“If you want to play you have to pay…” these are the words my mother always muttered to me in my teenage years. These are the words that hold so much truth, now, when I’m out of high school, out of university, and living abroad in Korea.
Here’s my story. This is a re-cap of the past year. Romantically, your personal life is much different outside of university. It’s so much more passionate. I’ve been abroad for a year now. I’ve fallen in love deeply and I’ve now experienced loss. All the while growing as an individual and shaping into who I’m supposed to be.
Abortion. Abortion is a heated topic whether you are pro choice or pro life there isn’t always a right answer. Let me tell you why. My boyfriend who I’m madly in love with is Jordanian. This can feel quite limiting at times. In more ways than one. He’s also a graduate student and that brings on its own set of issues in and of itself.
This month we found out I’m pregnant. We are about to make the hardest decision of our lives. Not only is it breaking us individually but I’m worried about the future we have together. If we go through with this… We don’t know the side affects it’ll have on me emotionally… I’m so terrified of being filled with regret. So terrified of loosing everything I’ve ever wanted.
He thinks rationally, logically, and to be honest I think that’s where his success stems from. Maybe I’m too much of a dreamer…a believer… sometimes I think so optimistically it’s painful. I’m a natural risk taker and go with my gut. Something tells me if we keep it everything will work out. Maybe even better than we had ever imagined. The toughest part is that yes logic is great in black and white situations but this one has a hell of a lot of grey areas.
I feel so much pain on the inside my heart, it feels like it’s going to burst right out of my chest. There’s also the part of me that thinks everything will be fine after some time when we loose it. The burden of it all is stopping a possible life. A life that could, in fact, develop a cure for a deadly disease or do something else equally or more incredible.
I feel empty. The choice has been made. We are heading to Seoul to perform the surgery. There’s no looking back after today. The future either way is more unknown then it ever has been. I’m terrified. Have I already said that? Yes. But I’m so scared one decision that goes against my values could be a catalyst for a future that is never what I intended. I’ve never felt so torn about anything. This is a total nightmare.
It’s post surgery. I’m on a train back to Busan and the worst of it is finally over. Yesterday was the toughest day of my life so far.
Arriving In Seoul.
As soon as we got off the train we made our way to the hotel. My boyfriend kindly booked a nice place, which I recommend doing to anyone who has to travel far to have the surgery done safely. The hotel was dark on the outside and almost a gloomy sort of modern art deco on the inside. The mood of the hotel was tremendously fitting for the type of experience we were about to embark on. We dropped off our suitcase and then were quickly on our way to the hospital. I was so nervous and due to what little values and religious beliefs I still have- I was praying that God would forgive me for what I was about to do.
Earlier on the train ride, my boyfriend had discussed no matter what he would support me. If there was any medical risk for me, or I just didn’t want to do it, we would leave immediately.
Arriving At The Hospital.
The place was filled with good energy when we walked in. The nurse who gave us our initial consultation was like an angel. She was exactly the nurse I needed to do this. She was so supportive and non-judgmental. Which let me tell you are rare in Korea where the laws are strict and becoming a mother is almost expected from the women here.
She consulted us and I began to cry. She comforted me and explained what would happen next. I had to get a sonogram and they had to sterilize me both vaginally and orally. There was a language barrier. My boyfriend who speaks perfect Korean wasn’t allowed in the room with me. The surgeon who checked me seemed cold, but the nurse was extremely nice. Seeing the embryo again on the screen was the hardest part. It had grown a few centimeters more. (The reason why I say embryo and not fetus is because I was exactly five weeks. At five weeks there is no brain development and it doesn’t know it’s alive until week six. I’m not justifying this, again there was no “right” choice, but it is a scientific fact. It has the same life capacity as a tulip flower at this point in the pregnancy and no nerve endings to feel.)
It was a little uncomfortable but nothing in comparison to the pain that was about to follow. They gave me a pad the size of a diaper to wear and I was told to go back in the waiting room amongst the other sour-faced couples also waiting for what I assumed was the same. Though it is illegal over 350,000 procedures are done in South Korea each year. Everything is cash, you can only be in your first trimester, and you’re taking on an under the table risk. Being a foreigner, I felt terrified putting so much trust into people outside of my home country. But I knew if I didn’t do it now I wouldn’t be able to come back once the embryo was a fetus and could feel. The thing was, I already felt so much love for the baby and still do. Your body begins to change in an unimaginable way. I felt so protective. My body was telling me no one was allowed to harm the baby and not to do it but my brain told me this was the most logical choice.
The next step was to be called to go into the doctor’s office. My boyfriend was allowed to enter at this point. She explained the procedure. Everything had a 96% safety rate but of course, there is always a risk. She only spoke Korean and talked so fast. But she kept reassuring us at five weeks it’s not a baby yet, just an egg, nothing has developed, and not to be worried. I continued to wipe the tears that streamed down my face. We signed a paper that legally stated if something were to go wrong there was essentially nothing we could do. We signed. Again, I felt like I wanted to back out. I felt like running away.
