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My abortion story: Privilege gave me access to medical care

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(Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

(Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

I entered Planned Parenthood and was patted down by the security guard. Admitted to the waiting room. Called into the clinic. Put on a flimsy pastel hospital smock. I was treated by very professional and compassionate female-bodied doctors.

I got blood work done. A cold, lubed up ultrasound. I was asked if I was sure this was the right choice for me. I laid down on the operating table.

A nurse asked, “What do you like to do?”

I received a shot of anesthesia.

“I am playing Peter Pan. The production opens in two weeks…,” I said.

I felt tears slide out of my eyes as I fell asleep to the nurse saying: “It’s going to be alright honey.” A large poster with kittens grinned down from the ceiling. Then a suction noise.

I woke up drowsy. I was then wheeled into recovery room. A cloud of nausea lifted. I Looked around me and saw so many of us sitting there. Ate a saltine cracker. Got dressed. Felt relieved. I didn’t know how to feel. My boyfriend drove me home. I felt victorious, yet wanted to forget. The feeling still lingers.

Bottom line: We need safe spaces to discuss our abortion stories.

Last spring I found out I was two months pregnant. My partner at the time and I decided that abortion was the only solution. This decision was one of the simplest decisions of my life with the most painful aftermath.

As a junior in college with no fiscal stability, I was in no place to be a mother. I write this open letter because through sharing this experience, I realized how many women in my life and at this school have had similar experiences but have been silenced by a sexist culture of shame.

Having an abortion is already a difficult choice, but the loneliness, alienation and reinforced silence add another unbearable weight.

We all have a collective responsibility to dismantle these abusive social constructs of shame, regardless of our personal views. These constructs are suppressive and destructive to women. We need to change the polarizing language of pro-life and pro-choice and make a bipartisan commitment to pro-women’s health care.

We can’t pretend that abortion doesn’t happen because there is silence, just like we can’t say sex doesn’t happen as a justification for abstinence education in our schools.

I needed to share my story because the language surrounding the right to abort becomes institutionalized, unfeeling and politically impersonal. Everyone’s abortion story is different.

After my abortion, I found myself determined to persevere. I distracted myself from the personal grief and pushed through the semester and claustrophobic depression. In my experience, the University of Massachusetts has been exemplary in supporting me.

I dream of the day when letting a professor know “I had an abortion,” is like saying “I have the flu.” I am not trying to make this sound casual. This is a matter of normalcy leading to acceptance. Women will not have to lie or hide what happened.

I am pro-choice, but my feelings became complicated. Let me say it again, this is not an easy decision for everyone, and it certainly was not for me. Yet, I felt empowered by a state system that honored my rights. I took control of my life. I knew that I wanted a family in the future but that this was not my time. I was only able to have this abortion because a series of privileges aligned to grant me access to my right.

I had the steadfast support, love and respect of my partner and our parents. I was able to secure a free pregnancy test and consultation at Tapestry Health, where the compassionate staff calmly confirmed my pregnancy and articulated my options. The same day, I was connected with Planned Parenthood in Springfield, where I was supported through my ultimate decision to abort. The woman on the phone called it a pregnancy. Not a fetus, or a baby. I wasn’t subject to inhumane “waiting legislation,” where in some states a woman is forced to wait a harrowing 72 hours after pregnancy is confirmed to make an appointment.

My partner had a car and was able to drive me to the appointment. The nearest Planned Parenthood was only a half-hour away in Springfield. My insurer was Health New England and they covered the cost of the procedure. I wasn’t subjected to the abusive requirement of looking at the ultrasound before the procedure. I was given a choice. I said no; I was able to tell my professors and director: “I. Had. An. Abortion. This is a difficult personal/emotional time right now,” and they supported me through it. I found myself in the Rand Theater, flying over an audience playing Peter Pan, 10 days later.

Now, almost a year later, I am left staring at this list thinking about how lucky I am. If these circumstances of privilege hadn’t lined up, I would have a one-week old child in my arms right now. This thought breaks my heart yet makes me fight harder for my rights because I would have fewer opportunities right now if I had a child. Access should not be a privilege.

