This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of “Mara” and her abortion. I think Mara’s story is a particularly important one because most of us have been raised to believe that unplanned pregnancies (and abortions) aren’t things that happen to “nice girls.” They happen to women who have unprotected sex with multiple partners and make bad decision after bad decision. When, in reality, these things can happen to anyone.
I recognize that abortion is an extremely sensitive topic and I really appreciate Mara’s willingness to talk about her experience. Please keep all comments respectful. While I usually maintain an no-delete comment policy here on Yes and Yes, any hurtful or inflammatory comments will be deleted. Intelligent, respectful disagreement is, of course, welcome.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m 26, married, pretty traditional in lots of ways. I grew up a bit south of Boston in a middle-class college town, had a lapsed-Catholic upbringing that eventually morphed into agnosticism, and currently work as a middle school teacher. I was brought up with the understanding that it’s good that abortion is legal, but it’s not for “good girls.” (I was and still am very much a good girl.)What was your life like when you got pregnant?
I was using protection. I was on the pill. Something my doctors never told me until my appointment at Planned Parenthood was that if you use the same pill for a long time without a break or switching brands, there’s a chance your body will adapt to the hormones and you will be able to get pregnant. That’s what happened to me. After 5 years on the same pill, taking it the same time every day, it stopped working.
I was angry, honestly. I have never been promiscuous or irresponsible in my sex life, I had been religious (ha!) about taking my pill on time, every day, I was educated and aware of the risks, I felt like I had done everything the “right” way, and so it was hard to deal with the truth.I was in denial about being pregnant for about 4 weeks before I took a test and had to face it. In hindsight, all the typical symptoms (nausea, constipation, smell sensitivity, giant breasts) were there, but I was so committed to my pill I thought there was no possible way.
When my husband and I discussed the possibility of pregnancy when we first started sleeping together, I told him that I’d have the baby. I think that’s easy to say at 19, when you’ve yet to make a real adult decision. (Not that being a teenager excludes you from adult circumstances, but I hadn’t faced one yet.)When it did happen, the decision part was easy, surprisingly. After I took the test, I called my fiance at work. He was prepared to rush home, but I told him to take his time, that I was calling Planned Parenthood to make an appointment for an abortion. I just knew that I wasn’t prepared to be a mother, regardless of my love of all things tiny and helpless.
I have to give credit where credit is due: my fiance (now husband) was a rock. Only after did he share that I had chosen what he would have wanted. He refused to let me consider his opinion: to him, it was my choice and my choice only. His role was to support me.
Can you tell us about going to the clinic?
I think that was what scared me most: protesters, judgment. But there was no one! I live in the Northeast, and in general there isn’t a lot of zealotry– Massachusetts isn’t a very socially conservative state. I was in and out in one appointment. The thing I would tell a woman to prepare for is a long, long wait.
My appointment was scheduled for 9:15, but I wasn’t seen until 5:30. They take your clothes and give you a johnny, but it was cold and I wanted a sweater and thick socks. Pack a book, a cardigan, a small blanket if you’re wimpy like me. You can’t eat for 12 hours beforehand, so tuck in at dinner, you’ll need your strength. You do speak with a counselor. They ask questions about how safe your relationship is, if you have multiple partners, if anyone has forced you into your decision. It’s a little embarrassing, but totally necessary.
Could you tell us about the procedure?
I’m going to give the gory details here, because I want women to know what they’re in for. First you’re given an ultrasound, to make sure you’re within the medical and legal parameters for first-trimester abortions. Often if you’re less than 4 weeks in, you have to wait to have the procedure. When that’s done and the wait is over, you’re brought into a dim room and sedated.
The sedation doesn’t kill all the discomfort, but it made me relaxed enough to chit chat a bit with the nurses. There’s a brief internal exam, the cervix is dilated, and the doctor will tell you when he is inserting the vacuum. I don’t know if there’s a way to describe the feeling other than it feels like a really prolonged visit to the gyno. I didn’t think it hurt, but it’s different for everyone. The whole thing took about 15 minutes, even though I’d been there 8 hours.
How did you feel afterward? Have you ever regretted your decision? Do you plan on having children in the future?
In the days and weeks after, I felt like I was trapped in a Dali painting and everything was shifting and breathing and melting around me. It was the most surreal few weeks of my life. I felt like I was in someone else’s body, watching myself. I know now that was partially my hormones readjusting, but I was definitely depressed for awhile. Not because I regretted my decision (I still don’t) but because I was confused as to how I had ended up on the other side of the statistics.
It took awhile to forgive myself, and recognize that I had done my part as best I could. Birth control is never 100% guaranteed, and asking myself “what if” 30 times a day wasn’t productive. My husband and I do plan on having a family, but we aren’t committed to when. Definitely not until we’re in our 30s. I have a Master’s degree to finish first!
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about women who have abortions?
That they’re all irresponsible teenagers, that they’re mostly of minority races, that they’re promiscuous, they’re from a big city or a tiny country town, that they’re uneducated or lack resources. Something I learned from my experience is that all kinds of women, of all ages, races and religions, for all reasons, have abortions.
No two women ever have the same experience, so it’s completely inappropriate to lump us into groups. I am an educated white woman from a fairly conservative family, with access to doctors, health insurance, and counseling– I still got pregnant unintentionally. It could be any of us.
What advice would you give to a woman who experiences an unwanted pregnancy?
Talk to someone. If it can’t be your mom or your partner, seek out a counselor, friend, or forum online. You don’t have to hold this inside you, and you’re never alone. Be kind to yourself. Even in the darkest hours, you’re still your own woman. You’re good and complete, even in the scariest times. Forgive yourself. You have to live with yourself forever, in situations that bring you pride and pain in equal measure. I guarantee you’ll be amazed at the strong and resilient woman inside you.