I Had an Abortion ... And the Only Grief I Experienced Was Being Told I Had to Wait

Yes, I had an abortion. I had it exactly one week ago (as of writing this piece), at roughly 5 weeks along. I never questioned my desire to obtain an abortion, and have since felt absolutely no regret, remorse, or shame regarding it. Rather, I am relieved, happy, and healthy. And I want to talk about that.

There is plenty of rhetoric, you see, about abortion being a source of pain and grief, or an otherwise dirty, shameful secret for women who choose to terminate pregnancies. And for some women, these things are true. The point of this piece, though, is to illuminate the reality that many other women don't experience negative emotions after an abortion, and the "argument from regret," therefore, does not speak for all women. I am writing this to give voice and legitimacy to women -- such as myself -- who experience great relief after an abortion without any accompanying negative emotions.

This is a rather different type of piece for me, as it's based mostly on a personal experience. I write, discuss, and debate abortion quite often, usually through the lens of bodily autonomy (the trump card regarding abortion rights), but that isn't what this piece of writing is about. If you're unfamiliar with the bodily rights argument (or have read otherwise weak objections to it), or wish to read my refutations to arguments regarding "just don't have sex," "personal responsibility," "fetal rights," or a "special responsibility" regarding deprivation of bodily rights to pregnant women alone, then please read my most recent piece on these very issues here. Otherwise, please understand that this piece is to specifically address my personal experience.

I realize that I may lose friends over my choice to be vocal about my abortion, and that people may be turned off that I am not expressing the socially requisite shame and guilt over a "selfish" (as some will see it, I am sure) decision, but that is precisely the reason why I feel the need to be vocal. We need to lift the veil of social stigma surrounding this very common and very safe medical procedure, and I intend to play a part in doing just that.

I'll preface my story by saying that I terminated what would have been my third pregnancy. My first pregnancy was successful and resulted in a live birth (my son is a happy, healthy GATE student whom I love very much). My second pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage at roughly 8 weeks. So when I found out I was pregnant again over Memorial Day weekend, I had plenty of experience to draw upon when considering what enduring another pregnancy was likely to be like. Neither of my first two pregnancies were easy (I'm a Type 1 diabetic which adds complications, I gained lots of weight, retained lots of water, and experienced high blood pressure and extreme fatigue and nausea, among other things). This isn't the point, though -- regardless of my reasoning, which included physical, mental, and personal reasons regarding my body and my life, I decided right away to not try and complete this third pregnancy.

I not only didn't want more children (a decision I made years ago), but I didn't want to be pregnant, either.

After a day of pondering my situation on my own, I told my partner about the pregnancy and that I wouldn't be completing it (I cared about his input, but had already been vocal about the fact that if I were to ever become pregnant again, I would likely have an abortion, so this wasn't shocking for him). He was 100% supportive of me and my decision (as I knew, luckily, he would be), so I got to experience the privilege of being close to loved ones who, instead of judging me, supported me.

And that is important to note -- this decision was all my own. I made my decision before involving anyone else. Shame-and-guilt-free abortions are also coercion-free abortions, which is a huge aspect of pro-choice mentality. Reproductive choice means that empowerment comes from a person's ability to make their own decisions. Such an empowering decision can mean keeping a pregnancy or it can mean terminating a pregnancy, but this decision, about whether to donate one's body for nearly a year (which is what makes it the woman's decision and not a joint one), must rest with the woman alone. Therefore, part of what made my own decision empowering and positive was that it was mine. I specifically wanted my decision to be free of others' input, which is why, with the exception of a very few family members and friends, I remained silent about my decision until now.

I scheduled the abortion for the following weekend. I was going to need to be out of commission, so to speak, for an entire day, and as school was still in session (I'm a teacher), a Saturday appointment made the most sense. In the interim time, I thought about the varying options the nurse on the phone had given me: Would I want to abort using oral medication, or would I want a surgical termination? Would I use sedation or try to endure what was supposedly a mild procedure without it? I hadn't made any actual decisions regarding these choices when I entered the clinic that Saturday.

This day, though, is when I experienced the only pain and grief that I associate with this process, and it had nothing to do with any of those choices. When obtaining a legal abortion, the first step is to usually receive an ultrasound so that doctors can date the pregnancy. (Interesting aside -- for all of the debate surrounding "mandatory ultrasounds," people should know that, regardless of state laws regarding ultrasounds, most medical professionals will not perform an abortion without one. This is due to the fact that, not only do they need to date a pregnancy, but they also need to physically see the pregnancy so that they know what to look for in follow up ultrasounds to ensure that the abortion was complete. They also need to make sure that any pregnancy is not ectopic, hence another reason for needing to see it in the uterus. But the "ultrasound debate" should be about what a doctor is forced to show or say -- not the ultrasound itself, which is pretty much mandatory everywhere.)

Anyway, the nurse doing my ultrasound could not find the pregnancy, either topically or vaginally. She did blood work to confirm the pregnancy (and I'd already done two urine tests), so she told me that either the pregnancy was ectopic or it was simply too early to see the embryo that had embedded in my uterus. Only time would tell which it was. And either way, I would not be receiving an abortion on that day. I'd have to play the waiting game. She told me to make another appointment for a week out so we could try again.

