What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Do you remember the supermoon from four weeks ago?
I remember it distinctly because I stared up through the pine trees of my home state at the bright amber roundness of it and thought: Where the hell is my period? If the moon is this full, my period should be early, and it ain’t!
All mysticism and pseudoscientific ties between the moon cycles and period cycles aside, I usually track my period with this website called Monthly Info. It’s a monthly cycle website that tracks people’s fertility, mostly for the sake of having babies and timing ovulation and such.
In my case, I have uterine fibroids, so it’s incredibly important that I know when to pack 1000 extra pads and iron tablets and put the black seat cover on my pale blue car seat. So rather than just the supermoon, I knew from a few years worth of statistics that my period was due sometime near the supermoon.
This statistical probability, paired with the knowledge of how my body felt the last few times I was pregnant, meant that -- yep, despite our respective ages (a lot closer to death than birth) -- neither my partner nor I were shootin’ blanks.
What’s kind of amazing is that one of my friends JUST had an abortion. When I heard about it earlier this summer, I scratched my head and thought to myself: What kind of almost 50-year-old is dumb enough to not use contraception? Basically I judged her immediately.
These are the kinds of thoughts that, in movies, become dramatic foreshadowing, almost as if the world is trying to beat home just how un-judgy one should be.
My friend had an angsty few hours of trying to figure out if she should keep her child or not. Her boyfriend is already a babydaddy for two kids, and the last thing HE wanted was another one. This would’ve been her first, and she struggled with the idea of not having one.
Eventually her answer was that it wasn’t the right time, for many reasons, so she had a chemical abortion.
The day after I stared at that supermoon, I went to the drug store and bought a pregnancy test. The people at the counter smiled at me while I bought it.
I see them at least once a week, and the town is way too small for them not to remember me, but sometimes you gotta just stare at someone matter-of-factly and buy the damned thing. I had a few symptoms, enough so that when I got the test results back, the dubious answer was answer enough for me.
Instead of the CROSS OF YES, it was a very strong no line and a very faint yes line, which meant that I was probably pregnant but that I’d caught it incredibly early. I hid from my children in the bathroom with my phone and texted my husband.
“There’s a chance I’m pregnant again. I’m going to go ahead and get an abortion, ok?”
I knew how my husband would feel about another pregnancy, and his reply was about as freaked out as I figured it would be.
“What?? How did that happen? Where are you gonna go for it?”
“It happened that one time we did that thing*. I’ll get back to you about where. Also: no putting your penis in me until you get a vasectomy.”
(* Nunna your business, but essentially, I got pregnant from it.)
The second thing I did was call my friend and ask how I go about this whole abortion thing. At my age, it was the last thing I thought I’d have to be doing, and I felt incredibly sheepish to be asking her, but also pretty driven. The last thing I wanted was another child when I already had as many as I needed, thanks, and that was that.
“How far along are you?” My pal asked.
“As near as I can figure it, three weeks.”
“That’s super early. You sure?”
“Yeah -- I just feel pregnant, and I know how that feels from the last few.”
“Oh. Then you can just go get the chemical abortion. Insurance doesn’t cover it, of course, so it’ll be about 500 bucks out-of-pocket. I was about seven weeks. They give you the abortion drugs up until eight weeks, I think.”
I hung up and went about Googling. Turns out there was an abortion clinic not far from my dad’s heart clinic, hidden down a side street.
The clinic had pretty decent reviews on Google, although I have no idea at all how someone judges whether a clinic is a good one or a SAVE THE FETUS one in disguise. I took a chance based on the reviews, and called the clinic.
“You need to plan to be here all day, ma’am. It’s gonna take between four and six hours. And by the way -- you are not allowed to bring a purse or a bag.”
“What the heck?”
“It’s for your protection. Some abortion protesters bring weapons in bags, so we don’t want to take a chance.”
That sounded like a lot of drama, but I made a mental note to stuff my phone and charger into my coat pockets, and booked the appointment.
On the allotted day, I drove up to the clinic and saw the protesters parked outside in white scripture-emblazoned vans. It made me feel kinda wry inside, because their scripture is totally lost on me.
I’ve been an atheist since I could reason, and I mostly felt sorry for people who had to spend a whole day sitting around in the iffy weather to tell me that someone they believe in considers something I’m doing wrong.
I really wished I could sit down with them and chat for a moment. “Uh, look, I’ve put my time in for kids, I screwed up (ha ha) once, and I’m seriously not gonna pay for yet another four years of college because of an orgasm or two.”
But I know religious fervor when I see it, and I wasn’t gonna touch that with a 20-foot pole. One good part was that the protesters were under court order to stay off the clinic property, so they had to remain on the street.
“Miss, please, think of your baby smiling at you,” one man shouted at me as I stepped my old feet into the clinic.
