Most mornings I hit the snooze alarm four or five times before I get up. I always have. But one morning, 10 years ago, I didn’t sleep in. I couldn’t. I groggily climbed out of bed and prepared for my life to change. In a few hours, I was having an abortion.
My stomach growled and I threw up a little in the shower. Morning sickness. That’s how I knew I was pregnant, even as I denied it to my 19-year-old self.
I wasn’t allowed to eat anything before my appointment – no water, candy, or even gum. As the warm shower water washed over me, I thought, "I did everything right. These things don’t happen to girls like me."
As I searched through all my clothes in my closet and dresser, I couldn’t decide what to wear. What do you wear to your abortion? I decided the standard jeans and a t-shirt were good enough. Comfortable. Simple.
"As the warm shower water washed over me, I thought, 'I did everything right. These things don’t happen to girls like me.'"
I learned I was pregnant the week before. Like most weekends, I was with my boyfriend at his best friend’s house, lounging on the couch while they played video games. In between texting my friends, I napped. A lot. So much that his best friend looked at me and said, “Dude, she’s pregnant.”
I laughed it off because it was ridiculous. I was on birth control. I couldn’t be pregnant. But, was I? I hadn’t picked up a new pill pack because payday was still a few days off. Friends had told me that I’d be fine because when you’re on the pill for a long time it’s harder to get pregnant. Turns out that’s definitely not true.
I grabbed my purse and bolted for the door. It all made sense: the nausea, the fatigue, the swelling of my breasts. As I walked to CVS at the corner, I kept telling myself it wasn’t true—just a terrifying coincidence.
When I came back, I peed on the stick. Two minutes has never felt so long in my entire life. Alone in the bathroom, I promised myself I would change everything about my life if it came back negative. I’d dump my boyfriend who never wanted to use condoms and would have sex with me while I slept. There was no way I could raise a child with him and his temper. I checked the stick. Pregnant. Fuck.
My grandfather’s motto was “stop and think a minute” before making any decision. So I took a deep breath.
Abortion was never out of the question. I grew up in a politically progressive family where it was a sin to not vote or not have an opinion on an issue. Everyone talks politics—it’s something they passed on to the kids in our family, especially the girls. As my uncle says, they raised the girls in our family to be “smart and powerful.” While we may not have talked about abortion in a very in-depth way, I knew from a young age that our family stood with Planned Parenthood and that my mother felt abortion was a reasonable option. She wanted me to finish college, and at 19, I was failing out. I wasn’t ready to parent. And to be honest, I simply didn’t want to be pregnant.
My boyfriend hadn’t even noticed that I’d been in the bathroom crying for 20 minutes when I came out. I called him into the living room and we talked. He was adamantly against adoption and said we could give our daughter to his grandmother and she could raise her…Yes, he’d already decided we were having a girl, and someone else could raise her. (Like I said, he was a real winner). I said I wanted an abortion and after a bit of discussion, he agreed. I made an appointment.
The morning of my abortion, my boyfriend and I drove to the clinic. He ultimately decided not to come inside the clinic with me because he said I was “killing a piece of us.” At first I was upset he wouldn’t come and be with me, but then I realized that this was the moment to finally put my needs and future first.
At first I was terrified when I arrived at the clinic – there was a closed circuit camera watching me as I was buzzed in through a bomb-proof door. Inside, it looked like an average waiting room—quiet with smiling staff ready to check me in. It was relaxing and I felt safe.
$350. That’s how much my abortion cost. I couldn’t use my insurance because my parents would find out. I hadn’t told them. I figured I would. One day. Just not today.
The receptionist fired off a list of questions: Did I want sedation for an extra $100? Yes. Did I have a ride home? Yes. Had I eaten since last night? No. Did I want a free pack of birth control to take home with me today? Sure. When that was done they moved me into a room where I waited for counseling.
As I waited, I wished my mother was there with me. We talked about abortion before, once, when I told her that a friend had an abortion. She’d been supportive. I knew of a cousin who’d had an abortion, and they still loved her. My mother and father were both nurses. They knew it was a safe medical procedure.
"As I waited, I wished my mother was there with me."
But I couldn’t tell her. I got Renee through high school without getting pregnant had always been her mantra. She was proud. I felt like I’d be breaking her heart. So I sat alone.
