This story originally appeared in CosmoGirl magazine. Please see the note at the end for more information.
“I had an abortion and I don’t regret it”
as told to Mikki Halpin
I grew up in New Jersey, in a big family with 5 kids, plus my stepmom and my dad. It was a rural area, not even really a town. We didn’t have a post office or anything. Because of that, I think I’m especially close with my family, especially Sheila, my next youngest sister–I’m the oldest kid. We hung out all the time, doing art projects and stuff.
I stated having sex when I was eighteen, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was totally my decision–I felt like I was ready to have sex and I was curious and I wanted to do it. I had a friend who I was sort of dating, so I just asked him. I basically made him do it! It was a good experience, because we had been friends for so long and grown up together. I was glad that I had that ability to make the choice for myself, because I know for a lot of women, it’s not like that–they are getting pressured or whatever. We used a condom that first night, and that’s what we used the whole time we went out. We broke up when I went to college.
My first few years of school –American University in Washington, DC–I got more experienced with men. I figured out how thy work and how dating works. I learned that you didn’t have to be friends first; that you could meet someone and the dating option was the first thing you pursued. I hadn’t really known that. I dated a lot of guys and I had sex with them. Mostly things would end up not working out into more than a few dates, but I was ok with that.
Anytime I had sex in college I used condoms. They were free from the school clinic, and everyone used them. But even when I did use a condom, I would still worry a little about getting pregnant. You know they are 99 % effective but then what about the other 1%?
I met Mark my junior year. He was on the men’s rugby team and I was on the women’s team. He was funny and smart and really attractive: clean cut, and athletic and tall. He had red hair (I love red hair), and he was kind of preppy. We had a lot in common–we both played rugby, we were both into music, and we both liked to play video games. Through mutual friends we figured out we liked each other and started dating.
We had sex on our first date. We used a condom that night, but after that we didn’t. He would really give me a hard time about them, like he would claim they were too hard to put on. I hated arguing about it, so I would just give in and we’d use withdrawal instead. I feel silly admitting that. I was very aware that the withdrawal method is a terrible way to prevent pregnancy. I knew his behavior was unacceptable but I really liked him and I let it go. I wasn’t worried about STDs because he told me he’d only been with his long-term girlfriend before me. The “plan ” was that I would get on birth control, but I kept putting it off. I made excuses like and told myself that I was too busy with school and rugby and spending time with Mark.
Mark and I went out for about five weeks. I liked dating him, but I didn’t really think beyond that to a long-term relationship. We liked to do a lot of the same things and we got along–that was good enough for me. He was the first person that I had sex with on a practically daily basis. And I really did like him. A lot. A real real lot.
We broke over Thanksgiving, right before finals. The main reason was that he was a born-again Christian. We’d been fighting about it for a while. He’d told me that he believed that having sex with me was a sin but that he hoped God would forgive him. It was really hurtful for me to think that I was the person that was making him stray form his spiritual quest. But I still kept seeing him all the time and having sex with him. Just like with having unprotected sex, I made another compromise.
The last straw was when he said that he thought that all gay people were going to hell. I just started crying. I couldn’t believe that I could enjoy the company of someone who believed that. It was the most hateful thing I’d ever heard and I said, “I just can’t be with you knowing that you think that.” Then he told me he could never be serious about me anyway, since I wasn’t also born again. I was so sad. I think that I hadn’t admitted to myself how stoked I was on actually having like a serious boyfriend. I really liked him and I was really super disappointed. It really sucked.
Pretty much as soon was we broke up, I started to think that maybe on top of all of this, I was pregnant. My period was due and I just didn’t feel like it was coming. I was having no cramps, nothing. I wasn’t exactly scared because I thought it would be one of those things where you take the test and then of course it’s negative. I went and got the kit that has two tests in it and I took them both and they were both positive. I think I went into shock or something when I saw the results. I really was pregnant. Right then, I basically fell apart. I stopped going to class even though this was right before finals and I would stay on the internet for hours and hours and look up information on pregnancy and abortion.
I hated myself. I thought I was weak for dating a guy when I should have been focusing on school. I berated myself for my choice in men and for my own behavior. I would think, “Why did I put up with someone who wouldn’t wear a condom? Why didn’t I get on birth control as soon as possible? Am I lazy? Am I stupid?” I cried all the time. My friends tried to help me but there was nothing they could do.
Finally I called my parents. I was crying and I said, I was seeing this guy, we broke up, and I’m pregnant. My parents were awesome. They asked me a lot of questions and then my dad said “You should have an abortion and move on with your life. Finish school.” That was so great. It took a huge weight off my shoulders to know that my parents supported me and that I had their respect despite my bad decisions.
I didn’t even know how to get an abortion. My stepmom told me to call Planned Parenthood. I think I thought I would have to go somewhere really far or something, not to a place two miles from school. Planned Parenthood had me come in for another test, which was positive. They explained all of my options to me and I said I wanted to have an abortion. They had a poster that said “Every child deserves to be planned” and I felt really good when I read that. I scheduled the abortion for the next week.
I decided to tell Mark about the pregnancy. I wanted him to know and I also thought he should pay for half of the $300 it was going to cost. I had a really hard time getting him to meet with me but I was persistent. When I finally told him, he immediately wanted me to have an abortion. He didn’t express any concern for me. He said he didn’t have any money and I said that he needed to get some. He was really worried that I would tell his parents, which I had no intention of doing, but then I said if you don’t pay me I will tell them. It was really sad. We’d had a lot of good times together and it was such an ugly ending. He finally did pay me but it wasn’t until after Christmas break and I had to send him the receipt!
