Erin's Story

I want to share my story with the hope that it will help others with the experience of choosing to have an abortion. I also hope that by telling my story, it will help me find some closure to this overwhelming ordeal.

My name is Erin. I am 24 years old, and have been married for about a year and a half. I found out I was pregnant just over a month ago. My husband and I always considered ourselves to be very careful with birth control, but right after my last period ended, we had unprotected sex, not thinking that I could possibly have ovulated that soon afterwards. However, what we didn't realize until I spoke to my doctor was that sperm can stay alive in the woman's body for up to ten days! I don't think that we were the only ones naive to this fact, but there you have it.

I had always felt strongly that women should have control over their fertility, though I never was clear about what my own decision would be should the situation arise. I, like so many others had plans for the immediate future that didn't include being a mother. My husband and I have been planning for two years to move back to the big city after four years in a smaller centre so that I can return to university and complete my commerce degree. The decision to return to school was a challenging one in the first place, as my husband and I both have good jobs where we are (he builds fine homes and custom furniture and I work in a bank). However, I knew that in a matter of time I would hit the so-called "glass ceiling" within the ranks of the bank, and without a university degree, my options would be limited. We envisioned a certain lifestyle for ourselves, and part of the plan was to maximize my professional and financial potential. Once we had our finances on track, we wanted to travel, own our own home, and after I had satisfied some of my career goals, then we would think about starting a family. I planned to be about thirty by then.

Because we are just starting out on this life path, it has been a struggle financially for just the two of us, not to mention bringing a child into the picture. As obvious as the decision may have seemed at the outset, the past month has been tortuous. My husband's feelings were fairly clear from the beginning that our only option was to terminate the pregnancy. My logical self agreed that we were not in a position to raise a child, but I could never have imagined the turmoil I would go through in reaching a final decision.

I started out with the assumption that I would have an abortion, simply because I didn't feel that having a baby was an option. Still, a lot of tears were shed at this point, mostly out of the fear of having to go through something like this. I was terrified. I resented that I had to make this choice because of financial reasons; unless one has the financial means, society makes it very difficult for a woman to pursue motherhood and career at the same time. I resented that though my body was healthy and doing exactly what it was designed to do, I would have to subject myself to an incredibly personal, invasive medical procedure. I resented that this didn't feel like a "choice" at all; that even if I wanted to keep this baby, it would mean a life of financial hardship and professional limbo. I know many women who have chosen to have babies at a young age, and it makes me feel claustrophobic to imagine myself trapped in that life. I resented that though my husband and I were both responsible for being in this situation, and we would try to reach a decision together, the final word would be entirely up to me.

Still, this was supposed to be about choice. I began to wonder if it really would be so impossible. After all, many people have children without planning on it, and they manage. I even know some women who have gone on to have successful careers, it just takes longer. Maybe it meant that we just needed to reassess our plans. I thought about our marriage. I knew we would be able to make it through even the greatest struggle; our love is strong. This baby was a product of that love. This was our baby, our family, a part of each of us. Suddenly, I began to think of this not simply as something that was happening to me - an unplanned pregnancy - but as a being, a life inside of me. Then the tears really came. The anger and resentment gave way to guilt and sorrow. How could we take it upon ourselves to destroy the life, the soul that had chosen to come to us?

In sharing these feelings with my husband, I think he was able to reach beneath the strong exterior he had maintained to hold me together. We both wept for the little soul that had chosen us to be its parents. We thought about what life would be like with a little one. We hadn't told anyone about the pregnancy, because it felt like something we needed to work through on our own. My family, especially my father, was so excited about my returning to school, and I knew he would be disappointed if I told him that our plans had changed. He has such high hopes for me. At the same time though, I knew our families would support us in any decision we made.

