HEALTHY LIVING
07/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Bringing Women's Stories Into The Abortion Debate, Part 2

A while back, we asked women to tell us about their experiences getting an abortion. We'd like to thank everyone who contributed for their honesty. After going through the numerous responses, we wanted to share the stories below.

T from Denver, CO, age 31

I had an abortion when I was 18 years old. I remember having Thanksgiving dinner with my family and feeling terribly nauseous, knowing deep down that I was pregnant. I went to Planned Parenthood a few days later with my best friend, and my fears were confirmed. I was terrified. I don't remember even entertaining the thought of having the child - I knew I wasn't ready or able to be a mother. The thought of having the baby and giving it up for adoption was not something I even considered - I was coming from a very selfish place and wanted to experience minimal disruption to my life and get it over as quickly as possible so that I could move on as if it never happened. My boyfriend and I both agreed that the best course of action was to have an abortion. We didn't tell our families, and thankfully he had enough money saved up to pay for it.

I remember the day vividly. Walking into the abortion clinic and having to deal with the barrage of protesters outside was an emotionally overwhelming experience. They were holding up gruesome signs with pictures of aborted fetuses and yelling out a whole spectrum of things, ranging from "You don't have to do this!" to, "Don't murder your baby!" I tried my best to block them out.

The last step before the procedure was to sit down with a counselor to make sure that this was what I really wanted to do. She explained the procedure in detail and asked if I had any questions. All I wanted to know was whether or not my 10-week old fetuses had developed enough to be able to feel pain - I wanted to know if it was going to hurt them. Her response was ambiguous at best, and I walked out of her office with a heavy heart, knowing that this question would go unanswered and that it would probably plague me forever.

I was shown to a room and instructed to put on a gown and lie down on the table. The doctor - I still remember his name and face vividly - had a very cold, clinical and detached bedside manner. The procedure was very uncomfortable not only physically, but emotionally, as I listened to the sound of the suction, totally unable to contain the morbid thoughts running through my head. After it was over, I was shown to a recovery area where I would linger for an hour of observation with several other women having just gone through the same awful thing. No one said a word, and we all shared the same bleak expression.

Today, I have very mixed feelings about my decision to have an abortion. On the one hand, I am glad that I did it, because my life would be drastically different had I chosen to continue the pregnancy and mother two children. I am inclined to think that my life would have been different for the worse (much worse) had I gone that route. On the other hand, I carry around some guilt for this decision. I often ponder the karmic repercussions of disallowing two souls the opportunity to enter this world. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and maybe I was supposed to have two children, even if at the time I didn't feel I was capable of doing so. The answers to these lingering questions will probably never be clear, but there is no doubt that I will carry them with me to my grave.

AM from Connecticut, Age 30

I terminated a much wanted pregnancy two years ago. I got pregnant with my first child and I was thrilled. I was not "high risk" in any way - so I figured everything would be fine - why do the prenatal testing? It was at my standard 16 week appointment that the first sign of trouble was discovered. The heartbeat was hard to locate and the amniotic fluid was very, very low. The doctor suggested I go to get an in-depth ultrasound as soon as possible. I knew from his tone that things were very bad and my heart started to break instantly. A more in-depth look over the next few days revealed very serious problems. It was a blur of shock and misery to me but I remember problems with everything they looked at, kidneys, heart, lungs, small measurements, seriously low fluid level, etc. I didn't even have enough amniotic fluid to have an amniocentesis performed so I did the CVS testing to find out the details on what was wrong with our child. Unfortunately, it takes 2 weeks for those results to come back. In that time, all I did was cry and read everything I could on the set of problems the doctors had described to me.

I was a little over 18 weeks when we got the confirmation that our child had an "incompatible with life" diagnosis (triploidy). It was very unlikely the baby would survive long enough to be born. If we continued the pregnancy, it would likely be a matter of waiting to wake up one day to suspect the baby had passed away and then going to the hospital to deliver our still-born child. Maybe our child would live long enough to die during the trauma of birth or maybe would live for minutes after. My husband and I feared we would not emotionally survive any of those options and did not want to put our child through them either. Furthermore, I was warned that continuing the pregnancy could potentially put my health and my ability to have a child in the future at risk. We decided to terminate the pregnancy. Fortunately, although the doctors in my practice would not perform the termination, I was referred to a good doctor and had the procedure done in a hospital - it was two days of the worst emotional and physical pain I could imagine - but I was well taken care of and dealt with compassionate people all along the way. It took months to even begin to feel like I could come to terms with what we had gone through - and it will forever be a part of who I am. However, two years later, I have never regretted my decision. It was a much more difficult and painful road to parenthood than I had hoped for, but I now have a wonderful, healthy one year old who I cherish and appreciate every day, in a whole different way than I could have before.

Jesse in Portland, OR, Age 67:

When I was 16 years old, I became pregnant with my true love boyfriend. At the time, the only option was adoption and my parents insisted on it. It was 1958 in the South. That era is called the "baby scoop era" since adoption agencies were flourishing and there were long lines of couples wanting cute white babies. The day after I told my parents, I was sent away to a maternity home in another city. I was fortunate to be able to be with my baby for a week after she was born - before the adoption agency came to take her away. They told me I would forget all about it and get on with my life. They lied. I wasn't allowed to grieve or be sad. In fact, I wasn't allowed to speak of it - ever. My sister didn't know, my friends didn't know, no one knew. It has been over 50 years now, thousands of hours of therapy, and I still think about my missing daughter every day.

Fast forward to 1961 -- still in the South. I got married as most Southern girls did soon after high school. About six months into the marriage, I again found myself pregnant. Birth control had just become available but I knew nothing about it. When I told my husband, he said he would arrange for an abortion - something I had never even heard of. He was in college on a basketball scholarship and apparently the whole team knew about this "doctor." This was before abortion was legal. And having been trained to go along with my husband's wishes, I agreed to go. An unwanted pregnancy certainly brought back all the memories of the baby I gave up, and knowing I could not go through that again, it seemed the best choice. The "doctor" turned out to be a chiropractor. My husband took me to a farmhouse in rural Georgia. My husband paid $300 to the doctor/farmer and I got on his exam table. He explained that he would insert a catheter into my uterus, then I was to remove it after 24 hours. It didn't occur to me then that it was his safe way to avoid prosecution - "it" would happen far away from him. I did as I was instructed and started bleeding immediately. And I bled - a lot - for almost a month. I was too afraid to go to a doctor, knowing I had done something illegal. I just hoped the bleeding would stop. It wasn't until my neighbor found me unconscious on my bathroom floor that I got medical help. The ambulance took me, unfortunately, to the only Catholic hospital in my town where nuns in the emergency room were yelling at me through my haze, "What have you done?" When they asked me who they should call, I thought about it for a minute, then said, "No one." I knew my husband would be furious at the medical expense. And my parents - I could not face them again with my pregnancy problems.

In time I recovered. After a divorce and another marriage 5 years later, I had another baby -- one I got to keep and raise. He is now a wonderful man - and my best friend. I am so proud of him.

My point in writing is this: I have done it all -- given up a baby for adoption, had an illegal abortion, and had a son I got to raise to adulthood. By FAR, the biggest emotional fallout has been the baby I relinquished for adoption. I am still dealing with the grief, the sadness and - yes, anger at being lied to over and over again. I healed fairly quickly after the abortion. I don't think about that fetus - I don't grieve about it. It was the best option at the time.