“No woman has an abortion for fun.” —Elizabeth Joan Smith
I had an abortion the summer my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was completely unprepared for a child both mentally and emotionally, not to mention being financially incapable of supporting a new life. Knowing of my mother’s diagnosis only placed me in a deeper eddy of my own emotional shit. At the time, I was just starting a new job, I had no degree under my belt, no plan of action for my life, no dreams. I was that plastic bag floating in “American Beauty” or like the white feather in “Forrest Gump.” I had no idea why the fuck I was there, floating on crests of wind, but there I was. Floating and shit.
The guy I had slept with was the guy everyone wanted me to stay away from but who I harbored such ardor for that I kept going back, rebounding after breakups by rolling around in his bed. I got pregnant after one of those he-always-makes-me-feel-better rebound moments where the condom broke and we stared at each other as if the world was ending.
“I pulled out in time. You should be okay.”
I thought I would be. I was wrong.
At the time, I didn’t tell him I was pregnant and I didn’t tell him that I was going to have an abortion. I justified it with, “Well, he ain’t looking for me,” or “He’s chilling with that other chick now, so who cares?” The reality was that I was afraid to tell him and I was afraid of what his reaction would be. Not my proudest moment, no. He deserved to know. I don’t regret much in my life, but not telling him is definitely a regret. Years later, when he finally confessed his love to me over a candlelit table and proclaimed that I was the only woman he could see himself having a child with, I put my hand over his and said, “I have something to tell you.” Our relationship was never the same after that, the rebound moments ended, though a warm friendship remained.
Perhaps, people think I made the choice out of selfishness. But I made the choice with the knowledge that I had put myself in a place I didn’t want to be in. I didn’t want to start a family with a street dude that didn’t know I existed outside of my vagina and what I can make him feel in bed. I didn’t want to have a child knowing that I could not provide it with the life it deserved, with the support it deserved. I was reeling from a life not yet faced. I hadn’t even begun to work on the layers of shit I had to unlearn because I was in the midst of creating more fucking layers.
I was not ready and I didn’t want to be a mother. That was my reasoning and I have been damned to hell and judged for it. By people in my life.
When I decided on getting a copper IUD implanted, I was with my ex-boyfriend and to be quite frank, the Russian Roulette of condoms breaking or what not was not worth the lack of sensation and pull-out games were too risky. I didn’t want the fucking anxiety. We both got tested and then had a real discussion about birth control. I was adamant about steering clear of hormonal options, like the pill, which was tedious as fuck on top of being hormones or the NuvaRing which was easy as fuck to use but when off of it, took 2 years for my cycle to fully regulate back to normal. Two years! I wanted to stay away from those things. My doctor told me my only option if I wanted no hormones and long term birth control was the copper IUD.
When I arrived at the doctor’s office to have my IUD implanted, I really didn’t know what to expect. I got into the gown, took off my panties, placed my feet in the stirrups. The first part of any gynecological exam is the speculum, this contraption that stretches you open so the doctor has a better view. Sounds uncomfortable? It is. The second part of the IUD implantation is the measuring of your uterus. A ruler…a fucking ruler is placed inside of you to determine how long the thread on the IUD has to be so it doesn’t interfere with your daily business like wiping or inserting a tampon or what not. Sounds uncomfortable? No, it’s worse. Trust me. The final step is the implanting of the IUD which in and of itself is not too bad.
What completely and totally sucked donkey nuts was the excruciating pain and cramps I got the night I had it implanted. I was in a fetal position trying to become the damn hot water bottle I was in so much pain. I cried…no, wept, in my ex-boyfriend’s bed that night. He watched me sheepishly, not knowing what to do. The doctor said every woman is different and to give it a full six months before my body became adjusted to it.
The countdown had begun.
Going to the abortion clinic is one of the most demeaning experiences I have ever had. Walking into the clinic, there was a man standing out front. He didn’t smile or anything, just handed me a piece of paper that read: “You are about to kill someone.” He scowled at me when I crumpled it and threw it at his feet. I felt my face flush with fury and shame and after checking in at the front desk, I went into the bathroom and cried.
I waited for HOURS in that waiting room. I had been told not to eat or drink anything and I was hungry and tired and anxious. When they finally called my name, I was taken to a room where I changed into a gown. Then, I was made to wait again in another room with other girls in gowns, some who looked ashamed, others who looked bored. I stared openly at a girl, who’s belly had already started to paunch out a bit. She smiled at me and reached for a magazine on one of the coffee tables they had in the room.
A nurse called me into a room and gave me an ultrasound. The baby was the size of a shelled cashew on the ultrasound screen. I won’t forget that image. Let me make this clear, so everyone can understand. They make you look. They ask you over and over if you are sure you want to have an abortion. I know why they do this. For the women who are in fact, unsure. But I was very sure and I nodded every single time the nurse asked if I wanted to get an abortion. But even with all of that certainty, I felt shamed and guilty and alone and judged. I waited for a few more hours before being taken into the OR for the procedure.
