Ashley | West Tennessee

My doctor advised me that legally he couldn’t do anything or tell me where to go because of his affiliation with a religious hospital, but he told me to ask around and see if anyone could point me in the right direction.

I’m sharing my story because I really want to work to end the stigma surrounding abortion and make other women feel comfortable coming forward with their stories. Women don’t feel safe sharing their abortion stories, but maybe my sharing will encourage another woman to do the same.  You have to start somewhere, and, for me, this is where I start. My story is unique because originally, I was staunchly pro-life.

I got pregnant when I was 16 the very first time I had sex. I had been raised by a very Catholic mother (who similarly became pregnant at 19) who worked very hard to raise me to be pro-life. I’d been to the pro-life rallies; I’d handed out the fliers with the tiny embryos on them that are meant to tug at your heartstrings. So, when I got pregnant as a junior in high school, abortion never once entered my mind. It wasn’t something I was interested in entertaining at all honestly. Despite having good grades and being an honor student, the public school I attended tried to kick me out.  Members of the administration believed pregnancy was a disease and that it would spread among the student body.  My argument at the time focused on the fact that other women were similarly getting pregnant, but they weren’t choosing to keep the baby.  Luckily, the principal of my high school decided that aiding me in attaining my high school diploma would be more beneficial to my unborn child and me than any example he could make out of my situation, and I ended up doing homebound to finish my junior year.  I went to a different school for summer school, turned 17, graduated early, and started college at a prestigious university the next month. I remained very pro-life; I even took my son to pro-life rallies when I was 17.  However, I ended up pregnant again when I was 21. I had just finished college and once again abortion was never an option for me. I had my second child and continued on as a single, working mom.

Then, at 23, I got pregnant for the third time.  The guy and I had only been together for 2 months.  Initially, I planned to keep the baby.  I went to prenatal appointments and sorted everything out with my insurance.  I did all the things you do in the first trimester when you’re preparing to have a baby. My son was living with my parents, and my daughter was living with me.  I had finished my degree but wasn’t done with my thesis so I worked in the restaurant business as a way to support myself.  I was already living below the poverty line, worked really long hours, and found out I was pregnant with a third child.  Initially, I told myself I was going to be just fine. However, things didn’t work out with the guy, and I ended up falling into a really bad depression with suicidal thoughts. I went to see my doctor for my 8-week appointment and told him about my negative thoughts and feelings. He had been with me through both of my previous pregnancies. At the appointment, I told him that I thought the baby had miscarried, even though I didn’t have any symptoms of it (clearly, wishful thinking). He put the Doppler on my belly, and I burst into tears from sadness when I heard the heartbeat. I’d never felt that way before at the sound of a baby’s beating heart. I truly felt like my life was essentially falling apart, and I’d never wanted to have a miscarriage more in my life.  My doctor said to me, “Are you sure this is what you want to do? I’ve seen you through a lot, Ashley, and I’ve never seen you this depressed.” His acknowledgment of my pain was so piercing and a huge wake-up call for me. The stress of dealing with this pregnancy was slowly eating away at the life I’d worked so hard to create for myself and my children.  My doctor advised me that legally he couldn’t do anything or tell me where to go because of his affiliation with a religious hospital, but he told me to ask around and see if anyone could point me in the right direction.

After my appointment, I began to reach out to my friends about what I was going through and the second thoughts I was having about becoming a single mother to 3 children.   Slowly but surely, a few of my closest friends came forward about their abortions and how they felt it was the right decision for them.  That idea was very contrary to what I was taught through my entire pro-life upbringing. I had always been taught women were suicidal and suffered from anxiety and depression after abortions.  Planned Parenthood had always been a place I picketed, so I knew to call and make an appointment there.  I had an overwhelmingly positive experience at PP, which was in stark contrast to the horror stories I’d heard from the pro-life movement.  Unfortunately, PP couldn’t get me scheduled for almost 2 weeks, so I called Memphis Reproductive Center and told them my situation.  Similar to the folks at PP, they were wonderful to deal with and worked with me to get me in before my daughter’s second birthday party. Then came the problem of the money: the procedure cost $450 – a significant amount of money to a working-but-still-below-the-poverty-line, single mother. However, as I contemplated if I could come up with the money, I said to myself, “If I can’t come up with $450 to have an abortion, how can I raise another baby?”  Studies say that a child costs 1 million dollars over a lifetime. If I was struggling to come up with $450, then I felt that I had absolutely no business having another baby. My best friend loaned me the extra $200 I needed in addition to dropping me off and picking me up from my abortion.

