My period was normally never late. Then again, I was 18 and had just moved to New York City alone to attend school there. That summer in Los Angeles had been spent indulging in copious amounts of drugs and consuming quite a lot of alcohol. I had also broken up with my boyfriend of a year and some only a month before the move, and, well, I figured that with all the change and stress, the late period wasn’t much to worry about. I even took a pregnancy test the night before I left for New York. It came up negative.
Two weeks later, in the manic and disgustingly beautiful heat of late summer in New York, I found myself walking home early from Afropunk 2014 feeling on top of the world. Upon arriving in front of my dorm building in the East Village, the young people sitting outside and smoking flocked to me like honey bees, wondering why I was all dressed up and where I had been. I was offered a drag off a particularly strong joint, and despite the fact that my history with weed at that point was complicated and often ill-fated, I took it.
Five hours later, I found myself in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, my head spinning and sanity splitting. I felt like I had gone off the deep end. I hadn’t yet been assigned a roommate, and knew none of my other dorm-mates at the time. Thus, I resigned myself to riding out this horrific high in the dark, alone in a foreign place. Somewhere in my paranoid haze, as my heart pounded wildly, I found myself fixated upon the case of the missing period, and the more I fixated upon it, the more I felt beyond a reasonable doubt that I was, in fact, pregnant. I began praying to the forces that be, saying over and over again please, please don’t let me be pregnant. Please, if there are dark spirits here now, let them enter my body and cleanse my womb. Please.
I was utterly terrified. I could not sleep. I got up, went outside, and walked down the block to the Duane Read on the corner, where on the basement level I found and purchased a set of two pregnancy tests for $20. Walking back, avoiding groups of taunting girls out late on the block, I was shaking, trying desperately to calm myself down. In the bathroom, back at the dorm, I took the test. It was around 1 AM.
When I saw the positive sign on the test come up, my innards froze and the world stopped. I dropped the test on the floor and started sobbing. No, no, no, this can’t be happening. Not this. Please not this. I just got here, I finally got my life on track. Why me? Why me? Why me?
I took the other test, and there again to my sheer horror was another positive sign. Sobbing, shaking, completely out of my wits and completely alone, I called my mother. It was compulsive, it was all I could think to do. I thought, it’ll be okay. She’ll understand. I made the call and could barely speak when she got on the phone, and she was already disoriented being woken up at 4 AM California time.
I asked her not to tell my father, but she did. It was assumed that I would have an abortion. It was assumed that I would stay in New York. Both of these things seemed good and well to me at the time, but my immediate problem was the insatiable, strangulating urge to purge my body of the sack of cells in my womb. And so my new reality began, my twilight zone-esque introduction to New York City in the last weeks of Summer.
The weeks that followed that night were both extremely heavy and yet forcibly functional, in the sense that I was extremely tense, not very sane, alone in spite of my surroundings and social life, but due to my circumstances also launched into a state of clarity which I have found often comes to me in the most immediate sensations of living through trauma. I felt so many things at once that it became hard to reckon with myself, period. My history of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts sort of paled in comparison to the concentrated numbness that grew out of my fixation upon the pregnancy.
Many of my close friends had also just moved from LA to NY, and as incredibly supportive and helpful as they were, I still felt the sting of the underlying tension they felt towards my pregnancy – me being for many of them their first ever friend to have had an unwanted pregnancy and set on getting an abortion from day one. I was asked if I was “sure” many times, and many times I was deeply annoyed by this question. No, I was not sure. I was utterly heartbroken by the notion of the reality of being pregnant, of having potential life attached to my body, and tormented by it. But I also had no choice but to terminate the pregnancy, and get on with my life and with my education. At the same time, I also found odd hormonal and psychological tendencies blossoming in my cognitive and physical processes. As the days went on, my body changed and so did I. I felt a sense of maternal love and intense pain that I never fathomed I could feel. It began to put a lot of my understanding of parenthood into perspective.
At one point, in the midst of a panic attack, particularly regarding my worries about how far along I was, and who the father might be (yes, I did have unprotected sex with multiple partners during the summer leading up to the missed period), I wound up in the emergency room, where I was unable to articulate that I was having a panic attack. They were able to give me nothing more than a confirmation that I was indeed pregnant and a bill for $1,500 not covered by my insurance, which I still owe to this day.
During this time, my days were spent trying desperately to go outside and operate as normally as I could, making new friends who had no idea that I was pregnant, and attempting to find a gynecologist who would perform the abortion for a reasonable price, to no avail. My nights were spent getting shitfaced, chain-smoking, having multiple one night stands, and various other unhealthy activities in the hope that I might induce a miscarriage. In fact, I was overwhelmed with a deep-seated hope that I would have a miscarriage. Yet along this journey, I also didn’t even know how alone I was feeling. I certainly had liberal people in my life, but no one my age who had ever gone through this, and furthermore, not a single person who ever told me that I was not obligated to hate myself for this. I suppose it was assumed that I either would or would not, but it was never discussed. In the end, the universe sent me a gift in the form of one of my roommates, a girl who was also from California. After some weeks of forming a tentative yet magnetic friendship, I opened up to her a few days after vomiting up a Caesar salad halfway through a luncheon attended by all of our roommates. As it turned out, she had gone through the same thing. She became a close confidant, friend, and a force of utter light in my life from then on.
After much searching, I gave up on trying to find a gynecologist and decided that I would go to Planned Parenthood. Upon going, I was treated with the utmost kindness by the entire staff there as they ran initial tests and offered me counseling. My parents were able to help me cover what Planned Parenthood could not, but they assured me that worst case scenario I would indeed be able to fill out an emergency Medicaid application that would cover the entirety of the procedure. *This is an option for anyone who exists under great financial duress.
