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A few days before I flew to California to have my abortion I went hiking with my family and my significant other in a place I love. I felt like I was standing on a precipice in my life. I was myself but at the same time, I wasn’t. I thought that there would forever be a before and after for me.
I never imagined I would be a woman who got an abortion, no offense to anyone, I simply never imagined that I would do that (does anyone?). Despite having a daughter already, whom I'm very happy I had despite the difficulties with her father, I had an abortion when I found out I was pregnant this past spring. I felt an immediate sense of loss and a terrible sadness because I looove babies and a big part of me really wanted another child. I still struggle with it and vary between feeling fine and even at times forgetting about it, and then remembering and feeling so very sad again...I feel at times that I made a huge mistake and I have no idea how to get back what I had, and yet...if I could turn back the clock I would still be faced with my circumstances, nothing would have changed on that front, so that I end up thinking that I wish so badly I would have tried harder many years back to make my circumstances different just then.
by Eileen Drennen
The wipers make their slow dance across the windshield. Their constancy – like clocks and metronomes – is soothing. It comforts you to know the next sound is coming and the one after and the one after that, a rhythm to lull and fall into. Something to rely on.
Your mother crying in the passenger seat while trying to sound like she's just blowing her nose. From the back seat, you notice a silver pincurl clip she's missed in the back of her brown curls, which you consider grabbing for her but then don’t. Your father has both hands on the steering wheel. All you can see of him in the rearview mirror are the corners of his dark glasses and the slopey side of his gray felt fedora. All his attention is on the road, which seems to wind in sharp curves every couple miles. You don't care about seatbelts, just want to somehow stay right in the middle where you can see them both. Being pulled from one side of the car to the other as it hugs the twisty road is a relief, like being on one of those rides at the fair. It never does any good to fight the forces that swirl you around in circles, tumble you up and slam you down. All you can do is let go.
My abortion story starts long before my abortion procedure. Though, even today with the awareness I have now I wouldn’t have chosen differently, but maybe I would have and that’s ok. My decision was solely based on my belief in fear and shame and the wrath it would bring. Little did I know that not dealing with the belief in fear and shame made it real and it followed me long after the abortion. I almost died when I was around three years old. I was happily eating a square caramel candy when it got stuck far down my throat. My mother was luckily there and saw me in distress. She tried to remove it with her fingers, but was unable to. There was no one nearby. We lived on a remote farm in Pennsylvania. Not knowing what else to do, she grabbed me by my heels and shook me up and down while hitting me on the back. This was long before the Heimlich procedure was known. After try after try, the caramel finally became dislodged. I don’t consciously remember a thing, but my cellular memory hung onto to it and added meaning to it. The meaning that was attached was that the world is very scary and I might die any minute. So, to protect myself, I became anxious and worried about everything. I was scared of people, things, and situations. You name it, I was afraid. I was also extremely afraid of eating with people in new situations and always that I was going to choke, so I ate very, very slowly. I also couldn’t swallow pills till I was in my thirties. But being the ever survivor, I had a coping skill called defensiveness and perfect competence. I defended against everything and aimed to be perfect at everything. This lead to a somewhat small life inside myself, though I was always one to join and belong to everything to distract myself. I was very quiet, yet very argumentative with family and many times was anxious, depressed and often had rages in private. Striving to be perfect fit in nicely with my church’s idea of God, so I adopted their belief in a punitive God. Along, with my own journey, my father who was undiagnosed bipolar was one of the cogs of my wheel of anxiety. My parents never discussed his troubled life and I never asked. So, for many years I was living in a constant stage of fight or flight or freeze. So, when I got pregnant with my fiancé 9 months before the wedding at age 20, I saw no other alternative. Though I seemed damned if I do, damned of I don’t. I knew instantly I wanted an abortion. So I did. What I didn’t understand at the time is that I never really grieved properly, or so I could release the shame and guilt. With that lack of closure I was incomplete. I am turning 56 soon and it has only been in the last 3 years that I have told anyone, besides the father, my now husband. Currently, I don’t feel particularly triggered by thinking or talking about the abortion, but I know there are layers and layers of beliefs and emotions that are blocking my true essence. That is why am I thankful for all the teachers I have had the last few years and especially Kassi!
Two weeks ago I had an abortion.
I'm 35 years old, married. I teach at a small private liberal arts college in Georiga. The week I (unknowing) got pregnant was also the week I gave my notice to the administration that I would not be renewing my three-year visiting professor contract after the 2017/2018 academic year. In the nine months of being pregnant, I would also end my job a few weeks after birth and lose my health insurance a few weeks after that.
