Updated: May 23, 2019
I had an abortion.
I had an abortion in Alabama.
I had an abortion in Alabama in the summer of 2018.
The decision was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my 37 years of life. I had never been pregnant before, so I didn’t realize how much the body changes. How much the mind shifts. How much everything in your life reorients toward the new life growing deep inside. Unless you have been pregnant yourself, you will have no idea how profound this shift is. It’s not something that can be explained; it can only be felt. The rational mind has no place in this experience. The rational mind will try make sense of the process, as the men voting on the legislation for women’s reproductive rights demonstrate, but only a woman truly knows what a pregnancy feels like.
December 2017, I arrived in Alabama to visit my parents who had recently moved from our home state of California. I had only planned to visit, but opportunities for work presented themselves, and I was called to stay, put down roots, and build community. Shortly thereafter, a man walked into my life. He was a very charming and handsome man who, despite my intuition telling me to proceed with caution, I brushed aside and eventually fell for his charms. We had a whirlwind romance. He quickly moved in with me, told me he loved and valued me, and became a permanent fixture in my life, or so I thought. After a trip together in California, we shared fantasies of a California wedding. He spoke about a future life together with a vision of a child, a little boy. We even began planning to build on a property he recently purchased just down the street from my parents. I was teaching yoga and dance classes. I partnered with a local woman to open a healing arts collective and conscious community center, spending months renovating the building with a small handful of women. I partnered with another women to start a feminist podcast, bookclub and blog. I had a job, friends, family, and a man. I was set. I was committed. This world traveler and lifelong California girl had officially moved to Alabama!
Then, I found out I was pregnant. A week later, my partner moved out, saying he couldn’t do this anymore because he had been unhappy for a long time. A long time? When? Where? How? We had just come back from an amazing week of travel. We discussed our dreams of a destination wedding on the foggy California coast. I sent my friends and family, photos and messages of our trip, showcasing our love and commitment. A long time unhappy? What kind of upside down world had I been living in?
After he left, he made it clear that he would not support me or the child if I decided to give birth. I was forced to make a decision. First, the difficulty in getting any kind of low cost women’s health care service in Alabama is a serious issue. It does not exist. I was a recent Alabama transplant. I didn’t have health insurance, and I couldn’t afford private care. All the women’s reproductive clinics within a 150 mile radius were closed. I thought about flying back home to California where I could get free services, but that created another set of problems. Could I afford the trip? Could I afford to miss work? What about all my projects? How long would I need to stay? What would I tell people? With my decisions changing daily about what to do with the pregnancy, I didn’t even know if I’d be going back to California for an abortion or prenatal care. Needless to say, my life and all the momentum I had established in the community came to a grinding halt. Everything I had been creating flushed away along with the vomit and bile of my morning sickness.
The decision seemed almost impossible to make. My mind and my womb were always at odds. One day I was certain I would keep the baby, and the next day it was clear that I wouldn’t. My mind couldn’t be trusted to make this decision, so I started to tune into my heart. What did my heart desire? What life did I want to live? While I could imagine myself raising a child alone in this world at 37 years old, I was no longer naive to the reality of what that would entail. In my youth, I certainly romanticized having a baby, but after many years of seeing the world for what it was, rather than what I wished it to be, the message was clear— single mothers struggle and children raised without fathers struggle. Did I want to perpetuate the pain I already felt being left alone by this man, all these wounds of abandonment passed onto a child? I was educated enough in psychology and life to know that children whose fathers leave them in this way continue to bear that burden, no matter how loving the mother tries to be. The man who left me pregnant had a father who had abandoned him, and he had already left the mother of his daughter. The pattern was clear. Would I allow this to continue?
Another reality is that pregnancy and children are expensive, time consuming, and a lot of work. I was still a graduate student, without savings, without a home, without a solid income, and without a partner to support me. What kind of life would I be able to provide for a child? What kind of life would I be able provide for myself? This was not what my heart desired. This was not the life that I had envisioned. I desired a loving partnership, a doting husband and a committed father if I were to bring a child into the world. The solid relationship comes first, before the child. Furthermore, I knew that being established in my career and having some kind of stability would give a child a better life. This man had already made it clear he would have nothing to do with me or the child if I decided to keep the baby. No time, no money, and no support. My graduate school plans incomplete. My businesses put on hold. The life that I was planning was suddenly replaced by the demands of birthing and then caring for a child alone.
After discovering for the first time what it’s like to carry another life inside the body, the issue of adoption was not an option. There was no way I would endure nine months of body changes, life changes, mind changes, becoming one with another life force within me, to then hand that labor of love over to another person. Absolutely not. That was a clear NO.
So, I tuned back into my heart and into my body and what I heard was my womb speaking. She told me that this was meant to unfold this way, but only to teach me a lesson about what it means to be an empowered woman. She reminded me about my true values and my mission with the work I was doing in the world. She told me if I desired to find a loving and responsible partner to share this experience with, I deserved that right. I thanked my womb for such wisdom. I had never heard her speak before this moment, but I realized she had been gently guiding me this whole time, as I began to learn who I was as a woman. I was not a victim to my circumstances. I had agency, choice, strength, wisdom and incredible power to choose the life I wanted to live.
That Friday I made my appointment, which was the second of three. For those who have never been through this process, it’s not as easy as some people make it out to be. My parents drove me up to Montgomery, three hours each way because it was the closest clinic that was still open in a span of four states-- Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. I was so sick I could not drive alone. The clinic performs the procedure one day a week on a first come, first serve basis. The doors open at 6am and the spaces usually fill up by 7am. My parents and I woke up at 3am, but four hours later and with many vomit stops along the way, we didn’t manage to get to the clinic until close to 8am. I was fortunate to get the last slot, number 37, how apropos, and slid into a crowded room to wait 8 hours for a 10 minute procedure.
