I'll never forget the day I found out I was pregnant for the very first time. Everything about that day was relatively normal, except for the fact that I felt anything but normal. I knew something was different and, when that pregnancy test confirmed my worst fear, I knew what I had to do. I was 23, in an unhealthy relationship, straight out of college, with only $50 to my name. I knew an abortion was the right choice for me, but I didn't know there were things you don't have to do when having an abortion; things everyone else says you should do; things anti-choice advocates and our patriarchal culture try to convince women they must do if they are to be "good" or "decent" or "worthwhile" women.
Sadly, it took me far too long to realize that my choice to have an abortion was just that: my choice. It wasn't something to be discussed or debated. It wasn't something to be criticized or judged. It wasn't something to be pointed to and used as a justification for why I deserved to be treated as less than, or scrutinized, or name-called, or harassed. While reproductive freedom continues to be a political talking point in this country, an estimated 28 percent of American women have had an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In other words, and according to the same institute, a reported 30,260,000 different women had one or more abortions from 1967 to the present. Abortion is normal. Abortion is legal. Abortion is a medical procedure so many women choose for themselves, their futures, their partners, and their families. Of course, abortion is understandably not the only choice for every woman and plenty of women choose not to have abortions. However, it's just that: a choice and, as women, we should have the freedom to do with our bodies what we believe is best for us.
Getting an abortion, even today, in the year 2016, is considered "taboo" and, as such, the conversation surrounding abortion is prescriptive. The longer abortion is debated in this county, and the longer women's feelings about abortions are policed by anti-choice advocates, the more women like me — women who've had abortions — suffer. I'm thankful for the day I walked into a Planned Parenthood and received safe and affordable abortion care. I'm thankful my abortion gave me the opportunity to eventually — and on my own terms — become the mother my now 2-year-old son deserves. I'm thankful for the people who saw my choice as nothing more than a necessary decision, and who helped me realize that I didn't have to do the following things:
You Don't Have To Feel Guilty...
A lot of anti-choice rhetoric would make any woman having an abortion believe that if she doesn't feel guilty about her choice, she's a "bad woman." Or worse, she's a "murderer." Protests showing graphic images of "aborted fetuses," (which are usually not aborted fetusus at all, but images of stillborn babies) and even violence — like the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs — have scared or coerced women into feeling a particular way about their abortion or choice to have an abortion. If you don't feel guilty about doing this very legal, very normal, and very common medical procedure, you're a "horrible human being."
The University of California, San Francisco, studied 843 women seeking abortions. Of those women, 90 percent said they felt relieved after they had an abortion. A reported 80 percent of the remaining women who felt a negative emotion about their abortion still considered the choice to terminate their pregnancy to be the correct one.
A 2015 study published in the academic journal PLOS ONE found that 95 percent of women who have abortions do not feel regret or remorse. Of those women studied, 40 percent cited financial considerations to be the reason they didn't want to continue with their pregnancy, while 36 percent said it "wasn't the right time," and 26 percent described the decision to have an abortion as "easy" or "somewhat easy."
No one knows what's best for you. But you do. So did I. These studies are tangible proof of what so many women already know: abortion is normal and necessary and the right choice for so many women in this country and around the world. No one has the right to tell you what to do with your body, and no one has the right to police your emotions when it comes to the choices you make about your body (or in general, honestly).
...Or Anything Other Than What You're Feeling
Just because most women don't feel remorse or regret or guilt after they have an abortion doesn't mean you shouldn't, either. How any one woman feels about the termination of a pregnancy is entirely up to her, and no time before, during, or after the abortion should she feel made to feel a specific way.
Before my abortion, I felt scared and alone and broken. During my abortion, I felt empowered and at ease. After my abortion, I felt relief and then, well, I felt guilty. Insanely, unbelievably guilty, because so many people were telling me I was supposed to feel guilty. Anti-choice advocates and "pro-life" messaging that tell women they're wrong, they should feel ashamed and they should essentially "repent," took their toll on me, and my organic feelings of relief were swiftly manipulated into guilt.
That's not OK. So, whatever it is you're feeling about your abortion is accurate, fair, and valid. You write your own story. No one else.
You Don't Have To Tell Anybody About Your Abortion...
You are under no obligation to tell anyone about your abortion. Depending on the state you live in, even if you're underage and a teenager, you don't have to tell a parent or legal guardian about your abortion. Usually, most underage women will voluntarily decide to talk to their parents about their choice to have an abortion, as an estimated 61 percent of young women discussed the decision to have an abortion with at least one of their parents. If a young person chooses not to involve a parent in their decision-making process, it's usually for good reason (i.e. abuse, neglect, etc.).
If you're underage, you can look up your specific state's parent and/or legal guardian requirements here to find out if you do, in fact, have to tell someone about your abortion. However, if you're a consenting adult, you don't have to let anyone know that you're having a legal, medical procedure. This is between you, your clinician or physician, and your body. You don't have to consult with anyone; you don't have to ask permission from anyone; you don't have to weigh the pros and cons with anyone; you don't have to announce your decision to anyone. It's your body. It's your choice.
