the road more traveled
If you google “how to have an abortion” there’s currently no telling what will pop up for you. It depends on your state, what search engine you’re using, and the sorts of ads that are placed in your area. Anyone you talk to about this will tell you that nobody’s experience is going to be exactly the same. So remember that as you read this. Your experience will be different. It will be scary in some ways and empowering in others. You might feel negative or positive about the experience. However you process this thing that you are going to go through, it’s the right way to do it. You can’t process it wrong.
That said, here’s my experience with my medication abortion.
When I found out I was pregnant, the person who had bought me my pregnancy test was (was) a friend. I didn’t want her there when I took it, but let the lesson be learned that if you ask a friend to buy you a pregnancy test, they’ll probably stick around to find out what the result is. It’s very “give-the-mouse-a-cookie”.
My fiancé of five years sat in the living room and we scoffed at the need for a test together before I went in my bathroom. My friend made small talk with him. I was in there for 3 minutes. When the 2 lines came up, I felt my heart kind of stutter. I had an intense feeling of vertigo, sort of a pain in my toes as if I’d leaned too far over the edge of a cliff. I felt like I was physically falling even as I washed my hands, walked out to the living room, and interrupted my fiancé and my friend.
He was stunned into silence, and then said, “Oh, no.”
Author’s note: this reaction is your god-given right. I’m pretty sure there’s a line in our constitution that says, “and if you find out you’re pregnant when you don’t want to be then you can say ‘oh, no’.” This phrase is not a decree. It’s not a rejection. It’s just dismay. This is a healthy reaction for him and myself, as we were not and are not ready for kids. We’d always thought we’d never ever have any children at all. It was a terrifying moment.
And yet my friend, confident in her role as the Test Buyer, turned to him in that moment and snapped at my partner, saying, “Um, it’s not like you get to have an opinion on this. You’ll be just fine. You did this.” I laughed uncertainly, reeling. His face looked like he’d been struck. I coughed, silent and complicit in the unkindness. There was a pause where I stared at the wall in front of me, uncomprehending. My friend looked at me sympathetically. “You okay?” she asked. “I think so,” I said. “Are you sure?” she said, her breathing hiking up. “Because if I found out I was pregnant, I would kill myself.”
I stared at her. If I found out I was pregnant, I would kill myself. My fiancé, similarly taken aback, says, “I think we’ll be able to handle this okay.” I look down at my lap and… I float.
Floating is a skill I learned when I was a kid when I needed to Not Be There. It comes in handy now as I realize that I have an extremely expensive parasite not covered by my health insurance. She has a panic attack, and while I’m floating somewhere else I comfort her and tell her it’s all right and that she isn’t pregnant.
Eventually my friend leaves. I keep floating for a while and hug my partner for a long time. And I think about my options.
The year is 2007. I am ten years old. My father works for an airline service and flies us out to Washington, D.C. in January for the annual March for Life, an anti-choice protest that attracts Lutherans, Catholics, and even non-denoms by the thousands. The last group is, unexpectedly, the largest.Non-denominational Evangelicals like my mother and father were fed propaganda in college by groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ (modern day CRU). Although they may have been raised in relatively normal families, they were brainwashed by ultra religious groups in college. Before I knew it, I was participating in social protests for a cause that I had no real understanding of. I swallowed this narrative hook, line, and sinker. It was too cold for me to chant or yell anything, but I shivered and held a sign that said “___ percentage of my generation was aborted”.
The year is 2010. There is a Chalk Walk in my town, and the local Right to Life’s marketing department decided they wanted an entry. I cannot imagine something more righteous to do with my time and I volunteer to draw an extremely inaccurate picture of a fetus with the words “at 9 weeks, a baby can suck her thumb!” written next to the head of what looks to be a squished mouse alien hybrid. I do not finish my square as I am 13 years old and it is hot outside. There are more of these anti-choice extracurriculars, from a “boot camp” every summer to the annual walk in our capital city to the one we lived in to the one in D.C.