“Renee?” a nurse called. She was short, her black hair topped with a beret, a turtleneck under her scrub shirt. Her floor-length black skirt swung as she glided towards me. She was Orthodox Jewish. I paused. I’d thought all religious people hated people who have abortions.
Shit. Am I in the wrong place?
The woman smiled, and I trusted her. She reached out to help me stand up, and then guided me in to the exam room. She explained that I would need to undress and put on a gown, and then the doctor would be in momentarily.
Now, when I say my abortion was amazing, I’m not kidding. It was. On TV and in media they often talk about abortion providers as if they’re evil, but that’s propaganda. Mine wasn’t like that at all. The doctor was caring. He made me smile. In fact, he looked curiously like Chef from South Park. I swear he walked in the room ready to perform my abortion saying “Hellooooo Renee” just like Chef greets the kids on show. I hope that one day I get to meet him again and thank him. Until then, I’ll just keep watching South Park reruns.
The nurse guided me as I laid down and put my feet in the exam table stirrups. Photographs of butterflies had been taped to the ceiling. As I blinked, I imagined them fluttering. To this day, they feel like a symbol of the moment I transformed my life.
The nurse inserted a needle into my left arm vein for the sedation. Needles terrify me, so I looked away and winced. There was a pinch.
"Photographs of butterflies had been taped to the ceiling. To this day, they feel like a symbol of the moment I transformed my life."
“Can you count back from 10 for me, Renee?” the nurse said, sliding her hand into mine. Her hands were thin and soft. Warm and comforting. I imagined this was how my mom cared for her patients. How she would have cared for me if she were there with me.
“Ten. Nine. Eight.” My eyes started to close. “Seven. Six.”
“You can stop counting, Renee,” a voice said. “It’s over.”
Still groggy, the nurse put me in a wheel chair and I slept off the anesthesia in the recovery room bed. When I awoke she was seated by me with crackers and Coke. She smiled at me and told me that my boyfriend was waiting outside to pick me up. When I walked outside, he asked how I was feeling, but we rode home in silence. We broke up a few months later, and I was finally happy.
My abortion was one of the best decisions of my life. It gave me an opportunity to start over. But I didn’t talk about it for six years.
When I finally told my mother about my abortion, I admitted that I’d been afraid she wouldn’t love me anymore and would think I was a failure. I told her I was sorry that I didn’t go to her. I cried. I heard her cry.
“Honey, you didn’t let me down. I am so proud of you. You made the best decision for you, and I am so proud to be your mother. Never forget that.”
I wish I hadn’t hidden the secret for so long, but I was terrified of what people would say if they found out. Six years of hearing people debate in ethics class whether it was “murder” or “a choice.” Six years of feeling alone.
Abortion is such a political issue. But the thing is, when I had my abortion, I wasn’t thinking about politics at all. All I was thinking was, “I need an abortion and I need one now.” Everyone has deep opinions about abortion, but many people don’t realize they love someone who has had one.
"When I had my abortion, I wasn’t thinking about politics at all."
This is the exact reason I started talking about my abortion four years ago. I was tired of hearing people talk about people who’ve had abortions as if we are not one in three women in the same room as them. I’m a person who had an abortion, and I can hear you. Because they don’t know I exist, they’re happy to pass legislation denying me access to healthcare.
These days, when trying to get an abortion, women run into a wall of what feels like invisible politicians, forcing them to wait one to three days for the procedure and travel hundreds of miles to the nearest provider, and keeping them from using their own health insurance just to get one. Sometimes it leaves people wondering, “How did we get like this? When did this happen?” Well, it happened when we were being discouraged from talking about politics and the need for abortion access because it’s not “polite conversation.”
"I was tired of hearing people talk about people who’ve had abortions as if we are not one in three women in the same room as them."
Well, fuck that! Denying me access to my constitutional right isn’t cute or polite, yet it’s happening every day. I believe we can and should have healthy debates about politics everywhere. Those who disagree should have to face the people whose rights they’re eroding.
Politics is important. Political decisions change lives. They changed mine.
In one way or another, politics has made my entire life possible; everything from the 1967 Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws making my parents’ interracial love and marriage possible, to the legalization of abortion, which allowed me to take charge of my life and start over. It’s impossible for me to not be enthralled with politics when elections and Supreme Court decisions can decide my life outcomes and opportunities. In those ways, but not only those ways, the personal is very political for me.
And because of that, I will never stop talking about my abortion.