Thursday, January 26, 2006

Abortion: The Choice I Made

DISCLAIMER: This is a diary about my own experience with abortion. I would really appreciate it if, after reading it, anyone inclined to shame me or express their "pity" for me ... would kindly fuck off.

It's been a "hot topic" around these parts of late; a man named Alito has been nominated to the Supreme Court, considered by most as certain to be the "swing vote" that "swings" us all the way back to the days of illegal abortion and a woman's body not being her own.

When I think about the struggle of women and men to retain reproductive freedom in America and the world, I tend to take it personally.

As a woman, there's a form you fill out when you visit a new doctor, and included among the health history questions are a series dealing with how many pregnancies you've had and how they... turned out, I guess. I write down "3" for the number of pregnancies:

One live birth, my darling, adorable son. And one and a half abortions; the first was complete, initiated by me. The second was a partial miscarriage (that's how I mark it on the questionnaire)that the doctors in my home town were legally constrained against finishing because of that town's restrictions against abortion. Technically, you see, it would be considered an abortion until it could be definitively determined whether or not the fetus was still viable.

After being subjected to an excruciatingly uncomfortable procedure wherein my bladder was filled with water and then an ultrasound was taken to determine the status of the thing inside me that was bleeding out of me in globs and puddles, I was advised to wait it out, go home and see if the miscarriage continued. The best advice they could give me was to "go home and let nature take its course."

I was forced, while in mid-miscarriage, to ride in the back of my distraught boyfriend's car -- for 400 miles, down south to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the Planned Parenthood clinic where I had the first abortion six years earlier at the age of 19.

At 19, I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was in a horrible relationship with a man who had been a teacher's assistant in one of my classes. We practiced "safe sex" with condoms -- not so much because of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, but precisely because we didn't want to procreate. It didn't take and I got pregnant.

I was, to say the least, not thrilled. Nor was he. He was adamantly opposed to my having a baby. As it happened, so was I. Still, I called my mother - mostly for the love and support I mistakenly hoped she would give me. My mother raised me as a pro-choice feminist, but had since rejected those beliefs in favour of her recent decision to join the Faith Reformed Christian Church. She proceeded to beg, cajole, berate and castigate me, all of which culminated in her final argument to me: "That's my grandchild you're killing." I will never forget those words. And I will never repeat them to her grandchild.

Then-Boyfriend (and future ex-husband, I might add) and I made our way to the Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor. First they confirmed what I already knew, with a pregnancy test. Then I received counseling. The woman made very sure that it was my decision, that I hadn't been coerced by my boyfriend or anyone else, that I was aware of the other options. They were not acceptable options to me. I knew I would never be able to have a baby and give it up, and I knew I was in no shape (psychologically, financially, emotionally) to be a mother.

We were broke. The procedure cost $400. The anesthesia was optional, for another $150. We didn't have it, so I was given a couple Valiums. It was the most physically painful experience I have ever endured (and that includes an extremely complicated and excruciating pregnancy and birth a decade later). The doctor was male; sadly, he was not terribly sympathetic. He scolded me for screaming. He told me it couldn't possibly be as bad as I was saying it was. At one point I felt a pain so sharp that my right leg kicked out and the stirrup flew across the room and hit the wall behind the doctor. The boyfriend, who was with me during the procedure, broke into sobs watching me go through it.

Afterward, it took me several days to recover physically. Emotionally, I was shaky -- but mostly because it had been a painful and distinctly shameful experience. My mother's words, the doctor's total l;ack of empathy or trust in my responses to the pain, as well as a childhood in Catholic schools all conspired against my better instincts and coaxed me into being ashamed; ashamed of being female, ashamed of being sexual, ashamed of failing to adequately protect against pregnancy, ashamed of choosing an abortion and my "selfish" desire not to be a mother.

At 19, I had not yet fully come into the raging alcoholism and drug addiction that was to be most of my twenties, but it was already there. I have often imagined what a horrorshow of a mother I would have made, what a devastating life I would have given a child in those nine years it took me to get sober.

I have never regretted anything about the choice I made, except for the lack of anesthesia -- and maybe not having registered a complaint against the doctor for being a putz.