? My experience shaped my personal politics and I make sure to thoroughly research all candidates running for office and vote pro-choice. I get very anxious thinking that abortion may not be an option for women in the future and that is why I take my vote seriously. I am post-menopausal now, but I don’t want another woman that may be in my situation to ever have to worry, “What will I do?”

Jennifer, 35

In becoming pregnant, I did not have intercourse. It was through a lot of foreplay, where I later realized bodily fluids were present, with someone I had only been with about a month. I didn’t love him, he didn’t love me, we were very early in dating and I had just gotten out of a serious relationship. When I found out I was pregnant I was in total shock. The whole reason I didn’t have sex with him was because I didn’t want to get pregnant. I did not want to continue with the pregnancy, but he did. He was already a parent with someone he was no longer with, and I didn’t perceive him as parent material. He wanted to stay living separately and see how the relationship would evolve, while I continued with the pregnancy. He wanted to name our child Nesta after Bob Marley’s middle name and teach him how to surf and plant gardens and maybe we’d live in a trailer on the beach. I heard this and thought, “Oh my god, are you kidding me?” I was 29, living in another state.

I decided to have the abortion and it was a feeling of relief for me. My partner didn’t want to go with me so three other friends came with me. They were really supportive and positive. It was an instant feeling of relief and I was so happy not to be in that situation anymore. My partner came over later and tended to me and was as understanding as he could be. I recovered without any problems and went to my ten year high school reunion a few weeks later, and then Christmas came around.

By the new year, however, I realized that there was a lot of healing I needed to do, and I realized that my decision was influenced by the state of my life (it wasn’t something to bring a child into). I went into a depression because I didn’t see a clear future. Abortion is something women need healing around, so I started seeing a therapist to talk about my life — the same reasons why I had the abortion are the reasons I sought therapy. It was an opportunity to address a lot of things in my life, not just the abortion. I was in-between relationships and far away from home and my network of support systems, and coming to terms with the fact that I really wasn’t ready to become a parent.

A big part of my healing while I was experiencing this feeling of loss was going online to read every single abortion story I could find. It blew my mind. Women talked about feeling loss years later, and it surprised me. It helped me by giving a context that this is something that might take me awhile to heal or find closure from.

Can you give us more detail about what loss meant to you during that time?

When reading it on the page, it might sound like the abortion caused my depression, but that’s not what I mean. A million things run through your head; it’s beyond complicated. You think about the relationship with your own mother, not having come to terms with what kind of parent you thought you would be. I think women ultimately just know in their heart, whether they are going to have an abortion or have a child, what is best for them and the universe. It’s almost instinct, that it’s the one choice at that time you can make. Then you go into the future, knowing that there will be a recovery process. The same recovery process happens when women choose to parent an unplanned pregnancy. There are surprises all along the way, sometimes good sometimes bad. It is difficult to go through an abortion — not because of the abortion itself, but because there is no context of how. No cultural, historical, emotional context. Women don’t have access to what they would ultimately need to recover. So it was in that process of recovery that I was exposed to the topic that has since become my passion and my career.

Do you regret the abortion? Have you received any criticism for your choice?

No, it was the only choice I felt I could make at that time. My family was supportive of me, and everyone in my life is pro-choice, oddly. Earlier in my life I even had conservative Republican family members who expressed pro-choice views.

The guy I had the abortion with and I have kept in touch and remained very close for the last ten years. We still have a lot of love for each other. I might go visit him in a few months after not seeing each other for ten years. We have the connection of this experience, and while it’s something we don’t talk about, we could have gone down another path, but we are both thankful that we didn’t take it at that time.

How do you feel when you see public criticism of reproductive freedom?

It makes me feel like the pro-choice side doesn’t have a very compelling way to frame abortions to show it as a normal experience many women go through. I feel sad that we don’t have a positive way to empower women who have abortions and respond with an experience that helps women feel supported and empowered, rather than just respond in defense.

Pro-life people don’t piss me off. They are just out there in the world with their own message and I don’t have time to waste arguing minutia because every day more and more women have abortions and they need support right in that moment. That’s what I’m concerned about — how to support women, not having an argument with someone who has clearly made up his or her mind.

As long as women know that abortion exists they will access it, whether legal or not. Regardless of the political rhetoric out there, women will choose abortion if that’s the best choice for them. It sounds like I’m oversimplifying it though, because not every woman has all the information to prevent pregnancy or continue pregnancy.

What do you think needs to happen so that women can make their choices 100% informed?

Resources. Make clinics available in all communities. Give all women the opportunity to talk to objective counselors away from their partner or parents so they can make the best decision for themselves.

It’s been so long since my abortion and I have done so much research about the topic, I don’t really remember what it was like before I had this knowledge — during that time when I needed information right then and there. The context of our culture leaves women feeling empty afterward, because there’s no process to have a community of friends. Survivors of breast cancer, who battled trauma surrounding their womanness, can rally around a “race for the cure” or other community-supported event. Women who experience abortion might get private support from friends and family, but they don’t have that public support.

