The following article is a personal account of pregnancy and abortion. Though the contents herein may lean toward particular experiences and opinions, I would like to acknowledge that everyone’s experience of pregnancy and abortion is unique in its own right. Furthermore I would like to add that I am an advocate of choice and freedom, and thus this article should not serve as a means to dissuade women from getting an abortion. Rather, my intentions are to educate women and men about the potential physical and emotional side-affects of pregnancy and the abortion procedure, so as to encourage people to take safe sex into their own hands.
Unless you have known a woman who has had an abortion, or have undergone one yourself, the chances are you know very little about it. This is an alarming fact considering that by the age of 41, forty percent of woman will have gotten an abortion. Through becoming pregnant and getting an abortion, I have undergone a complete metamorphoses in my knowledge and perspective on abortion. Had I been educated about the vast physical, emotional and psychological intricacies, I would have taken practicing safe sex more seriously. Thankfully, I am now able to share something that I feel is crucial for both women and men to be aware of.
My attitude toward protected sex had always been firstly motivated by a fear of STDs, and secondarily, by pregnancy. Having received insufficient Sexual Education in high school, and not having been raised under any religious paradigm, the concept of abortion was always one which held little significance to me. It was a simple procedure which, if per chance I were to get pregnant, could be easily performed. For a few years my fear of STDs kept me sufficiently protected, though mainly because my love life consisted of one-night encounters and temporal dating endeavors.
Eventually love found its way into my life, completely catalyzing my views on sex. Once a simple game of enjoyment, sex became a sacred dance of art, connection, receptivity and love. It took on the form of meditation, a flight of transcendence and release. It became a means of engaging in raw, instinctual, communication. An intertwining of two forms of life, physically and emotionally.
The undeniable connection my partner and I felt sexually and emotionally made it increasingly unbearable to wear condoms. How could we fully connect, breaking all barriers, if guarded by a synthetic layer of latex? The thought grew increasingly undesirable, and I ached to experience my partner through our rawest means. The closer we got and the more intimately we began to know one another, the less careful we became, until finally we could no longer use a condom. Because I am against taking birth control pills, they were not an option.
One summer month, when desire and love got the best of us, my partner and I began having sex more frequently, particularly around the estimated time of my ovulation. I distinctly remember receiving intuitive messages of fear for pregnancy, for the first time in my life. Not too much to worry about though, worst comes to worst, I could always get an abortion. When the dates of my expected menstruation crept up and quickly passed by, even forgoing the eve of the full moon, I knew it was time to take a pregnancy test. Two tests later and the verdict was in; at 20 years young I was officially pregnant.
My surprise multiplied when I told my partner the news and received his reaction. Much to my surprise, he was ecstatic, professing that it would be a gift to raise a child with me. I was dumbfounded, everything suddenly becoming more complicated. Hadn’t he and I formerly established that we were anti-breeding in this day and age? The world was over-populated, we had agreed, and there were other ways to foster life than giving birth to a child of our own. Yet suddenly I was flirting with the idea of raising a child. My partner and I were deeply in love, and together we had created a form of magic between us; an unborn creature that could potentially go on to become a beautiful, beneficial person to this world.
Though everyone around me was surprisingly supportive of whatever decision I decided to make– save my catholic boss, who attempted to persuade me otherwise–, rationality eventually took its reigns on me and I decided not to go through with the pregnancy. I was too young, still unsure of my own place in this world. I knew it wouldn’t be my truth to give birth to a new life before I could birth my own.
When the romanticism of it slowly wore off, one nightmare after another approached. First, to my extreme surprise, I discovered that abortion procedures cost approximately $750, whether performed in a hospital or via a pill. Because I wasn’t yet a state resident, and never had health insurance, it made getting any type of reduced costs that much less feasible. Moreover, the more I read, the more I realized that neither pregnancy nor abortion procedures are quick, painless or easy. In fact they can be extremely complex and taxing, physically, emotionally and mentally.
