My 2 Abortions and D&C

by Ashley

January 12, 2022

I’ve shared here before with SYA about the abortion I had on May 8th, 2020. Before this, I had given birth 2 times. One traumatic hospital birth and one home birth. I have C PTSD from different things and emetophobia. All of my experiences with my reproductive health have impacted me in many ways.

My first abortion took place after I got pregnant as soon as the pandemic started. I was doing tele-therapy with my therapist, I was worried about the state of the world and the unknown. Tracking my period slipped my mind during a mental health crisis. I was shocked when my period didn’t come. Without a doubt, I knew that I needed an abortion. There was no question. With my other pregnancies, I knew I wanted them. This time, abortion came up immediately. My life wasn’t the most stable, my physical health was bad, and covid put a hold on my non essential eye surgery that I need to legally drive. No matter the reasons why people have or need an abortion, it’s all valid. Simply just not wanting to be pregnant is okay. No one had told me that before. This pregnancy was brutal! I was immediately nauseous and then had to quarantine and reschedule my abortion appointment. My abortion wasn’t traumatic, but the pregnancy as an emetiophobic person was.

It was a conflicting though, having an abortion, because the emotional part of my brain knew that I wanted to be pregnant in the future when life wasn’t so hard. The rational part of my brain knew that this is what I needed to do. So I had an abortion. I didn’t know anyone who had one before. Later, I learned that my grandma had an abortion with her second pregnancy. My grandma is dead, but my dad told me because I confided in my dad for support when I had my first abortion.

After publicly sharing my abortion more and more, more people on social media reached out to me about their abortions. I felt less alone, but still had this empty feeling. I began to notice emotions that I didn’t understand. It was grief, after the relief had subsided. My grief took about a year to process, which was much easier than the 3 years it takes my mind to recover from full term pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve never regretted my abortion, but I have grieved about what could have been.

Finally, by 2021, I was beginning to feel like myself again. With my youngest turning 3, she was more independent and I could do more for myself. Life was going great. I really focused on my doula work and mental health. I was able to serve so many birthing people in 2021. Then, I got pregnant again. This time, I had a gut feeling that I would be pregnant. I track my cycles and test for ovulation. I wrote down every symptom. I abstained during ovulation, because I was so afraid to get pregnant again. I had one slip up with my partner and my method of birth control failed. I suggested we use protection, I questioned plan B, and then I had a positive pregnancy test before I even missed my period. This pregnancy felt different though. I didn’t feel as sick as usual with my past pregnancies. Something was off. My mental health immediately declined again. All I wanted to do was self harm. After being so cautious and afraid to become pregnant again, here I was. It wasn’t fucking fair. My body, the one that I marveled over after my home birth- I now feared and rejected. I wanted to be anywhere else but on earth. It felt like my body didn’t belong to me anymore. I felt alone and I hated hearing my partner tell me that I wasn’t, because once again, the responsibility and consequences and pain fell on me. I was completely alone. I reached out to crisis lines, my therapist, doulas, abortion text lines. No one could take this lonely feeling away.

I made a private appointment with a clinic 2 hours away. It cost $1,500 total and $500 was non refundable for a private appointment. I found this on their website and thought private would be best for my mental health. I would be able to have a support person go in with me. With my trauma around birth and sexual assault, I needed a support person. A doula helped me raise money for my appointment and that wasn’t easy. Finally, the day had come. When the ultrasound tech looked at the screen, they seemed off. They didn’t tell me anything, but lead me to an office with the provider. It felt weird, like some sort of intervention. The provider asked, “Did you come here knowing how far along you were?” I explained that I track my cycles and suspected I was around 5 weeks and 4 days. He said,”So you did know and still came here?” I wasn’t feeling the same bedside manner I had felt at the other clinic I went to the year before. I froze. In my head, I remembered that I told multiple people on the phone and via email my estimated due date and how far along I thought I was. I track my cycles and I was 2 days off from my ultrasound. He said, “Well, you’re 5 weeks and 2 days. I won’t give you a surgical abortion because you’re too early and the success rate would be about 80%.” He then suggested medical abortion.