My husband and I woke up early on a Friday morning and drove two hours on back roads, to avoid traffic on Highway 75, to the feminist women's health clinic in Atlanta. Chosen because of the word feminist, but also because it had an all-female staff.
It was a gray morning. We were 45 mins early. They said on the phone to expect to be at the clinic for 4-8 hours that day. I hadn't eaten or had a sip of water since 10:30 pm the night before.
As I directed Robbie to the building and we started to turn up the drive I said: "Oh great, I hope I don't have to walk by protesters." 2 years earlier, when I was in grad school in Richmond Va, we had lived next door to an abortion clinic. Walking home from class and navigating the protestors seemed the norm then.
A volunteer escort flagged us down and told Robbie to drop me off at the top of the hill and then come down and park the car. We did as we were told and a friendly security women met us at the top took our IDs and instructed Robbie to drive back down to park and come back in to meet me.
The fading brick building had a vestibule with seats and a buzzer to let you in. I couldn't figure out how to get the door open. A woman sitting on the hard chairs gave me instructions in broken English.
I checked in and sat down with my paperwork. Robbie walked in a few minutes later and we relocated to a corner of the rectangular waiting room.
It was cold. That really icy air conditioning cold, like when you can smell the cold. I had left my jacket in the car thinking I may want something to cover up with on the way home. The air stung my bare legs and arms. They said to wear something loose. I had on an old pink jersey skirt and a gray tee shirt. I wanted to wear something I could throw away if I wanted/needed to. They said I might want also want socks. Tucked into my purse was a pair of yellow socks with the "We can do it" lady on them. Somehow I felt like wearing those might make me feel a little powerful. Or that they might give the doctor and nurses a chuckle?
There was a strange feeling in the air, one of sadness, grief and something else I couldn't really place. Maybe it was the air conditioning. The waiting room was scattered with 10 to 15 women and their support people. I was one of three or four white women there. Across from me, a young black woman sat with her legs pulled to her chest, coat covering her front. Her boyfriend/husband/friend/partner sat next to her with his laptop. Next, to me, Robbie was on his phone.
I filled out the paperwork. When I got to the part about the ultrasound -Georiga does not require you to look at the ultrasound before an abortion- Robbie looked away. I said "Do I want to see it? Hear it?" I asked. "I'm not telling you what to do. That is your choice." came the answer. I checked no.
A week and 3 days before I had bought a pregnancy test on a whim while at Publix buying a pie crust. I was planning on making a quiche. The women who checked me out apologized for breaking the frozen pie crust. My response was "don't worry, I'm just making a quiche" and as I left she wished me good luck. I thought "is that for the quiche or the pregnancy test?"
I decided on the way home I wasn't going to take the test, it was probably negative, I was being paranoid. My body has always been weird about missing periods and stuff. After making the quiche (cheese and chive, it was so good, I Instagrammed it AND sent a text to Robbie about how amazing it was) I poured myself a glass of OJ and watched The People Court. It was 11 am on just another Wednesday in July. As I headed to the bathroom while the credits rolled, I grabbed the test off the table on a whim and went to our bedroom bathroom. I pulled the test out and sat on the toilet. The pee came out like a gush and pulling the test up, the familiar horizontal blue line already starting to appear but as quick as the first, a vertical blue line followed and I froze.
Immediately I grabbed my phone and called Robbie, pacing back and forth at the foot of our bed. The discarded test feet away on the bathroom sink. Only that morning he texted that he had booked his flight home, 2 weeks from now. He didn't pick up but even before the call ended a text came through, "On the train, what's up?"
I started to type something like "I have to tell you something." Then hit the x button and started again. Delete. How do I tell him? So I just took a deep breath and typed.
I'm not kidding.
I'm freaking out.
His response came in between the last two messages. "No, you're not."
I ran to the bathroom and snapped a picture.
"About to go underground. I'll call you when I'm off the train." Came instantly back.
Back in the waiting room, I sat. A TV played the menu of a comedy starring an all black cast over and over. I kept thinking how there was so much weight in the room and how I wanted to do something to make everyone smile. That we should be bonding in this time of need. Sorrow? Relief? Happiness? Confusion? Uncertainty? Even though I didn't really feel like talking much either. I didn't know what to feel. Just strange that I was sitting in this room. The security women from outside came in at one point with a loud "Hey Y'all! How you all doing? It's HOT out there. I had to come in here and cool off. It's about to rain though so that's good! Just wanted to come say hi!"
Her joy was a strange but a welcome interruption that cut the tension if only for a moment. And then my name was called.
