No Reason To Fear
Septermber 8, 2006.
I remember that day. My husband and I both had the day off, and we slept in, basking in the late autumn sunshine. A leisurely morning, then aerobics for me and free weights for him, and after that, showers, a quick lunch, some horseplay...
Three weeks later, I was hunched over the ceramic throne, dry-heaving all day long. My period, always as regular as clockwork, was late, and even before five separate home pregnancy tests confirmed it I had no doubt that I was pregnant.
In between bouts of intense nausea, I tried to have conversations with my husband. He was angry that I had become pregnant in spite of being on the pill (admitting to him that I'd been somewhat lax in my routine didn't help matters), and for a while, that kept us from really communicating. I kept saying, we have to decide what to do. He kept saying, how could you be so careless?
Then came the Day of Seventeen: between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. alone, I threw up seventeen times that day (at which point I stopped counting). By night I was weak and shivering and very dehydrated. My husband started on me again, "Don't complain, you brought this on yourself!" and my control snapped.
We had a huge, huge argument that seemed to last forever.
”You never take anything seriously!" he yelled. "And now look what you've done!"
"You were right there with me in that bed, mister!" I shouted back.
"You were supposed to take the pill properly!"
"You're supposed to be considerate of your sick wife!"
... and finally, a blessed peace as we made up. Now that all the pent up confusions had been let out, we found we could reach out to one another again, hold hands and work together.
We never had any doubt in our minds what the next step should be. We'd both known all along, had always been in perfect agreement without voicing it out loud. We'd only been married a year, we were building our careers, we definitely didn't want kids now. Worse, we were immigrants in a foreign country which was on the verge of denying me an extension of my visa and there was no way I would face having a baby alone, no way my husband would allow himself to be left out of something that big. I was going to have an abortion.
I made an appointment with the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic, and arrived early for an "official" pregnancy test. In the waiting room all around me were ... so many women. A gum-chewing teenager with dark mascara and curly blonde hair looked me up and down as I walked in. I smiled at her a little, but she just stared stonily back. I averted my eyes and caught a woman about my age smiling at me, shaking her head in sympathy at the teenager's rudeness. She had a hyperactive little boy, about two years old, climbing all over her. I played with him while I waited. The pregnancy test was positive.
The next time I came to the clinic, there were more teenagers and more men with the women. One of the guys was nice enough to help me up when my name was called and I was too dizzy to stand by myself. He had dreadlocks and smelled of Old Spice, my father's aftershave.
I took one pill in the clinic, and brought home four more to take on my own, two days later. I wanted to do this as privately as possible.
The night after next, I took the four pills at 10 p.m. I began having mild cramps immediately, and I was glad... it was going to be over soon. My husband thought up ways to keep my mind off things: we played Scrabble, watched an episode of Foyle's War on DVD, and went to bed when I was sure I'd fall asleep immediately.
The cramps went on all night, but I had had no major bleeding by morning. I was beginning to get worried. I called the clinic, and my doctor sounded hesitant. "The miscarriage usually happens within four hours of taking the pills," she told me. "But not to worry, it could still happen. Let's wait a full 24 hours."
My "morning" sickness - it seems so cruel that it should be called that when for me, the sickness lasted all day and all night - was back something fierce just two days after the failed medical abortion. I could eat almost nothing but saltines and plain cereal (no milk). You'd think all that riboflavin would do me good, but I was snippy, weak, dull and sick all the time. My husband probably deserves to be sainted for all that he did in those weeks.
I went back to the clinic, and got the pills again. I could have agreed to a surgical right then, but I was hesitant... surgery was scary, it was as simple as that. My doctor wasn't hopeful. "If the pills didn't work the first time, there's usually a reason why," she warned. "Still, it could work this time, it's been known to happen."
This time, I took the pills during the day, but again, nothing happened. I didn't even have that many cramps.
A week later, I was back at the clinic. A new doctor, this time, an older man with gleaming silver hair, gruff and full of dry humour. He was thoughtful as he did the ultrasound. "Hmm," he said, "this only happens to 0.06% of women, you know. It seems the pregnancy was not terminated."
I was stunned. I think that was the moment when I had my first doubts over what I was doing. My little peanut was tough... such a fighter! Not that I wanted to reverse my decision to abort, but I experienced a moment of awe at what my body was capable of. And ironically, it was this that quieted my fears about the surgery: if my body could recover from those pills so well, I was less anxious about what effects the surgery might have on my ability to conceive later.
The surgery itself was done before I knew it. I was given a shot of painkillers that apparently had adrenalin in it, because for a minute, my legs shook uncontrollably, embarrassingly. I was so tense. But that silver-haired doctor joked gently with me, and a nurse held my hand to calm me down. I felt a little better. Once I relaxed, the shaking stopped, and the doctor inserted a speculum to open up the cervix. It was a little uncomfortable, and I remember thinking, "That feels weird." I kept waiting for pain, some feeling to tell me that the actual abortion was happening at last, but then the doctor removed the speculum, straightened up, and told me I could put my legs back together. I could hardly believe that after all these long, painful weeks, it was over. It was really over.
I was dizzy and lightheaded for a little while. The nurse led me out to a recuperation area where my husband was waiting for me. We held hands and I cried a lot, mostly in confusion from all the emotions swimming to the surface. The nurse stayed to reassure both of us. "This is perfectly normal," she said. "Don't worry. Let it all out. it's been a hard day for you." Sometime in the middle of all that, the nurse pushed a cookie into my hand. I ate it, and didn't feel like throwing up. So I cried some more out of sheer relief.
It's been more than a month since my abortion, and I'm doing great. Everything in my uterus is normal - that was really my biggest worry about going in for surgery. I switched to a non-oral method of birth control (the Patch, actually) and it's working out so much better than the pill ever did.
Yesterday (7th Dec), my husband and I were watching the latest episode of "Scrubs". In it, JD and his pregnant girlfriend consider their options: to abort, or to have the baby? Both of us were shaking our heads in disgust right from the start of the episode, from the moment it became clear that this was what they were discussing. We just knew how it would turn out - a soppy, sentimental endorsement of motherhood for the sake of motherhood, motherhood for no good reason at all other than oops-I-got-pregnant.
I got angry watching it. I don't look to the media for an endorsement of my choices, but even in a vaccuum, I think it's unfair that this issue gets such poor representation for one side of the argument and such excellent representation for the other.
It was this that made me decide to write about my experience, to get the word out to as many women as possible: YOUR CHOICE IS GOOD. It is mature and unselfish and thoughtful of you to know that this is not the best time to bring a baby into your life. Don't be ashamed of your decision. Don't fear the procedure, be it surgical or medical. Take control of your life rather than let vague sentimentalities decide for you.
February 12, 2007
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