My 20 Week Abortion Story (D&E)

by Gail

June 23, 2020

Content Warning: rape, later abortion, suicidal thoughts

Abortion is healthcare, and treating it as anything but that is only perpetrating further oppression and violence against ALL uterus-owners.

In 2017 I was in an abusive relationship with someone I had known for only six months. At the time, I was a sophomore in college, attending a university out of state. During the the end of the relationship, I had spiraled into what I now realize, was a prolonged manic episode which lasted for about 2 months (this was before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and therefore I was unmedicated). During this time, I experienced psychosis and several delusions centered around the idea that my only purpose in life was to be used by others. It was due to this mentality that I remained in my abusive relationship, which was very toxic and involved heavy drug use, as well as regularly forced or coerced sex. It wasn’t until I had gone back to my home city of Chicago for the summer that I had gone to an OBGYN to get birth control and found out that I was pregnant.

Immediately after finding out this news, I scrambled to calculate how far along I must have been. It had been 3 and a half months since I’d had my last period, but to me this was not unusual because I had dealt with having severely irregular cycles ever since I began menstruating. I thought that at most I was 16 weeks along, but couldn’t be sure until I went to a clinic. Thankfully, in Chicago there are many options for reproductive healthcare and abortion, so I found a clinic in the city that would be able to see me within the next three days. They had told me via email that so long as I was no more than 16 weeks along, the procedure would be able to be performed in-clinic the day of my appointment. I felt extremely relieved that I had a solution to my problem.

As someone who identifies as agender (non-binary) and experiences intense gender dysphoria, particularly centered around my reproductive system, I was absolutely devastated to find out that I was pregnant. I had felt like my body was betraying me— as if the pregnancy was nothing more than some vile mutation that shouldn’t have been possible, but unfortunately, being AFAB, it was.  I went to the clinic with my mom and best friend on the day of my appointment. The clinic was located an hour away from my residence, which made it difficult to get to, but I was desperate. As we arrived at the clinic, there were already several protesters outside, which I had found strange, since I very ignorantly imagined that that sort of thing only happening at Planned Parenthood. An extremely friendly volunteer escorted my mom and I through the protesters and into the clinic where I had safely arrived for my consultation. Shockingly, during the ultrasound, I found out that I was actually 20 weeks along— not 16. This news was absolutely devastating and sent me spiraling into an intense episode of dissociation. After hearing this news and being told by the physician that everything would be OK and they would still help me, I couldn’t even move. The physician’s voice felt like it was extremely far away, as if she was talking to me through the wall of a neighboring room or even from down the hallway. After she left, I sat on the examination table for probably 10 minutes straight, totally paralyzed and staring at the wall. I couldn’t believe that this was happening. Finally I found the nerve to get up and go through the other required tests (bloodwork, urine tests, etc..) before I was told to come back in 2 hours for the first step of my procedure. I remember being with my mom and best friend, walking down Michigan Ave. completely hysterical. I literally watched my tears fall into Lake Michigan- it was eerily cinematic.

At this point, I just wanted immediate relief from the intense psychological discomfort and dysphoria I was experiencing. I felt like it couldn’t end soon enough… Later we went back to the clinic and I had a consultation where a representative explained to me what exactly my procedure would look like. It would take a total of 3 days before the pregnancy would be terminated. The first two days, they explained, would be to insert laminaria sticks— a dried bundle of laminaria seaweed that is compressed into the shape of a small stick. When inserted into the vagina, a laminaria stick absorbs the moisture and expands up to 10x its original size. This is how the the cervix becomes dilated enough for the doctor to go in and perform the abortion. My only option, because of how far along I was, was D&E. If you’re unfamiliar with laminaria, think of mini Snyder’s pretzel sticks— they’re about that size & thickness and in order to insert them, you have to be in stirrups with a very heavy metal speculum inserted in the vagina while the doctor puts the small rods inside you. The actual process was only slightly uncomfortable for me, and immediately after I was able to walk and get into the car to go home without issue.

Unfortunately, only 20 minutes into our hour long car ride home, I began experience the worst cramps I’ve ever felt in my life. They didn’t even feel like cramps— they felt like I was literally being stabbed with a white hot knife. I began vomiting and was in so much pain that I had to open the car window and stick my head out to get some cool air on my face— I felt like I was going to pass out. Eventually, the pain overtook me and I actually did end up passing out from the pain. By the time we got home, I could barely walk and only wanted to go to bed. I kept passing in and out of consciousness. I was unable to physically eat or drink anything that day or the day after when I had to go back to the clinic to have more laminaria inserted. The doctor was afraid that I was in so much pain, so she gave me more T3 and Zofran for nausea— neither of which I was able to keep down. I couldn’t even manage to drink water without instantly throwing up. I remember fluid/ mucosal leakage happening when I was laying in bed writhing in pain. I kept a waste basket at my bedside and kept throwing up because of the pain even though I’d neither eaten nor drank anything. At one point, I strained so hard while vomiting that my water actually broke and I experienced intense labor-like pains. I managed to eventually pass out from that pain, as well, and ended up staying out until the next day.

My final day at the clinic was the day of the actual abortion procedure, which I was extremely nervous about. By the time I got into the “operating room”, there was an anesthesiologist who gave me an IV, which put me completely to sleep. Thankfully, by the time I woke up, I felt amazing. My body was no longer in pain and for the first time in 3 days, I felt normal. I actually felt so great afterwards that I was genuinely concerned that maybe the doctor hadn’t removed the fetus, after all (of course that wasn’t the case..) All in all, I was extremely relieved— I was even able to get up and walk to the recuperation room and use the bathroom on my own. I experienced minimal bleeding (even less than a period), no fever, no second thoughts and absolutely no pain. I even experienced proper hunger again, but all I was able to eat while recuperating were honey grahams and saltines. I left the clinic that day feeling liberated. Everyone there was extremely kind and helpful to me throughout every single visit. I never once felt judged or as if I were being a burden despite my amplified levels of anxiety and dissociative episodes. The doctor I had was amazing, caring and attentive to every single one of my needs. I owe the clinic I went to my life.

Because of my dysphoria, I was 100% committed to either getting an abortion or killing myself— I genuinely felt as if those were the only 2 options I had. It wasn’t even about it being a “bad time” for pregnancy or me not wanting my life to be “ruined” by a child. It was about the intense physical and emotional distress I was experiencing because I was certain that my biology had betrayed me. What’s even scarier to think about is that if I were in the state where my university is located (NE), I would not have been able to get the life-saving procedure I needed. If I was in NE, I am certain I would have been refused care and been pushed to committing suicide— and that is terrifying to think about. I thank FPA Chicago for every day I wake up now. I thank them for caring about me, listening to me, helping me and most importantly, supporting me and my right to choice. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.

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