My stepmom came to be with me on the day of the abortion. I had thought I didn’t need anyone, but I was so glad she was there. We had to walk past about protesters outside the clinic who had signs and stuff. It sucked because I was already nervous but I was more just disappointed that there are antichoice people in this world.
Once we got inside, there was a lot of waiting around in between filling out your medical history, having a counseling session, and then actually being seen by the doctor. There were all kinds of people there–a girl from my school, and a fourteen year old girl with her mom. There were a couple women that were there alone and I felt really bad for them. My stepmom was so supportive and confident that we were doing the right thing and that really helped me.
I kind of got hysterical at one point. They told me that because it was so early in the pregnancy there was a chance I would have to wait another week. A pregnancy has to be developed a certain point for the procedure to work best. When she told me I might have to wait I broke down in tears. I was like, You don’t understand I have to have an abortion today! I cannot keep on like this. I can’t be pregnant for another week! I could barely speak. It was awful. They sent me back into the waiting room and I was like, damn, I blew it. I thought the counselor would think I was crying because I was conflicted about the procedure, but really I was just upset at the thought of not having it.
Finally the counselor came out and said that the doctor would see me that day. I was so happy!
I went in the room, took off my clothes, and put on a gown. The nurse and the doctor came in and introduced themselves, and then I got on the examining table and put my feet in the stirrups. The doctor was really friendly. He explained every part of the procedure as he went along, so I knew exactly what was going on. First they insert the speculum and open up your vagina like when you get a Pap Smear, and then they inject the anesthesia into your cervix through that opening. It feels like a little pinch. Then the doctor puts a long thin plastic tube called the canula into your vagina and back into your uterus. The other end of the tube is connected to a medical vacuum. The doctor moves the canula around inside your uterus to remove the tissue.
The doctor was so cool. He just treated it like it was a medical procedure and it was no big deal. He was making jokes and doing plugs for his practice and stuff. When he was done he took the canula out and I put my clothes back on. I also put a pad in, because there is some bleeding afterwards. I spent about a half-hour in the recovery room, where you can just relax and have juice and cookies. When I let they gave me information about how to get birth control. The whole thing from start to finish took about five hours.
When I first got home I felt pretty sick. They’d warned me that when the anesthesia wore off I might have some nausea, and I did. But I took a nap and when I woke up I felt fine and we decided to go out to dinner. At dinner I felt great. I was hungry, I was able to focus my thoughts, and I was not emotional. I felt like I was in control of my life and I felt normal. After you have an abortion your hormone levels drop dramatically so that was part if it, but I think also I was just a great sense of relief. I felt like I’d had a lifesaving procedure.
One of the first things I did after the abortion was go on the pill. I figured out why I had been resistant to it in the past. I’d had this notion that being on birth control somehow opened a door to being really promiscuous. But my doctor–the same doctor who performed the abortion, he became my gynecologist– explained it to me in a really good way. The decision to be on birth control is not a decision to have sex–it’s a decision not to get pregnant. It’s totally up to you whether or not you are sexually active.
I haven’t been deterred from dating or guys because of all this. I kind of thought I would be, but I just felt really healthy and normal. The only time I felt upset or anything was when I came into contact with Mark! He actually tried to pursue a relationship with me again, and I had to shut him down right away.
I’m still figuring a lot of stuff out. I think I will have kids someday, when I’m with the right partner and when I am ready. But I am so grateful for the ability to have an abortion, and for actually having had one. I think that was the most moral, ethical, and loving decision I could have made.
NOTE: “As told to” means that this story was told to me. It isn’t my story. I have had an abortion, but this is not the story of my abortion.
I continue to receive many comments and emails thanking me for having posted this story. There is so much misinformation and ignorance around abortion and other reproductive and sexuality issues, and that isolation, often necessary as a form of self-protection, is so prevalent. If you are looking for somewhere to talk about your abortion experience, I recommend Aspen Baker’s terrific Exhale project. Exhale is “pro-voice”–they are there to listen.
Here are some abortion facts:
• Abortion is legal in the United States of America
• More than 1 out of 3 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.
• Most women who have abortions are married and have a family
The religious right has used a steady campaign of bombings, assassinations, scare tactics, shaming, and a strategic erosion of access to abortion (throwing bureaucratic barriers before women with low incomes; forcing women to endure counseling and waiting periods; requiring young women to have parental consent; forcing rural women to travel and endure even more financial hardship to access a legal procedure; harassing clinic workers and patients; a state-by-state legislative assault on reproductive rights, and more; these tactics especially affect women of color and other marginalized communities) to effectively undo Roe v Wade and a host of other health services worldwide. This is wrong. If you want to fight, I suggest visiting the Planned Parenthood PAC or other feminist resources.
I want to be clear that while this story is about abortion, “reproductive rights” is (or should be) an inclusive term that references family planning (and “family” should be an inclusive term as well), access to health services for trans* individuals (and families), individuals with disabilities, everyone. The World Health Organization, an organization that has done great work and also some great wrongs, has a description that I like: “The right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.” Again, we need to keep checking our “all” to make sure it truly is “all.”
Information and resources about reproductive rights for queer, trans* and individuals with disabilities are scattered but growing. I recommend visiting the resource pages at Questioning Transphobia and Feminists with Disabilities. If you have suggestions on other links, let me know and I will post them.
This isn’t just a “safe space,” it’s an active one and if anyone out there is in trouble or needs help, or just wants to talk, get in touch–I promise I will listen and do everything I can to help. I’m not a saint or anything but I’m a good listener and I’m pretty good at making 1,000 phone calls and emails to get what’s needed (persistence–good quality for reporters and activists!).