Mary | East Tennessee

My abortion was hard. It was a rough time in my life. But now, I know that it’s led me to become who I am.

My partner and I had been together for almost two years when I had an abortion. I was on birth control, but I wasn’t good at taking the pill at the same time every day. I realized my period was late in December and started worrying. After taking three store-bought pregnancy tests, I thought, “okay, this might be a problem.”

I guess in my mind I always knew it wasn’t the time to have a baby, and I was okay with the idea of an abortion. I don’t know if I really second-guessed myself too much. Maybe it was the feminist in me growing up, but I was fine with it. Of course, there was a lot of stigma, and that made me really nervous. I didn’t want to tell my parents or my friends. It was just between my partner and I.

When I told him, he was shaky and had no idea what to do. I’d already started researching and found out that I qualified for the pills, but I knew there was a limited time for that to be possible. I looked into clinics near me, and although there was a Planned Parenthood in my town, they didn’t perform abortions there. I had to go to the next town over.

This was North Carolina in 2009. At the time, there was no waiting period for an abortion, which was awesome. As I retell this story, I recognize my privilege: I had transportation and a clinic 45 minutes away, versus five hours away. I was a college student at the time, so being able to return from the clinic in the same day was helpful. And just the fact that I could take the pills at home was really nice and convenient. It was still scary, especially when I thought about what could go wrong – I’m a practical person, and I worried about the details. What would I do, and how would I afford it, if I needed to go to the hospital?

At the same time, I was very appreciative that the pills were an option for me. The clinic staff was reassuring, and I felt very safe. It felt like any other doctor’s office because they were professional and informative. I watched a video and went through an ultrasound, and the staff let me know that I didn’t have to look at the ultrasound if I didn’t want to (which I didn’t). They did mention that they’d need to tell me if I was pregnant with twins, but that wasn’t the case. I took my first pill at the office, then went to the pharmacy to pick up other pills for nausea and pain. I took the second pill later that day, and just let it happen.

The pills cost more than other options would have, and I probably should have looked into other financial options. My partner split the cost with me, and it felt good that we agreed about that. He did not stay with me while I took the second pill, and I was upset. We broke up later that year, and looking back, I realize it was not a healthy relationship. As a contrast, I’m in a different relationship now, where we’re both on the same page. My current partner knows about my abortion and is totally fine with it; if we’d been in the same situation, we would have made the same decision. My partner’s brother actually had a kid as a teenager, so he’s seen firsthand what it’s like to raise a child when you don’t have the financial means to do so, and when your mind isn’t mature enough.

Looking back, it wasn’t a simple decision, but it was the only decision for me. My life would have been so different if abortion wasn’t an option for me. I wouldn’t have been with the person I wanted to be with. I wouldn’t be doing what I am now, personally or professionally. I wouldn’t have traveled to all of the places I’ve been or met the people in my life.

At the time of my abortion, I was not mature enough to raise a baby. I was trying to get through college. I have a learning disability, I had switched majors and I was finally getting back on my feet after dealing with significant depressive episodes. I knew that my primary goal was to graduate, and then I’d need to start paying student loans. Now, things in my life have gotten much better. I’ve matured, and I ended up going to grad school for social work. My first internship actually involved working for a reproductive justice organization, which was really cool. An advisor suggested the group at a time when I wasn’t sure which direction my career should take. I didn’t even know what reproductive justice was – I was familiar with reproductive rights, but I wasn’t aware of the social justice aspects. I also knew how those policies affected me, but I hadn’t previously known how to get involved.

While working with that organization, I also started paying attention to news that made me realize how lucky I’d been to have transportation and access to an abortion provider. In 2012, North Carolina started really tightening restrictions on abortion. It hits you personally when you see that happening, and it’s something you’ve gone through. I was lucky to know what I wanted when I got pregnant. I realize it’s a much harder decision for other people, it’s harder to get access, and those restrictions will only increase. That recognition has motivated me to fight for abortion rights for other women.

In the months after my abortion, I found out that two of my best friends had gone through them as well, but we hadn’t talked about it until after the fact. I wish we’d been there to support each other. It was a harder decision for both of them, and I wish we hadn’t all faced the stigma that surrounds conversations about abortion. If I knew they were thinking about it, I could have told them what I’d been through and shared my experience. That recognition also motivates me to fight abortion stigma. Any decision that a person makes concerning abortion is fine, but we should feel comfortable talking about it. I grew up with these friends, and we didn’t feel like we could turn to each other and talk about abortion – we all felt alone. I felt like my partner was the only person I could tell, and didn’t even tell my roommate at the time.

Now, I’m really open about it. Surprisingly, people that I’ve told about going through an abortion never really push back about it. Some people might say they couldn’t personally do it, or if they only know that I support abortion, they might disagree with me. But if they know that I made the decision to have one, they usually respect my choice. Maybe that’s just a function of time going by, or me being comfortable in my own skin. However, for better or worse, the more you talk about abortion, the more stigma surrounding it falls away.

In a nutshell, my abortion was hard. It was a rough time in my life. But now, I know that it’s led me to become who I am. It’s led me to what I want to do with my life, led me to the people I want to be connected with. I’ve met so many strong women, personally and professionally, from all different walks of life. Some of them have kids, some of them don’t or don’t want kids. Some are LGBT, some are still figuring it out. My abortion has become part of my identity because it helped shape my past. I choose to look at it as an empowering moment, and something that makes me keep fighting for other women to have the same opportunity.

Every woman has the right to make her own decisions, know her options, and talk to others for more information. No one should feel pressured into any decision concerning abortion. If you’re going through that decision process, reach out to the people in your life who you can trust, or an organization that specializes in the conversation, such as Planned Parenthood or a hotline. Talking about what you’re going through can help a lot, especially if you’re in an area with a lot of abortion stigma. It can feel like the scales are shifted against you, and you’re alone, but you’re not. There’s a whole world out there supporting your decision.

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