Monday, June 6, 2011

A true account of abortion

I have a story to tell here. For safety's sake, I won't tell who's it is, be that mine, my friend's, my family member's, or some random woman's whom I met on the bus, although I have written it in my style regardless. But I have to tell it because it deals with an important issue to me, made even more important by this story, and it flies in the face of many common myths surrounding abortion. Nothing has been embellished here; it's all true. Some of those reading may know whose story this is, and that's fine, but I'm relying on the relative anonymity of the internet to at least induce enough confusion to protect the narrator's identity.
*Trigger warning for sexual abuse, emotional turmoil, and described abortion

For a long time, my boyfriend and I were unable to have vaginal sex. I wanted to and he wanted to but it was simply too painful for me to withstand it all the way to my hymen actually breaking or even tearing, and the pain itself was triggering. I had endured sexual abuse as a baby, and then later as a child. While I remember what happened to me as a child, I don’t remember what happened to me as a baby, but I have two unexplained scars on my inner thighs, one very close to my genitals, that judging by their shape would seem to have been deep scratches or knife cuts. But I don’t know. I can trace most of my scars to the exact event that caused them, from falling on the asphalt on the playground and ripping a chunk out of my knee to the bone when I was eight and shortly thereafter injuring the same knee against the edge of a ladder, to the dog that left a scar above the right corner of my mouth when I was nine, to slicing my leg open on a sharp rock hidden in the murky water I was wading in when I was thirteen, to nearly slicing the knuckle of my pinkie off while reaching into soapy water as I was doing the dishes when I was fourteen, to having a piece of broken glass stab me when I punched through a painted glass window, also at fourteen. I can even remember certain injuries that amazingly did not leave scars, yet I cannot identify how I got those two scars on my thighs.

When I started my period, at eleven, I desired two things: a boyfriend with whom to have sex, and a child to care for. The want for a baby subsided a little over the years, but the want for sex did not. I was close with a boy when I was thirteen, but we were not more than friends, although we were physically more intimate than “just friends” would be. We didn’t end up becoming “an item” until I was sixteen. We kissed, did foreplay, and by then I had promised my grandmother that I would not have sex until I was eighteen. He tried to penetrate me with his fingers, but that was how I found out exactly how sensitive my hymen was and we couldn’t do that. That left me crying because I wanted to, but again the pain was triggering for me, even though physical pain was never a part of what I recall suffering from the sexual abuse as a child. I guess I just didn’t want to associate pain with someone I genuinely wanted to be intimate and sexual with. And I was so happy that I’d finally gotten my first kiss, my first foreplay. You have to understand that nearly everyone else my age had already done much more.

And what about abortion? Well, when I first heard about it as an eleven-year-old in a Catholic elementary school, I had the reaction that I imagine they wanted: I was horrified. However, having a feminist grandmother, and being actually willing to research on it myself, I discovered it was not so black and white as made out to be. I learned that the brain doesn’t actually attach to the spinal cord until the sixth month of pregnancy. It therefore couldn’t feel pain and it couldn’t think. I still didn’t like the idea, but I also decided it wasn’t my right or anybody else’s to tell a woman she couldn’t have an abortion. The idea of forced birth also began to really disturb me, but so did forced abortion. Learning about pregnancy, I could imagine how vulnerable a woman must be during that time, so for it to be forced either way really began to sicken me. So I was pro-choice from probably about thirteen and onwards.

My relationship with my crush didn’t last long, about six months, but it took me a while to move on, which I guess makes sense considering I’d crushed on this guy since I was eleven. I had other minor crushes between. Well, at seventeen, a male friend of mine decided he had a crush on me, but it wasn’t reciprocated and long-story short, he got meaner, more insulting, and eventually sexually assaulted me. This is a guy I told about the sexual abuse I suffered. Well, when I started to crush on another male friend of mine, who was intelligent and funny and had recently cut his hair in a way that brought out the best in his facial features, and was an overall good person, not to mention weird, the other guy started to stalk me. When my crush and I finally got together, he stalked us, but leaving high school to either go to another one does miracles, and I didn’t see him again until I started college, and how pissed he was that my boyfriend and I were still together.

We hadn’t had vaginal sex, my boyfriend and I, even though we were eighteen, because he felt guilty doing it as a Christian, even though he wanted to. We still did plenty of oral sex, though. Well, my stalker eventually went after a friend of mine whose biting sarcasm and my support kept her reasonably safe from him. I finished my court case against my stepfather that year and my boyfriend wanted to try vaginal sex, but I didn’t want to do it if he was going to regret it. In other words, I didn’t want something I had desired since I started puberty to be something the man I loved regarded as sin and regretted, so we didn’t do it.

