TW: rape, abortion
This post is inspired by a guest post on The Belle Jar written by a transman who was sexually assaulted, became pregnant and then had an abortion.
I can’t imagine how horrifying it would be to become pregnant on top of – not just sexual assault, but a hate-crime-attempt-to-erase-your-authentic-personhood sexual assault. I wanted to share this person’s story, because I think it’s piece of the grand whole of abortion stories that should be shared and weighed and acknowledged. Other than expressing horror and a deep hope that all those men were caught, tried, and sentenced for what they did, I don’t know what to write. My mind is stunned by the cruelty and sickness that lives in some people.
When I read the author’s comment about how we never hear the “average” abortion stories made me decide to post my own abortion story. I had an abortion. It was probably, as abortions go, mostly “normal”, though it had its disturbing moments. It wasn’t a physical health life-or-death situation. I wasn’t raped. I just didn’t want to have a child. I haven’t had any interest in having children for most of my life.
Though my abortion was not a traumatic experience, it did have a bizarre sort of emotionally traumatic (or at least mind-controlling) flavor to it. Getting pregnant in my mid-twenties was a consequence of me fucking up with my birth control. I’d had problems with the Pill for years, so I switched to the Shot, which was a nightmare. After getting off of the Shot, I tried the Ring. The Ring kept poking out, so I switched to the Patch. But the Patch…it didn’t seem to stay on very well. It kept migrating, and I wondered if my skin was too oily or something to get good contact with it.
The night I got pregnant, I specifically remember thinking “Maybe we should use a condom. I’m not sure how effective this Patch is at this point”. It has moved a few times, peeled off partially. It seemed risky.
As it turned out, it wasn’t particularly effective that night.
(Yes, I remember the night I got pregnant, because it was the only day my boyfriend and I had had sex within that week, and the ultrasound that I had could pinpoint the age of the fetus by the day, so it was an easy thing to count back to.)
I realized that I was pregnant about a week after my period was late. I initially thought it was late because my periods (even on the Patch and the Ring) had been inconsistent since I was on the Shot. Sometimes I’d have not so much a period and more a few days of heavy spotting. Other times, it’d be like a red Niagara Falls. So when my period was late, I didn’t worry the first couple of days.
A few days after that, a unique, previously unexperienced feeling began to infuse my being. I felt this sort of earth-mother, it’s-spring-time-and-everything-is-ripening vibe (it was mid-May). I felt *great*. Fantastic, healthy, vital, beautiful, desirable, seductive, energetic, gloriously feminine…really, if this is the way that some people have historically felt when pregnant, I get why people who want kids might want to carry around a couple of fertility idols, if it helps them get pregnant and create that feeling. It was like a drug. It was a drug – or a cocktail of drugs that my “happy to be doing what female bodies do” body was pumping into me.
There was just one little problem.
I had no interest in being pregnant or having children. Ever.
So when this earth-mother-ripened-womb feeling had established itself to the point where it was obvious that it wasn’t a passing Spring Fever fancy, I took a pregnancy test. Just to be sure. I was pretty sure I wasn’t pregnant. But hey, let’s be sure. Right?
If you’ve never had a positive pregnancy test, let me tell you – that whole “wait two minutes for the test to develop” thing? I don’t know if that’s needed for some people, but for me, the moment my urine washed against that strip, the whole damn thing was plastered with one of these: +
I was pretty terrified of that little pink plus. Terrified and yet filled with a moment of incalculable gratitude that I could have an abortion. That I had a choice, that my life didn’t have to include a pregnancy that I didn’t want, to bear a child that I didn’t feel equipped to handle, much less love. I blundered out of my work bathroom (yes, I took my pregnancy test at work) both relieved that I could have an abortion legally and terrified that I’d fucked up. That I was a bad person. Why hadn’t I been more careful? How fucking hard is it to get a condom?!?!
I walked into the first (I thought) empty conference room I passed, threw myself down into a chair and just…wail/sob/scream/sighed. It wasn’t a loud noise. It was a strangled, weird, whimpering mash of sound. And then I heard
“Um, Liz…what’s up?”