As I stood Robbie squeezed my hand, and I joined the 6 other women whose names were called as we were escorted through the double action doors. We sat scattered haphazardly in the 11 chairs that lined the room about the size of my office at school. The walls filled with two large birth control posters that looked like a color wheel from art class. The different types divided up by color. One in Spanish and the other in English. The DVD menu finally started the movie and a high school romantic comedy about the cool girl doing the uncool guy a favor and pretending they are friends started. The cast was primarily black and the girls in the small room all laughed at jokes I didn't get. The staff chatted back and forth about lunch plans and dates. It's just another day at work.
One by one the girls were called and then returned with more paperwork. Something to fill out and something to read. I tried to remember which girl had been called before me. There was an order. The women who had helped me with the buzzer sat down next to me and asked if I spoke Spanish. I smiled and shook my head, sorry I wasn't able to help her with her forms. She moved seats and asked someone else. They too shook their heads.
When my name was called, cheerful women with short blonde hair about my mom's age took me into the exam room and ask me to jump up on the table. As she got things ready She told me to pull my skirt up and my top down and then laughed and said: "other way around, I say this so much I get confused sometimes."
I pulled my shirt up and the waistband of my skirt down.
"How far along do you think you are?" as she yanked the already tattered elastic of my skirt further down, squirting goo on my belly and pushing down with the ultrasound thing, hard.
"I don't know, maybe 10 weeks?" Repeating the number I'd been told when I made the appointment and they asked the day of my last period.
I looked up at the ceiling as she moved the scope around almost like she was digging for something in my skin.
"9 weeks and 4 days. Pretty close." She gave my stomach a weak wipe and told me to sit up. She handed me papers and sent me back to the small room.
Robbie had gotten an internship in NYC for the summer. He'd been gone almost two whole months before I visited him there the first week of June. We'd had an interesting few years on the birth control front. When we got engaged Robbie decided that it was his right as a man to stop using condoms and refused to have sex with me until I was on something. Every birth control I had ever tried made me feel weird hormonally and I'd had migraines limiting my options. Having something implanted into me like an IUD scared the shit out of me, I'd tried nex-planon, because the arm felt less scary than my uterus, but after I bled for 6 months straight I decided that was a no go. We had spent a year using the pull out method and had finally settled on the Seinfeld famous sponge and for the last year, it had worked fine. Until it didn't.
I'd decided to escape the Georgia heat on my parent's farm in rural New Hampshire. I was due to get my period the week after I returned from New York and when it didn't come I wasn't super concerned. Like I said, My body has always been wonky with periods. I've gone for months without one. In high school, when I was still a virgin, I didn't get my period for 3 months and my mother kept asking me if I was pregnant. My answer was the snarky "unless it's with the Lord's child."
Now 35, the week after I didn't get my period I noticed that my nipples were really sensitive and there was a milky white discharge that was new. When I started cramping I just thought "ok, PMS. The lady is coming for me." But she didn't. Two weeks later Robbie met me in Maine and we celebrated our 3 wedding anniversary. One morning I was cramping so bad I asked him to bring me a coffee thinking maybe the caffeine would help.
I thought about taking a home pregnancy test but was pretty sure my period would show up any day. I drove home from NH in late July with stops in NYC and Richmond. I'd only been home a few days when I decided to make that damn quiche.
Back in the second waiting room, I filled out more paperwork. "Had I ever sought counseling," "What were my pregnancy symptoms." and family medical history things. The friendly lady had handed me a purple paper with what to expect after the abortion and a white paper giving me an idea of how the day would go. More waiting. I was called in for a blood test shortly after and then released to the big waiting room where Robbie, concerned rubbed my back and asked if I was okay. I answered yes.
I guess I was? I'd been doing things on my own for a while. I didn't seem like needed anyone to hold my hand, even though that's what I really wanted. But every time a nurse called my name I got up bravely and went through the doors alone because that's what I'd always done. As I waited, the comedy playing finished up and the menu began to play again.
Eventually, I was called in for payment. I sat at a desk while a woman asked me how far along I was, determining the cost. I asked if my insurance would cover it. They had told me when I made the appointment that someone would call me to let me know. They didn't. When someone called to confirm the appointment I asked again, the women on the phone told me someone would call me back that day. No one did. The cashier opened the door behind her and I heard someone tell someone else to change the movie, as the women helping me called for whoever was in charge of insurance things. She asked for my card and said she would check. I went back to the smaller waiting room I had been in before. The DVD menu for The Devil Wears Prada had started playing on a loop.
