It’s 12 pm on a warm, sunny Wednesday in May. I graduated from a four-year degree program about four weeks ago, and the summer before the rest of my life has just begun. Outside my townhouse, kids scream, chalk scrapes the sidewalk, and park swings squeak through the air. I stare through the back window.
Outside, everything is the same. But for me, something is different.
Today is the day I’m having an abortion.
Slurping my last sip of strong, black tea, I wave goodbye to my parents, toss my teabag in the trash and place my mug in the sink.
I’m going to my friend’s place to sleep over. In South Asian culture, we don’t talk about abortion. We keep our sexual health to ourselves in general – the expectation is that you remain a virgin until marriage – and abortion is a complete taboo. If my parents knew where I was really going, I’d probably be slapped for the first time in over a decade. My mom would cry. They would wonder where they went wrong.
I hop on the bus and settle in for the hour-long trip to A’s place, mulling over how I got here.
Back in April, one of my best friends invited me over to his place. Every few months, we got together, got drunk out of our minds, and watched movies or played video games. That night, we switched on a horror movie. With a bottle of Ciroc vodka between us, his cat purring in my lap, and a lot of catching up on life to do, it was set to be a night for the books. And it was undoubtedly fun.
Half an hour in. We’d taken three shots apiece. The movie screeched on. It wasn’t very good, but I was scared all the same. I never really liked horror movies – they gave me serious nightmares. The adrenaline was what I was there for. A little girl got possessed, and I was in for the ride.
An hour in. We slowed down a bit and were at five shots each. I stroked the sleeping white and orange fluff ball on my thighs when the little girl’s disfigured face flashed unexpectedly in front of the camera. My friend grabbed my thigh and I jumped and squeezed my eyes shut.
An hour and a half in. We’d had seven or eight shots. The priest performed an exorcism. The little girl’s parents cried but they wouldn’t leave the room. The little girl’s head did a 360 and my jaw dropped. My friend’s arm extended over my shoulders and he pulled me into his side.
Two hours in and the credits were playing when I could no longer count how many shots we had downed, or tell his mouth from mine. The cat had stretched off of my legs and wandered over to its bed to sleep about 15 minutes ago. As the credits wind down and the screen goes blank, my friend takes my hand and leads us from his squishy couch to his cold bedroom.
A week later, I boarded a flight across the world on a voluntourism trip. My friend and I talked every day as we normally would, as I helped build a road, explored a new culture, tried new foods, and made new friends.
I was supposed to get my period on my trip, but I assumed that my body was thrown out of whack with all of the traveling.
Two weeks later, I flopped back on my bed in my hometown, smooshed my hiking bag in my closet to be dealt with eventually, and slept for a good two days. It was when I woke up on the third day that it hit me – I was actually really late.
As I showered and threw on clean clothes to hang out with A that day, my mind scrambled, counting the days since my last period. I screwed up my face, thinking that couldn’t be right. This could not be happening to me. Anxiety and panic took over my entire being. I could not fathom what might happen next. Would my parents find out? Was I going to have a baby? What was an abortion like? Where could I get one? Should I tell the friend I’d slept with?
I was in disbelief, but on the way to the bus I stopped by the drugstore. With my hood on, I bought a pregnancy test from an Indian uncle who glared at my bare ring finger.
I hopped on the bus to meet A at Starbucks. When I got there, I power walked to the bathroom and shoved my tights towards the floor. I unboxed the little white stick, peed on it, and set it on the toilet paper holder. Those were some of the most excruciating minutes of my life.
Then the stick told me I was pregnant and my body turned to jelly. My face went numb, my heart raced, and I could barely pull my tights up, let alone stand up.
Twenty minutes later, when I was able to steady my breathing, I laughed. I pulled up my pants, tossed the dirty stick in the trash and walked back into the cafe to meet A. Over coffee, I told her everything and cried until there were no tears left. By the end of the conversation, we knew what we had to Google. We found a clinic nearby and I booked an appointment.
The next few days were full of terror. I had no idea what was going to happen, I knew that there was a fertilized egg inside of me which was traumatizing, especially because at this time in my life, pregnancy was not a thing to celebrate. I was supposed to focus on my career, make money, buy a house, buy a car, and settle down first.
I had to keep my head down, abstain from crying, and wait until my appointment on Wednesday. My life as I knew it depended on me keeping quiet.
It worked. The bus pulls up in front of A’s apartment building and she meets me in the lobby.
“Ready to go?” she asks.
An Uber takes us to the hospital, where we take the elevator a few floors to the clinic. A is asked to wait in the main lobby, so she goes to grab a coffee. I fill out a few forms about my sexual and medical history. I fork over $50 cash. And I’m given a hospital gown, which I don behind a curtain in a sterile room. I’m freezing when I sit in the waiting area.
First, they check if I’m actually pregnant, because sometimes, the stick can be wrong. I pee in a cup, then they do an internal ultrasound. Once they’re sure there’s something to take out of me, I go back to the waiting room.
When I’m called back in, I lie down on the doctor’s table, legs spread wide. I’m given an injection in the crevice of my right arm that makes me drowsy, and my breath comes in pants. The women doing the procedure are hard. Their features, their voices. One holds my hand and tells me to breathe normally – if I breathe so heavily, I’ll faint.
So I control my breath as the other women stick tools inside of me. It feels like the worst menstrual cramps I’ve ever had in my life and I bite my lip so I don’t cry.
In about three minutes, the abortion is over. They’ve sucked the life out of me. I pull up my underwear – the only thing I kept on under my gown – which has been fixed with a pad for any post-procedure bleeding. I’m told that my period will likely surprise me in a few weeks.
The woman who held my hand escorts me to the curtain room to put my clothes back on, then to a row of reclining chairs, where five other women sit with juice boxes and cookies. They’ve just had abortions, too. Nibbling on my own cookies and sipping on my own apple juice, I’m told to rest for half an hour.
The girl beside me leans over and asks what something on a form she needs to fill out means.
As the 30 minutes pass, several women cycle in and out of those reclining chairs. I think about how many women have had abortions in my community, and remain invisible. The invisible abortion women.
When my 30 minutes are up, I’m booted from my chair. Nauseous, I meet A in the lobby to pick up my antibiotics prescription. I almost faint at the counter, but A holds me up. We swipe my pills and Uber back to her place.
On A’s bed, we pop open her laptop and queue another horror movie. We talk, we laugh, and she tells me I don’t ever have to speak of this again if I don’t want to.