The Sixth Street Bridge

The Sixth Street Bridge
At the tender age of 17, I walked across this bridge, alone, into Downtown Pittsburgh, with $300 in my pocket that my mother had given me to get an abortion. I went into the Fulton Building (in the picture) and did what I was told to do. I didn't have a choice - if I did, I wouldn't have chosen abortion.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Progress of Pain

It always surprises me, although it really shouldn't, the depth of the pain that women still feel years after having had an abortion, even years after a Rachel's Vineyard retreat where so much healing takes place as the Mercy of God pours down in buckets.   

When I hear post abortive women express such pain, I always want to reach out and say it will be okay, this too shall pass, it will get better.  For some, this is very true. For others, myself included, the process takes longer, is more convoluted, and painstakingly slow.  Everyone's journey to healing is as individual as the person taking the steps. 

Sometimes and oftentimes, the healing journey can be very far from okay. I have come to believe that the answer exists in those not-okay times becoming recognizable, anticipated if possible, and then, with grace, manageable.  I think it's also important to have someone or somewhere to turn when those times show themselves.  I am still working on that part.  I am much more inclined to come here to write about it.  I still find it extremely difficult to just outright tell someone close to me that, hey, I'm not doing okay at the moment and I need a bit of help.  I suppose too that I don't reach out because the fear remains that I will disappointment those who care about me and who want to see me happy. 

In the wee hours of the night last night - one of those not-okay times washed over me like waves and I struggled to keep my mind above the proverbial water.  Something triggered some memories of my abortion and since it was late at night, with everyone asleep and I was alone in the dark with only my thoughts, the memory began to take over.  I was stuck on the memory of the sheer pain of my abortion.  I spoke in the story of my abortion how in 1987, there was no anesthesia offered for an abortion procedure at all.  Perhaps you could purchase some - but that was not an option for me.  I also wrote about how my abortion procedure was my first ever experience with any kind of gynecological exam or procedure of any kind. I had no idea what I was walking into.

The memory that I dwelt upon last night for hours, in and out of fitful sleep and nightmares, was the pain involved with a torture device known as a cervical clamp.  To make sure I wasn't crazy - I Googled, "cervical clamp pain," and sure enough thousands of hits appeared on the pain associated with this tool of the trade.  Surprisingly, most of the first hits were women recounting stories of having had IUD's placed or other intrauterine birth control devices and the pain they endured from the clamping of the cervix necessary to do so.  No anesthesia is given for that procedure either.

I decided to just allow my mind to go there and let whatever thoughts float in and out and I made a promise to myself that I would not respond or react, but just allow the memory to come and then, hopefully, go.

I'm not sure if the abortion procedure is akin to the attitude of health care workers towards an overdose victim whose stomach they now have to pump.  There have been lots of stories of how they make sure the stomach pumping process is not at all pleasant to make the patient never want to contemplate even trying to do that again.  Maybe the doctor who performed my abortion had the same mentality - make it hurt so as to discourage a repeat customer?

A cervical clamp is a wretched device.  Cold, metal, with teeth and it does exactly what its name implies - it clamps the cervix open - which means it stays in place for the entire procedure - and any woman will tell you that the pain is almost unbearable.  The memory of that pain is what kept washing over me last night - the intensity of it, the shock of it, the violence of it, and the shame of it.  I remember oh so vividly laying on that table, not knowing what to expect at all and then the sheer force of that clamp on a part of my body I didn't even know existed.  I remembered the tears spilling down the sides of my face and being told several times to be still and to "relax."  I remember beginning to shiver uncontrollably from the pain and thinking that it was never going to end. 

The memory of that pain can cause me to just about jump out of my skin even at the loving touch of my husband.  I hate the idea of that fact with every fiber of my being.  It's a confusing and complicated memory and one that I'm finding difficult to heal. 

I am several years overdue for my annual GYN exam - and I keep putting it off longer and longer - and these kind of memories are the reason.  I've had to have a cervical clamp several other times for other procedures and even though the bedside manner was completely different and the reasons completely different - that memory of that first pain remains and it's mentally and physically excruciating.  What's more is that I'm afraid to tell the person doing the procedure of my past and why I'm just about jumping off the table the minute any procedure starts - even something as simple as annual exam and pap smear where it's all over in a matter of minutes.   I'm not sure how they will react.  Will they understand my anxiety and proceed with care, or will they not care at all? 

I'm not sure why I chose to write about any of this today, maybe just to get it out there and out of me.  Maybe just to share the reality of what those who have had an abortion go through.  Perhaps just to let other post abortive women who may read this know that it's okay to not be okay sometimes. 

I'm not sure what time I actually drifted off to a restful sleep last night - but I remember one of the last thoughts I had before I did and that was that I am not the sum of my abortion and all of the pain that came with it - the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. I was reminded this past weekend of the words of Blessed PJP II, "... we are the sum of the Father's love for us."  I pray that today and every day I remember more and more that these painful memories do not make me or break me.


  1. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal memory. I pray it will help someone who has a similar memory. I once heard a sermon on the meaning of the name Mannasseh, Joseph's son in the Bible in Genesis. It means "God has caused me to forget." The teaching I heard is that Joseph never forgot his brothers' betrayal, Potiphar's wife framing him, his imprisonment, etc. Instead it means he forgot the emotional sting of it. I pray that for you. True, he never had to go back to the pit and you/we do need to return to the gyn, so all the more I pray God heals your memory. And amen to your conclusion. We are more than the sum of our past mistakes.

  2. Thank you Kim, for your kind words.