While I sit in the comfort of my home half a world away, the right to a safe and legal abortion hangs by a thread in the country where I was born and educated. And where I had my abortion. I was 13 and I was scared. I am so grateful that at that time abortion was legal and accessible in the US… to that little me. While I do not believe abortion is the right decision for everyone, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it was for the 13 year old me. It was and remains a very personal decision! I went to Planned Parenthood of Maryland (PPMD) and felt supported throughout my experience! I am where I am today, who I am and what I dedicate my work to, because of that decision and that support!
I share my story below for inspiration and as motivation for those of us (men and women of all ages) who may not be raging yet about what is happening in the US, to start raging! I know I have been silent way too long, comfortable in Europe way too long. And now it’s ENOUGH!
I have a female relative who had her abortion in the US when it was illegal, just before Roe vs. Wade. It was literally on a kitchen table. I know her story well, and how she almost hemorrhaged to death as a result. She survived. Many didn’t. Many won’t!
Women forced to carry pregnancies they did not choose. Women forced to carry pregnancies that are not safe for their bodies. Women choosing unsafe terminations (Ie: coat hangers!), risking their future fertility and their lives, because some lawmakers decided what they can and can not do with their bodies. This is not about caring for life. This is about fear, power and control. This is misogynistic! Yes, it has come to this! That is not a world I want to live in! How about you?
It is with great outrage of what is happening today in the US, that I share my abortion story:
I had always been good at saving my lunch money, and now I knew what it had been for. I looked up where to go in the yellow pages (they still existed back then). I ended up in a clinic where they did their best to convince me to take the pregnancy to full term and put the baby up for adoption. That they would place me in a host family if my mother kicked me out, pay for all the check ups and medical care, and that the baby would go to a good Christian family. I felt so unsafe in that clinic! As soon as I could I got the hell out of there!
What about me? Did my life count? Well maybe not to them, but it did to me! I had no doubt that I could not become a mother at 13. I had just started high school, I could not even cook rice, and I had my whole life in front of me to discover. And did they really think it’s so easy to just be a baby vessel for 9 months, give birth, and then just walk away? Really? Two years before that I spent 3 months in a psychiatric ward for adolescents as a ward of the State, at the age of 11. About 90% of the adolescents in there had one thing in common: they were adopted! I knew I could not go through a pregnancy and give my baby up for adoption. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I had made a “mistake”. I had had un-protected sex and I got pregnant. Did I need to pay for that for the rest of my life in one of these two ways (have the baby and raise it, or have the baby and give it up for adoption)? No, I didn’t!!!
I confided in an ex-boyfriend of mine about my situation. He was older, 17. He suggested I go to Planned Parenthood. He said they would take care of me. I trusted him, I had no choice at that point. I didn’t know where to go and the first trimester clock was ticking. I made my appointment.
It was a crisp Spring Saturday morning. It was March 31st, 1990. The ex-boyfriend had a car so he came to pick me up and my then boy-friend, who had gotten me pregnant and was in agreement of having the abortion. He dropped us off at the clinic. The nurses and doctors were very respectful and kind to me. I was afraid because of what had happened at the last place, but this was nothing like it.
The nurse asked me if I wanted and STD screening too. I asked “what is an STD?” The nurse just smiled and explained. I said I didnt think I had enough money with me for that too, that I just had enough for the abortion. I said I would come back for it, knowing inside I probably wouldn’t. She smiled again, and said she thought I should get the screening since I had had unprotected sex and that while I am there, why not. She clearly knew I would probably not return for that screening, and didn’t want me suffering from or spreading STDs. She said they wouldn’t charge me for it. That when I had enough, I could always make a donation. I NEVER EVER FORGOT that kindness and respect. EVER!!! As it turned out I DID have an STD, and my boyfriend and I were treated for Chlamydia subsequently.
2-3 years later I finally told my mother about my abortion. She cried and said “I know.” I said: “how did you know?” She said: “you left so early in the morning, you came home hurting and bleeding, and I had seen the information pamphlets in your underwear drawer. It was obvious.” I was shocked. She knew all along. “Why didnt you say anything?” I asked her. She replied: “I have been waiting for you to tell me, obviously you were not ready to share it with me before, I am happy you are now. And I am glad you had somewhere to go where you were safe.” And we cried together for a long while.
I continued going to Planned Parenthood for my annual pap smears, screenings, and birth control while I still lived in the US. I am eternally grateful to them for what they have done for so many of us across the US over so many decades. Without them, I would not be where I am today or who I am today!
I ended up getting a Fulbright Scholarship to Peru when I was 21 to research women’s reproductive health, including unwanted pregnancy. I went to Columbia University in NY and got 1 of my Masters Degrees in Public Health, specializing in Sexual and Reproductive Health. And I ended up working as the assistant to Dr. Steve Sinding, who became the Head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), based in London. I then went on to the work for the United Nations (UN) , in the UN Family Planning Association (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO). My last position with the UN was with WHO in India, developing a national healthy sexuality curriculum for adolescents! Now I work with women, men, and couples all over the world on living healthy sexuality, among other things. My first step to healthy sexuality, started with that abortion! I pray the day comes that young women do not have to go through such initiations in order to find our way, but I also pray in gratitude that I did have the safe, legal, respectful and supportive version of such an initiation.
It took me until I was 39 years old to decide I was ready to become a mother… 26 years after I had been pregnant for the first and only time in my life. Now I am 43 years old and I have not become a mother and probably wont in this life time. I I have not spent one minute of my life in regret of the abortion I sought out, I have never had nightmares about it, and I felt supported throughout my experience.
I know that in this life one of the major lessons I was (and still am) meant to learn is that about sexuality. I am so grateful for the part that Planned Parenthood played in this, starting 30 years ago. My abortion experience and the education I got from Planned Parenthood are a huge part of it. What did Planned Parenthood teach me? That this is my body to respect, honor, love and take care of, and I have the final say as to what happens (or doesn’t happen) to it! I wish nothing less for every woman and man of all ages out there! What is happening in the US right now is an outrage!!! Enough!!!
If you have your abortion story to share, whether it was a healthy and supportive experience for you or otherwise, please feel free and safe to share it here.