My Abortion Story & Why I Do This Work

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.

Carrie

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The Answer

I have been working as an online abortion and reproductive health counselor for 8 years now. I rarely have a pleasure to look in the eye of the people I counsel. Sometimes I hear their voices, but usually what I see are letters they type to my screen.

Yet we manage to build a relationship.

Sometimes people ask me how it feels to communicate by email with people in need of reproductive health service? Does the written form limit the conversation, or does it actually make it easier? Can you support women without seeing them? Is it even safe?

Internet knows no borders and email seems to give an impression of certain anonymity. I have an incredible privilege to correspond with people from so many places in the world. I would never be able to meet them otherwise, and hear their stories. A lot has been written in the last years about undeniable added value of the online communication for health issues, especially for more difficult or stigmatised ones.

Some women write me asking for an advice what to do in their situation and expect me to suggest a solution.

But I am not an advisor. I am a counselor. It would not be fair to decide for you.

I might have more factual knowledge on the subject of reproductive health, but you, out there on the other side of the screen, have knowledge of yourself. I provide information in most comprehensive way I can and in relation to what you ask me and tell me, and I will support you, but I will not diagnose, I will not recommend what you should do. You make your own choices. There is no secret knowledge I have that anyhow positions me as the one with THE answer that can solve your dilemma. YOU have the answer. You really do.

At times you feel the urge to tell me how it happened that you are in this situation. You give me the reason why you have an unwanted pregnancy.

I listen and am grateful that you share with me. But I do not need to know. I will not write to you differently, there is no better more ethical reason than other.  I will say though is that 1 in 3 women has an abortion in their lifetime, it is a common fact of our lives that we should embrace. Abortion is health care and your right, no matter why or how many times you need it.

As a counselor I try to frame my communication in a way that is responsive, supportive & non judgmental, clear & concise, medically accurate and empowering.

The empowerment is not in a moment of having found the best solution for you. It is not just a concrete, single event in time, it is rather the process of finding it and acting upon it. It surely was for me.

And lastly – the safety of medical abortion has been extensively proven, and you can read about it in the Questions and Answers section of Women Help Women website.

The follow-up model based on self-assessment is steadily used more and more for provision of early abortion with pills. Women call, text or email the personnel that support them in case of questions.

Here is a link to a recent excellent scientific article: Cameron S.T. et al., Can women determine the success of early medical termination of pregnancy themselves?

The short answer to the question in the title of the article is: yes, they can.

And they often prefer to do so, themselves.

I trust them.

proud to support your choics

Talking About Abortion – We’re Doing it Wrong

I’ve been thinking about how we talk about abortion.

When I worked as a counselor doing abortion care, I would talk about it all day every day. Then at night, I’d always find some way to talk about it some more. I love this topic and it’s one that I am at times irritatingly passionate about.  And yet, lately some of my talk has me concerned.

Often, when we speak about providing abortion care, we come up against resistance. A common way that we respond to this opposition is to proffer what we consider to be situations where only the most extreme fanatic could fail to recognize a woman’s need for this procedure. I’m no different. I will talk about a woman I met with a desperately wanted pregnancy, but whose doctor ejected her from her pre-natal program without so much as a referral when the heartbeat stopped at 28 weeks. I will talk about a woman caring for eight children in a homeless shelter with so many health problems that carrying a pregnancy to term would be a death sentence. Or sometimes I talk about a barely pubescent child, pregnant from repeated rapes by a trusted family member.  Then there was the strongly pro-life woman whose baby would never take a breath of air due to anomalies so severe that most of the head would never form. I have hundreds of these stories, each as striking as the last. Women whose hands I’ve held as they’ve managed overwhelming tragedy and hardship.

These stories pack an emotional punch. They help unite us in the face of terrifying challenges to our reproductive rights and help illustrate the hypocrisy of those who choose to take those rights away in the name of ‘safety and morality.’ These are the stories I reach for when making a point about why access is so desperately needed.

But what kind of narrative am I supporting by doing this? When these types of stories are the only ones we tell, do we add to the sentiment that abortion is a thing that must be earned through suffering? That abortion must be the only perceived way out of an otherwise devastating situation? That it needs any justification besides ‘a woman is pregnant and needs not to be’?

Because there are other stories. Rarely do I talk about my patient whose abortion allowed her to be the first in her family to go to college. Or of a successful woman who had strong ideas about what kind of parent she wanted to be when the time felt right and knew this wasn’t it.  Are these women somehow less deserving because they don’t fit a narrative that we’ve been pressured to use? These women deserve the same voice and access as any, and yet when we bend to the discomfort of society, and speak of abortion as a necessary evil, how are these cases impacted?

As I’ve said to many of the women I’ve counseled who were embarrassed by their tears, their laughter and frequently their nausea, there is no incorrect way to experience your abortion. We can feel loss and also relief. We can feel grief and also triumph. This should apply similarly to our dialogue. This is a procedure we can and should feel able to speak of proudly. Abortion can be tragic, and difficult and heart-wrenching. But it can also be freeing, a huge relief and even downright mundane. If we do not continuously include these stories in our advocacy than we bow to the same pressures of stigma that have limited abortion in the first place.

-Carrie Watters