...And You Don't Have To Hide Your Abortion, Either
Simultaneously, abortion is nothing to be ashamed of. You don't have to hide this part of your medical history if you don't want to. If you feel safe and comfortable, you can share your story and let people know that the ability to make your own decision about your own body is nothing to hide. And if you don't want to, then don't.
You Don't Have To Be Afraid
I remember walking into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bellingham, Washington, afraid and unsure of what I was going to experience. It didn't take very long, however, for that fear and uncertainty to disappear. The clinicians were kind and thoughtful and so very informative. I had multiple opportunities to ask questions, we walked through the procedure as often as I needed to so I felt comfortable, and I was treated with kindness and respect.
I'd never felt more comfortable in a medical setting and, before I knew it, the abortion procedure was over.
You Don't Have Apologize To Anyone
If I could go back and change one thing about my abortion, it would be the moment I apologized to my then-partner for having one. I'd convinced myself that what I did was wrong, because I'd grown up in a religious environment, had so many religious friends, and was told by countless people I loved that abortion was "wrong." In the deep, truth-telling part of my gut, I knew what I did was the right thing, not only for me, but also for my partner and our respective futures, but religious indoctrination is a very powerful thing, and anti-choice rhetoric has been very successful at convincing women they should feel bad for owning their own bodies and making their own decisions about them. So, after the procedure I hugged my then-boyfriend and told him I was sorry. But I wasn't.
Years later, when that now ex-boyfriend and I got a cup of coffee, we sat across from one another and talked about our relationship, our unplanned pregnancy, the abortion, and the reason why it was the best decision for both of us. He told me I never should have apologized — that our lives are better because of the decision I'd made, and that we're both happier because we didn't have a child together — and I agreed. I had nothing to be sorry for. Neither do you.
You Don't Have To Go Alone
I chose not to go alone when I had my abortion. I was unsure of what I'd go to go through, so having a support there with me proved beneficial.
If you have someone like that in your life — someone you can trust, someone you can rely on, someone who's going to be supportive and helpful — don't feel afraid to ask them to come with you. Sometimes it just helps knowing someone is with you. Of course, you don't have to have anyone go with you, either. If you want, you can go alone; there will be a nurse with you and they can assist you and/or comfort you if you need it.
You Don't Have To Keep Yourself From Asking Questions
I wanted to know everything I could possibly know about my abortion procedure. So, I asked questions. Lots of them. I asked questions before, and I asked questions during, and I asked questions afterwards. The doctor talked to me through every single step of the procedure as it was happening so I knew what was going on and why. And I knew I could look to the nurse, who was holding my hand, and ask her any questions I wanted and/or needed to ask.
Ask questions if you're feeling even remotely uncomfortable. You aren't upsetting anyone. You're not annoying. You're not "a pain." You're a patient having a medical procedure and, as such, it's your right to be as informed as possible.
You Don't Have To Have One Specific Type Of Abortion
There's more than one way to have an abortion. Depending on how far along you are in your unwanted pregnancy, you have options: A "medical abortion," or using the abortion pill, is a combination of medicines that end the pregnancy and causes your uterine lining to shred, and is 95 to 97 percent effective; A "surgical abortion" has fewer doctor visits, takes a shorter amount of time and usually does involve heavy bleeding at home. Of course, those options may be limited depending on the state you're in and what your financial situation looks like, but for the most part you can choose between either the abortion pill, or a "surgical" abortion (but don't let the name scare you, it's not surgery in the way we think of surgery).
You Don't Have To Look
Most states do not force a woman to look at an ultrasound before having an abortion. However, and sadly, if you live in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, or Nebraska, a clinician is required to show you an ultrasound picture before you have your abortion. And for that, I am so, so sorry.
You Don't Have To Cry...
I know so many women who didn't cry before, during, or after their abortions. They walked into the clinic without a tear in their eyes, they left the clinic without a tear in their eyes, and at no point during their abortion procedure did they become emotional. And that's totally OK.
...But You Don't Have Be Stoic, Either
I cried during my abortion. I looked up at the ceiling, squeezed the nurse's hand, and I cried. Not because I was sad. Not because I was afraid. Not because I was in pain. I cried because I was relieved. My body was starting to feel like my body again, and I knew I was doing the best thing for myself, my future, my partner, and my partner's future. We were going to be OK. Finally, after two weeks of uncertainty, I knew we were going to be OK.
You Don't Have To Say Goodbye To Motherhood Entirely
Just because you chose to end a pregnancy you didn't or couldn't want doesn't mean you can't be a mother later on in life.
In fact, an estimated 54 percent of women who have had abortions are already mothers. Of the one in three women who will have an abortion during their lifetime, most will go one to have perfectly healthy pregnancies and children (if they so choose). Getting a medical or surgical abortion does not hurt your chance to have a child when you're ready, willing, or able to do so.
I had an abortion when I was 23 years old. I was in an unhealthy relationship, financially unstable, and unable to care for myself, much less someone else. I wasn't ready to be a mother, but most importantly, I wasn't willing to be a mother. Now, at 29 years old, I have a 2-year-old son who reminds me, day in and day out, that being a mother is a wonderful, fulfilling, difficult, and taxing experience. No one should be forced to be a parent when they aren't ready, willing, or able to be. BecauseI had an abortion, I'm able to tell my son that I chose him. Every child deserves to hear that they were wanted.