Except that eventually he changed his mind and decided it wouldn’t be so bad, so we tried, and I guess I had been expecting it to come naturally, but it didn’t, and I had to stop him because of the pain. These futile tries went on for over a year including during the summer months when I got my first job. I became attracted to a guy at work that summer. He was gorgeous and the type of guy who wouldn’t have even looked my way were we not working together. I sometimes wondered if the fact that I couldn’t have vaginal sex was entirely my fault after all. Weird things your mind will do to comfort you, and I also felt pretty guilty because, how could I? My boyfriend had been there for my grandmother’s death, my court case, and I was thinking of cheating on him just to have sex? Part of the reason I reject the idea that men crave sex more than women. In any case, nothing happened besides a lot of flirting on his part and a lot of desire on mine.

The summer ended, school began again and then I was sexually assaulted at my best friend’s birthday party. In a weird way I felt like I deserved it for considering cheating on my boyfriend, even though I logically knew how stupid and irrelevant that was. And after that I couldn’t even bear to try to have sex with my boyfriend anymore and be reminded of my constant failure to have consensual sex when it seemed no sexual assailant had a problem sexually assaulting me. I went into a pretty hard depression that year where I nearly starved in residence and spent a lot of money just to go out to eat with my friend because I knew that at least I would eat. Slept a lot, cried a lot, I was an emotional wreck but performed surprisingly well that semester, whereas next semester, not so much. Didn’t fail, but got several Ds. My (other) grandparents still don’t know that. My grandfather hit the roof when I told him it was Cs, accused me of not caring enough about school, which was bad enough since that wasn’t the case at all.

I went through another year of again not even trying to have vaginal sex with my boyfriend and when we finally did try again, it again failed. I didn’t cry this time, though, so I figured it was progress. We had stopped using condoms since the risk of pregnancy seemed pretty distant. I also thought maybe the condom contributed to the discomfort, so maybe we might actually achieve penetration without one. We were nearing our mid-twenties and neither of us had had vaginal sex. We were pretty desperate, and it was embarrassing. Not a single person we knew of our age, who’d ever had a significant other, had not had vaginal sex. It didn’t help that the guy at my summer job still flirted a lot and I still had the lingering thought that maybe, just maybe, if I tried with a different man…I intended to be fair, though, and several times told my boyfriend that if he wanted to try with someone else, he could. It, after all, didn’t seem fair that he could have lost his virginity a long time ago if he’d been with anybody else. Why should I have kept him for myself when I couldn’t do what everybody else could?

Well, neither of us cheated, but just this year, we were trying to have vaginal sex again, without a condom. It didn’t work, but he did come, and I felt the spurt inside me. We laughed it off, since there had been times in the past where we had wondered, and nothing had come of it. And sure enough when my breasts began to hurt, I knew I would be getting my period in two days. Except that they hurt a lot more than they usually did before my period, and they hurt for three days without any blood happening. Four days, five days, six…I’d always been regular. Always. Part of me was in denial, felt my period wasn’t that late, but I knew. I looked up early symptoms of pregnancy to be sure, and sure enough, “tenderness in breasts, like before your period, only worse” was one of them. At work (I had graduated school by now and had just got a fulltime job just over a month earlier), I thought about what I was going to do if I was pregnant. There was a part of me that wanted to be deliriously happy; I’d always wanted a baby and I was happy to know that I in fact could have one. But the logical part of me considered the toxicity of the paints and paint thinners I was working with. It also considered that I’d only just started working at this job. If I kept the pregnancy, they logically couldn’t grant me maternity leave as they needed a painter, and if law required them to do so, they could fire me beforehand and say it was for another reason, and how could I blame them? Then what would I do?

I know myself and I know that I could not psychologically bear to give my child up for adoption, not even an open one. It was either abortion or keep it and raise it. If I decided on the latter, my boyfriend and I would both have to go into debt being that he was only working part-time. We would possibly have to go on welfare and being that this city has a very high unemployment rate, it would be unlikely that either of us would be hired, and if either of us was on a minimum wage job, it was unlikely it would be flexible enough to accommodate for time spent taking care of a child, which meant that one of us would have to stay home and raise the child, and since I would be breastfeeding, that would probably fall to me. And how would we ever rise above that? I’d end up like my mother. And I would not be able to raise my children with the stability I’d always dreamed of raising them in. I knew abortion was the best option here. I might not have like the idea of abortion, but I was also pro-choice for a reason.