The entire experience was as good as it could have possibly been. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was definitely the right decision. Prior to the procedure, I was afraid of the unknown. Since this isn’t something that is talked about in the public realm, you can’t go to the library and read about what to expect the way you can with childbirth. The beautiful thing I saw while at the clinic was women banding together and supporting each other, despite all being there for different reasons.  I would say 90% of the women there already had children.  That’s something I never thought about growing up being pro-life – women choosing to not have more children because they were already struggling to take care of their kids already. I similarly chose to prioritize my 2 living children because having another baby would have potentially sent me into more severe poverty (& certainly an even worse depression). Despite being disappointed in myself that I was in this situation, I made a commitment to myself to finish my degree and work even harder to be the best parent I could be to my children.  I did end up telling my mom that I was having an abortion, and ironically enough, my mom was picketing there that week.  It was surreal to be in there and know that my mom was outside protesting my decision about my body.  However, that was her right to do just as I had the right to exercise my right to choose what was right for me.

When I got home, my friends were there waiting with Advil and a heating pad.   I remember immediately taking a shower, looking in the mirror, and finally feeling like it was my reflection looking back. That was the greatest sense of relief I had ever felt, and it completely changed my life. I remember the exact moment that I knew I couldn’t be pro-life anymore. I had to embrace the new future that lay ahead of me as a pro-choice individual. I am much more active on the pro-choice side now and actively work to end the stigma surrounding abortion.

For me, I’ve never regretted my decision.  Not once. It almost felt odd that I didn’t feel sad about my abortion because that’s what conservatives tell women will happen. I didn’t feel guilt – I felt relief. All the things the Right told me I would feel – the suicidal thoughts and the depression -that’s how I felt BEFORE the abortion. I never felt any of the negative emotions because abortion was 100% the right decision for me. People don’t feel sad when they’re making the right decision for them. I truly believe this has made me a better mother and a stronger woman.  I’m much more educated about comprehensive sex education than I was raised to be, and I will similarly raise children who can make educated reproductive decisions based on facts, not politically-influenced information.

I will be able to tell my kids that I know what it’s like to be in a situation and keep the baby.  Conversely, I know what it’s like to NOT keep the baby. I understand the potential choices and subsequent consequences on both sides.  I was always taught “God wants you to have a baby” but when you go through your 3rd unplanned pregnancy at 23 years old while watching good people around you struggle to get pregnant, it just makes no sense. If God loved me would he want me forced into this position of poverty and stress? Would he want me to be suicidal at the thought of another baby?  Not any God that I know or want to believe in.

I would not be the person I am today without that experience.  I learned so much about myself both during the process and afterwards, and I am that much more grateful for my life now.  I finished my thesis and even went back and pursued another undergraduate degree. I married a wonderful man and had two more beautiful children whom I adore and cherish.  I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without my decision to terminate that pregnancy.

I want this story to reach other women in this situation, butI also want it to reach pro-life people.  I want to encourage them to do more fact-based research, reach out to women who choose to terminate, and learn why people make the decisions they make. I want the world to know that not every woman regrets her decision to terminate.  On the contrary, some women are completely ok with their decision and even thankful to have had the access to the care they needed.  I’m not pro-abortion; I’m pro-choice. Abortion isn’t always going to be the right choice for everyone, but women should have the right to choose that for themselves. I am overwhelmingly confident that abortion was the right choice for me.

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