I was 16-years-old when I had my first abortion.
I remember nervously pacing down Park Avenue in New York city, barely able to function because I was suffering from severe morning sickness and dehydration (you’re not allowed to eat or drink after 12am the night before the procedure). Outside the hidden Manhattan doctor’s office were a group of hecklers, toting signs with bloody and dismembered fetuses on it. If I had eaten in the last few hours, I would have easily thrown up. I kept walking straight past the entrance, fearful they’d peg me as a patient and attack. I made it half way down the block where I found enough courage to turn back and face the angry lobbyist. They pushed pamphlets at me and yelled things I’ve buried so deep, I couldn’t repeat if I tried. Did you know your baby has a heartbeat at 22 days? I guess that’s if you classify the fetus as such. I didn’t. I just thought of it as a bundle of cells, an embryo. In my mind it wasn’t a baby just yet even though I was somewhere around 4 months along.
Abortion is not uncommon in the United States. 3 out of 10 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. Depending on the length of the pregnancy, a woman can either have the pregnancy surgically removed in a clinic or opt for “medical abortion,” which is the term for taking the mifepristone pill (called RU-486 when it was being developed) up to 9 weeks into their pregnancy. An in-clinic abortion costs anywhere between $300–$950 in the first trimester (women can get abortions up to 24-weeks), while the pill can be taken up to 9 weeks into the pregnancy. Prices for the pill cost $300–$800.
I recently stumbled across a meme on Instagram that called women who’ve had multiple abortions serial killers. I’ve never been offended by a post on Instagram, but on that day, I took it to heart. I’ve had five abortions in total, three surgical and two non-surgical (the pill). I never thought I would have so many. When I was just 16, there was another girl my age in the doctor’s office who had six and I looked at her like she was crazy. I judged her…then turned into her.
There are plenty of misconceptions about women who get abortions. It isn’t a method of birth control. In fact, half of all women getting abortions report that contraception was used during the month they became pregnant. Almost half of all pregnancies among American women are unplanned. About half of these unplanned pregnancies, 1.3 million each year, are ended by abortion. And it’s not just teenagers “slipping up.” While women between the ages of 15 and 19 account for about 17% of all abortions, women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions: Women aged 20–24 obtain 33% of all abortions, and women aged 25–29 obtain 24%. Some 25% of abortions are obtained by women who are 30 or older. Other interesting statistics to note: about 61% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children. Thirty-seven percent of women obtaining abortions identify as Protestant and 28% identify as Catholic. You never know who “she” is when she’s sitting in the waiting room…
I didn’t tell my parents, simply because I was afraid. I didn’t want them to know I was having sex and unprotected sex at that. The thought of telling my dad was just unbearable. Not to mention, I didn’t want it. I was too young to have a baby and despite my love for the man I was with, I am opposed to teens having babies or bringing a child into the world as a single parent or impoverished circumstances (just my opinion). I wasn’t aware enough to use a condom but I was smart enough to know, my boyfriend wasn’t going to settle down with me and we raise a happy family. Ring, then rattle.
Places like Planned Parenthood and the clinic in my neighborhood were very helpful. I didn’t know what to do when I found out I was pregnant, I just knew I had to do something without my parents knowing. There are so many options out there for young women. I didn’t want to use my dad’s insurance out of fear of being exposed, so I applied for emergency Medicaid to cover the cost.
For my first abortion I was 16-weeks and had to have the dilation and evacuation procedure which involved doctors placing a cervical (osmotic) dilator inside of my cervix to begin dilation for the procedure. Normally, for women who get an early abortion, the process is less intense and involves using a small vacuum to suction out the pregnancy but I had to stay in overnight. I suffered through excruciating cramps (the kind you feel when your cervix is opening, like someone’s ripping it apart). There was a chance I could pass the fetus in the middle of the night and wake up in an ocean of blood and sorrow, but I was lucky. I returned the next day to have the fetus removed.
I’m not proud of it. I still cry when I think about it…the feeling of cold metal stirrups cradling the heel of your feet and the vulnerable feeling of spreading my legs wide open on top of a OB/GYN table. Closing my eyes and waking up in the recovery room. There’s nothing glorious about having an abortion. The physical pain subsides after a few hours, but the emotional toll, “what have I done,” haunts you until your balled up in the shower crying. At least, that’s how it happened for me.
MUST READ: ‘My Abortion’: 26 Women Share Their Stories
I went on to have two more surgical abortions that included waking up in the recovery room shivering and have a random stranger change my pad until I could move on my own. The immediate pain was intense each time. Imagine the worst cramps you’ve ever had in a constant sharp pain for about 30 minutes. They serve hot chocolate or chicken broth and have treats like cookies and crackers in a basket for you to eat. I rarely ever drink chicken broth now.
I vowed to never go through that experience again. Never! It’s one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had (times three). But, I got pregnant again. The fourth time I opted for the pill in order to avoid going through the entire surgical procedure again. I would recommend it to anyone asking about making the cumbersome decision to have an abortion; at least you get to be in the privacy of your own home.
The abortion pill is 97% effective with side effects that include: dizziness, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and temporary flushes or sweats. I only suffered through intense cramps, which is said to be normal. The abortion pill works by blocking the hormone progesterone. Without progesterone, the lining of the uterus breaks down, and pregnancy cannot continue. One of the pills active ingredients, Misoprostol, causes the uterus to empty (if a medical abortion with the pill is not successful, a surgical abortion is then done to complete the process because Misoprostol can cause fetal abnormalities). I made an appointment at a facility that provided the service. After being examined by the doctor, I took the first pill then went home with the second dosage. Within 24-hours, I took the next pill. In about 2 hours, I felt bleeding and tissue coming down and I knew the process was in the final stages. It wasn’t pleasant, but I didn’t have to be put to sleep like a dog and wake up with guilt that lingers through the years.
In hindsight, I was very naive about the situation. If I would have knew what I know now, I would have gotten on a different kind of pill — birth control pills – way earlier and saved myself painful memories. I don’t regret any of my abortions because I don’t even know if I want children anymore. I know I didn’t want them at the time of my pregnancies nor was I ready. I still don’t think I am a serial killer. I think I made the right decisions for my life and future child’s life.
P.S.- I’m now on the pill and still don’t have any children.