One of my female coworkers, Marissa, had just finished making a personal call in that room. She and I were pretty good work-friends. Like “go out for drinks and/or dinner occasionally” work-friends. We knew things about each other; I knew her rough life plan of “Found husband. Fixing up starter home. Having kids after we sell starter home at a profit and buy longer-term home.”. She knew my feelings on children, on enjoying living with my boyfriend and my cats and how I didn’t want kids (Everybody knew that I didn’t want kids). I looked at her for a few seconds, and blurted it out:
We both stared at each other for a few seconds; her wide-eyed, me cringing back into myself, unsure of what she’s say or do. What she did was get up and come over to me. And hug me. And whisper in a teary voice “I’ll be ok. I got pregnant in college.”
She told me her story. Pregnant in college. College was paid for by a swimming scholarship. And she didn’t want a kid. The guy she slept with wasn’t even a boyfriend yet, and she didn’t know if she wanted him to be a boyfriend, much less have a child with him. So she had an abortion. Had she not, she’d have lost her scholarship. Would have had to drop out of school, probably live with her mom. Be a single mother, struggling on minimum wage and trying to figure out how to get her life back on track.
She didn’t want that.
So she had an abortion.
(and, I might add, when on to finish her degree, move up the corporate ladder, and now has three adorable boys that she’s able to care for far more easily and with many more resources than she would have had, if she’d had that first baby).
It was a hopeful story. And it had a happy ending. Even though it wasn’t the kind of happy ending I wanted for myself, it was still good to hear.
But back to the original problem of the post. I was pregnant, and I needed an abortion. And while looking up abortion resources, I had to contend with pregnancy hormones turning my feelings and wants upside-down and creating longings and desires that I’d never had before. On top of that, my cube-mate (the woman who sat next to me at work) was having her first (wanted) pregnancy and currently had a life filled with ultrasound photos and conversations with her friends, family, and coworkers about how she was feeling and how it all meant so much to her and her husband.
It was a bizarre, stressful time. Whispering calls to Planned Parenthood while listening to her excitedly tell her mom that she felt the baby kick for the first time. Quietly calling up other abortion providers when a few coworkers decided to stop by and share some of the mothering tips and tricks they picked up. I was debating if I wanted a D&C or to take the abortion pill while she was debating a yellow-themed ducky baby room, or a purple-themed octopus baby room.
And meanwhile, my hormones were making an all-out assault on my mind, trying to convince me to stay pregnant and have a baby.
It’s hard to describe the internal dissonance that I felt during the few weeks when I was pregnant. It felt like the ultimate high. Would it have been wrong to prolong that for a few more weeks? To eke out a little bit more of that amazing, narcotic feeling? I absolutely think so, and it terrified me that I even wondered that. That I wondered how long I could be pregnant and keep that feeling going, but still be “safe” to get an abortion. I also wondered if that feeling meant that I should have a baby.
All the while, my rational mind was screaming “no, no, no”. Because I didn’t want children. I had no interest in babies. I’d play with them a bit, when a friend brought them over, but I’d never been a “let’s go play with the new baby” person (“let’s go play with the new kitten/puppy” is a totally different story). I had zero interest in raising a child. I was happy just working on me.
And I needed to work on me! Even if I wanted kids, it would have been a terrible time – maybe even an impossible time – to have a child. I was on some heavy-duty antidepressants that I’d have had to go off of. I still had a lot of triggers and emotional traumas to work through. I wasn’t nearly the mentally healthy person I am today. Assuming that I did carry the baby to term, I wasn’t sure what the anti-depressants it’d been bathed in the first weeks of its life would have done to it. I still don’t know – I’ll never know – if I could have gone off those anti-depressants and stayed out of a mental hospital and kept my job.
And yet…I wondered. Because it felt so good. So viscerally, physically, redonkulously good. This might sound absurd to say, but I was deeply grateful for those few times I rolled on ecstasy. Because being pregnant was similar to ecstasy, and that helped ground me a bit more firmly in the truth that most of this feeling came from a potent cocktail of chemicals cooked up by the human body to make carrying around a small watermelon, squeezing it out a teeny little opening, and then caring for it for the next eighteen years more palatable.
Those few weeks were a knock-down, drag-out fight between my rational mind and the desires I had for my life before pregnancy and the hormones that wanted to trick me into becoming a parental, child-focused member of society. To be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting that life. But that life wasn’t anything I wanted while “sober”, so wanting it while pregnant didn’t seem like a good reason to suddenly dive into it. When I was on ecstasy, I had this suggen urge to run away to Hawai’i and sleep on the beach every night so I could watch the sun rise over the ocean. I didn’t buy plane tickets (rather, my friends didn’t let me buy plane tickets – thanks ya’ll!) and run off to make that a reality while under the influence either.