When a friend became pregnant with her second child, she didn’t tell me. She asked me to talk to her about my abortion, tell me what happened. I told her all of the details. Told her how scared I was, how alone I felt.
When I found out she was pregnant, it was my best friend who told me. I asked if she was going to keep the baby.
“Yeah. She told me that she could never do what you did.”
I woke up in a room full of beds where other girls were opening their eyes or drinking water. When the nurse came to check on me, she smiled as she asked me how I felt. I nodded, my throat dry, my stomach curling into itself because I was so hungry. She lifted clean white sheets off of me to see my thighs completely covered in thick, gooey red. I was coming off of anesthesia, unsure what was happening, groggy still. I could hear panic in her voice, the sing song of her previous greeting completely gone.
“Doctor! She’s bleeding too much.”
I had begun to hemorrhage and the blood was flowing out of me like an ocean. I was dizzy and I remember thinking to myself only how badly I wanted to eat. The nurse smiled, putting a hand on my face.
“You’re going to be okay, We got you. Okay?” This woman held my hand as they rolled me back into the OR and put me under anesthesia again. I cried when they put the mask over my face. The nurse held my hand and said they were “going to get me all cleaned up.” I was grateful for her hand, for the real human touch and not the looks and grunts and sterile questions. I cried and she rubbed the tears from my cheeks with her gloved hands. Thankfully, they stopped the bleeding. I woke up, performed the actions that cleared me for discharge, was given crackers and peanut butter and orange juice for my blood loss, given a prescription for birth control and sent on my way. My closest childhood friend, Cynthia, came to pick me up.
We barely spoke the entire ride home.
I wanted to tell Cynthia that I was relieved. I was hating myself for feeling relief, but I was relieved. Relieved, yes, that I was no longer pregnant. But relieved because I was alive. Relieved because I had been in a hospital, with doctors, where the problem was resolved and I lived. Relieved that the nurse held my hand. Relieved that she had come to pick me up. Relief is the only emotion I felt as we sat in the cab home.
I only nodded in response.
I called it “Murder Pants.” Two weeks of heavy bleeding. The cramps were unbearable at times and no amount of Ibuprofen or Midol or hot water would tame them. I’d spend the first five nights of my period whimpering, hugging a hot water bottle like a lover. During PMS and my period, I had huge surges of anxiety, changed a super plus tampon every hour, suffered headaches, fatigue, not to mention the hormonal acne I never had before that was sprouting all across my chin. I had been told by the doctor that I would experience heavier and longer periods and may have some more discomfort because of the copper IUD, but this was out of hand. I called the doctor’s office and was transferred to a nurse.
“You have to give it time. It’s only been two months. Your body is adjusting to the IUD. Every woman is different and their adjustment period is different. Give it time.”
“But why am I going through all of this?”
“That’s not from the copper IUD. The Paragard is non-hormonal meaning whatever you’re experiencing can’t be from the IUD.”
I suffered for another four months before I had it removed. Later, I found out that I was suffering from what is called “copper toxicity.” This meant that my body was reacting to an excess of copper in my system and was unable to eliminate the excess. Symptoms of copper toxicity include severe anxiety, hormonal acne, insomnia, fatigue, anemia, hair loss, etc. High copper levels are also linked to psychosis and Alzheimer’s. The list goes on, y’all.
The scary part was that I learned that with a high level of copper in your system, the essential zinc was imbalanced. Zinc helps strengthens our resistance to stress and anxiety, maintains intellectual function, and helps in the creation of all hormones. It is also a protector of our body, helping to create our master antioxidants, metallothionein and glutathione, which protect our body from diseases, like cancer. I immediately began taking zinc supplements after having the copper IUD removed.
All of this to say that it wasn’t in my head at all. I felt lied to. I felt betrayed. I felt violated. The doctor still tells me that what I was going through was in my head. That it couldn’t have been the copper IUD that caused those symptoms.
Ironically, once I removed the copper IUD and began taking zinc supplements, the symptoms completely dissipated.
In 1937, a U.S. bill was passed in Puerto Rico that allowed the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women. This bill, called Law 116, made forced sterilization, known popularly as “la operación,” legal and free to Puerto Rican women while providing them with no alternative methods of birth control. U.S. colonialism and sugar interests had left the Puerto Rican population poverty stricken. An entire generation of women began to enter the growing industrial workforce. The U.S., historically known for not holding itself accountable, blamed overpopulation instead of their invasion and sugar interests and the eugenics policy of Law 116 was enacted. By 1968, the program had sterilized approximately one-third of the women in Puerto Rico, most of them in their 20s. Many of these women who submitted to tubal ligation were unaware of its permanency. Some, already mothers of one or two children were refused work or healthcare unless they consented to the procedure. By 1968, the island of Puerto Rico had the highest sterilization rate in the entire world.
Similarly, in 1956, the Rio Piedras and Humacao birth control trials, run by Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood and Dr. Gregory Pincus, targeted poor women on the island. Women were told they would avoid pregnancy if they took this daily pill but were not told that they were part of a clinical trial or that their treatment was experimental. Though women complained of massive side effects which including headaches, dizzy spells, and nausea, Pincus dismissed it as psychosomatic. When three women died, Pincus paid their deaths no mind, stating that the women would fade into history.
