My abortions aren't shameful secrets no matter what you say
I lost my virginity to a man that I loved during my sophomore year of college. Moments after returning to my dorm room the morning after, giddy and relieved to have finally “done it,” my very psychic friend from high school called me. “You did it? You had sex with him?” Yes, I told her, I finally did it and it was beautiful.
She asked if we used a condom, and I told her no, knowing, at least intellectually, that it was incredibly stupid, but what were the odds of getting pregnant upon losing one’s virginity? (Answer: the exact same odds as any other time in your reproductive life.) My friend then made me count the days from last period, and the reality of the risk I’d just taken landed in the pit of my stomach: I was exactly in my fertile window.
It would only be a few days before I huddled in a suite with a group of girlfriends, including one woman who’d recently had an abortion, to take a pregnancy test. My breasts were already sore but I wrote it off as PMS. I dutifully peed on the stick, exited the bathroom and set it down on the floor. We gathered in a circle around it like a neurotic coven around an altar, waiting for my results.
The one who’d been through it before, let’s call her Mariane, saw the two pink lines first. She hugged me and told me it was going to be OK, and even though I was terrified, I knew somehow that it was. I went back to my dorm room, made an appointment with Planned Parenthood and called my boyfriend.
A few days later he brought me to the local PP, where a very kind, compassionate nurse confirmed the over-the-counter test. I left her office and in the stairwell, I looked at him and weirdly said, “Hi Daddy” because I didn’t know what else to say. And he didn’t know what to do with me except to tell me he’d pay — painful awkwardness all around. Planned Parenthood gave us the name of a clinic in Queens, New York (the one I visited did not provide termination services — only 3 percent of their budget actually goes toward abortion, despite what GOP leaders want you to believe).
I didn’t cry until we got back to his apartment, while I was dialing the phone to make the appointment. I had to hang up because my sobs shook my body violently. Anti-abortion crusaders would have you believe that my tears were tears of regret — of not wanting to “kill a baby.” But I was just plain terrified — of telling my parents (I didn’t until years later), of being the only one of high school friends to have gotten pregnant (I felt like a failure), of going under anesthesia (I’d never had an operation before).
But mostly it was shame. Overwhelming, flooding, cellular-level shame. I waited so long for the right partner with whom to share my body, and the direct, almost immediate result was this: clinic appointments, nausea, a foreign invader in my body, the body I was just starting to figure out how to love.
The personal is indeed the political, and by the time I got pregnant, I was already politicized in favor of choice — it was in fact the first thing I ever wrote about, in an op-ed to my local paper. There had been an Operation Rescue event at a church in my hometown my junior year of high school, and I was enraged. Before I could possibly know what an end to abortion rights would mean for my own body, while I was still a virgin, I understood how very wrong it was for anyone to tell me what I could or couldn’t do with it.
The paper published my letter, and my English teacher beamed and asked me to read it to the class. But despite this fiery, early politicization, this pride in being part of a righteous movement, my pregnancy and subsequent abortion were consumed by the right’s rhetoric. Somehow these hateful anti-choice activists, ones who’d inspired the “Keep Your Laws Off My Body” sticker on my bulletin board, were inside of me as surely as the clump of cells they called a baby was inside of me.
A week after my pregnancy test was confirmed, one of my dearest friends from high school found out that she, too, would need an abortion. I shared with her all I’d learned in that short time — how to eat crackers to stave off the nausea, how much it would cost and how the hormones were already making me cry all the time. A few weeks later, she would end up getting her procedure at the same clinic. We reclaimed our bodies in sisterhood, which is the way it should be.
Anti-abortion zealots would have it otherwise — would have us always alone, scared and scarred. This is the same anti-choice movement extolled by the three remaining GOP candidates, including John Kasich. If you think Trump is outrageous, just remember that Ted Cruz is advised by a man who believes abortion doctors should be executed. But we can fight back against their bigotry by telling our stories and un-shaming others.
I have a uterus, ovaries, a vagina, fallopian tubes and breasts. These body parts require regular maintenance. Pap smears, breast exams, PMS treatments — and when necessary — abortions. Just like any other medical procedure. I don’t feel existential dread and shame when I book my dental appointments, so why should my reproductive upkeep be so emotionally fraught?
One in three women have abortions in the U.S. We are mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins and friends. We are everywhere, next to you on the subway, handing you your change at the market, sitting across from you at a meeting at work. Yet thanks to our current political climate, our bodies are still a battleground of shame and loss — more than 40 years after our right to safe abortion was enshrined in law by the Supreme Court.
Now that our bodies are once again being made into fodder for vicious political battles by men whose personal medical decisions will never be anyone else’s business, we must tell our stories — the good, the bad and the ugly. We are one in three. And our bodies are our own, so let’s tell our stories together, in sisterhood.