This post is true as I recall it. It deals with some sensitive information. It discusses freedom of choice, coming of age, teen pregnancy, abortion, and the reality of one individual. These events are real and might be disturbing. However, I wholeheartedly believe that it is a fundamentally necessary conversation.
On January 26, 1985 I had an abortion. I was fourteen years of age. And, here is my story.
I turned fourteen the summer of 1984. For me, it was a great time. I had loads of freedom and spent my days with friends sailing or hanging out. Often, I spent time over friend’s houses. My parents were dealing with a significant medical situation that was all consuming, leaving me plenty of unsupervised time.
Seven weeks after my birthday I experienced a rite of passage. On a beautiful red and white checkered plastic (soft backed) table cloth in the back yard of my friend’s house, I lost my virginity. And by all accounts it was exactly as it should be, not like anyone envisions. Good thing I hadn’t pictured anything special, just the deed. I knew I wanted to have sex and I was willing. Those were the only two things I needed for it to happen. This was my decision. I was the initiator.
In the following months, I was reckless with my activity and my attitude. I started high school (never an easy or fun transition). My one saving grace was that no one in my school knew of my activities. I had the benefit of two nearly separate worlds, summer and winter. Luckily, I found anyone outside of my classmates better for socialization.
The events of that one August night were profound, to say the least. I found that I only spotted during my period, while I usually fully soaked pads. But in my head, the spots were enough to push any thoughts or doubts deep into the recesses of my mind. I was fine. Claiming to be oblivious while ignoring any indications of pregnancy was easy. I never had any morning sickness or other typical side effects, no detectable proof to signal the condition. In a different situation my naiveté would be consider a blessing. For me, ignorance was a learned behaviour. Deeply rooted in my psyche, it was etched into my personality.
Ignoring things was a learned and encouraged behaviour that began in ernest at eleven years old. It was during a difficult period of time and without delving into the minutiae, I’ll skim the details.
Sixth grade meant a whole new school with new people, new opportunities and way more freedoms. Up until Christmas break, everything was great. I found new friends and settled into classes with ease. But, after a childish squirmish with a girl more popular, the fun ended. To say I was ostracised is almost an understatement. (People were still apologising at high school graduation.) I was shunned; in class, at lunch, on the playground, and even on the school bus. The bullying began during homeroom with wispers, stares, and finger pointing. It was followed by a lonely table at lunch where cooties turned to leprocy. The playground was the worst though. Each day kids cornered me against the school building and just hurled insults. For twenty minutes an unattended school yard was my own personal hell. The bus ride home added insult to injury with hair pulling, gum throwing and nasty nicknames.
I am fairly certain the school and my parents were at a loss to know precisely how to mitigate the issues. I know I saw the school psychologist and was allowed to spend lunch and recess in the library. But beyond that the advice was, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I was fed a diet of “ignore them,” and appear oblivious to the haters existence. (To my credit, I’m damn good at ignoring things.) This advice, given in good faith, could not have been any worse. This was not a one off or short lived event. It was daily, for months. On top of all this, I also began my period in the middle of the school year. Ugh.
I was somewhat prepared for my passage into adolescence. The school had done their part in fifth grade giving boys and girls separate classes to explain what was going on with our bodies. The physiological aspects were concise while a bit sterile. We girls got these huge boxes with samples of every feminie product made to ease the monthly curse upon its arrival. (I tucked mine under the bed just hoping for the day it would serve its real purpose.) The only question I was left with was, “what happens to the boys?”
For years I had been told all about my period. My grandmother (who lived with us) had talked, explained to exhaustion the mechanics. She had been born into a family/time when it was absolute taboo. She ran to her mother one day bleeding and had no idea what she had done. Her mother’s reaction was, “have your sister take care of you”. She was shown the rags and told it was fine. It would happen every month and this is what you do. Beyond that, no explanation. Seriously! To counteract that ignorance, she talked incessantly about it. I knew all about my period, but maybe not how sex fit into it (no pun intended). My ideas about and knowledge of sex came from yet another source.
