The title of this article was changed at 9:40 am, June 10th, 2011 to reflect the fact that while the author was raised Catholic, she no longer self-identifies as such.
Though I was raised in a Catholic family and apparently encouraged to participate in a “Right to Life” poster contest as a child, I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t pro-choice. I remember thinking and even saying aloud that I would abort if I got pregnant as a teenager. Then, as a young twenty-something, I became eager to have children – and I welcomed two very wanted, well-loved babies into the world. Once things began to deteriorate between their father and I, I knew without a doubt that any future pregnancy we faced would be terminated
In October of last year, I made good on that promise to myself.
In September, I began experiencing pregnancy symptoms. My period was late. I was bloated; my small frame has always started to look pregnant within weeks of conceiving, and this time was no different. Still, all the upheaval in my personal life made me hesitant to confirm the pregnancy. I put it off until October, when I realized how silly it was to continue being nauseous, tired and fat when I had absolutely no desire to have another child. Within an hour of testing, I had an appointment at a clinic that had been recommended to me by a friend: American Women’s Services in Woodbridge, NJ.
I didn’t have any qualms about the ethics of my decision, but I was nervous just the same. I have anxiety about medical issues, and knowing that they were going to take my blood and examine my body made me fearful. I was relieved when the blood draw was just a finger prick for typing purposes, and I felt better when the ultrasound was done. I was confirmed nine weeks and several days pregnant.
Because I had refused anything more than the local anesthetic used to numb the cervix for dilation, it wasn’t long before I was called in for the actual procedure. The doctor’s assistants were kind and reassuring when I commented that it seemed most of the women there were having “twilight sleep.” I wondered momentarily if I had made a big mistake choosing to be awake and alert.
I hadn’t. The doctor came in, amiable and obviously adept at his job. He talked to me as he performed the abortion, letting me know when it might hurt a bit more and when that pain would subside. The entire thing was incredibly mild – a twinge here, a tug there, a few pokes and some cramping that lasted a couple of minutes. I was so relieved to be present in the moment, rather than floating in a murky, drug-induced fog.
It couldn’t have been more than five minutes before one of the assistants helped me to sit up so that I could get dressed. She walked me out into the recovery area, and I unsuccessfully attempted to repress the huge grin that had developed on my face. I felt euphoric. I was so relieved to be done with all the medical business, even happier to know that I was no longer pregnant, and pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t feeling any physical pain.
I felt momentarily guilty when one of the other patients in recovery asked me if I ever stopped smiling, but I quickly reminded myself that it was senseless guilt. After all, smiling is a natural reaction to happiness, and I was happy sitting there. When they released me to go home fifteen minutes later, I was gladder still.
I know how far out of our society’s collective comfort zone it is to hear a woman say that she feels happy about her abortion, but I do. My feelings go far beyond the simple relief that many women describe. I am actually grateful for the experience itself and for the fact that, by sharing my story with others, I can be an ambassador for reproductive freedom.
That’s right, I speak openly about my abortion. It’s the easiest way to reassure women who are contemplating a termination that the neither the procedure itself nor the emotional aftermath will necessarily be dramatic. It’s also the easiest way to personalize the need for reproductive rights among friends and family members. And, perhaps the most important reason to me as a mother, is that being open about my experience with my children will avail them of the knowledge that abortion is not shameful or uncommon. It isn’t something “other” women do. It is a real, valid choice that women they know and love have made without remorse.
My terminated pregnancy was not a regrettable event requiring any apology from me. The only apology needed must come from those who are working diligently to prevent women like myself from accessing vital services to control their own reproductive destinies. I regret but one thing: that by the time my daughter is in the position to need an abortion, factions of fanatical, misogynistic conservatives may have eliminated her right to choose.