I began to read up on the first trimester of pregnancy. I had certainly been feeling the effects; fatigue, breast tenderness, and above all, nausea. I had hardly been able to eat, and even when I was hungry, I would feel sick as soon as I took in any food. I had been trying various remedies for morning sickness, but coupled with all of the emotional stress, I generally felt pretty awful. But, the illness subsided somewhat after the first couple of weeks, and I was even able to forget about being pregnant from time to time, which was helpful in continuing with work and daily life, given that I was keeping a significant secret from all those around me.

Despite our thoughts about keeping the baby, I couldn't commit to the idea of being a mother. As much as I was sure we could handle it, that wasn't the way I wanted to raise a family. I had grown up in a middle class home and had many opportunities that wouldn't have been available without adequate resources. I wanted to be able to provide the same quality of life for our children, without the worries of financial hardship, which would be unavoidable at this point in our lives. The idea of having to reduce ourselves to one income was terribly daunting, and I knew that if we were struggling to get ahead as it was, then our situation would have no hope of improving with the addition of a new family member. I felt that it would be unfair to bring a child into the world when we would not be able to give it the life it deserved.

My doctor had given me the name of the physician in our town who performed terminations, though she had warned me that because I have a somewhat common congenital reproductive variation (a septate uterus - two cervices and one uterus, separated by a vertical wall, or septum), the procedure might be more complicated, necessitating a trip to the nearest big city, eight hours away, to see a specialist. This made the idea of following through with the procedure even more frightening and overwhelming. In any case, I would have to see the local physician first, to determine just what the situation was. I had never been to a male doctor, so I was not looking forward to the visit. I made an appointment just to talk to him, reassuring myself that I was not committed to any course of action just yet. I put on my bravest face, and brought my husband with me so we would both understand what was entailed in terminating the pregnancy.

Fortunately, the young doctor turned out to be incredibly kind, sensitive and understanding. I immediately felt comfortable and trusting of him as he carefully explained the details and effects of the procedure. He determined that at this point I was about eight weeks pregnant. He gave me some helpful information to read, and arranged for an ultrasound exam to help clarify my physical makeup. After meeting with him and pouring over the information he had given me, I felt much less frightened about going through with the abortion. Though our meeting made me feel better, the ultrasound again raised doubts for both my husband and myself. If we had managed so far to distance ourselves from the pregnancy by thinking of it simply as an embryo, an unformed group of cells, the ultrasound gave us a clear image of the life growing inside of me. The technician (who was also clearly pregnant and unaware that we were considering termination) told us that the embryo had a heartbeat and that it was at 66 beats per minute, perfectly normal for that stage of development. A heartbeat! This was an especially difficult revelation for my husband. The decision was not getting any easier.

I decided that I needed to know more about the embryo at this stage of the pregnancy and found a timeline on the internet complete with life-size drawings. The doctor had said that terminations are generally performed between ten and twelve weeks, so that during the procedure, there will be enough evidence to determine that they've completely removed the pregnancy. According to the timeline, the fetus would have eyes, a brain and fingers and toes forming. This was a chilling image. I felt, however, that should we continue with the termination, I could not deny the consequences of our actions. I felt a responsibility to be completely aware of our choice and I needed to know these details before I could make a conscious decision.

Still, I struggled with the idea of this little creature's soul. I had been reading some women's accounts of their feelings surrounding their abortions. One woman related that she had said a prayer for the little spirit to pass to someone who could be more receptive. My husband and I discussed what it meant to us to let go of this baby's soul. This was the most difficult aspect of this whole ordeal for me to come to terms with. We decided to ask that the little soul understand that we were making this difficult choice out of love, in order to be able to better provide for it in the future. We hope that our baby's spirit will be able to understand the decision we felt we had to make and that it will come back to us when we are ready to accept it with joy and happiness. Please forgive us, little creature.