I told my friend about it and she invited me over for the weekend so that I could do a pregnancy test without my grandparents knowing. I informed my boyfriend and he took it well, and asked what I would do. This I also informed him of and he was supportive. I was already starting to gain weight despite barely being a month pregnant, and I feared someone would notice, so I wore a lot of loose clothing. That weekend, I took the test, and it confirmed it. I called my boyfriend and told him. The next thing to do was to find out how I would get the abortion. It turned out that there was only one abortion doctor in the city, and it was a three-month waiting list and he only performed medically necessary abortions. My abortion was neither medically necessary nor did I want to carry the thing inside me for three more months. I was feeling sick at the memory of certain foods, felt tired all the time, and weak, and just generally stressed out. I caught a cold I just could not get rid of and some my jeans were not zipping up anymore. Also worrying was that I had never had implantation bleeding and my friend suggested it was because the embryo was taking iron. I don’t absorb iron very well, so I wondered if this pregnancy had the possibility of turning me anemic. Remembering my best friend when her period had gotten so heavy and had last so long that her natural dark skin had turned pale and she had fainted several times before needing to go to the hospital and take certain medications, I felt that was even more reason that this pregnancy wasn’t meant to be. At work, three of my co-workers were women who’d had more than one child. If anyone was likely to catch on it was them, and my co-workers were the last people I wanted to know about my being pregnant.

I learned that the closest place I could get an abortion was in a Metropolitan area over three hours away. I informed my boyfriend and he agreed to drive me up there. A week before we were to head up there, I informed my grandparents, and then my aunt who lived in that area. All were supportive and my aunt offered to house my boyfriend, friend, and I. The appointment was set for pretty early in the morning and I wasn’t supposed to eat anything six hours prior to the procedure, so I ate as much as I could the night before. There were no protesters and I wonder if they even knew the place was there. The abortion clinic wasn’t listed in the directory and we might have had a hard time finding it if not for a young woman informing us of where the room was. When we got there, a lot of women, mostly young, mostly of colour, were sitting in the hallway; inside the waiting room it was much the same. My friend opted to sit in the hallway while my boyfriend and aunt sat with me. I made the payment (this is in Canada, so it’s sixty dollars if you’re in the first trimester and the rest is paid by OHIP; if you don’t have a valid OHIP card, it’s six hundred dollars in cash), and filled out the sheets which asked me whether it was my decision to have this done, what my reasons were, and what I had considered otherwise, etc., and then we waited. And waited. And waited. I was hungry and would have been bored if not for my aunt and boyfriend. We talked about what we would eat when we got back to my aunt’s house. The people who worked at the clinic were glad I had people with me because didn’t like their patients to attempt to go home alone. Indeed, many women there seemed to have no one at all with them.

Finally, in the afternoon, I was called in. My boyfriend accompanied me. The woman went through the sheets I had filled out, and again made sure this was something I wanted and wanted to be sure that my boyfriend and I would use some form of contraceptive in future. We agreed on condoms and a diaphragm. The woman showed me the instruments that were to go inside me and explained what I was likely to feel. It was then that I explained to her that my hymen hadn’t actually been broken and was rather sensitive. She informed me that the doctor had performed abortions on women with hymens before, and that it would be broken, but that it was ultimately up to me. There was a pill most women took before the procedure, but I am unable to swallow pills. She thus gave me two melting pills, where most women only received one, and told me I must breathe in the laughing gas. It was then that my boyfriend had to leave and I removed my bottom clothing with the exception of my underwear and socks, and wore only a long T-shirt on top. I sat in a room to read, and a girl who had just come out of the recovery room admired how calm I was and said that she’d been very nervous, but it wasn’t so bad. I told her I almost never get nervous until seconds before.

I was then called into the room where the procedures are held. The doctor had an accent and was very sweet, reviewing the sheets and asking why I hadn’t had sex with my boyfriend in five years. I explained to her about my hymen and she promised that would soon be out of the way. I was called “Baby” and “Honey” a lot, which annoyed me a little. I got up onto the table and removed my underwear. A woman placed a mask over my face and instructed me to breathe. Now I was nervous. I breathed and the doctor did an examination of my genitals and spoke to the nurses that I, in fact, had two hymens. All my fears that I was inadequate dissipated in the knowledge that I simply had the rotten luck of having been born with two hymens rather than one, and I thought that if I’d known that, I would gladly have gotten that taken care of by a doctor. But now I also knew that this was really not going to be a fun procedure. They did too. The doctor said, “Poor thing! Let’s hope she isn’t.” They did the necessary ultrasound and, unlike in the US, I was not forced to look at it. In fact it was faced behind me so that I would have had to try to look at it to see it. I didn’t. I had known that if I knew too much about the thing growing inside me, I would become attached and thus be forced to carry it to term, so I wanted to know absolutely nothing about it. I heard them say, “Nope, she is!” and knew that I was in fact pregnant.

