When I was 16, due to a very irresponsible pairing of an impetuous one-night stand and a few days of partying, I woke up one morning to discover I had mononucleosis and walking pneumonia. As if that wasn’t enough, my period was late.
I was on the pill at the time, but it was the only time I hadn’t used a condom with the pills, and I’d recently been on antibiotics and not known they could reduce the effectiveness of the pill. I’d laid in bed for days, sick with fever, but mostly with worry. My parents had been young when my mother had gotten pregnant, and when I’d started to become sexually active, I’d sworn constantly to myself any child I had in my lifetime would not be an “accident.”
In my life, at this point now, I have had that miscarriage, if that is what it was (it is well established that around 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, many so early as to go unnoticed or resemble a period — my instance was hardly unusual), one herbal abortion and one surgical abortion. When they tell you that no birth control is 100% effective, they aren’t kidding. That once, I got pregnant while on the pill. Once a condom slipped off, many years before the advent of emergency contraception, and before I knew how to make condoms work more effectively with lubricant and proper wear. When I had my surgical abortion, I was using natural family planning as a sole method.
Making the choice to abort is a big one. There may be many factors involved: our age, our financial status, our health, the quality, or lack thereof, of our lives, our readiness, our willingness. You may not be ready for a child because you are too young, too poor, you have children already you cannot support. There may be other factors: being pregnant may be a health risk for you or a child. You may be pregnant because of a rape. You or your partner may have conditions which will adversely affect a child: HIV, drug or alcohol addiction or dependency, an STI. You simply may not want a child or want to remain pregnant. In any of these situations, all of these conditions should be weighed, and all are valid. But even when it is the right choice, it is often a difficult one.
What I personally will not forget easily is the surgical abortion, and for some perhaps unlikely reasons. I remember sitting in the clinic with a group of women; all of them different. Some were younger than me, some were older, some richer, some poorer, some beautiful, some very plain. Most of them scared, very scared. Most were alone.
My pregnancy at the time had me torn. I’d loved dearly the partner I was with, and I’d taught children for years; I loved them and felt I would love to mother one. But the timing just wasn’t right, and it just didn’t FEEL right. My relationship with my partner was changing, I worked 80 hours a week running an alternative school, I was in my early twenties. I had no health insurance, and very little income. I’d had a “talk” with the presence within me, but nothing had happened. I’d drank the teas I’d made before for a natural abortion until I was sick from the taste of them, but nothing came of it.
By the time I had decided to go to the clinic, I felt strong about the choice I had made. It was early, only five weeks in, but there it was: a little dot on an ultrasound. The funny thing was, when I saw that dot, I did not think: there you are. Had I felt that speck was my child, I cannot say if I could have gone through it; it’s difficult to say in retrospect or in theory. But what was there was a ball of tissue, to me, my child wasn’t there — mine was that twinkling star that floated nearby, waiting until there was a life for it.
I opted to have an abortion without anesthesia. I felt going through this, to do it right, I must be fully aware of what I was doing the entire time and be mindful. I had no desire to be unconscious, or not feel the pain. During the procedure a nurse held my hand and I said the alphabet loudly while I dug my fingernails into her palm. The pain was intense, but it was short, almost like a shot, and I didn’t feel as if I had “lost” anything. I was wheeled to a recovery room where other women lie, most of them attached to IV’s, having chosen to receive anesthetic, or to be asleep during the procedure.
While I laid there, waiting my 15 minutes, a girl of about 16 woke up next to me crying and very disoriented. She called for a nurse, but there wasn’t one, so, feeling fine, I rose and kneeled next to her cot.
“Where am I?” is what she said. I explained she was in a clinic. “Is it over?” she asked. I told her it was, that she’d had an abortion, and she was laying where she was until she was more alert, and her bleeding slowed.
She then cried more, mostly in relief, telling me how scared she was before this, and how everyone around her had not supported her in her choice to abort, even though she was 16 years old, and poor, and did not want a child with her boyfriend at the time. She crawled her head into my arms and lay there, thankful it was over, and then asked me, looking right into my face, if I’d thought she’d done the right thing.
“Was it right for you and who that child might have become?” is what I asked, to which she nodded, very firmly. “Then you did the right thing,” I told her.
An abortion isn’t right for everyone, or for every situation. But if we cannot really welcome a child into our lives, or give he or she the most vital things life requires, in my mind we are doing neither ourselves, nor any child, a favor by bringing one to term. We are possibly robbing everyone involved.