I wish this was something I could talk about without shame, guilt or fear. I wish it was something I could talk about freely instead of hiding under the warm blanket of anonymity. However far and wide things may have progressed in the last century, we are still well behind throwing off the stigmas of abortion.
My story is not uncommon though that may be the saddest part. I got pregnant at fourteen from forced relations with my first boyfriend. It left me with a few bruises and a positive pregnancy test. I was terrified, to say the least. I remember taking the test in a gas station bathroom and shaking uncontrollably when that second faint line popped up. In the words of the store clerk in Juno, that was one etch-a-sketch that I couldn’t undo. I stayed up many a night after that when I should have been studying for my high school exams, praying that google would answer my problem. Thanks to Yahoo Answers I quickly discovered I wasn’t alone in my predicament but that didn’t ease the isolating feeling that had begun to clamp down all around me. I wasn’t a regular teenage girl anymore. The second my test came out positive, I had become something half-way to a grown-up in a young girl’s body. I felt all the responsibility, guilt and shame. I felt stupid. I lamented the choices I’d made in life so far, even the ones that I hadn’t quite been in control of. In my mind it had all brought me to where I was at that exact moment and I did not like it at all.
I made the decision to terminate after much thought. I was a child and what could be done about a child raising a child? Not very much. It was the only option. The best option. So I took the time that I had with this little creature inside of me and made the most of the days leading up to my appointment. And then it was over. For a bad situation, the clinic experience was the best it could have been and I am fortunate to have received such care. For all the pamphlets and conversations and therapy sessions they made me sit through, not once did anyone prepare me for what would come next. Many women talk about experiencing relief after the termination of an unwanted pregnancy and few express anything else. Whatever grief you may feel is quoted to last “for a few days afterwards at most”. I fell so deeply into myself in the months following that I dropped off the honour role, shirked my responsibilities in student counsel and finally stopped attending school all together. I spent countless nights awake, too afraid to fall asleep. I cried often and for no reason. I felt like there was nowhere to turn. All the pro-life blogs, which I read to further shame myself, told me that I had ended a life. My feelings of emptiness were just as vast and deep as the ocean itself. And the pro-choice information I read only talked about how quickly women recovered emotionally from the procedure, believing in their heart of hearts that they had made the right decision for them. There was no middle-ground. I felt more lost than ever and paralyzed by my growing depression. It took me a year and one breakup to finally get back to school. I was allowed to write the exams for the end of the year and was fortunate to continue in my graduating class. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy and sadness for much, much longer than that but I did my best to bring the skeleton of my life back from the dust. It took five years for me to be able to date again and another six months after that to acknowledge and accept that I had made the right choice for me at the time. After so much grief, so deep and dark, I became proud of myself for making such a difficult decision when I had been so blinded by emotion.
I went on to begin a degree program at a notable university. I turned twenty then twenty-one, I moved across the country and then I met someone new. It was the first time I’d ever been with someone who was so similar to me. For a month we were blissfully happy, the kind of euphoria that is as dangerous as it is fantastic. Not long before Christmas I found out I was pregnant. The birth control I had been on for several years had finally shown me a weak spot. Right away I made the decision to terminate. Being more than halfway through my degree and in a brand-new relationship, I was not equipped for a child. I also knew that I was not strong enough to give up my child for adoption.
The day of the appointment I couldn’t stop crying. My boyfriend drove me to the clinic. It was a gray, tired morning and it wouldn’t stop raining. I felt so much anxiety as we entered the clinic. I was in a different city far from home and had no idea how I would be cared for here. They didn’t let me bring in my partner. The assessment was quick and emotionless. The nurse pricked my finger and explained the procedure to me. Not once did she ask if I was okay with my decision. If I felt alright. She directed me to the change-rooms without leaving her chair, shoeless feet propped up against the wall. She gave me a bag for my belongings which contained a tattered nightgown with a disney character on the front. In guilt and in sadness, I took myself to the change-rooms. So desperate to hold myself together that I focused not on my breath or my heartbeat but on willing myself not to blink. I changed into the gown and sat in the chairs outside the cubicles, waiting for my name to be called. I could hear the procedure being performed on other women in the next room, the loud suction noises and cries. I plugged my ears, trying to will away the sounds all around me. I blinked. My heart beat. I tried to listen to my breathing but all around me, like a rhythm, was that terrible suctioning noise. The crying that was so endless. These are the things you don’t read about on the internet forums and the things they do not mention to you in therapy.
When I was finally led into that room and put on the table, every woman in that room was unkind. I was shaken, having passed by the recovery room which had been full of women crying and running around. So deep in their own grief that it took them a very long time to respond to their own names. The nurse gave me drugs which made me feel like I couldn’t breathe and at one point in the procedure, the doctor scraped me too hard. When I flinched, she hit me hard on the knee, leaving a big bruise. “Don’t move!” She yelled. I had begun to cry then, feeling so terrified and so small. Knowing that the experience I was subjecting myself to, the one I’d given my consent for, would come back to haunt me. I sat in the recovery room afterwards feeling all the things that they promised me I’d only hold in my heart for a few days afterwards. At best I can describe it now as a physical and emotional emptiness that seemed only to be growing by the second in the very place of my collection of cells now forever lost to me.
