The shame we are still being coaxed into is a mirage

by Fern

October 11, 2017

When I was a little girl, my mother told me that the womenin our family carried a legacy of terminated pregnancies.  At sixteen she had had an abortion in secret, performed after hours—and this, only because the doctor was a family friend. My grandmother and her mother before her had more nightmarish experiences at home, also in secret.  I grappled with the phantom of this ‘legacy’ as a child, sensing the powerful duo of shame and mystic female taboos that accompanied each story from my mother’s tone—aspects of abortion lore that that were only reinforced later when I learned about feminist history and politics.

I was completely shy and introverted as a teen and so managed to avoid the ‘family curse’ until my early twenties, when I was working in downtown NYC and finally had friends, lovers, and interests outside of books.  I knew one morning after sex with my boyfriend that something was different. My entire body felt like it had been invaded by alien parasites.  I waited a week for good measure, took an at-home test my best friend bought for me, and yup, I was pregnant.

My  boyfriend at the time was completely supportive, and there were no pressures against the idea of abortion in my life (religious or otherwise); I was not feeling sad, I was not logistically doomed, I had never even wanted kids, and I was completely comfortable with the idea of ‘terminating’ what felt more like a toxic period cramp than anything related to babies. But for some reason I felt overwhelmed by terror—that I was now part of all of those sad, dark, secret stories bubbling up from my family history—that now I was part of their legacy.

I did my research (my insurance did not cover abortions), and my boyfriend offered to split the costs and accompany me to the clinic. The doctor was professional, the office clean—but during my consultation I went into hysterics several times just trying to discuss ‘my pregnancy’. Those words were like a trigger for me, I couldn’t stop crying. When asked if I was ‘sure’ about ‘terminating’ I would add some hysterical laughter to the mix, because at 23, barely able to afford rent, never having wanted kids (and not very serious about the sweet man I was seeing at the time), I honestly felt I had never been more sure about anything in my life.  I signed papers and set up an appointment, but my hysterics lasted all the way out of the office and over the subway trip from Columbus Circle to Brooklyn.  On the days leading up to the procedure, I would continue to dip into these spells of terror, shaking and bawling until I passed out from fatigue.

My abortion was uneventful—the clinic had one day a week that was ‘abortion day’, lots of tired women in the waiting room, then what felt like 3 minutes under anesthesia, and recovery in another room with a few of those same women. A nurse confirmed it had gone perfectly and gave me some really giant pads to wear and a lollipop. Everything was pink.  I had bad cramps, but I always have bad cramps. Over the next month, as my hormones normalized I would spontaneously cry in the office, laughing at the same time, because I felt so totally fine and free of the unwanted pregnancy, and this crying felt so light, because it was coming from chemical imbalances instead of deep, dark secrets.

As time passed I realized that while I had, yes, had an abortion, I had also inadvertently undergone a huge therapeutic release.  All of those secret feminine taboos I had been carrying since childhood had now been lodged in my own body against my will, and strangers directing the words pregnancy’ and ‘are you sure’ at me had triggered traumatic feelings, laying my deep, dark secrets to bare—tearing them out of my control. I had cried my mothers’ and grandmothers’ dark, lonely histories out all over the crinkled printouts of pregnancy scans, the nurses, the doctor’s big pink desk. I had cried them all over the guy I was seeing and the giant bag of sushi and pastries he thought might comfort me after the procedure (honestly, they did). All this time I had secretly believed that getting pregnant and having an abortion would somehow ruin my life, or mark me as
tarnished with the ultimate shame, but having undergone the clinical procedure I could finally shed all
those dark layers of family baggage I had been carrying, like a snake. I could honor my grandmother for her courage but keep that separate from my current relationship with my body. Every step of my real-life abortion, and all the supportive, able professionals involved, proved to me that it is a normal medical procedure, my body is my choice, and that the shame we are still being coaxed into is a mirage.

My abortion was necessary—my abortion was spiritual growth—my abortion was a blessing.

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