It was 1966, and abortion was illegal. I was a sophomore at a commuter college living at home when I got pregnant at 19. I never considered continuing the pregnancy. I expected I would have to die trying to end it.
I went back to the expensive gynecologist where I got a diaphragm. She examined me and left the room in an angry rush. “You didn’t use the diaphragm,” she accused. She wouldn’t talk to me afterwards even after I pleaded with her assistant.
After days of phone calls, I finally got the name of a doctor who provided abortions. The woman on the phone, a friend of a friend of a friend, explained the whole procedure in great detail. She had an abortion and wanted to help take away the fear and stigma. I never got her full name and have always felt she saved my life.
The cost was $400. I called and made the appointment. I tried to get financial help from friends and my former boyfriend, but no one was helpful. As the date got closer, I told my twin brother, hoping he would be able to go with me and drive me there. He did not say he wouldn’t, but he insisted I tell our parents or he would. My mother slapped me, and my father froze. They had given me more freedom than they wanted and “thought I could manage myself.” I hated embarrassing them and making them suffer.
My mother worked for an orthopedist and somehow got some medication from a doctor. My father came to the college to find me, I remember him standing at the steps of the library as I walked out looking lost and miserable. I took the medication, but it did not bring on my period.
When the date came for my appointment, my parents drove me three hours to a small office building in another state in a rundown neighborhood. The hallways were dark when we entered the building from a side entrance. We found our way to a dentist’s office in almost total darkness, which made us increasingly fearful. There a receptionist told us they didn’t want anyone to know there were people in the building at that time of day, so they had to keep the hallway lights out.
We found out that the doctor was actually an orderly at a hospital who had learned the technique from doctors. He was a small thin dark man from the Philippines. He was soft spoken and nonthreatening. I had a pelvic exam, and a surgical plug of seaweed inserted into my cervix.
In the motel that night I had severe cramping. There was an alcove where I was to sleep, so I couldn’t see my parents but I could hear them worrying and comforting each other. I pretended I was not terrified. The next day we returned to the dark hallways and I had a D&C. My mother tried to get the office to reduce the fee, but they were unwilling.
We did not speak of this as a family for many years.
A few years after I fully recovered, got married, and moved out, I became like the woman whom I spoke to who gave me the referral information. I learned everything that was in Our Bodies Ourselves and became an informal birth control advocate. When I moved to Maine I saw “my job” advertised in the local paper. I worked as a birth control counselor and sexuality educator for 20 years. In 1995, I went back to school to become a clinical social worker and had a 20 year career as a psychotherapist.
Yet, I was terrified of giving birth and ended up having two C-sections. I used to wonder if that was because of PTSD from the abortion experience, I couldn’t get past the fear of dying when the contractions came.
My father was in his mid-ninety’s when his mind began to loosen and he spoke about World War II for the very first time. He told of horrific events at the end of the war in Italy; allied soldiers and civilians whose bodies were maimed and torn up. I asked him how he managed his fear and terror; “it was as if nothing could happen to me, I was young and unafraid for myself,” he said. “The most afraid I’ve ever been was when we went for that abortion you had.”
I’ve always felt people have little respect for the experience of being in a female body. The ways that we manage our fertility must be up to us alone; we know what we can handle.