Whether you know it or not, the women in your life are in need of this access. Denying women the right to abortion is like looking your mother, sister or female-bodied friend in the eye and saying: “I don’t care about your health, or your equal right to freedom.” Let’s break the silence.

Emma Ayres is a Collegian contributor. She can be reached at [email protected]

20 Comments

20 Responses to “My abortion story: Privilege gave me access to medical care”

  1. a friend on November 12th, 2014 11:07 am

    thank you so much for sharing this story, it’s people like you that this community needs to stay united for open and honest conversations

  2. Matt on November 12th, 2014 12:18 pm

    Your sentiments about needing to change “the polarizing language of pro-life and pro-choice” are well-intentioned, but naive. Like it or not, some people view abortion as a normal medical procedure and some people view it as a form of murder. Regardless of who is right or wrong, the point is that we can’t just wave a wand and make the conflict go away, or the issue less polarizing.

    There are many issues on which intense polarizing conflict is logical and unavoidable. This is one of them. There’s no point burying your head in the sand and pretending that we can all just get along. No, we CAN’T all just get along. People can’t just get along when such important principles are at stake for both sides in a dispute. Sorry.

  3. a former English teacher on November 12th, 2014 6:53 pm

    Emma, you have always been so brave and articulate, especially around topics that others tiptoe around. I love that you wrote about the importance of your right/privilege, but also honored the grief or pain. Life is complicated and you paid tribute to the fact that no decision is easy but having the power to make decisions is essential.

  4. X on November 12th, 2014 10:10 pm

    “female bodied” is cissexist language. bodies that have vaginas are not “female.” a person with a vagina who is a man does not have a female body simply by virtue of having a vagina or reproductive capacity. change your language around gender and bodies; living in a body with reproductive capacity or that was assigned female at birth does not = “female bodied.” a female body is a body of a person who identifies as female, and that says nothing about their anatomy.

  5. a friend on November 13th, 2014 11:15 am

    These are the conversations we need to be having in this country right now, personal experiences from brave women. Thank you for creating an environment where I can talk about my fears, concerns and questions regarding safe abortion with friends. Your article has sparked plenty of debate and meaningful conversation already. I hope that one day my children will not hesitate to ask these questions of me. Thank you Emma.

  6. Y on November 13th, 2014 6:47 pm

    X, ‘female bodied’ is the correct term one would use to scientifically refer to the sexual organs of the human female- it does not refer to the gender of the individual. It would be cissexist to say that only women can have vaginas, or that all women do, as that would be erasing both non-women with vaginas and women without them, but it is not cissexist to say that the vagina is a female anatomical trait.

  7. Rachel D. on November 13th, 2014 8:11 pm

    nothing radical about centering the abortion experience of an upper middle class white female. this reads as indulgent and passe. these are not the narratives that the reproductive justice movement needs to be amplifying

  8. Del on November 14th, 2014 10:58 am

    It is okay to say that your doctors were female.

    It is okay to admit that your child is dead.

    Accepting reality is the first step toward healing and health. Don’t reject reality. Don’t let the world sweep you along with its insanity.

  9. Y on November 14th, 2014 12:09 pm

    “a female body is a body of a person who identifies as female, and that says nothing about their anatomy.”

    Right. Did it ever occur to you that this is exactly what the author meant when describing her caregivers? I didn’t hear her say anything about her doctors’ genitals.

  10. X on November 17th, 2014 1:57 am

    She wasn’t talking about her doctors; she was naming “female-bodied” people as a population who might need access to abortion. There are non-female bodied bodied who need access to abortion too. Sorry, but y’all are definitely wrong. Just learn how to refer to trans bodies like mine better. We’re not female bodies just cause we have reproductive access. It’s a cissexist term.

  11. X on November 17th, 2014 1:59 am

    Denying women the right to abortion is like looking your mother, sister or female-bodied friend in the eye and saying: “I don’t care about your health, or your equal right to freedom.” Let’s break the silence.

    This is the problematic sentence. There are non-female bodied people who need access to abortion too. The trans community has repeatedly asked that they not be referred to this with this language. Just apologize and don’t do it again 😉

  12. Kris on November 17th, 2014 7:07 pm

    Emma, thanks for sharing this, at this point in time, it must have taken considerable bravery to write this. I think eventually it will not take so much… but we should be wary of this, lest abortion become a standard Plan A.

