Heather | West Tennessee

I’m a very open person, but I think I allowed the stigma to change who I was and not be so open. I didn’t feel like myself because I wasn’t allowing myself to feel strong and confident and proud of my decision and speak about it openly. 

I was in college up north. Getting into that school was a huge deal to me, one of my biggest achievements. I had an on and off relationship with a boy I went to high school with. He was my first boyfriend, my first love. We lost our virginities to each other – you know, the whole thing. We never could quite cut those ties. When I would come back home, we would be together. But after we graduated high school, he ended up getting really involved with drugs and became addicted to heroin. It’s something he is still dealing with today. That complicated things. We were super young. We had no idea what we were doing.

So, I came back over winter break during my second year of college, and we were together. I got back to school, and something just felt off about my body. I had been on birth control since I was sixteen, but I got an infection in my lymph nodes, went to the hospital, and they gave me a lot of different medicine. I don’t know if one counteracted my birth control, or in the midst of taking so many medications I just didn’t keep up my regiment of taking my birth control.  Before I went back to school, I actually saw my gynecologist here. I told her something felt off about my body. They only did an exam on my body. They didn’t even give me a pregnancy test. Instead, I was given some cream for vaginitis, which I took when I got back to school.

My period has always been sort of sporadic, but something just felt different. My college roommate and I went to get some pregnancy tests in between classes. When I got back to my dorm, I took one. The lines were super faint, so I asked some of my friends back home what they thought, and they told me “You need to go get another pregnancy test.” So I went back and got a digital one that even tells you how many weeks you’re at. I wanted to be sure. I was so anxious walking to the pharmacy, and buying the pregnancy test at the CVS on campus. I could see anyone I knew in there. I took it, and it said “Pregnant, less than 4 weeks.” I could see it, and I knew what it meant. But I was in shock. In that moment I couldn’t even think about what I was going to do.

My roommate and I were from very different places. She was very conservative, but she was my best friend. In that moment, she was so supportive. She told me everything would be okay and that we were going to get through this. There was no judgment. She didn’t push me to decide what I was going to do. I was so overwhelmed. The only people I had told were my roommate and my friends back home.

Growing up, I had always been super pro-choice. My parents are both doctors, so I didn’t view it as a moral decision. It was a medical decision. I was thinking, “Well, I’m in the middle of college. I am not in a place where I want to interrupt my education. There’s no way I could carry this pregnancy to term.” There was some weight given to the fact that the man involved in the situation was not in a place to do this either. He was addicted to drugs and not in a place where he was capable of taking care of himself, let alone being mentally or emotionally present in a situation like that.

So, I thought about it for maybe a second. It wasn’t a choice for me. It was more like, “Okay. I’m not going to carry this pregnancy. That’s how I feel, and now what are the steps that I need to take?” The first thing I did was call my gynecologist back home. They wouldn’t let me speak to my doctor, but I told the nurse practitioner that I had found out I was pregnant. Now I have become so comfortable and open with my story and the word “abortion.” But back then I was very new to this experience. I had never had a friend or anyone close to me go through this. I was on the phone trying to get out the words, “I need an abortion. What do I do?” I was met with, “Well… we don’t do that here. We don’t really do referrals for that. You should ask a colleague or something.” I was a student. I worked in the university office. Did she want me to casually ask them?

Clearly I was going to have to figure this out on my own. I started doing some research, but I got a call back. They accused me of lying about my period at my last visit, and they were worried because the medicine they gave me for vaginitis could be harmful to a pregnancy. I also took Vyvanse for ADHD, and they told me that wasn’t supposed to be taken while pregnant either. So I went back to my research. I was looking at different clinics around town, and I found a women’s clinic nearby.

First, I was blown away at how expensive it was. I wanted to keep it as confidential as possible because I was still really overwhelmed. I didn’t really want to tell my parent at the time, so I couldn’t use my health insurance. They gave me the option of the pill[s] or the surgical procedure. I chose the surgical procedure because I wanted assurance and peace of mind when I left that everything was done. Also, I didn’t want to deal with the medical abortion in a dorm. They told me about all the different levels of sedation, the price going up with partial and full sedation. I had a part time job, but coming up with that much money was a challenge for me at the time. I did have savings, and my friends were amazing and lent me money. While this was really hard, it was eye opening to see that when you’re down, there are people who will be there for you. My friends were so supportive during that time.