Recently I was told of my first known discussion about sex with friends the same age. Sitting in the back seat of a car on the way home from a ice skating, I chatted to my friend. We were both around seven or eight. The talk went something like this: “Know what sex is? It’s when a he puts his cock into her cunt.” (Sounds funny now, maybe a gif or a TikTok? Not in the seventies.) Well, the parent driving me home told my mother about the conversation as I was dropped off. (My mother didn’t even know some of the words). I was never reprimanded or even spoken to about it, that I recall. However, I will enlighten you on how I came to know such language. I learned it all from the “well hidden” Playboy and Hustler magazines in the bathroom. (Did I mention I was an early learner? Reading and writing by age 4.) All this information about menses and reproduction somehow never came together. Biology and sexuality were about as far removed from one another as possible. Throw in the psychological effects of being persecuted by peers and you’ve the groundwork for disassociated maturity by the time I turned twelve.
The autumn of 1984 pulled these together, very real and very fast. (Don’t worry, I didn’t stay in the dark for too long about the connection of sex and mensturation. The class in fifth grade did that, clinically speaking.) All that textbook learning convinced me I could not possibly be pregnant. While all the common sense signs pointed directly to it. That night on the table cloth was two maybe three days after my period ended. (You couldn’t get pregnant until mid-cycle, about 14 days out.) Spotting was sometimes a side effect of stress or changes in exercise. (I had begun to ride my bicycle, a lot – in order to see boys.) And I did’t have any kind of pregnancy’s usual side effects; sensitive breasts, increased or decreased appetite, sickness or feeling different at all – nothing. So, reality was ridiculous to me. But…I knew. Just like any woman knows. I knew and I ignored it.
(Before the obvious question gets asked, I will head you off at the pass. “If I had sex more than once, how do I know the pregnancy was the first time?” I know because I didn’t have sex afterwards for another 4 weeks or so. I know because of the medical records after the fact that showed the gestation. I know because of where and how and what kind of abortion I needed to have.)
Conscious ignorance doesn’t speak to unconscious knowledge. My freshman year I had study hall in the library. During that time, I devoured every available book or excerpt related to pregnancy, abortion, adoption, even teen motherhood. I gave my education over to Roe v. Wade that first semester, while remaining oblivious to why I was so interested. One specific article I often returned to was detailed account of a saline abortion. What impressed me and has stuck with me to this day, was the graphic description of the procedure. It was visceral, and it was scary. Those study halls gave me ample time to consume everything available in my tiny school library, and little did I know it set the precedent for my personal approach to studying – learn it all, every aspect, backwards and forwards, pros and cons.
Clearly, avoidance was not a sustainable remedy. The situation demanded attention, as did the movement inside my still very small 14 year old belly. My silence about the situation was broken when I finally trusted one friend who happened to have a fairly young, liberal minded mother. Oddly enough in my oxymoronic denial I had procured a pregnancy test that for months sat taped to the back side of the built in drawers in my room. I finally removed it and brought it to her house so I could pee on the stick.
Of course, it was positive. My fear and shame came over me. Any hope of appearing capable of handling the self-made predicament dissolved. For a brief moment my friend’s mother had offered to help before she realized it would be unwise if not impossible. And so, the journey began.
The darkness that overcomes many endeavours in life can be stifling. It can be unbearable. It may smother any hope for respite. However, even in the face of unimaginable despair, as long as a tiny flicker of light exists, there is hope. My fear was overwhelming and my shame matched. But, needs must and I finally told my mother. I recall sitting on the floor of my bedroom on the gold rug, the phone stretched out with its extended cord from my parents room. I sat at the ready to let the dust settle and call the father. Once my mother spoke to my own father, I rang the boy and explained. I don’t recall giving him any choice, just information. If he raised any objection or concern, it didn’t register. I had given my mother the news and the plan to seek an abortion. I gave him absolution.