I was called back a few moments later. My insurance would cover up to 20%. I hadn't reached my 300 dollar deductible. I put the 400 dollars on my credit card. The one my very first "real" job paid, the card that supports my husband and me, the heavy blue card. "Makes me feel more important then I am" is my quip when people comment on it. Paid for my abortion. Something about that moment felt really awesome. To know that I can pay for this, I lived for so long on pennies that being able to not have to worry about where the 400 bucks would come from was an amazing feeling.
I was then ushered into a counseling session. On the wall behind the women, who looked about as old as one of my students was the quote "No women should build the world by destroying herself." Rabbi someone. I stared at it as she went over the paperwork I had filled out earlier. Nodding or shaking my head I willed myself to remember those words. They felt so comforting. I wasn't in a place to take care of someone else, taking care of myself was hard enough. She released me back to the main waiting room. Robbie asked if I was ok. The Devil Wears Prada started its opening credits.
One by one the women who had called before me disappeared and as Ann Hathaway was interviewing for her position at Composure magazine, my name was called. I hoped up too fast, almost forgetting what I was doing there. Robbie tried to squeeze my hand and whispered I love you as I walked away. I wish I'd hugged him or something. There were a million signs all over the place saying phones weren't allowed beyond the waiting room doors. I left my purse, We can Do it socks and phone with Robbie.
As I was lead further down the hall, the nurse who had taken my ultrasound was finishing her shift, she waved good-bye and laughed with the nurse leading me further into the building. She stopped outside a small dresser and handed me a hospital gown, a white sheet, and a large blue Ikea bag. The hospital gown would be open in the back so I was to wrap the sheet around me to cover up. The IKEA bag for my belongings. I was instructed to remove everything but my bra and socks.
As I turned the corner into yet another waiting room, 2 women I'd seen in the waiting room sat in the outfit I was about to don, waiting. Inside, the examining room turned waiting room the girl who had been curled up under her jacket was sleeping on her lap. Another woman was resting her head against the wall, eyes closed. I changed slowly in the attached bathroom and then sat. Nothing to do. I paged through some outdated magazines and then decided I had to pee.
A nurse came and escorted the women sleeping on her lap out, she had opted for the Xanax route instead of being put completely out for her procedure. The minutes past. I noticed the same quote on the wall again. My quote. I willed myself again to remember. I must remember. I peed again. And when I came out the tiny waiting room held the only three white women who had been in the main waiting room. I shifted in my seat feeling so stupid to have a white sheet tired at my waist. I decided I'd make a toga and made some comment about how annoying it was. The women to my left laughed and magically a conversation started.
The girl who was resting her head against the wall opened her eyes and told us she had come from Tennessee. She was 21 weeks along and hadn't known until last week when she started getting heartburn so bad a co-worker at the factory told her she might be pregnant. She and her husband didn't want kids. Tennessee doesn't allow abortions after 20 weeks, they were staying the weekend. The other women already had three children. The father of this baby had refused to wear a condom or to pull out, she had taken plan B, the generic kind. She didn't have the money to raise another child. The man's girlfriend had tracked her down at work and said: "you can't abort the kid, what if that's the next president." I laughed and said "Like that's going to stop you?" not thinking about the current political climate or where I was, only meaning that was stupid thinking. She gave me a weird look.
She explained that the friend who was here with her was someone who did not agree with abortion but was helping pay for the procedure. This woman understood that her friend could not have a fourth child and abortion was the best option.
I nodded and told them that I had just quit my job and would lose my health insurance a few months after the baby was born and it would be hard to find a new job while pregnant because of the industry I'm in. They asked what I did. I said was a professor at a small liberal arts college. Again, a strange look - I wasn't supposed to be here. I can support a child.
As the conversation evolved the women talked about how they didn't want to think of the baby as a baby, they didn't see the ultrasound. I stopped talking. For the past week, while I waited all I wanted was to talk to other women who had the same experience or thoughts. I had this gut feeling that this was not my baby. That this baby understood that, there was a reason they were here but it wasn't to be my child yet, this baby would come back to me at a time when it was ready. I want so desperately for these women to feel the same way I did about this choice. Looking back, maybe they did feel the same way. Scared and looking for community. So they talked through the fear.
"No women should build the world by destroying herself." hung over my head and I just kept thinking how very true it was.
Soon I was called in to get my iv put in soon after. A sweet old grandma like nurse who I had noticed on my many trips back and forth called me to a little examing room. I had heard her speaking to the other women like they were her daughters and I hoped that she would be the one taking care of me. She chatted friendly to me and explained that she was giving me an 800-milligram ibuprofen to ease the cramps when I woke up. She handed me another pill and a small glass of water. I remembered I hadn't had anything to drink or eat since 10:30 the night before. I gulped down the small bit of liquid and swallowed the pills.
