This will be the 4th time I’ve told this story. The first time I told it was to my husband a few weeks after we started dating leaving out most of the details. I told it a second time was to a Project Rachel counselor at my first appointment when she said, “so, tell me your story.” I was surprised at how easily the words came and how with each one, brick by brick it seemed, the weight of my story began to lift.The third time was at my Rachel’s Vineyard retreat where I told my story after a few others had told theirs. This time it was to a room for of counselors, retreat team, a caring and warm Priest, and my fellow retreatants. What struck me were the similarities of our tales of woe – striking me more deeply were the pieces that set me apart from my retreatants – or most of them. Aside from the two other post abortive women on the retreat as part of the retreat team – I was one that was furthest away from the day I lost my child. The other thing that was vastly different was the condition of abortion clinics between then and now or most recently. The general process is the same, but now it seems since clinics have found their footing – they’ve enhanced their bedside manner a bit. The last thing that really stood out among all the stories I heard that day was that I was the only one that faced the actual abortion utterly and completely alone – at 17 years old. Which, I’ve come to learn in the last year or so has a lot to do with what makes me who I am now.
I don’t think my story is that unique or “special” in any way. I’m simply one of millions of women out there with a similar story and even though there are so many of us hurting from a past abortion – it’s still a very lonely thing. It’s still a lonely place to go in one’s mind even with a supportive and loving husband, even with loving and kind counselors, even with gentle and compassionate Priests … and even with our ever‑merciful and loving Lord who is with me always and for everything.
By way of background…
I lost (or gave away) my virginity at age 15 to my high school sweetheart – who was about as clueless as I was about what sex truly was about. Although – to his credit – he seemed to be more ahead of the game than most of his peers. We felt our relationship to be special of course and we weren’t like our peers who were just jumping into bed for the heck of it. We tried a few times and failed or otherwise chickened out of “doing it.” Being 15 does not lend itself to having a lot of freedom since neither of us drove – but we did visit each other a lot and our parents left us alone enough – and let’s face it – two hormone filled teenagers are going to find a way no matter what. I’ll spare you the gory details of it all – but the thing that is most important about this is that fact that I was so willing to give away my virginity to a 15 year old boy, not aware of my worth, not ever being told that I should wait, not ever thinking or being told of the consequences. Yes, I knew pregnancy was a risk – but not to me! And to put into perspective the skewed mind of two 15 year olds about what sex is…bless his heart my boyfriend did try to make it special, satin sheets and all on his parents bed one afternoon when I rode my bike to his house because he was home alone. In his pubescent 15 year old male mind, he figured that some candle light and – oh, let’s pop in a VHS tape that I found in my Dad’s porn stash to “get us in the mood.” In a matter of an hour I was now thrust into a whole new arena – we watched that tape with wide eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That’s what I’m supposed to do? Okay, got it.
I mention the above, because against the backdrop of receiving zero sex education from my parents and the only information I had was garnered from Seventeen Magazine and my girlfriends who were also testing the waters, my first foray into what sex was a pornographic videotape! No wonder I’m so screwed up.
Anyway, we didn’t chicken out that afternoon and although I have my regrets for ever doing it in the first place I have to admit that it wasn’t as horrible as most people’s tales of their “first time.” I did feel loved (albeit in an adolescent way). My boyfriend was kind and caring (at the time). We felt like we were adults now. And the biggest thing I noticed after was that I now had a power that I didn’t have before. Sex is an awesome weapon when used properly and completely out of context from the way God intended. Especially when you are a teenage girl and your audience is completely governed by hormones.
Fast forward a few months … and I had been using my new found talent to get attention, “love,” admiration, dates, etc. So much so that I dumped my boyfriend for greener pastures because if I could make him “love” and adore me – who else could I get to do the same? I basically had no parental supervision and had gotten my driver’s license and a car at age 16 because I was involved in a lot of activities so my parents didn’t want to drive me everywhere. Talk about freedom – the wrong kind of course – but freedom nonetheless. As long as I was bringing home straight A’s on the report card – my parents pretty much left me to my own devices.
My boyfriend and I broke up and got back together a lot over the next year or so and each time we did, there were plenty of boys willing to take his place. I somewhat realized it, but didn’t care, that these boys weren’t interested in taking me to the movies or on an official date – they knew what they wanted and so did I. And even when I didn’t want it, some took it anyway.
In the summer before my senior year of high school, I stopped getting my period. My periods were always awful and horrible with days of painful cramps, etc. So I was quite relieved that it wasn’t happening anymore. I’m not sure when it actually hit me that I could be pregnant, but I ignored it.
One morning, in the basement, sorting laundry with my Mom – she asked me point blank – to get any underwear I was hiding in my room to be washed. I hid underwear from when I had my period because it was not a pleasant thing and my Mom simply did not understand that I couldn’t help that my periods were so heavy that most feminine hygiene products were not sufficient. So, I told her I didn’t have any. She asked how long since the last time I had any. I said, “I don’t know.” She looked right at me and said, “If you are pregnant, you are out of this house you know.”
I think we both knew at the point that I was.