I, however, was not in the mindset to make any future appointment. All I knew was that I was pregnant, I didn't want to be, and yet I would be forced to remain pregnant for another week until the embryo grew some more (or I started showing signs of an ectopic pregnancy). I felt completely out of control of my body and, by extension, my life. There is much discussion among pro-choice people about mandatory waiting periods (some states have enforced 24-hour, 48-hour, or, in extreme cases, 72-hour waiting periods before a woman can access an abortion so that she can "think about it"), and how much distress and undue burden this can put on some women. I was basically being put on a week-long waiting period (due to medical reasons, granted, rather than a desire to make me "think about" my decision), which, although rooted in legitimate medical science, caused me deep emotional distress. I left the clinic in tears, intent to take matters into my own hands.

My partner did his best to be supportive and keep me logical, but I was anything but logical throughout the rest of the weekend. I remember feeling numb and in a deep state of panic. I called every other abortion provider in my area, only to find out that, indeed, everyone requires positive evidence of a pregnancy through an ultrasound. I contacted some pro-choice Facebook friends to see if they knew ways around this, or else knew of providers who would perform abortions without the ultrasound. I even considered doing my own abortion through illegal means. I contacted my father (who lives in Canada) and asked him if there was any way he could obtain abortion pills and mail them to me (and he was very gentle and loving as he explained to me how much, of course, that would implicate him as well, and how dangerous that could be for me). I read online about herbs that were supposed to induce miscarriages. I thought about driving down to Mexico to get abortion pills over-the-counter. I even came close to ordering abortion pills online.

This, however, is when my partner really demanded that I start looking at things logically. I could, he explained, try something illegal and dangerous (and he wasn't going to challenge me or try to control my choices), which could mean potentially becoming ill, dying, or winding up jailed ... or I could just wait a week and still end my pregnancy safely and legally. As out-of-control and desperate as I was feeling, I'm usually pretty good at making myself see things from a logical perspective eventually, and I chose the latter. Thankfully.

I actually rescheduled the abortion for nearly two weeks later, as I had plans with a long-time friend from Utah, whom I hadn't seen in over a year, the following weekend. So I trudged my way through the final week of school, and through my getaway with my friend, feeling very ... pregnant. The extent of my fatigue made everyday activities, including carrying a conversation, acts of conscious will. I could barely keep food and drink down. I didn't feel like myself, and I know I certainly didn't act like myself around others.

But, finally, that following Thursday I returned to the clinic for my abortion (12 days after my initial attempt), feeling mildly concerned that there still might be an issue finding the pregnancy through an ultrasound. There were no such issues, though. The pregnancy was observable with a topical ultrasound, and the kind staff immediately set me up with an IV in my hand to await my procedure. And the overwhelming feeling that dominated my emotional state was relief that I was not being sent away again.

I'll add here that I decided that morning to have a surgical abortion rather than a medical one. This is because, after hearing my options, I learned that medical abortions don't always work (though they do the majority of the time), and they require follow-up appointments to be sure that everything was expelled. They can also, due to the fact that they induce a miscarriage, result in a long and painful abortion (though this isn't the case for every woman). The surgical procedure, I was told, could be confirmed as complete that very day, and I'd likely be on my feet and back to normal life by the following day. It sounded like the best option for me. I also chose to be sedated because, as the nurse told me, why be potentially uncomfortable during a procedure when you can make yourself more comfortable? (No, in case you haven't guessed this about me, I don't think that women should punish themselves, or be punished, with a painful abortion because of the nature of the process. The very idea is asinine.) I was told the procedure would feel like very, very intense menstrual cramps for about 5-10 minutes, which I thought I could handle well, but opted for sedation due to simple comfort.

The doctor gave me the sedation medication through the IV in my hand (once I was ready for the abortion), and I felt it immediately. I remember thinking about how strong it was, and then ... I was waking up. I actually fell asleep (which the nurse told me was a possible side effect of the sedation), and therefore remember nothing about the actual abortion procedure. I woke up, and everything was finished. The nurses helped me up and took me to a recovery room. The sedation did leave me feeling horribly nauseous (I threw up into a bag a few times, and twice again once I arrived home, even though I hadn't had anything to eat or drink that morning), but other than that the procedure and its aftermath were incredibly smooth and complication-free.

My partner drove me home, and I rested for most of the afternoon. Once I woke up again, though, I felt a hundred times better than I had in weeks. Even though the pregnancy hormone that likely causes fatigue and nausea probably remained in my body for a some time after the abortion, I felt physically like a new person. I had more energy, could hold conversations, had a desire to do things with friends and family, and actually wanted to eat. I continued to feel better as the day progressed, and as more days passed. My partner commented daily about how noticeable the change in me was. Physically, I was happy, healthy, and relieved.

My health, my body, and my life were no longer being interrupted by a parasitic relationship that I had no desire to maintain. My feelings about that were only positive -- again, I was happy and relieved. Not once did I cry over my abortion, nor did I feel a need to. Not once did I regret my decision. Not once did I think about what "might have been." The only grief I felt during the entire process, again, was being told I had to wait. Perhaps (as some will say) these are selfish feelings, but, lest we forget that this is my body and my life in question here (and, no, the embryo had no "right" to reside in and use my body if I didn't want it to), I don't think that "selfish" feelings and actions are always unjustified. After all, this is my life to live, my choices to make, and the aftermaths of those choices are mine to own in whatever ways I happen to own them.

No, this process was not fun (most medical procedures aren't), and I am therefore certainly not chomping at the bit to have another abortion. I have always been, and still am, an advocate of safe sex and preventative birth control. But the need for abortion will always exist, and it's important to remember that many women, every day, choose it without regret or remorse.

I am one of those women, and proud to be a voice of legitimacy for our shared experiences.