When my hormones kicked in, all hell broke loose. Usually when a woman experiences PMS for the first two weeks prior to her period, she may experience a variety of symptoms such as abdominal cramping, water-retention, bloating, swelling and sensitivity of the breasts, food cravings, irritability, anger, depression, difficulty concentrating, decreased energy, headaches; the list goes on. At least, PMS only lasts for two weeks, and all malaise that has accumulated within the body for two weeks, is gloriously released once the menses blood flow begins. Like PMS, pregnancy produces the same symptoms, save for the fact that they can be tenfold in their effect, and don’t cease, until the baby is either born, miscarried or aborted.
Suddenly I found myself blanketed by an unquenchable sleepiness, my brain felt covered by a fog of confusion, my moods were unpredictable and predominantly leaning toward the unpleasant. Bloated, I felt the sensation of being pregnant long before the fetus developed. A simple walk or bike ride, my favorite means of transportation, became arduous tasks that catapulted me into day-time naps. Though always an insomniac, sleeping became an easy undertaking, and I experienced deep sleep for the first time in as long as I could remember.
A male housemate of mine made an ignorant comment at the time stating that he wished he were pregnant, so as to prove to women that it’s not a big deal. I felt alone in my struggles, a woman in a man’s world, where no amount of verbal explanation could illustrate the burdens and responsibilities a woman inherently has to deal with throughout her life. Having to explain to my boss that I needed to take off of work to attend my ultrasound or abortion counseling appointments, and thereafter take work off for a few days for the abortion and recovery, became simple acts that would prove difficult to make a reality.
I began to feel that the only people I could talk to became women who had undergone the experience of pregnancy and/or abortion. Women who could relate, assuring me that the symptoms I was feeling weren’t fabricated out of my imagination. Slowly but surely, women around me began to open up about their own experiences with abortion. Although each story was unique in its own right, the common thread was one of pain and sorrow. Surprisingly the women I spoke to were excited to recount their stories, mainly because they had felt too ashamed or timid to open up in the past.
A woman’s hormones are dominated by estrogen and progesterone, with testosterone playing a smaller role. Throughout every month, estrogen and progesterone flow through several peaks and dips. Though men experience hormonal cycles, they are not as complex, and do not rise and fall as drastically or frequently as the female’s. The physical, mental and emotional states of a woman are intrinsically dependent upon the cycles of her hormones, though this is not to imply that hormones are the be all end all. This is a very real, science and evidence based female process that should not be denied or overlooked. Denying this only makes male/female relationships all that more difficult and distancing.
Eventually I received my first ultrasound, only to find out that I was too early. At four weeks pregnant I had developed the ‘sack’ for the fetus, but the fetus itself was too microscopic to enact a proper abortion procedure. After spending countless hours in the hospital and little at work, the day finally came when I was able to get an abortion. At six weeks and six days– exactly a month before my birthday– I saw our baby on the ultrasound, a little white strip cocooned in a protective sac; mine and my partner’s little seed of love and magic, soon to be suctioned out and terminated.
The days before the procedure I researched abortion procedures and recovery, read countless accounts written by anonymous women, and was left feeling horrified. Not only did I read a deluge of personal accounts illustrating excruciating pain, but I read many horror stories in which procedures went terribly awry. Women spoke of lying in bed for weeks in sheer agony, bleeding heavily, acquiring infections, experiencing intense abdominal swelling to the point where eating was not possible. Abortion information pages advised not to have sex or exercise for 2-4 weeks. Common side effects included cramping for a few days, soreness and swelling, depression, and mild bleeding for a couple of weeks. The more movement you do after the procedure, the more you will cramp and bleed.
There are different methods for aborting a baby. Some are operation based, while others can be done at home. The two most popular at-home abortion methods are performed via pill– which are typically prescribed by Planned Parenthood or a hospital–, and herbal abortives. Although these methods are referred to as more safe, they are generally more painful, with crippling cramping lasting up to a couple of weeks. One should also note that any form of pill strong enough to kill something undesirable (such as an abortive pill, the morning after pill or antibiotics) is also strong enough to purge your body of beneficial bacteria, and lower your immunity. The method I chose to use is called Vacuum or Suction Aspiration, primarily because the procedure itself only lasts a maximum of 15 minutes.