    On another note, X and Rachel D. are utter lunatics.

  13. Emily Shepard on November 18th, 2014 7:43 pm

    Emma- thanks for sharing your story. Powerful and important.

    Disturbing and profoundly disheartening, however, that people are being characterized as “utter lunatics” for denouncing language they understand as transphobic/ cissexist. I think the reproductive rights movement needs to work towards inclusivity of those traditionally marginalized from its conversations – namely people who can become pregnant but don’t understand themselves or their bodies to be female. I wish the conversation on this article could have been more productive and respectful, particularly with regards to the courage it must have taken for you to publish this. Nonetheless, I think that the transphobic, trans-erasive and silencing comments on this article are unacceptable and should be deleted. Those who have left these comments owe apologies not only to X and Rachel D, but also to you.

  14. Emily Shepard on November 18th, 2014 8:03 pm

    Also, using the term “lunatic” in this context is ableist and contributes to the stigmatization of people who are mentally ill.

  15. Friend on November 19th, 2014 6:04 pm

    This is beautiful and honestly probably one of the most neeeed things in society. Emma I commend you for writing this and for being open enough to share your story with the world. I feel inspired, in awe and empowered by your statement

  16. G on November 21st, 2014 3:44 am

    Rachel – it’s always a downer to see come to a comments forum to anonymously bash an article after skimming it and missing the point. I appreciate your attempt to be realistic and take solace in the fact that you post is ignorant and not badly intentioned. Let’s break you comment down one sentence at a time:

    – “nothing radical about centering the abortion experience of an upper middle class white female.”

    You have summarized this article in on sentence while entirely missing the point. The abortion experience is not radical…that’s the whole point – if it is not radical, why must those who have experienced it hide in shame? We should have a discussion about abortion and the rights of human beings in our society as opposed to chastising someone for their skin color or class.

    – “this reads as indulgent and passe.”

    When you wrote this, what did you think the definition of passe was? Was it “past ones prime”? Or “behind the times” (link below if you lost your dictionary)? Assuming it’s the latter, the irony of using the word passe in the context of an internet forum is not lost. Also in that case, how could this article be classified as “behind the times”? Is trying to talk about abortions openly more fit for the 1990s or 2000s? If that’s the case I missed out on those conversations.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pass%C3%A9

    – “these are not the narratives that the reproductive justice movement needs to be amplifying”

    This is the only coherent thought in your comment – you should support it! What should be amplified? Should we center the abortion debate around whether a fetus has the same rights as a woman getting an abortion? Should we focus on abortion in cases of rape? What other narrative would resonate better? It seems any other narrative, really, presupposes some sort of baseline ability to talk about abortion without being shamed. Hence, this article.

  17. Jessica on November 21st, 2014 10:59 am

    This story makes me so sad. The life of a human being was snuffed out and it’s no big deal.

  18. Alisa on November 22nd, 2014 2:49 pm

    Jessica, I couldn’t agree with you more. I was once in a crisis pregnancy. I couldn’t imagine my life or how I would live with myself if I had ended my daughter’s life. I was 16 at the time. I am forever grateful that I had the courage to put my child first. She is almost 15 now, and what a joy and a gift she has truly been. So thankful I was brave enough to put her first.

  19. Kathleen on November 22nd, 2014 2:54 pm

    There is nothing beautiful about this story. I am nauseated that people are celebrating your right to kill your child. The use of the word “pregnancy” means you are having a baby and if you had looked at the ultrasound you would have seen the baby you killed. Looking away doesn’t change the truth.
    There are hundreds of thousands of people who do not share your opinion that is why this is “polarizing” .
    There is no middle ground when you are talking about one person’s right to kill another.
    Call it what you want, it doesn’t change what you did .
    You permitted the use of violence to end your firstborn’s life. People who applaud this are as delusional as you.

  20. A friend. on November 23rd, 2014 2:59 am

    Thank you for this. Your bravery made my heart feel lighter.

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