Obtaining an abortion in the mid-eighties in the northeastern (US) was fairly straightforward, thankfully. My friend’s mother had helped me get the basic information, phone numbers and addresses. I relayed all this to my own mother and the wheels were set in motion. As the timing intersected with mid-term exams, I had most afternoons free the following week. The appointment was scheduled and directions were obtained. I don’t remember the specific days of my appointments, but if I had to guess the first one was on Wednesday.
The state of Rhode Island has always been more progressive than Massachusetts. From the days when Roger Williams was asked to leave, RI opened up for the heathens. So, we headed southwest to the ocean state. In the eighties street signs in Providence were scarce at best, making the quest to find the clinic difficult. Once we arrived, we met the objections of people outside the clinic (January was the anniversary of the Supreme Courts Roe v. Wade decision). I know they were there but have allowed the memory to fade enough to not remember any specifics. My conviction allowed me to walk past them. I went in (with my mother) to face the consequence of my action.
Upon examination, I was told that my pregnancy was too far along for any abortion procedure to be done at that facility. In fact, I was too far along to have a procedure within the state. They gave my mother (and presumably me) the number and address of an office in Brookline, Massachusetts that would do an ultrasound and precisely calculate the gestation of the baby. All I knew at that point was I could feel it. Life was inside of my belly. I was pregnant.
The next appointment I recall without hesitation, Friday. After I finished my exams, we drove to Boston and the ultrasound was performed. Results were given the same day at the same appointment. I was told that I was nearly 24 weeks and too far along for any procedure in Massachusetts. The contact information for the now defunct, Catholic Charities was obtained and my fate felt sealed. I would go off to a home to have the child, sign off, and move on with my life. To this day I am not sure what transpired. Perhaps my face, the receptionists sympathy, my mother’s visible anxiety, after a moment of acceptance we were called back to the desk. A new name and number passed hands and there was renewed hope. For a few short minutes I had felt the pang of disgrace, the knowing I would give birth and give up this child. I never had a second thought other than to put the child up for adoption. Never.
This new phone number, new hope was siezed upon immediately after returning home. Viola! A space was open. Again the journey would go further and the blackness grew deeper. I had secured a spot at a Jewish hospital in New York city that performed late term saline abortions. The flights were secured, hotels booked and in a matter of hours my brave mother took my hand and my future off to NYC.
After arriving at LaGuardia, we hailed a cab. A big yellow taxi that ironically had the theme to Taxi playing on the radio. The mind remembers odd tidbits, often insignificant but still visceral. The hotel was found and sleep came due to sheer exhaustion. The following day would be early and it would be long.
I don’t remember waking up. I don’t remember the cab ride to the hospital. I know we drove thorugh Bedford-Stuyvesant, but I had no idea its significance at the time. The hospital was big. It was brick and it was old. We were taken into a small office where the procedure was explained. I trust my mother understood better than I what was about to happen, because I stayed nearly in the dark until each stage was upon me. However, one of the most signifant moments of my life happened right there and then, in that small office in a hospital in New York city. My mother turned to me at the requirement of her signing the consent form. She spoke firmly with deep compassion, “This is not my decision. You are now a woman and must make your own choice. This is not my life, but yours. What is your answer? What do you want to do?” I knew this was for real, for keeps, and I understood the rite of this passage, along with the weight of my decision. My answer was definitive. It chose to go ahead with the procedure. I wanted to have the abortion.
The next twenty-four hours were profound. They set the tone of the time in my life, if not a great deal of my future. They also informed me giving a comprehensive education in very little time. I had no way of knowing in that moment all that this choice would bring to me, give to me, but hindsight works magic – both good and bad. I found my bed, up against a wall with a small table next to me. My mother stayed until she was told to go. It started.
