Since We're All Just Talking About Abortion, Here's my Abortion Experience and How it Relates to Loss
The day I turned 22, I was climbing up a mountain and having an abortion. I was in a loving relationship and had gone off of the pill—I felt like maybe it was causing some side effects that I hadn’t been aware of because I had started it during puberty, for severe cramps—about a year before. We were using the Fertility Awareness Method* and I did some math wrong in my head, and—oops!
I was in no way interested in having a baby at that time. My partner and I were running a bike shop in Cambridge, MA and I was planning on applying to graduate schools in the coming year. So I called Planned Parenthood, confirmed I was less than 10 weeks, and scheduled a visit for a medication abortion. I felt completely calm, much calmer than I had ever imagined myself feeling about getting OH SHIT ACCIDENTALLY PREGNANT: I knew what my options were and that I’d be able to choose from among them. And I did.
I went down to the clinic, where there weren’t even any protesters that I could see. No one bothered me, and everyone at Planned Parenthood treated me with respect and dignity (which is absolutely not always the case, especially for young, poor, or black patients, and which is horrifying). I talked to several people who asked me my reasons for seeking abortion care, counseled me on domestic violence to ensure I was choosing this of my own free will, and then I went into a room where I had a mandatory ultrasound to locate the pregnancy and confirm gestational age (the rates of efficacy for medication abortion go down significantly after 10-12 weeks).
Now, this is the kind of person I am: when I realized I was pregnant, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to regret choosing abortion. I had always been a supporter of abortion rights, but I had also always thought “I can’t know for sure how I would feel about choosing it for myself, if I’ve never been in that situation.” But here I was! So I thought about it a lot. And when I got that ultrasound, I felt like that was really going to be some kind of…something. Check, I guess. I had heard about laws forcing pregnant people to look at ultrasounds, on the premise that if they saw a fetus it would change their minds about abortion.
The tech gave me the option to look, or not look, at the ultrasound, because Massachusetts has humane laws on the books. But I felt like I should look, so I did. And something I had never expected happened: it made it all so clear to me. I felt something that was more like a revelation than anything I’ve ever felt before or since. This is just my body, I realized. That’s me. Looking at that grainy image of my pelvis I really felt like I understood something real. That wasn’t another life. It was just me.
So I went into another room with a doctor who explained the pills I would be given. The first one (mifepristone), she said, would terminate the pregnancy by blocking progesterone. The second (misoprostol), taken 24-48 hours later, would stimulate uterine contractions to expel the pregnancy. I took the first pill in front of her, and she sent me home with the second pill, some pain and nausea prescriptions, and home care and follow-up instructions. It was expensive, but it was simple, and honestly, for me it was no worse than a period (remember those bad cramps that put me on the pill at 15?). I climbed Mt. Washington and competed in my first bike race that weekend.
That was over ten years ago and I have never regretted it, even when I really tried to see if I could. Because of that abortion I have had opportunities that I never would have been able to take advantage of without it. Because of that abortion, I did not have to be a parent when I didn’t really want to. Now, in my 30s and trying to get pregnant, I feel a million times more ready to be a parent. Not 100% ready, but the difference between how I felt at 22 and how I feel at 33 is massive. I’m ready.
And honestly, that abortion has helped me in my recent pregnancy journey. I found out I was pregnant late last year, but that pregnancy only made it to five weeks. It sucked, I have no interest in pretending it didn’t. I struggled a lot. I even tried out thinking “if I hadn’t had that abortion all those years ago, I’d have a kid now” but I couldn’t really make myself feel that way. Instead, I found myself remembering that ultrasound. I thought about how it was my body doing all that stuff. And I realized that for me, there wasn't really a difference. That was an unwanted pregnancy, and this was a wanted one. The underlying experience was the same: the difference was me, and how I felt about it. This just wasn’t what I wanted, and I was really sad about it.
My abortion helped me realize that my pregnancy loss wasn’t traumatic. It wasn’t the loss of a child or the loss of myself as a parent or the loss of fertility or anything like that. It sucked and I cried for a long time and I was pretty depressed. I was lucky to have a partner that took the wheel for a while, and friends and family that were beautifully respectful of my needs. But in the end, what got me out of it was my respect for my own body and its agency. Just like when I was pregnant the first time, my body was just doing stuff it knew how to do. And this time, my body realized that this one wasn’t going to work out, so it did what it was supposed to. It did a good job. I’m grateful to my abortion for giving me the ability to see that.
I know that lots of people have different experiences of abortion, and different experiences of loss. I have been fortunate, I think, to have had the best possible experiences of both. Being early in pregnancy and in a state that supports reproductive rights, my abortion was accessible and straightforward; and it was uncomplicated, as was my loss. I have not had to experience either of these late in pregnancy. And I feel fortunate also that I have never ascribed to the belief that life begins at conception or that a pregnancy is a person. Not with my unwanted pregnancy, and not when mourning the loss of the future we tentatively, but excitedly, mapped out when we discovered that I was pregnant. They weren’t what I wanted, but that’s all they were.
*Which I still do now, by the way. I just do it better. For one thing, I found a partner that doesn’t complain about condoms, which I highly recommend to those who partner with penis-havers.