Lucky for me the other stuff, the mechanics outside of my mind, were pretty easy. I told my boyfriend the night I learned I was pregnant. I was 99.999999999999% sure that he’d say “Abortion, right? You want to get an abortion, right? I mean, you choose, but you do want an abortion, right?”. Even feeling that certain, I was slightly terrified that I was wrong, and that he’d suddenly, when faced with the idea of his own child, decide that he actually did want kids. And not only kids, but this kid. Eeeep.
And he was much nicer about not pressuring me to have an abortion than I thought he’d be. Not that I expected pressure in a shitty way. I simply expected that his “No kids, no way, no when, no where” attitude would make it hard for him to hold back from jumping up and screaming “Nooooooooooo! Let’s go get you an abortion NOW!”. But he did a great job of being calm and listening during the few stumbling minutes it took for me to make it clear that yes, I was definitely getting an abortion. After that though, despite going with me to get the abortion, he was overall kind of a jerk. Or so I thought at the time. He got really distant, and mostly worked really late every night during the few weeks before the abortion.
We talked about it later. Turns out, he really didn’t know what to do or say and he didn’t want to upset me by being around, so he decided not to be around.
We then had a conversation about how he could have talked to me about that at the time, since I didn’t know if he was avoiding me out of guilt or anger or a feeling that I did something wrong.
I wasn’t too upset though, because I felt rather ambivalent about having him around. I felt ambivalent about having anybody around, really. I did tell a few other friends, who were supportive of my right to choose, though they hadn’t had any experience with abortion. I didn’t tell my mom, who has always been a staunch Catholic. I was afraid of her losing her shit at me, and I didn’t want to deal with her freak out on top of my freak out. I just wanted to quietly think my thoughts for myself. And listen to this
while I wrestled over my feelings.
To me, abortion is killing. It’s killing a embryo that may or may not grow up to be a human. Approximately one in four (some research says one in three) pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Including the ones that happen when the women doesn’t know she’s pregnant, it’s estimated that forty percent of conceptions end in a miscarriage. It’s impossible to know how many abortions would have ended in a miscarriage a few weeks (or even months) later. So I could have been killing something that would have been killed off by my own body in the near future. Who knows?
Either way, I see it as killing. I’m comfortable enough with that. I also eat meat and wear leather. Which means that I condone the killing of live, fully-developed organisms that have been proven to have feelings and preferences and dream at night and form relationships with other living creatures. And yet I’m still ok with those fully-developed denizens of this planet having their lives cut short for my own clothing and food. In my eyes, if I were to be anti-abortion because abortion is killing, then I should also be a vegetarian, as killing an animal that is already experiencing life is a far more extreme act in my eyes.
But then, I’m an agnostic. I don’t see humanity as being better than animals. Given the inventive number of ways that we’ve come up with to fuck each other over, sometimes I think we’re pretty low and shitty. “Animals” might be too kind a word for what we are in those times. Like Ripley said in Alien2: “I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.” (To digress a moment, the whole Alien series seems to be the ultimate horror story about a fear of pregnancy and forced pregnancy, does it?).
Then again, in times of need, in times of natural disaster or man-made disaster, some of us do some pretty heroic things to save others. Some men and women put their lives on the line every day to help others. Teachers in dangerous districts. Firemen. Doctors Without Borders. Doctors who perform abortions – even knowing it could get them killed. Whether or not that balances the scales is a whole pile of philosophizing that I’ll save for another day.
The point being, yes, I believed I was killing an embryo that could potentially become a human. Yes, I felt badly for that, even as I prioritized my right to be child-free and not spend nine months pregnant as more important. Yes, I wondered what kind of baby my boyfriend and I would make. Though for every fantasy of “I could be killing the next Mozart!” my pragmatic brain shot back with “You could be killing the next Ed Kemper!”.
Most likely, it would have been an average person.
Either way, I won’t ever know. I still wonder. But I still feel grateful that my decision means that I’ll never find out.
