Adelaide's Story

This is really long, but I want to report my entire experience.

I had an abortion yesterday.

I have always been a strong advocate of choice, and now, having been through this experience, I know that women still don't really have a choice. Not really. So much work needs to be done on the abortion front. It is not enough that it is legal. It needs to be better. It needs to be treated as if it is legal. It needs to be a compassionate and nonjudgmental experience, and my experience was the complete opposite of that.

I am a 25 year-old graduate student living with my fiancee in New York City. I had been on the Pill for five years during a period of my life, and a little over a year ago, I decided to stop, because I wanted to give my body a break from the synthetic hormones and see how I felt. We planned to use condoms instead.

Well, we're all human beings, and human beings sometimes get swept away and make mistakes. We had unprotected sex several times, and surely enough, I got pregnant. Since I tend to be a paranoid person, I had had several pregnancy scares before, even though I was always protected in the past. So, my fiancee and I had talked about this before, and were prepared. We knew exactly what we wanted to do and how we would proceed.

I am a feminist and we are both strongly pro-choice. In addition to being students struggling to make ends meet in ridiculously expensive Manhattan, we have pretty clear ideas about how we want our future to play out, and a baby at this point is not part of the plan. So, neither of us had any problem with the decision to abort. We discussed how he would be with me the whole time, holding my hand and reassuring me. I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood for a week later.

When we got to the clinic, the very first image to greet me was a tall, blinking metal detector accompanied by a surly-looking security guard, who went through my purse and frisked my fiancee before letting us pass through the detector. Beyond that was an initial waiting room reserved for the people the patients had brought for support. The guard informed us that my fiancee would not be allowed anywhere with me beyond that point due to security restrictions. The clinic even had a separate waiting room for patients. So I had to leave my fiancee behind with a bunch of nervous-looking people, mostly men and boys. There were some mothers and some friends. I was disappointed and scared; even though this was the right decision, it was still an unpleasant one and I didn't want to go it alone.

When I reached the general waiting room, several women and girls sat on couches clustered around a table with nothing to read on it. No magazines, not even pamphlets. Doctors and nurses walked past us, giving us the occasional disapproving glance. I felt like I had been sent to my room without dinner. Grounded. We sat there with nothing to do but sit and think about what we had done. None of us spoke to each other. I wanted to reach out, but wasn't sure how others would feel about that.

I waited for over an hour in that first waiting room, and then I was called up to make payment. My fiancee was paying for the abortion, and so he had the money on him. I had to arrange for the staff to call him in from the "boys'" waiting room. I thought it pretty sad that they wouldn't allow non-patients in for emotional support, but for payment, there was no hesitation.

After my fiancee went back to his waiting room, I waited in mine for another thirty minutes before I was finally sent to the waiting room upstairs, which was reserved for abortion patients only. About twenty-five of us sat clustered in a cramped space, where we filled out endless paperwork and were forced to watch a video about how babies are made. Everywhere were signs instructing us to turn off our cell phones. I couldn't imagine why we weren't even allowed to CALL our people waiting downstairs. Still none of us talked to each other. It was a little like being back in school--there were rules and papers and no talking allowed. I sat in there for about an hour, and then I was called for an untold reason.

A curt, rude technician led me into a tiny room and barked at me to put my purse on the chair and to take off my pants and underwear. She had me lie down on a table and then pressed around on my abdomen with an instrument. This was the sonogram. She didn't speak to me at all, didn't bother to explain anything. When she was done, she ordered me to get dressed and then turned her back to me while she filled out a form. I took this opportunity to look at the screen. I saw absolutely nothing. I had no idea how she was able to discern the age of the pregnancy--there didn't seem to be anything there. I was sent back to the waiting room for another thirty minutes.

Then I was called for a mandatory interview with a counselor. The counselor monotoned rapidly a list of questions she had obviously asked about thirty times a day every day. One of the questions was, "Why are you choosing to have an abortion?" This seemed to me an invasive question that the clinic had no business asking, so I asked if I had to answer it. She said yes, I had to, otherwise they wouldn't perform the procedure.

Then I was sent to the lab for a blood test. The technician was the only warm, friendly person at the entire clinic. She giggled, said I had good strong veins and used the needle so skillfully that I didn't even know she had stuck me. Then she patted my shoulder and gave me a Band-Aid.

Next I was given a plastic bag containing a gown and slippers. I was told to change into the gown and to put all of my belongings into the bag and to seal it tightly. I asked if I could keep my shirt on underneath the gown, and the counselor snapped, "No. I said everything."

After I had changed, I was sent to yet another waiting room with about fifteen other women and girls, all of us sitting naked under our gowns and shivering. The temperature in the clinic was about sixty degrees. I sat there for two hours and twenty minutes. Occasionally, we heard screams coming from other parts of the clinic. We looked around at each other, scared, and still no one talked. This waiting room was exposed to the main hallway, and we got to see women coming down the hall, emerging post-abortion. One very young-looking woman, likely a teenager, was called for her turn, and less than half an hour later she came down the hall, fully clothed, her eyes puffy and her face streaked with tears. I started to get scared.