It only took four days for me to get sick, really sick. On Christmas Eve and in severe pain, I carried myself down to a walk-in clinic in my neighborhood. I explained my saga to the on-call doctor who felt my belly. With a sad sigh he said, “I am going to tell you to go to the emergency room right now.” And that is how I found myself in the emergency room of one of the biggest (and supposedly best) hospitals in the city. I was seen ‘quickly’ as the proposed diagnosis was quite serious. “I’m not going to say for sure but we are afraid, based on your case history, that you have retained product,” The first doctor told me. Retained product is one of the worst case scenarios. It happens when you are not cleared completely of the pregnancy inside of your body. It festers and causes you to get very sick which in turn, depending on how long you go unaware of your condition, can run the infection into your blood. At the blood stage, survival is not likely.
Several hours later and alone in the emergency, I was moved deeper into the bowels of the hospital, admitted and give two bags of IV antibiotics. I sat there, as sick as I’d ever been in my life and as terrified as a young woman can be, on my first Christmas eve away from home and tethered to a steel pole and a plastic bag of drugs to fight the infection in my body. It took several more hours for an OBGYN to meet with me. He assessed the situation and told me that I had no fever and likely just had an infection in my uterus. An infection I contracted from the abortion clinic. They sent me home with several pill jars of antibiotics and a few marks in my arm where they’d been feeding medication directly into my blood stream. I came home to an empty house, my heart a little more spilled out than I thought it could be and I slept for several days.
It took another two trips to the same emergency room before I was taken seriously. The antibiotics they’d given me were destroying my insides and making me physically ill. Besides that, I could simply sense that something was wrong. The OBGYN, tired of seeing me, had tried to convince a nurse to send me home. She had yelled at him, explaining that I was a young woman, terrified and exhausted of the hospital and if I had come to the emergency room again then he better come down to look at me or she would drag him by the skin of his neck. I overheard the conversation and worried that I’d brought myself to the emergency room again without having any real issue to be treated. Maybe it really was just the brutality of the antibiotics I’d been on that left me feeling dazed and unbelievably ill. It took hours for him to come down and see me. Another ultrasound. Another pelvic exam. More tears. And finally, he told me that I would be having emergency surgery that night for retained product in my system. Since I had been turned away from the hospital several times before this and plied with unnecessary medication whenever a doctor did see me, the infection that I had only increased in severity. My body, having tried to fend off the infection was growing weaker and it was close to spreading into my blood. I was quickly admitted as an overnight patient, scheduled for the last surgery of the night.
I was not allowed to eat and after a certain amount of time without food my stomach started shaking. I started vomiting up bile all over myself, all over my gown and on the floor. I could barely keep my eyes open. And finally, close to one in the morning and fourteen hours after I’d first gotten to the hospital, the nurse got me into a bed and hooked me up to an IV. They wheeled me into the operating room and I was knocked out by anesthesia. I spent a full day in a hospital ward afterwards so I could be monitored. Finally, I prayed, this was were my saga ended. It wasn’t. I struggled with a uterine infection for four months afterwards that caused me severe abdominal pain. I was not allowed to go back to school or to stand on my feet for more than an hour at a time. As such I had to take medical leave from my job and from my classes. I spent a lot of time in bed asleep or awake and crying. I barely moved. The only times I left my bedroom were to go to therapy or to sit on the front porch to watch the snow fall. I felt how I thought a fly trapped in a jar might feel. Every time I thought I might fly away from the prison of my thoughts and the ailments of my body, I would hit the lid on the jar and fall back to the bottom with an injured wing.
It took several months and so many antibiotics that I had developed issues solely from being on such heavy medication for as long as I was. My mental health deteriorated greatly because I was not able to attend class or work and so easily fell prey to all the feelings I’d had against another termination in the first place. At twenty-two years old, I had been through it three times. The very last time had dragged me through hell and all the way back again by my hair. I often thought of my child and of the decision I’d made. If it had really been worth all the blood, sweat, tears and medications that I’d been forced into. My body became an unknown creature to me. My relationship deteriorated. Things fell and then fell some more and finally broke in more ways than I ever could have imagined. My grief became so deep and so dark that I knew it would take years to heal completely from the consequence of my actions.
Though I am a small percentage of women that has had a botched abortion, it still happened. It blind-sided me and cost me so much in my life. I am still struggling to put all the pieces together, to find the rhythm in the madness and so far have come up empty handed. I just recently, after five months on hiatus, have been able to attend school again and go back to work but not without much trepidation. My old life seems but a distant dream, tainted by the darkness that fell around me for so long. I will never quite know where I got the strength to preserve but somehow I managed.
Abortion is not always something that provides relief. I really wish that there were more resources out there for women that suffer emotionally for long periods of time after making their decision, however uncomplicated the procedure might be. It still has all the potential and power to drag one into a very dark, very deep ocean of grief and emptiness. And as much as I am not ashamed of my choices, I feel jilted out of proper emotional support. I only wish in the future, for the women who do not immediately feel the relief and those that take time (perhaps months or even years) to circle around to acceptance and peace with their decision, that we can create a different environment out of all our experiences. One where a middle-ground does exist. One where messy clinics no longer get to take advantage of terrified young women in vulnerable positions. A universe where we can learn to hold each others hands and hearts through the struggle that is being faced with an unplanned pregnancy. No matter the decision, no matter the choice, we need to create more safe spaces for grief in our experiences rather than pin-pointing women who chose to terminate as those that feel only a great sense of relief ultimately from the decisions that they make in life. Unfortunately for most, nothing in life is ever as clear cut as we might hope it to be.