Women have abortions because there’s a lack of something: lack of education, lack of a good job, lack of money, lack of stability, lack of a supportive partner. If we lived in a perfect world and we could have all of the resources we need, including access to birth control that worked 100% of the time that we needed it to, there would be no need for abortion.

I believe the telling of the abortion story isn’t a good way to get support for abortion, because there is no positive abortion story. There’s always a negative; there’s always a lack of something that will result in a woman feeling like the abortion is her only option at that time. Reading abortion stories during the time of my own was depressing. The stories were really sad, with complications and factors above and beyond the individual experience of having an abortion. Women are going through really hard things and aren’t getting the support they need to be happy healthy human beings.

Emelia, 23

In my second semester of college, at age 18, my roommate and I were on our way back to the dorm and walked past a pharmacy. Knowing that I thought my period was late, she asked me if I wanted to buy a pregnancy test. I grew up Catholic. We stood there in the store confused by all the different kinds of tests for what seemed like hours. I was so incredibly nervous that I almost didn’t buy one for fear of the outcome. There was only one time I’d had unprotected sex, but he had pulled out, so I told myself I was just late because of stress with school. After all, I was running on a total of ten hours of sleep for the past week. I quickly grabbed the cheapest test on the shelf and hung my head low as I walked to the register. 

On the walk back to the dorm my roommate tried to console me and tell me everything was going to be okay. I just shook my head and said, “I’ll just get an abortion.” I said it as a joke, but I already knew that I would really go through with it. I was doing very well in school and there was no way I was going to risk my chance at a good education to have a baby so young. I walked straight to the bathroom and my roommate went and grabbed our other two roommates and they waited outside the bathroom door for me. I peed on the little stick and before I could even wipe, there was a plus sign on it. I didn’t even have to wait the two minutes like the instructions said.  There it was right there: I was pregnant. I yelled “Shit!” over and over until my friends opened the door and hugged me while I was still sitting there on the toilet. I had to head to my next class, but decided to skip it because I didn’t want everyone in the class to wonder why I had been crying.

I tried to call the guy and tell him the news, but he didn’t answer the phone for over an hour. I sent repeated text messages saying we needed to talk. When he finally called me back he said, “Are you pregnant or something?” I told him that I had already made the decision to have an abortion, so that same day he went out and got a second job so we could pay for it.

At the end of the semester I still hadn’t gotten the abortion, so when I went home for the summer I made the appointment. I called the guy and told him when my appointment was and he got a plane ticket to come visit me and take me to the clinic for the procedure. We arrived at the clinic expecting there to be picketers and people trying to tell me I’m doing something wrong, but there weren’t and I was relieved. Not that they would have changed my mind. 

We got into the clinic and I started my paperwork. I wasn’t sad at all, nor was I afraid. I’d made up my mind about it before I even knew I was pregnant. I remember this mother and daughter there, she was maybe fifteen years old and she was bawling her eyes out. I decided not to look at anyone else so we started to read some of the pamphlets.

Later, a counselor asked me questions about why I made my decision to have an abortion, to make sure nobody was forcing me into it. I was very frank with him and explained that I had made up my mind and wasn’t going to change it.

After we got home, my friends from high school came over and we hung out and talked about it.  After a few days I admitted to my sister what had happened and she was very supportive, but a bit upset I hadn’t come to her for help. I felt like I was adult enough to take care of the situation myself with no regrets. Eventually, my mother found out and she was upset with me, not about the abortion, but because I never told her I was pregnant in the first place. She said she felt like we were close enough that I could’ve told her, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to disappoint her.

Fast forward three and a half years, I was still with the same guy. In a weird way, the abortion had brought us closer together. We were living together, ring shopping on the weekends and settling down. I went to the doctor for my annual checkup and a new prescription for birth control, because my then-method was making me ill. I’m just la-la-la, waiting to tell the doctor I want an IUD when surprise! she tells me I’m pregnant again. I was caught completely off-guard because my period wasn’t even late yet. It took me a couple days to decide what I was going to do. I had mulled around another abortion in my head, but didn’t think it was the right time to do it. We were in a stable relationship and doing pretty well financially, so I asked him what he wanted to do and he said it was up to me. I was only 21, but I felt like I was in the right place to have a baby this time around.

One month before my 22nd birthday, my daughter was born and I haven’t looked back. She is the most amazing, beautiful, and intelligent baby we could’ve dreamed of. When she’s older I’ll tell her my story and that she can always come to me if she needs assistance in making such a decision. I would never force her into an abortion, but if she made that choice I would be right by her side. And if she made the choice to go through with a pregnancy, I would still be right by her side.

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