Finally, my turn came. A nurse called my name and I followed her to a small room. She ordered, "Take your glasses off. Put in the plastic bag." I did, and then she snapped, "Get up here on the table. Feet up. In the stirrups. No, the whole leg. No, like THIS. Scoot your butt down. Further. Further. That's not far enough." When I was scooted down to her satisfaction, she strapped my legs into the stirrups to hold them in place and left me there while she did some prep.

Then the door facing my exposed vagina opened, and a male doctor came in. I hadn't expected a male doctor. I had never had a man do a pelvic exam on me before, I had always requested and been granted women. It occurred to me now that I hadn't been offered a choice. The doctor stood in the doorway with the door wide open to an entire lab staff, chitchatting with somebody about a sports game. Then he came in, shut the door and gave me a glance. He said, "I'm Dr. Somebody (I've blocked out his name)." He didn't ask me mine. Then he turned to the nurse and they started chatting about some song on the radio. At one point he said something, and, thinking he was addressing me, I said, "what was that?" and he said, "I wasn't talking to you."

He sat down in front of me and, without any warning or any lubrication, shoved a speculum inside my vagina, and then proceeded to crank it open much, much wider than any pelvic exam I've ever had. Immediately I felt I wasn't going to get through the rest. The pain was indescribable. I cried out and asked him to take it out just for a second so I could collect myself. He said he could take it out but then he wouldn't be able to finish anything. I asked if they at least had anything I could squeeze, and he snorted, "I think we're fresh out of squeeze toys." Then he demanded, "Why didn't you opt for the anesthetic?" I said I thought this was going to include a local anesthetic. I also said that I couldn't afford the general.

He said the whole thing would last three minutes. I said okay, just do it then. He continued. He gave me a shot of Lidocaine in my cervix, which I didn't really feel over the intense pain of the speculum. Then he started dilating my cervix with a series of instruments. I was wailing and crying openly now. When he got around to inserting the tube into my uterus and vacuuming the contents, I thought I would die from the pain. I've never felt anything more excruciating, and I've always had a pretty high pain tolerance. I squeezed my hands together and screamed. He was right, it did only last three minutes, although it felt like an hour.

Immediately upon removal of the tube and speculum, about ninety percent of the pain was gone, but I started cramping some. The cramping was nothing compared with what I'd just been through, it felt about as bad as moderate menstrual cramps. The nurse told me to sit up, put a pad between my legs to catch the bleeding, and to walk with her to the recovery room. The doctor turned his back to me and went about

The second recovery room was just another place to wait until they said I could put my clothes on. I waited there for a few minutes, and then I was allowed to go to the bathroom and change. As I put my own clothes back on, and my glasses, I started to feel my humanity slowly returning. I looked at myself in the mirror and put on lipstick. It was amazing--while I was pregnant, I felt strange and nauseous during every waking moment. Immediately after the abortion, I felt normal again. The nausea was gone, the weird pregnant feeling was gone. I felt like myself again.

I was instructed to go back to the second recovery room and have some crackers and Tang. I ate a little bit and felt my strength returning. I was called to talk with my counselor about post-abortion care and to schedule a follow-up exam. And then I was done. As I walked down the hallway and glanced at the women sitting in their gowns, freezing and awaiting their procedures, I gave them a wink and smiled. I went downstairs and met my fiancee in the boys' waiting room, where he had been for the past five hours. He looked so happy to see me, he hugged me and presented me with a dozen long-stemmed roses. We got in the car and went home, and that night, even though I felt fine and pretty much totally normal, he took care of me and brought me food and we watched a movie together. It's been about 31 hours since the abortion, and I feel completely fine. I have no cramping at all and very little bleeding.

I wanted to write about this experience because I wanted to expose Planned Parenthood of New York City's extremely callous, insensitive and borderline punitive treatment of their abortion patients. Women still do not have any desirable options as far as unwanted pregnancy goes. Although the physical pain was horrible, I think the whole experience would have been much more bearable had I been treated with more sensitivity, compassion and respect. There was no dignity. We were all treated like ignorant, slutty cattle who deserved the situation we were in, and deserved the poor treatment we were receiving.

Let me just say that pregnancy can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate. You can get pregnant whether you're rich or poor, black or asian or white or whatever, dumb or brilliant, a high school dropout or a PhD, whether you have lots of sex or hardly any sex at all, and everything in between. There were all kinds of women at that clinic with me. All kinds. And yet we were all treated as if we were stupid, "promiscuous" children who couldn't take care of ourselves.

I have spoken with women who have had abortions, and their experiences have been much better than mine, much more compassionate and less painful. None of them went to Planned Parenthood. They all went to feminist-oriented women's clinics. For this reason, I'm warning everyone away from Planned Parenthood, at least the Margaret Sanger clinic in New York City. They do not care about you there. You are not a person. They pay lip service to women's rights and the advantages of abortion, but they don't practice what they preach. They will do their damndest to make sure your experience is as miserable as possible, so that you never get yourself in trouble again, young lady.

7 September 2002

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"No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow."
- Alice Walker