A saline abortion is rarely performed in the United States today. In the eighties it was the minority of all terminations. It is a detailed procedure, graphic in nature and complete in process. For all intents and purposes, it is as close to giving birth as possible. Only, the mother knows the outcome will not be another’s life. Seaweed packets are placed in the cervix to ease expansion as they are exposed to moisture. (I find we often underestimate the usefulness of natural resources all around us.) I had no idea why or what was happening, except to remember the seaweed packets were inserted. From there, time passed to allow the relaxation of the opening, preparing the womb for what would occur. I admit to not recalling if the next step, the injection, happened before or after the packets. But I do remember the lenght of the needle. I can remember watching it enter through the amniotic sack to penetrate the womb and end the life inside. There was no going back now.
Later in the day, pitocin was administrated. Nowadays, pitocin is used to induce natural labor in the latter stages of pregnancy when need or desire to move delivery along is deemed safe. For me, it was the crucial part of a saline abortion, it did the same thing as it does in a full term pregnancy, caused contractions. It doesn’t happen instantaneously. It takes time. It was around ten o’clock at night when the need to push became overwhelming. Each of us going through the procedure were given a commode. I’m not sure how many of us knew what it was for, or how this all worked. I know I was the youngest, maybe even the most scared and, possible the most determined. I thank the gods for my ignorance. It helped. The contractions were uncomfortable, but brief. The pushing was easy, but it was scary. We all seemed to expel in successtion. The nurses flitting about to calm and aid each of us. I know I felt bad to be a burden (always a people pleaser and apologist for asking too much). I needed to see what my body was doing, but I chose the wrong moment. Even now, I can see the life that came out of me. I saw the tiny, little boy that I did not want and I could not give to anyone else. But the moment passed when I felt another need to push. Why? I just saw the baby and he was out. Was it twins? The nurse finally came by to check on me. Her accent was so thick and my provincial upbringing came out. “What did she say? Afterbirth? Huh?” The afterbirth indeed passed. There was finally relief. But the next journey was about to begin.
As if a whirlwind of travel in order to beat the clock securing a procedure was not enough, the psychological aspect was unexpected and incomprehensible. Once I returned home, my milk came in. So, I was bound. (Binding is the process of tigtly wrapping the breasts in order to soak and suppress the production of milk from the breasts.) In addition to bleeding, I was physically exhausted for a short time. Otherwise, I was healthy and bounced back quickly. My first full pelvic exam was post-abortion. That was nearly more frightening than the abortion because of the unknown, at least I had read about the saline abortion. I also felt as though I was being judged in eht doctor’s office. In hindsight, I probably wasn’t. The physical issues were inconsequential. But the emotional ones were excruciating.
I took a week off school before I returned. When I returned I found was my one friend I had entrusted with my secret told everyone in my absence, students and even a few teachers. Whether or not everyone knew, it appeared as if they did. In 9th grade curiousity in a small town is a world away from fear. Friends did not call. There were no more boys to give me a false sense of security in the moments before or after sex. I felt ostracized. My age and ability left me with emotions I had no idea how to process. I was unable to cope with the loss, the freedom, the anger, the fear, the joy, the hate and, the loneliness. Immediately following the abortion, I had my mother make an appointment for a psychiatrist. I had anticipated the need for support outside my immediate connections. But when I went either I, or the doctor, or maybe both of us, were unprepared to tackle the issue. The mid-eighties was no stranger to teen pregnancy, but it was a world away to its commonplace now.
The psychological experience was like a weight heavy enough to drag and keep one at the bottom of the ocean. Even while my recollection now is blurry, I remember tantrums of unprocessed emotion, boughts of uncontrollable crying, and racing emotions that moved so fast across my mind and body I could not keep up with them. More than anything, I recall the pain enduring school every day. It effectively crush my self-esteem and ripped apart my confidence. My grades, that were low already, plummeted. The loneliness of being alone ate away at any potential. I did not see the strength it took to admit, address, choose and accept my abortion. While it is not accomplishment, I did go through this with little support (my own choice, and my mother was nothing other than amazing), and with my move to womanhood/adult put upon me at the moment of the abortion, I knew I was in a new place that my peers could not understand. My inability to move quickly or unscathed through the trauma only served to add self-judgement to all the other emotions. (My mid-life diagnosis of bipolar disorder helped me put in perspective this reaction and understand the intensity of my emotions. I always presumed that everyone felt the same all-consuming intensity of feelings. Thankfully, even if it was late, I learned that the magnitude of my emotion is altogether different.) That period after the event was awful. No one, including me, had a clue how to deal with my psychological pain or ease the suffering. I was severely depressed.