At home medical abortions are amazing! What a great choice to have to be in the comfort of your own home. I know that it was for my home birth. In the case of my abortion, I was terrified to do it at home. Having emetophobia, I knew the side effects of pills at home would cause more anxiety than a surgical. A surgical would be quick and I wouldn’t have to see anything and had less of a chance getting sick. My friend who came with me tried to help explain my emetophobia. My mind was shutting down. He said that in his 40 years of providing obstetric care, he’d never seen anyone get sick from a medical abortion. I’ve read stories and am a doula myself, I know that getting sick is common. He then said “Did you even look at your ultrasound?” I requested not to. My friend spoke up for me and said “She didn’t want to see it.” He held up my ultrasound and said “There’s nothing to even see here!”

I wanted to cry, run, hide. I left without having an abortion and went home still pregnant. I didn’t want to go back to this clinic in fear of how this provider would treat me again. I found other care at Planned Parenthood, with my old clinic from the year previously no longer being an option. A local doula drove more than an hour to meet me at Planned Parenthood, which was 2 hours from me. She sat with me and reminded me to breathe when she heard me struggling. She wasn’t allowed to go back with me for any of my appointment, but she waited in be waiting room. I was at PP for a total of 8 hours. I was the last person to be seen. I was then 5 weeks and 4 days. I was ready to tell my abortion provider that I deal with a lot of trauma and need narration/ consent before touch, but she came in ready. She was patient with me even though I’m sure she was ready to leave. I was the last patient of the day and she reassured my fears. I had a manual vacuum aspiration which was so different than the machine. With my first abortion, I declined all medication besides cervical numbing shots and felt NOTHING. On the pain scale, that abortion was a 0. This abortion was a different story. I don’t say that to scare anyone, just to prepare. I had lots of intense pressure in my lower back and butt and sweat breaking cramps across the band of my pelvis. I got loud like I did during childbirth, I asked the nurse to hold my hand, I wiggled and moved. It lasted about 10-15 minutes. But it was 10-15 minutes that don’t last forever and I was okay! I was no longer pregnant…or so I thought.

It turns out, maybe I should have waited until after 6 weeks. Maybe it would have happened regardless, I don’t know – but I retained my pregnancy. I didn’t bleed after my abortion until day 5, which can be normal but felt weird. My first surgical, I bled A LOT. My bleeding was really just a spotting and looked dry and powdery at times. A week after my abortion, I noticed the test line was stronger than the control line on my pregnancy test. Before my abortion (the day of) my pregnancy test was still very faint. I knew that I would have a positive pregnancy test after my abortion for some time, but should it be getting darker? Everyone tried to reassure me but something felt off. I was seen at the birth center I go to and the midwife just said she saw that I needed to bleed. Following that appointment, I requested hCG labs. I went every 48 hours because I didn’t have a baseline. My hCG went from the 3000’s – 5000’s and my bleeding eventually picked back up. A day before I ended up in the ER excessively bleeding, I was at the birth center getting a vaginal ultrasound. It took about 30 minutes. I don’t think she could really see anything either but I passed a blood clot the length of my forearm. I wasn’t able to see the OB or my regular midwife, but another midwife spoke to me for about 5 minutes. She phoned the OB and he believed I had an ectopic pregnancy and wanted to do a surgery consult then and there. I told the midwife I wanted to sit on this for a day. I am terrified of surgery and was stunned by this! How did needing an abortion turn into an ectopic pregnancy? I thought it was over!