In the present, it is December 23rd of 2021 when I find out. We spend Christmas at my partner’s parents’ house. I become extremely sick and weepy, and we manage to make it through the visit without telling his parents. I am, at this moment in time, working at a Target as a produce stocker. It’s good money, and it’s hard work. My weight before I was pregnant was around 210–220. I did not weigh myself while pregnant; instead, I find out at the doctor’s office that I now weigh 170. This is because every morning without fail (and some afternoons, and evenings, and after a snack or when I was a bit sad) I wake up and vomit in a trash can. This pregnancy finds my partner and myself at a deep depressive void hole, and this trash can did not get changed even once while I was pregnant. It became the vomit can, and my partner dumps it when he’s able.
It turns out that the decision to have an abortion (even after you knew the answer, even after you knew money would be a problem even for an abortion, let alone making a person) isn’t simple. While my brain feels sort of like screaming and running around in a room that is actively on fire… it also starts whispering thoughts I’ve never had before.
What would it look like. I don’t care, I say to myself. Clever, like him. Stubborn, like me. Silly, like him. Artsy, like me. I look down at my knees and wonder how long it would be before this being would be that tall. I don’t need that, I think. I never needed that. I am the oldest of nine children. I know what this is, and I don’t want it. My heart shifts by the hour. As I wash dishes, I think, I can’t maintain a three person house. I can barely take care of the dog. As I play with the dog, I think, she would be good with little babies. When I log onto the computer and see pictures of my friend, freshly pregnant and barely showing, I see obligation and connection at the same time.
There’s times when I feel so conflicted that I begin to feel as if my brain was hot or boiling and as if the world might end. My partner centers me and brings me to earth every time. “I’ll respect your decision,” he says. “But it’s our decision,” I say, trying to get him to make the decision for me. “Yes,” he says, “but you know how I feel.” He feels that we aren’t ready. And we aren’t. “Not everyone is ready,” I say. He wraps his arms around me and pulls me in tight, steadying me and letting me cry. He tells me about his childhood. The way his parents were limited in terms of the opportunities they could offer. I remember my childhood wish of ballet lessons, of wanting to visit museums, of drawing things that I couldn’t experience. As an adult, I still go hungry, and I remember that there were days at a time when I went hungry as a child. My parents committed the mortal mistake of making as many children they could with the least amount of money they could. And I will not fucking do that shit to my spawn.
I wake up bleeding. It’s my day off, so I go to the hospital. “I think I’m having a miscarriage,” I say. It’s peak Covid time. They’ve set up extra beds and waiting areas in hastily constructed zones. Their beds are mostly full, caring for people who actually need to be there. I think to myself that I should have just gone to Planned Parenthood. After waiting for an hour or two, they take me to do an ultrasound. I am alone.
I watch the person put jelly on mah belly — a process I saw many times as a child that feels unreal to have performed on myself. They needed to do an internal ultrasound, which involved a wand about the width of a toothbrush and a lot of lube. It’s less painful than a speculum. About 45 minutes later, the person in charge of my care tells me that I am not having a miscarriage; I am, in fact, riddled with exploding cysts on my ovaries but remain excessively fertile and definitely pregnant — 3 weeks less along than I thought, actually, which gives me extra time. “You’re due August 17th or 18th,” he says. “August 18th is my birthday,” I tell him, light-headed. The doctor doesn’t say the words “excessively fertile”, but I think it to myself resentfully.
It is hard not to resent your body when you know friends who struggle with the pregnancy process, and yet the experience I never wanted I have to have. It seems cosmically cruel. I mull over the reasons that I can’t bring myself to be a surrogate for another family (I have mental health issues, I could never give up a creature I’d made from scratch over the course of 9 excruciating months, I’m too controlling, I could never share) while I walk to my car, still bleeding and still very much pregnant.
Between dreams where my parents find out and waking reality, I become increasingly unstable. I quit my job when they schedule me for an eight hour work week, as it feels like a rude joke, like a belch in a funeral. They know I’m pregnant, but Target isn’t obligated to offer me the hours I need in order to get the care I need which is pointedly not covered by my insurance. My partner isn’t working either.
A friend offers to cover whatever it takes to get the parasite out of me. And that is what it is. A parasite. It visits me in dreams, gummy and pink and veined. I stop digesting most foods; my body rejects it. I begin to sincerely believe that the fetus knows I am planning on aborting it, and that it is punishing me by not allowing me to eat. I begin to regard it as a tapeworm. It is my enemy. My partner calls it Cletus the fetus, and we joke about how it’s trying to kill me. In my dreams, it takes revenge and chokes me from the inside out. I can’t sleep well, and the dreams follow me into the half-awake, half-asleep dream state.