I can’t remember the exact words following that but I know there was a lot of screaming and yelling and I do remember specifically saying that she never cared what I did. That afternoon she was pouring over the phone book and gave me a few numbers to call. I went into my room – alone - and called the first one. Women’s Health Services of Pittsburgh. Yes, they performed abortions. It’s $300. Yes, they can see me this Saturday. Wear something easy to get on and off like a skirt. No, no one has to come with me.
I remember my mom saying, well “good, that gives me a few days to find $300” and “Don’t tell your father.” Saturday came and off I went early that morning. My Dad was at the kitchen table with coffee - my behavior was nothing out of the ordinary to him. My mom came in my room and gave me $300 in $50.00 bills and told me to not lose it. She told me where to park and walk to the clinic. And off I went. She didn’t offer to come with me – she would have to explain to my Dad where we were going.
I parked on the North Shore close to Three Rivers Stadium. It was cheaper than parking in town. I walked across the 6th Street Bridge clutching my purse and checking the pocket of my skirt from time to time where the money was. My mom said not to put the money in my purse because it could get snatched.
I walked up to the Fulton Building. I don’t remember there being any protestors outside at all and Pittsburgh is basically a Monday – Friday kind of town so it was pretty quiet. I gave my name at the window and sat down. I wasn’t used to being in the City really except for the Arts Festival and the Regatta and other big events. They took me back to give me a pregnancy test. About 10 minutes later, it was confirmed that I was indeed pregnant. And “just in time” too – because it seems like I’m about 12 weeks along and one week more and I wouldn’t be able to have an abortion at all or I’d have to pay extra.
Looking back I wonder why my mom didn’t get me a test to take at home just to be sure before sending me downtown? I’ll never know I guess. There was no wait time after the confirmation of your pregnancy to the procedure – except for a quick stop in a “counselor’s" office. I do remember her. She was blond and cute and most likely just out of college and trying to save the world. We talked for a few minutes, she asked about my boyfriend, and then it hit me like a hammer, I wasn’t sure if my boyfriend was the father at all. I hadn’t even thought about him in the few days that this all happened. I had no intention of telling him because my Mom told me there was no reason to tell anyone. But, thinking about it, it could have been him or it might have been another boy. I’ll never really know the answer to that question either.
I remember her asking if I wanted to talk about adoption, etc. I said no. Next was the procedure room. I had never been to a gynecologist before or had any kind of pelvic examination of any kind so I didn’t know what to expect. There was a nurse and the counselor who stayed with me. The nurse explained the procedure to me and I saw the stirrups for the first time. The room was bright and cold. I didn’t change into a gown of any kind – now I know why they said to wear a skirt. There wasn’t much to do before the procedure because at that time there was no anesthesia given at all.
After I was “prepped” the doctor arrived. He never looked at me. He never told me his name. He never talked to me – he talked to the nurse. The counselor talked to me. If you are a woman, you know how horrible a speculum can be even when you know it’s coming – but when you don’t it’s a torture device. Then a clamp on my cervix. I really didn’t even know what a cervix was. The tears start to fall; the counselor held my hand and told me it’s going to be alright. I stare at the ceiling. The doctor is poking and prodding. I feel the cannula. The machine is turned on. It sounds like a vacuum cleaner. On and off. On and off. Checking. Back on. Checking. Back on. More tears, but I don’t make a sound. I don’t talk. The doctor says, “Almost done, I’ve got mostly everything.” The machine shuts off the final time. I remember hearing the gurgling sound of wherever my child is now being deposited. At that time, it’s not a child to me; it’s just tissue because that’s what the counselor told me. It’s not a baby yet, it’s too early.
I know now what a 12 week old baby looks like.
The doctor leaves the room, the counselor helps me to sit up and fix my skirt and I’m walked to the recovery area. A room full of reclining chairs, about 10 or so. Some girls are crying, one is filing her nails. One is getting scolded by her mother in some other language. I am the only one who is alone in my chair, curled up, feeling the cramping starting. I’m given something to drink and a cookie or two. I’m given some birth control pills and some other pamphlets that don’t fit in my purse so I keep the pills and toss the papers on my way out the door. I walk back across the bridge, in pain, with a bulky pad between my legs. I remember where I parked my car. I get in, start the car, and blast the air conditioning and drive home.
I get home, my Dad is now on the deck outside. I say hi and go to my room and lie down. My mom comes in, pulls down my blinds and before she closes the door she asks if I need some Tylenol. I nod yes. Before she goes to get it she says, “We will never speak of this again.” She brings me some Tylenol. I sleep for what seems like a day or so. The next day, I’m off on a day trip to Ohio with my boyfriend who I’m back together with. The day trip gets cut short because of my cramping and bleeding that I’m trying to manage. My boyfriend thinks it’s my period so no questions there. I let him drive my car back home and I go back to bed.
My life is changed forever. I have killed a baby, my baby. I take that fact and all the feeling s with it and stuff it down as far as I can. The feelings lie in the darkness of my soul for years.
That’s the story of my abortion as I remember it. I remember it every day.