They took us to one of the private rooms and told me to relax. As I lay there, I continued to cry but my boyfriend kept wiping my tears, holding my hand, and telling me everything was going to be okay. Then it started. The screaming. I thought someone was giving birth. Someone was having the same surgery I was about to undergo. She was screaming so violently. It was terrifying to hear and I was next. My boyfriend asked the nurses in the hallway what was happening to her. He reassured me that it was only due to the pain she felt from having to go to the restroom. I didn’t believe him.
The Surgery Room.
Five minutes later, my name was called and they told me to go to the restroom first. They continued to tell me that the girl was okay and not to worry. They took me into the surgery room and gave me directions in Korean. I understood most but the room was something out of my worst nightmare. The ceiling held bright fluorescent lights, a flat surgical table with straps, and stainless steel surgical tools everywhere. The male surgeon from earlier came in, said hello, and grabbed my hand to comfort me. It was the smallest gesture but it was exactly what I needed. Somehow it made me feel strong. That I could handle this.
They propped up my legs, inserted an IV into my arm, and started the surgical procedure. They told me to relax. I tried to stop being so tense. All I could think was I’m not sure I can handle this for fifteen minutes. When you’re feeling the initial pressures of the surgery, that amount of time, though it’s short, seems like a lifetime. Then everything went black.
Before I knew it I was back in the private room. Pink and adorned with butterflies. Which I know sounds silly but butterflies symbolize so much for me for my grandmother adored these small but wonderful creatures. I knew she was with me. I also instinctively knew the baby would’ve been a girl.
As I woke up, I felt the most pain I have ever felt in my entire life. I started screaming in agony just as the girl before me had. Now I understood the real reason why she screamed. My boyfriend tried comforting me but all I could do was scream. The original nurse we consulted with also ran in and kept telling me in Korean “Don’t scream, it’s okay”. I remember pushing everyone away. This only lasted ten to fifteen minutes but it seriously felt like someone was taking a sharp bladed stainless steel knife and berating my insides. I felt like my insides had been butchered. This is something I will never be able to forget. Ingrained in my mind forever.
The pains started to cease and my boyfriend lost color in his face and seemed terrified. He kept asking if I was okay and all I could do was continue to wale in pain. When I finally felt like I could talk I told him I was okay. As the pain started to decrease, it started to feel more like sharp menstrual cramps, which I could handle. I felt faint. They tell you not to drink water or eat for five hours prior. At this point it had been almost seven. They gave me antibiotics and painkillers to take for three days. They then encouraged me to come back for a checkup soon. It’s so critical for the first few weeks you eat healthy, don’t drink or smoke, and avoid any physical activity. Otherwise, you can get an infection.
I must say I felt a form of relief. A relief the decision had been made, relief the surgery was over, and relief I didn’t feel regret about the decision. At least not yet. This is how I knew everything would be okay and how it would make me stronger. My boyfriend and I are not physically, mentally, or financially prepared to be parents. At lease the kind of parents that we believe everyone deserves-the kind neither of us had growing up. Hopefully, my body will continue to heal physically. I know mentally it will take time. But having someone who loves and supports you by your side the entire time is the only way I can imagine having done this.
I used to be against abortions. I’m still against them if the baby is past five weeks and can feel. But I think every case is especially unique and until you are the one in this position, making this decision, which unfortunately has no real right answer- please do not judge others. I was told by multiple doctors I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant unless I went to a fertility doctor a year prior to being ready. If it happened to me, it can happen to any woman out there who’s been told the same or even taking contraceptives “safely”. Trust me- I support every single one of you. And if there are any women reading this and you feel totally alone, your partner has abandoned you, please please please do what you know is the right choice for you.
I know it’s not an easy choice but here are the factors that played in my mind leading to the abortion. The cons outweighed the pros:
- I consulted my closest friends and they supported me 100% either way. Tell your friends that have been and you know will be there for you through anything.
- I had a loving, supportive boyfriend who did everything he could to make this a less painful experience. He stayed with me every night before we made the decision, he supported anything I wanted and didn’t try to coerce me, he found a way to get us a nice place in Seoul to stay where I could heal, and he will live with me during the mental healing process the rest of the month. I’m blessed to have found a strong man like him.
- The thought of being a mother scares me to death. I’m 100% not ready. Some argue you are never really ready but I disagree.
- I’m 23 and have loads of undergraduate debt to pay. Though I make a decent salary, I barely have enough some months.
- My mom had me young and I saw what it did to her mentally. I don’t believe in repeating cycles if you can choose not to.
- My boyfriend and I are from different countries. He can’t legally work in the USA unless we marry. We have been dating seven months and are nowhere near ready for marriage.
- It would burden and break both of our families. I couldn’t live with myself. I’m also the oldest sibling. I have four brothers. They are tight on money as it is.
- I want to use these years to progress in my career so one day when I am ready I will be able to give my child the best life possible.
These may sound like excuses to some but this is the reality. I know some people make it work, but I knew I wasn’t at a place where I was ready. I admire those who do. I have so much more respect for my own mother now and all the young mothers out there. Maybe some would say abortion is the weaker choice. But like I said you have to be strong either way and nothing feels 100% right. Not to mention we are in the 21st century where women have a voice.
Of course there is always going to be doubt. There’s no perfect answer to an unplanned pregnancy. It’s a choice you never expect yourself to have to make. It’s a choice I would never wish on anyone.