I looked at the clock. It was 1:30 pm.
The older nurse told me I'd be getting my IV put in and no sooner said then a young black nurse in purple scrubs came in. She tried to find my vain and poked about, spilling my blood on the clean white sheet that covered my lap. When she finally inserted the IV, she apologized and wiped my arm and told me to back to the waiting room.
I sat and waited. There was a new woman in the small room. My sisters were chatting away about life now. I waited. Silent.
It couldn't have been more than 15 mins later but it felt like an eternity, they called my name. The nurse who had handled my IV lead me to the operating room. I carried my IKEA bag with me. She placed it on a chair and told me to get up onto the examination table. I did as I was told.
The room was all white. bright white. Clean. Sterile.
The normal foot holders of the gyno were replaced by big tan calf holders. The nurse told me to place my legs on the holder. As I tried to maneuver my way into the position my gown caught underneath me and I gave an awkward laugh as I pulled the fabric from my butt crack and exposed my bits to the world. Why hadn't I thought to shave? Too late now. She took the blood-stained sheet and draped it over my exposed vagina and said she would be right back.
For a moment I was alone. I lay on the table looking at the ceiling. Somewhere off to the right, someone had doodled flowers and a few words on the ceiling. I wish now I had taken that moment to feel the feeling of being with myself and my baby, whose life would be unlived until another time. But instead, I just lay there. Terrified and numb.
All at once a rush of women entered the room. Another grandmotherly woman came over to me and said she would be my anesthesiologist. If I'm honest, I thought, "wow they let anyone do this job huh?" But she had a kind look in her eye and her scrubs had a lovely paisley print on it that I wanted to tell her I liked.
The Doctor entered. She was tall with short blonde hair and reminded me of Jenn Colella, who plays Beverly the first female American pilot in the musical Come From Away. Ironically the show I saw the week I got pregnant. She introduced herself and gave me a brief overview of what was going to happen. She asked if I was ready and I said yes.
The paisley-clad grandma took my hand and said she has started the IV. I looked at the ceiling and just felt so scared. I knew that I couldn't go under thinking about how terrified I was so I forced myself to think about something I loved that made me happy. Scotland. I just kept thinking Scotland as I closed my eyes.
When I woke up I was in the recovery room. I was only slightly confused for a moment and then I burst into tears. Remembering what I had just done. The nurse asked if I thought I could walk over to the arms chairs waiting by the bathroom. I started to nod my head and then paused and said through tears, "wait a minute, no I don't feel like I can. I need to take care of myself. I deserve not have to feel like I need to walk over there" The nurse laughed and said well all right then and wheeled me over. The grandma who had given me my pills before appeared and smiled at me. She told me to sit as long as I needed and that my clothes were in the bathroom.
Slowly, I got into the lounge chairs, I tried to stop the tears but I couldn't. Someone handed me a tissue. Though my tears I gave a little laugh and said: "I can't believe I'm crying right now." The nurses gave a light-hearted chuckle and one said "Well in a way, it's like you've had a truth serum. You'd be surprised what people do when they come out of being put under." Thinking my reaction was more because of the drugs then the weight of what I'd just gone through.
As another woman was wheeled in, I felt like I should probably leave so I made myself get up and change in the bathroom. I probably should have waited a little longer, I felt weak and groggy as I walked the 3 or 4 steps to the bathroom. I changed slowly back into my pink skirt and soft gray shirt. I almost forgot to put a pad in my underwear. I hadn't worn a pad since middle school. It was big and thick and bulky, the kind that feels like you have a pillow in your pants.
As I exited the restroom, Grandma told me she had called my ride and they should be there soon. I sat and munched on some pretzel they had given me. The nurse chatted and told me everything would be fine and asked if I had any questions. She asked if I had taken extra pads, she gave me a few extra just in case. Her kind smile made me feel as if she knew how hard this was and how scared I had been.
Soon enough my black Yaris pulled into the frame of the TV screen above the desk and Grandma said I think your ride is here. She helped me up and walked me to the door. Giving me a squeeze on my shoulder, she reminded me to go for my 5-week checkup and to not have sex or sit in water for at least 2 weeks.
As I walked out the door, into the fresh air, Robbie hurridly got out to open the passenger door and help me in. He shut the door and pulled out. I laid the seat back and started to cry, as we pulled out I asked Robbie if the protesters were still there. He said no, the rain had driven them away. As we pulled in to Atlanta traffic, into late afternoon Friday traffic all I could think was it was over.
Except it wasn't.