My roommate and I took an Uber to the clinic. Thankfully, there were no protestors outside, because this clinic was about 20 minutes outside the city. My roommate wasn’t allowed to come back into the procedure room with me, so she sat in the waiting room and studied. They took me back and let me know what was going to happen. I wasn’t nervous about my decision, but about the procedure itself, which was all new to me. You know, you’re sitting there, exposed. It’s a little strange. The physician was very nice, and there was a woman who stood beside me and held my hand. I can’t remember her face, but I will never forget how she made me feel and how grateful I am that she was there. They did a mandatory ultrasound and were required to ask me if I wanted them to print out pictures. Of course the answer was “No… Thank you, but no.” We went through the procedure, but now that part is kind of hazy for me. I remember feeling overwhelmed and scared just because I was in a place by myself. But the woman next to me, holding my hand, was so strong and amazing for me in those moments when I thought I couldn’t be. I was a little shell-shocked right after. She helped me get dressed and walked me to the recovery room, holding me like I was her best friend. I thought, “I don’t know you, and I’ll probably never see you again, but thank you so much.”

I walked out, and my roommate was there. She asked me if I was okay, and I assured her I was. We got another Uber back to campus. I was definitely drained from the whole process. I crawled into my bed, and my roommate went and got me giant pads, ginger ale, and soup from the deli. This girl does not want to have kids; she [is] not maternal. But I saw these caring instincts come out because she cared about me. There was no judgment There was no, “You got yourself into this,” just a friend being a friend. I will never forget that. I am so proud to have her as a friend.

I was so relieved to have it done with. I’m the kind of person who loves to do research and be informed about everything. So, this is when things got complicated. I started doing some more research. Now I know that there’s no normal way to feel about abortion and every woman has her own experience with it. There are no right or wrong feelings. Unfortunately the Internet can be a dark place. You can click on things that seem like they’re for support after an abortion, but really they’re full of shameful, critical, anti-choice rhetoric. So I had a couple of instances where I clicked that. It didn’t really affect me or make me question the decision I made, but it made me realize that there are people out there who actually believe this. There are people who think of me as a lesser person or damaged.

I decided to visit some more credible sites. I started reading everything on the Planned Parenthood and Center for Reproductive Rights websites.  I watched some PSA-style videos about celebrities and their experiences, even their mothers’ experiences with abortion. It was really comforting to see people speaking about it without being shameful. It helped me heal a lot, but I did keep it to myself for an entire year. I’m a very open person, but I think I allowed the stigma to change who I was and not be so open. I didn’t feel like myself because I wasn’t allowing myself to feel strong and confident and proud of my decision and speak about it openly. I felt inauthentic because I’m so supportive of people and their rights, and here I was almost cowering about this. After a year, I told my parents, and they were extremely supportive. I wish I had told them when it happened. It was definitely a learning experience, and they are still so supportive of me being involved in protecting reproductive rights. We are all capable and should be trusted to make our own decisions. I’m so grateful I wasn’t somewhere like Texas, where I’d have to drive 100 miles or wait two days or have protestors outside. You’re in an emotionally vulnerable place walking in there. You already have to deal with so much that day.

I consider it something that was meant to happen to me. It wasn’t a tragedy. I’m so grateful for this experience because it opened my eyes and made me understand things from a perspective that I was previously only imagining. I finished college. I’ve never looked back and questioned my decision. I just found out that I got into law school. I’m so excited because now I want to make sure that the next person that’s in this position has an easier time than I did. I was privileged and had resources, but it was still one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I can’t even imagine the burdens that are on people financially, emotionally, and geographically. I want to make sure that I can almost pay it forward. It’s motivated me to get involved with Planned Parenthood, which has reinforced how grateful I am that I live in a country where abortion is illegal. I am so excited about Tennessee Stories Project because when I was going through this, all I wanted to know was how other people felt and that I wasn’t alone. Abortion can be very isolating because nobody talks about it. Being myself again and using my experiences has been wonderful. I am so happy to be in this place.

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