The next day, I knew something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel normal and had a gut feeling I’d end up in the ER. My pink spotting turned to a bright red flow with large clots. When I passed gas, coughed, sneezed – it felt like I was birthing the clots. They came out so easily. Since I have birth trauma, I was terrified of the hospital. I messaged my doulas, my midwife, I called the birth center emergency line. I was panicking. I think I was also annoying everyone, but I was so afraid of an ectopic pregnancy and still really didn’t know what was wrong. In the ER, my hCG rose by 2,000. I was right all along in my gut. Something was wrong. The ER said it seemed like it was retained and there were no signs of ectopic, so I’d need a D&C and they’d follow up with labs in 48 hours again. I’m not sure what to look for with retained tissue but I still didn’t feel reassured and was terrified I’d still need surgery for an ectopic pregnancy after my D&C. I filled 4 pads within 30 minutes, every 30 minutes for several hours. I eventually filled adult diapers and bed pads in the ER. I felt dizzy, my body felt like it was trying to purge everything and I can’t explain the feeling I felt in the band of my pelvis. I was literally chewing phenergan in the ER, trying to not throw up. I brought my own doula bag and sniffed essential oils, used pressure points on myself, and tried to stay in control.

With my birth trauma and as a doula, I’ve always been able to advocate for others but never myself. My doula brain kicked into gear and I somehow showed up for myself that night. I told the MD in the ER that there’s so much stigma around abortion, I was afraid of being mistreated. He said “there’s no stigma here, we’re here to take care of you.” I made sure that the ER knew that I had PTSD. I let them know of we everything that had happened over the last 2 weeks. The MD was amazing, the ER nurse who placed my IV was kind. While I was waiting, I took a sip of ginger ale before being told I needed to be put to sleep. Someone from the OR saw me and said “Did you just drink that?” I said yes and they seemed stressed saying that I was about to have surgery. I suggested that I hadn’t consented to being put to sleep yet and they said I could take it up with the OR. I paused an entire OR team of 8 people when they said I needed to be put to sleep. I don’t know why I’m so terrified of the things I’m terrified of, but I didn’t want to be put to sleep. They were all respectful and wonderful, considering it was midnight and they were all probably exhausted. I suggested a spinal and they agreed.

The provider there worried that my uterus was soft and with cervical shots alone, she might perforate something if I moved and then I would have to be put to sleep. I stayed awake for my D&C and got the spinal. An anesthesiologist stayed by my head and played Aurora. He rubbed my hair and chatted a bit. Another anesthesiologist that seemed annoyed with me at first, held my hand. They all treated me kindly. I did still feel pressure and some pain and cramping. It was uncomfortable even with the spinal, so it was the right decision to have some sort of anesthesia. I was in recovery for about 4 hours and still went home numb. I wish I recorded myself trying to get out of the car. It was such a strange feeling to have pain in my uterus but also not be able to feel when I tried to stand. It felt like my uterus was falling out. My hCG declined to 300 48 hours after my D&C. The OB from the ER personally called me to tell me the good news. It was retained tissue. I wanted to scream, cry, thank everyone in that ER. After my D&C, I noticed an internal burning. It felt like a UTI but wasn’t in my urethra, it was my uterus and it was painful. My OB said he didn’t think I had an infected and declined to give me an antibiotic. I really felt that I did and didn’t want to end up back in the ER. The midwife at the birth center saw that I requested an antibiotic on my patient portal and sent it in. 2 days after being on the antibiotic, the burning stopped. I also wanted to watch my hCG fall back to non pregnant levels. My OB didn’t think this was necessary nor did he think a check up was necessary after my D&C until a month. I pressured a physical exam. It did nothing for me and I regret it. He basically told me that I wouldn’t be getting any medication (I had only asked for an antibiotic) and he said “If you don’t want to be pregnant, never let this happen again.” Since he didn’t want to stay on track with my health, like the ER OB suggested, I bought my own labs at a lab corp and watched my hCG drop. These tests aren’t really affordable either. I needed this for a peace of mind. I took pregnancy tests like crazy. I had dreams of needing another D&C and have feared pregnancy again since.

Moral of the story? Always listen to your body. We shouldn’t have to advocate for our health like we do. If you have anxiety, that doesn’t make your concerns any less valid either. I’m thankful for healthcare, but also angry at the lack of care in some areas. We need more trauma informed providers like the OB at PP and the OR team with good bedside manner in the ER. We need providers who come to work without bias and judgement. We need honest healthcare and compassionate support.

Remember that our stories are ours to tell. We’d love to hear your story too!