As you will be able to gather by now, we decided to continue with the abortion. The doctor informed me that despite my unusual anatomy, he did not foresee any significant difficulty with performing the procedure at the local hospital. He did warn me of some slightly increased risks, but I was relieved nonetheless that I would not have to travel away from home. After a month of torment and struggle, I really felt that we had made the best choice we could have and was prepared to go through with the abortion. That was Friday. The date was set for the following Thursday. So far, my husband, the doctors and myself were the only ones to know about any of this. I had to tell one more person; I needed to ask my manager for some time off. This was easier than I expected. I knew he had the obligation to keep our conversation confidential, so I simply reiterated that nobody knew about my situation. A little taken aback, as was to be expected, he simply offered me even more time, and asked what he should say if any of the staff should ask.

The final details taken care of, I continued with the rest of the week feeling a little scared, but prepared. The day before the abortion, I felt quite nervous, but tried to put my feelings aside, thinking that by the same time the next day, the whole ordeal would be over with. Life would be on the road back to normal, though my husband and I vowed never to forget. I woke in the middle of the night with terrible dreams about what I was about to go through. I couldn't sleep for the rest of the night and my husband held me as I sobbed and wondered what was going to happen to our baby. I am not religious, but I prayed for its little soul. As we lay there waiting for the sun to come up, I tried to make some final peace with the most difficult decision of my life so far. I knew it was the right choice, so I did my best to be brave. My husband was an amazing pillar of strength throughout. I don't know how I would have done it without him.

We arrived at the hospital, and the nurse was kind and very sensitive to the situation. As it turned out, I was not the only one going through this. There was a girl there by herself and another young couple. I ended up having to wait much longer than I expected, due to some scheduling complications, which only prolonged the stress. Eventually, the nurse asked me to get into my gown and lie down on the stretcher. I was to be the second patient. Fighting tears all the while, I squeezed my husband's hand and tried to be brave. I was given a relaxant to calm my nerves, though I don't know if it really helped. The time came to wheel me down to the operating room. The nurse allowed my husband to follow as far as the operating room entrance, and then I was on my own. I couldn't keep myself from crying a little at that point, but the operating room nurses were very kind and understanding. I had an I.V. inserted and the doctor came by to see how I was doing and gave me some tissues before the nurses took me into the operating room. I remember shivering a little, though from cold or nerves, I'm not sure. I was grateful that the medical staff walked me through what they were doing and what was going to happen each step of the way. The anesthetist introduced himself as the nurses hooked me up to several monitors and placed an oxygen mask on my face. I remember trying not to be frightened and the anesthetist warning me that I would feel a stinging sensation in my veins as the anesthetic was injected into the I.V.. I felt the stinging up my arm for a brief moment...

...and next I woke up in the recovery room. I believe the total time elapsed between the moment I entered the operating area and the moment I woke up was about an hour and a half. Though my memory is a bit foggy, I recall saying "hello" as soon as I woke up, and one nurse telling another that I was awake. The nurse asked me how I was feeling and I remember telling her that I felt some mild cramping. She wheeled me out of the recovery room and my husband was waiting in the hall. I was brought back to the room to rest and was given something to eat and drink. I was soon very hungry and thirsty, as I had not been allowed any food or liquids since the night before, about thirteen hours earlier. I actually felt remarkably well, aside from being a little weak and dizzy. I didn't even need to take any of the painkillers they gave me. I did feel extremely relieved.

Later that evening, I cried, though it was different from the many times up to now that those tears had been born of fear, or anger, or guilt, or frustration. This time, it felt good to let the tears flow. I felt like I could finally let go of all of the emotions that I had been carrying around with me for the past month. These tears felt like sorrow, and loss, and loneliness for our baby, but in a way that felt natural as part of the grieving process; something it was okay to go through. I could see the end of the tunnel for the first time since this story began. That was yesterday.

Today as I let my story flow from my fingers, I hope it will help me remember what I've been through while all of it is still fresh in my memory and maybe it will help someone else. While I would never wish for anyone to go through such an ordeal, I don't regret any of it. I made it through and I'm standing on the other side. Husband of mine, let me hold you up now, it's my turn to be strong. Little one, you will always be in our hearts.

5 March 1999

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