I felt pain at my hymen and my body jerked as I began to cry. I heard voices telling me to breathe in the gas, to open up and press down as though I were constipated. My cries became sobs and the nurse behind me began to hold me, still instructing me to breathe in the gas. The doctor informed me that there was only one more layer, and the nurse holding me asked me if this was what I wanted. I nodded my assent and the doctor continued. The words, “baby” and “honey” were no longer annoying to me. They along with the nurse holding me were exactly what I needed right now. As I mentioned, pain in that area is triggering for me; I needed to be soothed; I needed a maternal figure. Now the stretching device was placed in me, which was painful as well and I continued to sob as they continued to instruct me to stay open and to bear down as though I were constipated, and to breathe in the gas. I felt the tube, and the suction caused strong cramping that at last I reached my hand out in instinctive act to stop the pain, but it was over now. The tube and stretching device were removed and I was given a pad to hold against my genitals while they slipped my underwear back on. I noticed a bit of blood but by now all the gas I had breathed in was working well now that the pain was gone. It had really only lasted five minutes.

I was starting to feel oddly happy as I was lead to the recovery room and placed in the most comfortable looking chair in the room. A blanket was put around me and cookies were placed beside me to eat. I happily ate them, feeling all the joy a child would, and then I coughed. A nurse handed me a bag, but I assured her it was just this cold that wouldn’t go away. I coughed again, but retched this time, so that she handed me the bag once more and I vomited into it. I hadn’t vomited once in nine years, fearing to since it often came out of my nose and mouth, but this was surprisingly okay. I continued to munch on the cookies and was then led out to the waiting room. I was given a prescription for antibiotics as well as instructions on how to care for myself in the weeks ahead. Everything else I only remember in snatches, clutching onto a Kleenex box, pointing out the doctor to my aunt, boyfriend, and friend, getting into the car, getting back to my aunt’s house, wanting food, eating, chatting with my friend, and then I slept until dinner time where I ate and then slept again. I wanted to go upstairs to the room my boyfriend and I were staying in, but I wouldn’t let him carry me; I simply hung onto the railing while he made sure I didn’t fall. It wasn’t until I was in bed that I noticed an elastic had been put into my hair. I have no recollection of anyone tying my hair up. The next day we left for home and I slept most of the way. Apparently the roads were pretty bad, but I barely noticed.

I went to work the next day without incident; my co-workers were none-the-wiser. In a few days, the pain in my breasts subsided, as did the nausea. I did not end up getting the antibiotics, but kept myself clean and followed the instructions. I bled for about two weeks, but then that subsided and two months later, I got my period and it’s been regular ever since. My cold still stayed a while but eventually went away and my immune system has returned to normal. My boyfriend and I had sex at last, sure to use condoms this time.

All this to say, there was no spurting blood; there were no scissors. There were no male hands reaching into my womb, and there was no sacred baby removed that could have lived if it had been born right then (it would have been called a miscarriage). There no poison used to kill the “baby”, and there were no awful instruments that tore it apart. It was simply sucked out, and that was that. There was no guilt afterwards either. The overwhelming feeling I felt directly after the procedure and in the days and weeks and now months that followed was relief. That’s it.

Once again, whether this story is my own or whether I wrote it as I remember hearing it from a friend, family member, or woman on the bus is no one’s business. But it is stories like these that strengthen my stance on being pro-choice and my surety that all the shit spouted off by so-called “pro-life” groups is either severely misinformed, or outright lies. Myths like women who have abortions feel terrible, women who have abortions are callous and use it as birth control, the abortion is a terrible procedure, the doctors don’t care if it was coerced, tax money pays for the entire procedure, anyone can get a legal abortion anywhere, and many, many more are just that: myths.

PS. And as for MRA propaganda that men suffer more than women do when it comes to abortions, men do not experience what a woman does during pregnancy. He does not suffer nausea, pain in his “breasts”, weakness, fatigue, overall exhaustion, the fear that he will lose his job. Each person (and I do mean person, not something that could potentially be a person one day) should be allowed bodily autonomy. Men are allowed total control of their bodies, and it just so happens that, after a man ejaculates, the resulting pregnancy will have no effect on his body whatsoever. Women in many places are not given the same control and are heavily down upon when they exert this control in places where they are allowed. Women’s bodies are used throughout the entire pregnancy, and men’s are not. The day that the males of our species get pregnant and are not allowed to abort their pregnancies while females are allowed, then cis men can start crying inequality. Until then, tough shit, dudes. You cannot “abort” child support payment.

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