I was 18 years old when I had my first abortion. Staring slack-jawed at the two pink lines of the pregnancy test, which seemed to appear shockingly fast, the positive result did not compute.
My boyfriend at the time, the son of an Ivy League dean who always got his best marijuana from his father’s stash, wore a tiny spoon around his neck. In my naïveté, it never occurred to me that it was for meth until he dumped a small mountain of white powder onto the table one night and proceeded to snort all of it with more determination than I’d ever seen him apply to anything in his life.
It wasn’t a difficult decision that carrying a pregnancy to term with this person was out of the question. It wasn’t fraught. I didn’t agonize. I knew immediately and without hesitation.
At 18 years old and living on my own, I considered myself an adult. Still, the first thing I did when I saw those two pink lines was to call my mother. To this day I am thankful for her kindness and quick action. Within a few days, she had secured me an appointment at Crittenton Hastings House (a clinic that has since closed) and verified that my procedure would be covered under her insurance.
With a feeling of dread I called my boyfriend to explain what would be happening. His first reaction was to curse at me and accuse me of becoming pregnant on purpose. After I repeated that I was ending this pregnancy he changed gears and proceeded to accuse me of shaking him down for money. After I explained it would only be a $15.00 insurance co-payment, I will never forget what he said:
“Wait a minute… Ummmm… OK that’s $7.50 each, but I’m not coming over there to bring it, you can come get it yourself.”
Abortion is frequently described as a difficult and agonizing decision, and it can be. This does not mean that it must be. When I hear people make that statement, it is this response that I think of, and the feeling of absolute clarity I felt, knowing I wanted this abortion to happen as quickly as possible.
The day of the procedure I had no idea what to expect. It was the mid 1990s and the glorious information superhighway that is the Internet was not part of my life. I’d heard vague warnings about protestors and as for the procedure, could only summon a few terrifying movie scenes to mind.
I did not anticipate warmth. I did not expect understanding and support, but this is what I received. I received kindness from my counselor as she explained the procedure and reassured me as I vomited into her waste bin that she was used to it and that my nausea would fade in a few days.
The room where my abortion happened was bright and sunny. I remember my doctor, whose name I wish I could recall, making small talk with me during the procedure to put me at ease. We talked about cooking and commiserated over our shortcomings in this area. I remember my nurse’s eyes, because she kept them on me the entire time, holding my hand and reassuring me though the process, while reminding me to take some deep breaths when my cramping felt strong.
I remember crackers and ginger ale in the recovery room from caring staff who never once made me feel like a criminal. I remember feeling understood and cared for and realizing how much I needed that. I know now what a rarity this is. That clinic is long gone now, along with so many others.
To this day, I try to return the kindness they showed me. During my work as an abortion counselor, I’ve had the honor of holding countless hands through the same procedure and sharing many of the same words of encouragement. Throughout this work I’ve encountered women shown by their communities that because of their situation they do not deserve such consideration.
As women we are all worthy of this respect. But it is not enough that we are all worthy. Women worldwide have been denied the basic right of control over what happens to our bodies. It is not enough that we deserve control over our reproductive destinies. We must demand it.
This is why I work with Women Help Women.