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It Wasn’t an Abortion Then, but It Is Now.

by Abby

June 3, 2019

Content Warning: graphic miscarriage description

I had an abortion in college.  it was a formative experience, but I do not regret it.  This isn’t about that abortion, though.  This is about my other “abortion.”

In my early twenties I was in a fairly new relationship when I got pregnant. We were in that “Will they or won’t they?” stage of the relationship.  We liked each other fine, and it was early so you couldn’t quite be sure, but both of us could tell it wasn’t the right fit.  If I’m being completely honest, I already had one foot out the door when those two pink lines showed up on the pregnancy test. As unsure as I was about “J”, I was absolutely sure I wanted to have that baby. So I saw my doctor, confirmed the pregnancy, and set an appointment with an OB.  I was 6 weeks pregnant.

Then I sent a “We need to talk.” text and met “J” at the grilled cheese restaurant, where I told him, “I’m pregnant, and I’m having the baby.”  He asked me what I wanted him to do.  “I have no expectations,” I said. “This is my choice.  I’m making it for me.  Your level of involvement is up to you.” After that I had an initial consultation with my OB.  Things with “J“ went the direction they were headed before the pregnancy, and we continued to fade from each other’s lives.

When I was thirteen weeks pregnant, I went in for the traditional “End of the First Trimester” ultrasound. Everything looked good. I heard the surprisingly otherworldly sound of the baby’s little heartbeat. I decided it was time to visit my parents and tell them the good news. I was nervous, but also excited and hopeful.  A week and a half later, I was at my grandparents’ farm waiting for a moment of privacy with my mom and dad so I could tell them.  I never got it.

The day after I arrived, I started spotting. Just a little brown blood.  A few drops.  I called my OB who reassured me that a little spotting was normal, but warned that I should head to the ER if I began to bleed in earnest.  I took a nap and woke up to find more and brighter red blood.  I went and found my mom. “I need you to be really calm, make up an excuse, and take me to the emergency room,” I whispered.

“What?! What is happening?!”

“I’ll tell you in the car. Please. We need to go NOW.”

I don’t know what she said, but we were in the car and headed into town in a hurry.  We sat in tense silence for the first few miles until I got up the courage to say, “I’m almost fifteen weeks pregnant, but something is wrong.  I’m bleeding.”

She never took her eyes off the road. “Call your Dad.” (He was fishing.) “Tell him to meet us at the hospital.” Everything had that car crash quality—like it was happening in slow motion and all at once. It felt like I held my breath all of the twenty-six miles to the hospital.  I didn’t tell my dad what was happening until he met us in the waiting room. By then my fear was a deafening roar in my ears, and I could barely get the words out.

A PA who couldn’t have been much older than me did an exam.  Did an ultrasound. Told me there was no heartbeat.  “You’re having a miscarriage,” he said.  Something inside of me splintered.  I wept long and hard.  “I’ll give you a minute,” he said as he backed out of the room.

“It’s OK,” my mom said.  “You’re going to be OK.  Everything happens for a reason.  God has a plan.”  It was not OK.  It would take a long, long time for me to be OK. “God’s” plan turned out to be exceptionally cruel.

The PA came back. “OK! We’re going to send you home with some muscle relaxers to help with the cramping and hopefully keep you comfortable.  Make sure you pick up some heavy duty pads.  The bleeding can be pretty significant.”

“What?”

“You’re going to experience quite a bit of bleeding and cramping.”

“You aren’t going to take the baby out?”

He looked surprised and a little affronted.  “The hospital takes religious exception to the abortion procedure.” Religious. Exception.  The hospital was owned and operated by the Catholic church. To the abortion procedure.  But I wasn’t having an abortion.  I wasn’t terminating my pregnancy; it had terminated itself.  There was no heartbeat.  What I wanted was a dilation and curettage.  What I wanted was to be spared the excruciating physical pain and emotional trauma of “passing” a fifteen-week-old fetus.  But the hospital and my doctor took religious exception to that, so I was sent home with a three-day supply of muscle relaxers and a dead baby still in utero.

Here are some things that happened in the next few days: My parents made up some plausible excuses, and we left my grandparents’ for my childhood home.  I spent countless hours on the toilet and curled up on the bathroom floor.  I saw what was left of my baby in that toilet.  It hurt so much.  I cried and cried.  The muscle relaxers didn’t help.  Nothing helped.  My parents decided the best strategy for dealing with the whole situation was to ignore it as much as possible.  (To be fair, this is how they prefer to handle every uncomfortable situation.  It is just their way.)

My friend Brad came over for a visit.  We sat in my parents’ living room catching up.  I was suddenly overcome by a series of cramps that doubled me over.  My thighs were covered in blood.  It dripped down the back of my knee.  I stood up and discovered that the couch cushion was completely soaked. Mortified, I ran to the bathroom and peeled off my shorts and underwear.  A blob of tissue—the placenta—flopped onto the floor.  I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bathroom. Brad left.  We never spoke about what had happened.  No one wanted to talk about that.  I texted “J” and told him I had lost the baby.

Here are some things that happened in the next few weeks: I drove myself back to my city, completely defeated.  My roommate, who turned out to be a truly horrible human being, told everyone that he was sure I had faked the whole pregnancy.  I was too carefree for a pregnant lady! (At the time I had no idea how common miscarriages are, and never doubted for a second that I would carry to term.) I barely had any morning sickness! (Many, many women don’t, and it varies widely from pregnancy to pregnancy.) Miscarrying while I was out of state was too “convenient”. (Yeah, right, buddy.  Super convenient.)  He ran into “J” at hipster club night and gleefully outlined his theory. “J”, always one to lean into an ego stroking, loved this alternative version of events—one in which I was so enamored of him that I endeavored to trap him with a fake pregnancy and then faked a miscarriage when my plan failed.  He totally bought into that nonsense.  I received a humiliating and infuriating drunken voicemail in which “J” called me a desperate liar and a slut. Everyone else avoided addressing what had happened at all costs.  I had no support.  I decided to start ignoring the memory of my miscarriage.

Here are some things that happened when I was (finally!) pregnant with my son and daughter:  Because of my previous experience, they told me I was high risk. I didn’t enjoy either pregnancy.  At all. I was terrified every minute of every day that something would happen, or I would do something wrong, and I would be confronted with another emergency room; another bloody fetus.  I didn’t allow myself to be truly excited about or bond with my developing babies until days after their births.  I had spotting and mucus plug deterioration several times during the second half of my pregnancy with my daughter.  I was sure we were going to lose her.  If I hadn’t had my son’s needs to attend to, I don’t think I would have had the mental fortitude to leave my bed.  I sometimes lose her in my dreams, and wake in a panic.  I have recurring nightmares where I turn to flush a toilet and find baby remains in the bowl.  Where I listlessly watch as my mom soaks and scrubs a blood-soaked couch cushion in a plastic tub in our backyard; her mouth a grim white line and her eyes bright.

Here is what would have happened if my experience had taken place in present-day Alabama: The circumstances of my pregnancy and miscarriage combined with my roommate’s lies; “J”’s willing acceptance of those falsehoods; and the general conspiracy of silence, judgment and shame that surrounds the loss of pregnancy would have been enough to claim probable cause and prosecute me for having an abortion.  An abortion that I never had.  An “abortion” that they wouldn’t give me anyway—even when it was the humane thing to do: even when I needed it.

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