You know how anti-abortion propaganda pegs women as emotionally distraught, sad and alone after their abortions? I was one of them.
I never expected it. Leading up to the procedure, I was laughing my ass off in the clinic, joking with my best friend about how we wanted to keep the “sack of cells” to put on the mantle.
But in the three weeks following my abortion, I sobbed at everything. Being alone was debilitating. I lost my shit and banged my head. Laugher was a foreign concept.
I was everything the pro-lifers said I would be.
When I wasn’t sobbing, I was rolling around in bed, with just enough energy to want to get out of bed, but too little to put my feet to the floor. And when I was up, I snapped. I screamed when something went wrong—or just not right.
As in not finding a spatula—this was grounds for a full-on breakdown in the kitchen, because not finding it meant not making myself lunch, which meant eating out, which meant spending money, which meant time not working and not working meant I wasn’t functioning.
I was equating my self-worth to my ability to find a spatula.
I threw the rest of the utensils on the floor, partly out of desperation, partly out of rage. I slammed the drawer. I hit my head with my palm. I wanted the mess in my head out. I wanted out.
It was ironic though, that I, the usual dreamer of escape plans, of plan Bs, Cs and Ds, was unable to see the several other spatula-like utensils in my kitchen, or recognize the other lunch options crowded in the fridge.
I was not myself.
On less volatile days, I begged my husband to stay. I begged him to come for me at lunch, to leave work early, to arrive at work late. I was being clingy—I, the one who shoos everyone out of the house on the regular, because they disturb my sacred workspace.
When my husband did leave for work, I created imaginary situations about how I was going to end up alone. He was going to leave. He was just waiting for the right day. Surely he would reach a breaking point with me. Surely everyone would. How much of my emotions could anyone take? Even I couldn’t take much more.
Logic was gone from my brain and my body. I couldn’t make sense of anything. My head was constantly spinning in some vicious cycle. I wasn’t myself. I felt powerless.
I was everything the pro-lifers said I would be—except regretful. I didn’t regret the abortion. At all.
That’s when I understood what was really happening to me. It was the hormones.
I remember the day. I was in the shower. I couldn’t get over this idea of loneliness. Sure, I had outbursts before, courtesy of synthetic hormones. But never had I felt so alone. I loved being alone. It wasn’t like me to be distraught over it.
And then it hit me.
"Oxytocin! It's the oxytocin!!!" I blurted out. My mouth hung open as I stared into space processing it all. "It's the oxytocin."
Somehow my mind had wandered back to ninth grade health class in—guess what—Catholic school. The lesson was on hormones. While the teacher brushed as quickly over the topic as possible, he did manage to sputter out a few facts on oxytocin, AKA the bonding hormone. We learned it was what connected mothers and children and husbands and wives. That was it.
What the teacher really wanted to say was that oxytocin plays a major role in pregnancy, and it gives your orgasms that toe-tingling wow-factor. But you know, this was Catholic school—where the smoke from the burning fires of hell clouds the curriculum.
Somehow this nugget of information stuck with me, all the way to my post-abortion meltdown.
So I thought: If oxytocin was responsible for bonding, could the lack of it be responsible for my loneliness? And if my body was producing more of it because of the pregnancy, did production stop as the sack was yanked out of my uterus? And did this send a shock through my body and mind?
I was betting yes. I set to researching as soon as I got out of the shower. My hormones were way imbalanced. This I knew. The powerless feeling reminded me of all those times they gave me depression and bipolar meds and nothing changed until I threw away my birth control pills.
My weepiness was so absurd it had to be related to estrogen. My mood swings and racing thoughts were just like those I would get from the pseudo-bipolar hormonal imbalances.
But all this from the voluntary expulsion of some cells? This was new territory.
I knew women suffered from some pretty messed-up hormonal imbalances after giving birth. Post-partum depression is a widely recognized issue, even if it isn’t completely understood. So I researched that. And what did I find? Oxytocin. Turns out that women with lower levels of oxytocin are at higher risk for post-partum depression.
Hmmmm, I thought.
So what about miscarriages? After all, your body is used to producing extra pregnancy hormones and then it stops. And then what about abortions? Technically, it’s the same in the eyes of the uterus. This search took a little more effort.
While I did find evidence claiming that miscarriages cause hormone imbalances and emotions like that of post-partum depression, it wasn’t as forthcoming. We talk a lot about women being depressed after a miscarriage, but not in a physiological context. The tone set by the American Pregnancy Association and the American Psychological Association is that these post-miscarriage emotions happen because of the sadness caused by the loss of the baby, as if hormonal changes are a mere add-on.
But that’s not always true. I wasn’t sad that I lost a baby or killed some cells or however you want to see it. I didn’t regret it. But I was still so, so sad.
Unfortunately, no one gives you a pamphlet in the abortion clinic warning that your hormonal changes may fuck up the next month of your life. Other countries do, but not ours. Australia, even Canada, and the most Catholic Ireland acknowledges the hormonal changes that lead to emotional distress (within the context of a miscarriage, of course).
These are just the facts we need to be spreading. This is the dialogue we need to be creating. I’m not crazy. We’re not crazy. The ones who dismiss physiological issues for psychological concerns are the ones who need to be examined. Not us.