I start to understand (John Mulaney’s line speaks to me, “I’m not gonna do it… but I get it,” referring to murdering his partner after having broken up. “Anyone who’s seen my dick and met my parents needs to die,” he asserts to a room of laughter) the news headlines I read where a reluctant mother believes their child is from Satan. It’s a combination of hormones in overdrive and deep fear of the parasite. It is terrifying because the feeling is so strong, and it is terrifying because everyone who has children should want those children.
And I don’t.
I quickly realized that any abortion services provided in Indiana would cost me upwards of $1500, not including travel and recovery. I could either go to Indianapolis with this price and pay that and more, or I could go to Chicago. I found a place that offered a special price of $350 for folks who could prove they were already on state assistance. With my medicaid insurance card, I could prove that I needed financial help. But any aftercare, such as an ultrasound to ensure the pregnancy was completely vacated, could not be coded as abortion care. So when I got back from Chicago, to the best of my doctor’s knowledge, I had a miscarriage.
It felt wrong. Miscarriages and abortions are fundamentally opposite situations. It felt like I was taking someone’s pain and taping it over my own, because I did have pain relating to the situation, but it was intensely niche and strange in its own way. I hated the miscarriage excuse because it felt dishonest, and yet now know that it is one that people will have to use more and more since my governor signed a law outlawing most abortions today, August 6th.
A friend gave me $350. Another friend sent me information on abortion assistance, which turns out to be a fantastic tool IF you get in touch with them at least a week or 2 before you get the procedure done. Another friend drove my partner and I up to Chicago. The clinic we visited rarely attracted protestors due to the outside looking abandoned and very vague signage about the kind of care offered. It almost looked like an eyeglass repair store.
I was admitted to the back where I sat across from a doctor. She did an ultrasound again, and I didn’t have to listen to the heartbeat. They told me with some nervousness that I was actually 10.5 weeks along. Five more days of waiting, and I would have had to experience an aspiration abortion instead of medicated. It is more expensive. The doctor gave me eight (yes, eight) pills. I took the first one in front of her, and she confirmed that I swallowed it before offering me the rest of the pack. “Take it all at once when you get home,” she said. “And if you think you’re still pregnant in three weeks, take a test and call us.” Although you’re supposed to have a follow-up appointment, I was acutely aware that my insurance would code the clinic as abortion care, so I planned one with my primary care physician back home. The physician ended up canceling on me and I never had a follow-up.
I don’t know what I was expecting with an abortion. I think I thought that I would have a stomach ache, maybe like the worst reaction to lactose intolerance I’d ever had. It would last maybe a few hours, I thought. While that might be the case for some, I was far enough along that I was actively aborting for at least 12 hours. It didn’t feel like a stomach ache, it felt like I was in labor. It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.
My stomach would seize up in waves, and my partner held my hand and helped with the mess. At one point, I thought I saw something that looked like a nautilus shell. I remembered my girlfriend telling me, “don’t poke through it. You’ll be tempted to look. It’s normal to want to look, but don’t do that to yourself.” My partner knew this, and whisked the chunks of bloody fat away. I just cried. I experienced 1 week of extremely heavy bleeding, and then 3 weeks after that of something like a heavy period.
Not long after, I watched the Bojack Horseman episode about abortion. Diane accidentally talks about her abortion while tweeting on behalf of a celebrity she does PR for. The celebrity gets a fake abortion before finding out she’s pregnant and wants the baby. She makes a video about the abortion that makes me giggle. “I’m a baby killer // baby killin’ makes me horny // aliens inside me // gonna squash it like Sigourney,” Sextina Aquafina sings while tossing an AK-47 around like a baton twirling performance. Diane finds it offensive. “You do know it’s a joke, right?” someone says. I find myself wishing I could be flippant like the animated dolphin on tv. Flipperant, I think to myself, and then know that I must never spawn due to my puns, which are genetic and also bad. “It’s tv, babe.” my partner says to me, hugging me tight while I giggle and cry at the same time. “Your feelings are real life. That’s what matters.”