The history of birth control is deeply rooted in the oppression of poor women of color, these two instances being specific to the very island where my family is from. This came to mind when I was going through my IUD ordeal. Especially when I was told that the symptoms I was experiencing, that countless other women I know were experiencing, were all psychosomatic. I wasn’t going crazy. The pain and the physical symptoms were real and was caused by yet another form of invasive female birth control that can change or warp a woman’s body.
In late 2016, a study on a male birth control was scrapped because the men who participated in the study complained of side effects like acne, increased libido, and mood disorders. Compared to the side effects of female birth control that include anxiety, weight gain, nausea, headaches, reduced libido, blood clots and in the case of the copper IUD, copper toxicity and all that comes with it, the idea of a male birth control study being terminated because of acne is an insult, at the very least.
But what it shows is that women remain the ones carrying the brunt of responsibility for contraception and all of its side effects. The idea of joint responsibility, is of course, unfathomable. Sense my sarcasm, people. Sit with that.
No, this does not mean that I do not support birth control or Planned Parenthood. On the contrary, what all of this means, the history of it, reminds me of the need to hold our social justice organizations accountable for their histories, but also to challenge them to do better for all women, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, to work with the knowledge of all of those intersections.
Birth control has been a part of my life for years now and it does indeed offer a freedom from the anxiety of potential pregnancy but it is a heavy freedom, y’all. A heavy freedom indeed. But it is a freedom and one that we need to ensure is protected for all women, one that is made safe and affordable for all women, one that is above all, protected as a right.
Let me be crystal clear with you. It was not an easy decision to have an abortion and it certainly was an ordeal for me, to say the least. My life would have been totally different if I had chosen to keep that child. I don’t regret choosing to better myself or my life. I am grateful to that experience, to that moment for pushing me in directions I would not have gone in, for pushing me to become a different woman. I know it was for the best and I will always fight for a woman’s right to choose what is best for her. I will fight against having that very personal and difficult choice being dictated by old white men in the government who will never have to be in that position.
But hand in hand with that gratitude, there comes shame and guilt. Especially as I am approaching my 33rd birthday and the looming idea that I may, in fact, not ever be a mother comes into play. I told my mother the other day that the possibility of not ever being a mami is there and that I must accept that becoming a mother just may not be in the cards for me. Look, I know, I am still young and fertile and there is still time. But just like back then, I won’t just have a child because I want one or with just anyone because they want one, too. Mami says that someone could never be really ready for a child and that’s a given. People are always unprepared for what a child brings, even if they read the books and take the classes. But just because you want to swim, doesn’t mean you should jump into the pool without looking, dig?
So, the clock ticks along and here I am, that fucking plastic bag again. I guess I will be the best aunty in the entire world if that ends up being my path, I’ll tell you that.
It comes off as contradictory though, to say that despite my lack of regret that I felt shame and guilt, doesn’t it? But I don’t mean shame or guilt in a remorseful sense, I mean it in the sense that these emotions are residues of being judged and damned and ridiculed. How unfair. How sad. How painful it is to be judged for choosing to not give a child a difficult and arduous life. How sad it is to be judged by people who care only that the child is born, but not if there is food to feed them, clothes to give them, etc. How sad it is that women are demeaned and vilified for choosing not to be a mother.
But see, that’s the problem. A woman choosing to have an abortion is not calculated, or cold, or remorseless. On the contrary, the choice to have an abortion is one that is laden with layers of emotion. But a choice that is ours to make.
In the wake of Trump’s administration threatening these rights in his first week in office, I have seen people that I respect and care for, shame other women for having an abortion without ever knowing the context or the experience. I have seen people say that it is a murder, that it is a sin, that it is worth being punished for or going to hell for. People who hate Trump saying, “I think he’s terrible but I think he did the right thing in regards to abortion.”
I support reproductive rights, no doubt about it. I believe all women, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status should have access to safe, affordable, and adequate reproductive health care without discrimination, without judgment, without misinformation. That includes birth control and abortions and mammos and paps, etc. I support these rights and I will fight to protect them every day.
I do not get into those pro-life or pro-choice debates because my logic is this: Women have been performing abortions for centuries, boo. Using herbs and other methods, but yet and all, abortive methods have been around since before the religion you’re using to judge me for it even existed. This is not to say that abortive methods are a solid replacement for contraceptives or abstinence, or that these other methods are always the safest, but it exists and it will continue to exist because it has always existed.
And at the end of the day, what a woman chooses to do with her body is NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.
Miss me with the moralistic and judgmental perspectives and the damning religious rhetoric.
I don’t give a shit.
Being a mother or choosing not to be is my choice to make, not yours.
Stay the fuck out of my uterus. Punto.
No, I don’t care to hear your thoughts about it because it just means you’ve gotten into my uterus again and my uterus is not yours to judge, not yours to damn, not yours to fill or empty, not yours to condemn. It is mine.
So, get out.