Women of all walks of life, all ages, colors, and economic classes were pressed into uncomfortable plastic seat, lining every available wall. Protesters were shouting and picketing outside, hoping to capitalize on the weakness of a woman in such a vulnerable state. Had I had the strength I would have stood up to the bullying, but I was far too sick and tired from the journey. But the volunteers at the clinic were our protectors. They were our fearless angels, with their big umbrellas to shelter us as we entered and exited the building. They played beautiful and very loud music on speakers, hanging from their orange vests to drown out the vicious insults from the angry mob outside.
The energy in the clinic was thick with fear, grief, and shame. Most women were alone, and only a handful of men occupied the chairs. My father was one of those men, leaving every thirty minutes to get me food or water, or give the protestors a dose of his California liberal mind. I couldn’t eat. I was too nauseous and tired. I could barely sit up in my uncomfortable plastic chair. As the waiting room slowly emptied, I was able to find a little more comfort, a plastic chair with a seat pad, an old sagging recliner, and finally a row of empty chairs so I could lie down. But sleeping was a luxury during this day. Every hour I was required to get up for for some test or exam. We were all feeling the discomfort, but no one spoke in this room full of sullen and stoney faces. We were just trying to hold it together.
During the last hour of the day, the final six women were called one by one to remove their clothes, place them in a basket, and put on a blue surgical gown. We were shuffled into a smaller waiting room, where for the first time women felt safe enough to share. Somehow, the blue gowns and the tiring day dissolved all our differences. As we sat around in a tight knit circle, it was hard not to see that each womb would suffer the same fate. There was a reason we were all here, and suddenly it became very real. Then the stories started to emerge. The failed birth control, the abusive boyfriend, the unsupportive husband, the risky pregnancy, and the abandonment. Abandonment was probably the singular thread tying all our stories together in one way or another. How ironic that men, the ones voting on this legislation, can legally walk away with no responsibility, no questions asked, and no social stigma attached. Women, too often, have to bear this burden alone.
When they say they love you
Almost every single day
You want to believe they will support you.
They will stay, hold you tight and let you know
Everything is going to be ok.
The tension of the day softened into shared stories, laughter and tears. We weren’t alone after all. How we got there may have looked different for each one us, but it became clear that the color of our skin, age, education, or economic class held no meaning in this room full of blue gowns. We were all women with a womb, and we were all in this together. We gave each other hugs, dried each other’s tears, passed each other smuggled Vicodin for the pain (they only gave us ibuprofen) and wished each other luck. One by one we were called into the back room to find ourselves once again, alone. Pretty soon the room was empty and I sat by myself in reflection, the fear, terror and sadness sweeping over me once again.
Stop. Breathe. I feel myself right back in that moment.
Here I was in this place
Cleaning up this mess.
No support, no love, no respect.
Just a women, facing her fears alone
United with others in their pale blue dress.
Somehow I found my inner strength
For when my name was called
I stood up strong, confident and clear.
I was choosing a new life
Created all on my own.
If anyone thinks women are using abortion for birth control, they clearly do not understand the depth of this issue. No woman wants to go through this process even once, much less several times because they are using it for birth control. It’s costly, painful and traumatizing. However, the process is fundamentally necessary when the situation arises because having to bring an unwanted child into the world is far FAR worse.
When I returned home, I tried to get my life back on track, but one of my businesses had ended with the pregnancy and my life had completely changed.
I was afraid to tell people what happened
Afraid to see this man on the streets.
I stayed at home and felt isolated
Alone in my silence, shame and grief.
I clearly needed some healing
And Alabama just wasn’t the place
So I packed my bags, said my goodbyes and flew back to the West.
I was finishing grad school I said, trying to save face.
Most people don’t know the true story about why I left Alabama. In that time, I was too wounded and too afraid of being judged. But I’m stronger now and I have done my healing. I no longer worry about being judged. The consequences are too great to remain silent. We must come together, regardless of age, race, education or class to tell our stories.
No more judgment, shame or put downs.
Fully seen, supported and valued.
Just like that day I sat in sisterhood sharing
In that room full of blue gowns.
Written by Amaya James
Co-host of the feminist podcast FemmSouth, yoga teacher (RYT500, ERYT200, YACEP), conscious dance facilitator, transformational coach, & women’s empowerment advocate. Amaya works with students and clients to deepen their understanding of self, other & universal consciousness, through movement, meditation, & personal empowerment.
FemmSouth is starting a new series on Women’s Abortion Stories and needs your support. It’s time to take abortion out of the closet and into the community for an open and vulnerable conversation about why women’s choice really matters. It is clear that we are collectively afraid to tell these stories and share our true feelings. This needs to change, so that women can feel that they are not alone in this, that they have each other to stand with them in loving community and care. We do not have to suffer alone any longer.
If you are willing to share your story with FemmSouth, please email us at email@example.com or contact us on Facebook @FemmSouth. You can of course choose to keep your name out of the equation, and remain anonymous. We thank you in advance for your courage to speak up in this matter. You are our heroines!
Please check us out on our podcast on iTunes, Soundcloud or Spotify. Like us on Facebook and Instagram, and help us get the word out so that we can be more effective in this movement of women standing together.
This is our time to raise our voices against injustice, and for a greater harmony to come! Together we stand!