In early April I had a glimmer of hope come in to my life. A wonderful young man asked me to prom. It was not my school, but another town (still safe). I had a new to focus to pull me out of my funk. But even this new prospect was shroud in shame in my mind. There was a burning need to absolve myself of the abortion, the killing of my son. While the conviction of my decision held strong, there were sectioned parts of my mind that saw a myriad of emotions, all with varying levels of guilt. Faith and sin were fleeting, but not absent. I believed, in part, that I was not deserving of anything good, no joy, no happiness. Therefore, I felt a sense of urgency to confess my transgression, not allow its power to grow as it sat just below my very thin skin. So, I did.
It was a cool early April evening when I spoke of my deeds. However, where I anticipated judgement, I found compassion. My new boyfriend immediately came to my side to give me comfort. While I cried, he simply listened. And he heard me. Until this point, my relationships were, to my mind, one sided. They were for me to feel. Perhaps it was my sexuality or just the need to feel a boy next to me. All I know was I always felt it was my power, my choice. The idea of reciprocity or care from another regarding intimacy was foreign. (I must put in a personal note about physical touching. Touch was/is always on my terms and determined innately. There are times and people I am unable to show affection, including family members. I’ve never explored how or why my walls come up, I simply know they do. Perhaps to protect the other person – because I share so much of myself with so many.)
My abortion now exposed, I was able to take a deep breath. I felt less shame and more acceptance, of myself. Again, to abort was entirely my choice and I would not change a single thing, but I needed to process. As years went by, I often found myself confessing my self-perceived transgression as the first conversation with new found friends. In some odd way it was a badge, not of pride or joy but maybe self-judgement. Each re-telling of the story was a way to gauge acceptance or rejection, absolution or conviction. A part of me felt I needed to test everyone’s value system, as a reflection of my own? My years of confession lasted over a decade, but the ritual inevitably faded. My needs were met, or my heart accepted my action. I moved along. The emotions that I carried included shame and self-judgement. However, embarrassment, fear, hate and guilt dissolved. I accepted my actions.
I am passionate about reproductive rights. My experience at fourteen solidified my opinion and I will argue a woman’s right to choose whenever challenged. My first abotion was an education of exception and acceptance. I represent(ed) a minority, both in age and type of procedure (see the cdc statistics referenced below). I am neither proud nor ashamed of my choices. However, I am absolutely sure my abortion was right for me. I know at 14 years of age I had a profound experience that set the tone of my life. As I look back, remember, recall and expose all this, I see what I carry. It’s not pride, but strength. Do not think I did not or do not even now struggle with my decision. I do. It is one of the most difficult challenges of my life. For many years I glossed over it. Now, I realise the impact and the importance this story offers. For me, this was the best choice. My choice. I only hope that the future allows all women to choose, and I offer them support. It’s not easy.
The following are just three websites I found while I decided to write this. My intention is to help anyone faced with this situation. My need was long ago and much has changed, but the attitudes today are as varied as ever. The options feel more narrow and the support just as fleeting. This is a right every woman should have . It needs protecting and preservation. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001467.htm https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/the-study-that-debunks-most-anti-abortion-arguments?utm_medium=social&utm_brand=tny&mbid=social_facebook&utm_source=facebook&utm_social-type=owned&fbclid=IwAR1yVi5Syz1ibzAmi-YW-4hcEZxN67vEnNw_f2x_EKWozBnMgZJ9X9ZEs74 https://www.amazon.com/Turnaway-Study-Consequences-Having-Denied-ebook/dp/B0831S4XB2?ots=1&tag=thneyo0f-20&linkCode=w50