The day of the procedure I woke up at 5 am and dutifully took two sedating pills that had been prescribed to me the day before. At 7 am my appointment began. I was taken into an operation room, hooked up to an IV, and rubbed down with disinfectant. Preparation took about 30 minutes, after which anesthesia was pumped through the IV, and local anesthesia was applied to numb my cervix. A sterile cannula was then inserted into my uterus and attached via tubing to a pump, which suctioned out the contents of my uterus. The doctor scraped my uterus, inserted a non-hormonal copper IUD (formally known as Intrauterine Device, a form of birth control) and checked the contents that had been suctioned out. It should be noted that IUD insertion is not a standard part of the abortion procedure, but is offered as a means for future protection. It is ideal to insert the IUD during the operation, as your uterus is already open and relaxed.
After the procedure I was given antibiotics, so as to prevent infection. Because I had an IUD inserted into my uterus, I was at a higher risk for infection within the first month post-operation, but I was unable to accept the antibiotic because they prescribed me a variety that I had had a near-death allergic reaction to in the past.
Because the anesthesia had catapulted me into a hallucinatory trip wherein my nurse’s eyes started to decay and the floor turned to melting lava, I was too distracted to take notice of the procedure. In fact, I barely felt a thing, and left the hospital feeling relieved and elated after having anticipated the worst.
When I arrived home I immediately fell asleep, only waking for a few hours in the eve before falling back asleep again for the night. It wasn’t until the day after when the aftermath of the procedure hit me. I had thought that once the abortion was performed, the hormone related symptoms of pregnancy would ease up, and life would return back to normal. In reality, your hormones do not instantaneously balance themselves out, taking up to a month to return to their normal cycle. I found myself mysteriously bursting into tears the day after the abortion, unable to decipher why, save for the fact that I felt hypersensitive to everything; lights, people, sound, scents, my experience.
But the harsher realities I had to face were the physical side effects. To help illustrate, I will preface by saying that I have a very high pain tolerance, have gladly endured much tattooing without wincing, and believe that a little pain keeps one mentally healthy. I was not prepared for my stomach to swell up like a balloon, to the point where any substance I consumed created the uncomfortable sensation that my stomach would explode. Moreover, for the next week, I experienced shooting pains in my cervix, and excruciatingly painful cramps in my abdomen that were so extreme I could do nothing but lie in bed and focus on the pain. For the sake of clarity, I should add that a common side effect of the copper IUD insertion is intense cramping. When I called the hospital and inquired as to whether my pains were due to the abortion or the IUD insertion, the doctor responded that the symptoms I was experiencing were typical after affects of both procedures, and that she was unsure which was the main contributor.
It has now been exactly a week since the abortion. My breasts and abdomen are still swollen, I am still bleeding mildly, and experiencing pain at night, though symptoms seem to be subsiding. It seems my moods have evened out and the severe feelings of depression I felt throughout my pregnancy are easing. I look forward to being able to work, bike, dance, have sex, experience my period, mental clarity and energy again; all the simple things we take for granted. My follow-up appointment is a week from now, and I hope to hear that I do not have an infection, that all is okay and life will return to normal. Moreover I eagerly anticipate the arrival of my state ID, so that I may get admitted for Medicare, covering my operation costs.
As unpleasant as the past two months of my life have been, I cannot say that I regret this experience, or apologize for connecting with my partner without a condom. Everything is a learning curve, and I now know to treat birth control with more respect, and to be more aware of my monthly ovulation cycle. Though I felt disempowered throughout my experience, I am thankful to be able to share what I experienced, so as to empower men and woman to approach pregnancy and abortion with caution and respect. I feel proud to be a woman, intimately aware of all the internal battles we must face, the weight we must carry for the world. We are not living in a woman’s world, where men feel incentive to take birth control into their own hands, or where we can explain to our male bosses how cramps can be one of the most crippling pains to endure. Thus many women are forced to be silent, quietly enduring inevitable pain and tribulations. Although pregnancy and abortion will be experienced by most women sometime in their life, most feel too ashamed to talk about it. I hope to abolish these fears and break through the contrived societal walls we have built. But most importantly, I hope to encourage you to practice safe sex.