On the day that the abortion was scheduled, I went in carrying so much weight on my back. I was carrying so much sadness, so much guilt, anger, frustration, and confusion. I felt like a disappointment to myself and my family, yet again. I felt the weight of my own body and soul, and the bodies and souls of many others all at once. I felt a huge sense of loss, and also a huge sense of relief.
As I was funneled through various different departments of Planned Parenthood, I felt the physical reality of the situation really begin to set in, and I began to shift back and forth between sensations of panic and utter numbness. At one point I was asked if I wanted to see pictures of the ultrasound they would have to perform. I said no, but when I walked out of the room I caught a glimpse of the monitor anyway. It is a sight I now cannot ever unsee.
I had opted for the non-invasive abortion pill as the procedure I would use to terminate the pregnancy. “The pill” consisted of two different pills, actually. The first pill, Mifepristone, is intended to release the egg from the uterine wall. This pill is taken at the clinic 24 hours before the next, called Misoprostol, which widens the cervix and induces contractions to push the egg out and shed the uterine lining. Along with these pills, patients are also prescribed 800 mg pills of ibuprofen, Tylenol with codeine, an anti-nausea pill, an antibiotic, and told to buy plenty of pads to absorb the heavy bleeding.
I took all of these things home with me, and that night I went out and drank myself to sleep at a friend’s apartment. Earlier that day I had also been told the exact length, in days, of my pregnancy (which was 8 weeks or so along), and calculated that it was not, in fact, my loving partner of a year who had gotten me pregnant. But rather, an ex that I had a deeply complicated, rather toxic and intense romance with for 4 years, on and off. Knowing that it was our child, or rather our potential child, who I would have to abort made my feelings about the situation rather harder to cope with. Thinking about how the child would look, how they might act. Times when we had discussed what our children would hypothetically be like. That night I dreamt about the baby we would never know. And I resolved not to tell him. Ever.
24 hours later, my mental trauma hit the ceiling as it combined with intense physical pain. I took the Misoprostol and experienced uterine pain and cramping so bad that I could barely breathe. I developed a fever, as is the norm, and began to hallucinate and lose track of time as I began losing blood. My incredible roommate stayed close by for the entire day, helping me out and offering me lots of emotional support and physical aid. In the end though, it was the things that transpired on this day which ingrained in me the portrait of pain that would haunt me for the coming years.
I cannot say exactly how and where the pain and confusion from this process manifested afterwards. I know that I had many dreams, graphic and emotional ones, about pregnancy, loss, and the like. I know that I engaged in a broad range of self-destructive behavior that to this day I speak about to few people. I left parties because anxiety about being pregnant would hit me out of nowhere and make me dysfunctional. I’d buy pregnancy tests and take them even if I hadn’t had sex at all that month. I dated a narcissistic dom and pretended to enjoy the amount of physical and emotional pain he put me in for three months, because it was just another form of self-harm for me to indulge in.
I also know that in January of this past year, I went to something called a Shout Your Abortion! Party in Brooklyn, New York, and it changed my life. Because not only was I hearing other people talk openly about their abortions, but for the first time I realized that I was not obligated to feel guilty about getting pregnant or having an abortion. Furthermore, I realized that a lot of the trauma I carried with me was feeling relegated to secrecy and above all a deep sense of shame.
When I tell people now that I got pregnant, even the closest people to me are shocked. They are shocked because they have been taught to believe that this is not something that happens often, and that when it does, it is something to be kept under the table. To be swallowed, released only in the dark between women who carry the weight of the secret. I do not believe this is accurate, and I do not believe it makes this any easier for anyone. Losing children, losing potential life, terminating potential life: they are all just as much a part of the history of life itself as are the creation and nurturance of life. To pretend they are not, to imagine a world where people will not find access to abortions, or any way for them to exercise control over their bodies: that is the true tragedy. That world should never exist, and so that is why it is so important to make sure that the methods which are available to us are safe, affordable, and nurturing. That is why I am choosing to share my story. Access and stigma are deeply, deeply intertwined problems surrounding the issue of pregnancy termination, and it is up to liberal folks just as much as conservative ones to help end that stigma by speaking out.
Sometimes I have felt that the risk of speaking out, of working through that pain verbally and otherwise, is in some sense just as potent as the terror I felt in the moment 2 years ago when I found out that I was pregnant. But it’s worth it. It is worth it for all the other people out there who have gone through this and have never spoken about it. For all the couples who don’t use birth control and worry. For every single person who will at some point experience an unwanted pregnancy and feel completely and utterly alone and terrified as they contemplate what on earth they will do. How their lives and hopes and dreams will be affected by the prospect of having a child, or by finding a means to terminate the pregnancy, and having an abortion.
But I am not scared anymore, and despite the pangs I feel in my stomach, despite all the pain that still lives in me because of what I went through, I do not regret my decision. And I didn’t regret it when I went through the same thing again only 2 months ago, this time with a loving and caring partner by my side.
I have been lucky and blessed in so many ways, despite what I have been through. I thank the powers that be that I happened to be born into a place and a time and a social setting that allowed me to terminate these unwanted pregnancies. I am here to share my story with you because, through all this, and because of my support and resources, I am not afraid. I am not ashamed. I am not a bad person. I am not a whore. I am not alone. You are not alone. And even if I am all of these things, it doesn’t matter. Because I am not afraid anymore and it is my intention to hold space in this world for those who are, no matter what.
Resources for people seeking abortions:
Planned Parenthood (US)
Herbal Abortion (DIY) ***PLEASE USE WITH CAUTION***
Jezebel’s Guide to Having an Abortion