Are you serious? I thought to myself. I’ve seen three of my babies smiling at me and that is PLENTY.
The clinic was packed.
It was packed to a sad degree. The whole place, despite being above-the-board and well-reviewed, almost felt like one of the clinics I’d heard about from my grandmother back when abortion was NOT legal. (She had four abortions when they weren’t legal, and she’s the toughest woman I know.)
It was tiny and run-down, and the only amenity they offered was chairs. Those chairs were at a premium. I've never seen so many pregnant women in one place treated so shabbily -- a good ten were camped out on the floor.
On the plus side, the second I stepped in, I saw an enormous police officer, which made me feel safer. He smiled politely and pointed me to where I needed to go, and I sat on a chair and filled out a lot of paperwork about my abortion. I answered all the usual stuff -- medication allergies, whether I had a driver if they sedated me (I hopefully wasn't gonna need that), general health.
And then one question I was hoping they wouldn't ask, but they did:
Why are you having this abortion?
I wrote down my honest answer. "I have enough kids." But even if I didn't have any kids, isn't it nobody's business but my own? I know it's a court-mandated question because of laws and such, trying to make me rethink my decisions about fertility, but seriously. If I'm at an abortion clinic, then I've MADE that decision.
After I turned in the paperwork, there was nothing to do but wait. I watched the room full of women of all ages and all socioeconomic levels, all of us with a $500 check in our pockets and no purse.
There was a bit of drama.
There was a mom who came in, looked at her daughter, and said, "What, you still haven't had it?" Then she yelled at the clinic nurses, "DO YOU KNOW HOW TOUGH THIS DECISION WAS?”
"Mom, please, just leave. I'll call you when I'm done," her daughter said, shaking her head and hiding her face in her hands.
And that right there is why I'm writing this article.
Why is this a tough decision? Why so much drama, why the lack of chairs and the crying and the angry mothers storming into an overcrowded clinic?
“You know what,” I said to the woman next to me, “If men bore babies, abortion clinics would be like SPAS. We'd get reclining chairs and massages and people asking us in hushed voices if we'd like our pills now.”
Everybody laughed, and at least that cut the tension a little.
Then the ring of protesters outside began singing hymns, and EVERYBODY began to laugh, as if we'd all mutually agreed that their religion and our lives had about zero to do with each other.
Finally I was called in by a bright-eyed little guy with a white beard. He gave me a blood test, then told me to lie down. He got his fingers on my pants button pretty quickly, and I smacked his hand away. “I’ll undo that for you,” I said.
“You're one of our older patients. You remind me of my ex-wife,” he said with a chuckle, and I was torn between disliking his vague creepiness and feeling grateful that he remained in operation despite the daily barrage of religion at his door.
Still, the ultrasound was fine, and then I was forced by law to look at my fetus.
“There it is,” the doctor said.
“Where?” I said, peering in perplexity at the mass of grey. I've had ultrasounds, and usually you can see a baby in it.
“That dot. It's less than a millimeter. You really caught it early!”
“Yeah. I used statistics,” I said dryly. I couldn't see it until he circled the tiny thickened dot in the rest of the grey mass. Then I shrugged. “OK, let's get rid of it.”
“Great, come on over here to the desk, you can definitely take the chemicals.”
The doctor carefully explained the medicine to me. I took six pills and some medication mixed into water as I sat there, slugging it all back. Then he gave me eight more pills, four to be taken every few hours. I can't recall the names of these, but suffice to say, they get it done.
“You'll get cramps like a bad period tonight, because you're going to dilate a little. Then you'll bleed. You weren't that pregnant, so you probably won't bleed much. Here -- have these for the pain.”
He gave me an additional bottle of painkiller.
Abortion underway, I thanked him and left.
I had a few painful hours of cramps, but as I mentioned above, I have uterine fibroids -- this was nothing new to me. I stuck a hot pad on my stomach, invested in a few bottles of ginger ale, and waited it out. It was a bit uncomfortable for a few hours, and then suddenly it was normal. My bleeding started later that night, and I had a totally normal period.
My normal period is seven days long. Seven days to the dot after my abortion, my period stopped, and my life totally went on.
The moral of my own personal abortion story was just that: I experienced a relatively small amount of mental and physical pain, and life went back to normal in no time at all.
"Do you hear that?" I wish I could say to say to the protesters outside the clinic. "I had an abortion and it was actually just fine. No drama, no tears, very little pain in the scheme of things, and my life went on like normal. IT WAS A GOOD ABORTION."
I truly do wish that all the women in the clinic had been treated with a lot more respect for bearing the burden of a MUTUAL act, and doing what they had to about it.
But I will say this: the overwhelming feeling in the clinic was of strong women taking care of their own business. The feeling was one of relief -- that we had the right to be in charge of our bodies, and that we could do what we had to, to live the lives we (and our partners) wanted.
And that was essentially that.