Getting the abortion itself was easy, a bit dehumanizing, and not terribly physically painful (getting an IUD was actually much worse, in terms of pain). I went to a semi-private clinic, which meant that I showed up on a Sunday, with probably forty-some other women. We all waited together in a large waiting room to start, and were processed through a series of rooms in groups of half a dozen, as we waited for our next one-on-one meeting. There was a pee-in-the-cup pregnancy test. An insurance check. There was an ultrasound. They tactfully kept the screen pointed away from me. I had a moment to debate if I wanted to see, and then the tech was done and the moment passed. There was a one-on-one session with a councilor, who made sure that I really did want an abortion, that I wasn’t being coerced, and that I was aware of the physical and emotional side effects that I could have from my D&C. There was a small cubby of a changing room, where I went from street clothes to the plastic-wrapped bundle of hospital clothes that I’d be wearing for the abortion. The aide pointed out the room I’d go into after I was changed.
That room turned out to be the last waiting room. Half a dozen of us had donned on our ugly printed hospital smocks and footies with the plastic nubbins that stop them from slipping on the floor. That room had a TV and a pile of magazines. I remember it being painted bright yellow, and thinking to myself that it was probably initially a nice, neutral (but bright and relaxing) color, but after that “yellow ducky nursery or purple octopus nursery” conversation I’d heard my coworker have for days, I kinda felt like I was in a nursery. Which was a little creepy, though not the fault of anybody really. I sat in my little pseudo-nursery cold with nerves and an overactive AC until my name was called.
Then there was the chair with the stirrups. The IV. That feeling like my blood was full of buzzing bees that gently stung me to sleep.
I woke up in a regular hospital bed, no longer pregnant. Disoriented, the first thing out of my mouth, before I was even entirely conscious, was “I did the right thing!”.
I felt a little mortified by that. I still feel embarrassed thinking about it. I’m still not sure why.
Physically, I felt groggy from the anesthesia, and my abdomen felt like I’d skinned my knee, but on the inside. I remember having that exact thought as I took physical stock of myself- “Hey, this feels like falling down and skinning my knees did when I was a kid. Except it’s on the inside. Huh.”. I poked experimentally at my abdomen. Dumb idea, that. It hurt.
Mentally, I felt enormously relieved. Emotionally, I felt enormously relieved. I felt like myself again. I didn’t feel conflicted, torn, confused. I was no longer questioning my needs and my desire to be child-free. I was back to myself again, and myself was deeply happy to not be pregnant.
I’m not sure if the remains of the anesthesia drugs coupled with the pain masked that earth-mother-goddess feeling, but I didn’t feel it when I woke up. By the time I thought to look for it inside of me, it had vanished completely. There was a little empty spot where it had dug into me. There is a littler empty spot there today, along with a small longing for that incredible pregnant feeling. Even writing about it now, pulling the ghost of it out to show off nearly ten years later is enough for me to feel a little sad and desperate to experience that feeling again. Not sad or desperate enough to want to have a child, though. Nowhere near that.
Immediately after the abortion, I just focused on getting on with my life. I got an IUD – one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I talked about my feelings about my abortion in therapy, and talked through nearly all the aspects of it. I felt secure and confident about my choice.
I still (and will always) absolutely believe that this was MY choice. That it should be the pregnant person’s right to make that choice. Only that person. That living, breathing, sentient, aware person who HAS a life and has a right to live that life with or without a pregnancy and children.
Since my abortion, I’ve talked two friends through their abortions – one was a coworker. I guess that’s a good way to pay it forward, to hear another panicked coworker confess to being pregnant and cringe and wait for judgement and be able to say “It’s OK. It happened to me too. I had an abortion. You choose what feels best to you and if you choose to have an abortion, I’ll support you”.
I also told my mom, eventually. When Roe Vs Wade was upheld, my mom mentioned it and that she was relieved that SCOTUS had made the right decision. I questioned what that meant in terms of her Catholicism. She said that while Catholic, she felt like chosing an abortion was a discussion that a woman should have with God – no one else needed to weigh in. Emboldened, I told her that I’d had an abortion. She was startled and seemed…like she might have now felt differently, what with me being her daughter and all. But she didn’t say much, and nothing she said was outrightly negative, so we left it alone and haven’t talked about it since.
My life continued on. My life continues on.
If anybody reading who has a blog also feels like sharing their abortion experience, please do. And let me know if you’d like me to post it. It’s important for us to all share, and to all affirm that we do deserve…no; we all have the inherent right to choose.