Updated: May 23, 2019
I had an abortion.
I had an abortion in Alabama.
I had an abortion when I was 16.
My abortion happened so long ago that I no longer have any strong emotions attached to the actual event. I don’t want to say it was uneventful because that would be a lie. But, at this point in my life, my emotions flare and I get angry when I think about the possibility of women losing this choice. My emotions get heavy when I think about the possibility of young girls, like myself back then, not having the ability to make a choice about such a life-changing decision as becoming a mother.
For my story, I want to focus more on my family’s response to my pregnancy, and the necessary choice I made with their love and support, which will be even harder for women if Roe V. Wade gets overturned.
I remember sitting on my kitchen counter with a heavy lump in my throat and butterflies deep in my stomach as I said, “Mom, I have something I have to tell you.” I had taken a pregnancy test with my best friend in a gas station bathroom a few days earlier. The seriousness of my voice alerted my mother to the gravity of what I was about to tell her, and she probably knew before I even spoke the words. She had been working hard to establish open communication between us, so I felt like she was safe. I was still waiting for her anger, tears, silence, or even disappointment, but I was shocked when she told me something to the effect of “I love you and we will work through this decision together.” She kept to her promise and stayed by my side through the whole experience.
At first, I thought about adoption because that’s what young girls were supposed to do in these situations. I remember soaking in my bathtub later that night, thinking about what it would be like to be fully pregnant. I rubbed my belly and imagined it growing into the full, roundness of what I thought pregnancy looked like. I imagined holding my baby in my arms and walking around with a stroller. I imagined changing diapers and all the things associated with infant life. I was so young and naive. I had never been around babies or even young children. I couldn’t even imagine adolescence or the life-long commitment it takes to grow a person into adulthood. I didn’t think about the reality of raising a child. I only had the romance in my mind. In that bathtub, I broke down crying because I also starting thinking very quickly about being pregnant in school and being judged by everyone. In those days, one could not get homeschooled or go to virtual high school. A high school pregnancy meant enduring shame (if they even let you attend) or dropping out and getting a GED. I cried and told my mother, and she said something like, “let’s wait a few days and think about it some more before we make a decision.” We had time back then.
My decision was really made after the next week when I started vomiting continuously, non-stop, every day, all day. When I say vomiting, I don’t mean the general sense of nausea and routine morning upchuck that some women feel during pregnancy. I mean vomiting everything until nothing is left, then dry-heaving stomach bile that is so green and so acidic, it makes you want to vomit some more. I mean vomiting so much that q-tips had to be used to swipe my mouth so that I would not activate gag reflexes when I swallowed my own spit. I even woke up at night during sleep to vomit, that is if I wasn’t already sleeping on the bathroom floor. I was in constant pain, starving, and fearful that I would die or that my baby would die.
At this point, I was mostly concerned I would die, and medical doctors knew so little about this condition (hyperemesis gravidarum) that they could only offer saltine crackers and IVs for those with good health insurance. Women that have had this condition know that it can last the entire nine months of pregnancy, and there’s no way to know how long it will last for each woman. Women that have had this condition also know that time slows down in such a way that every second feels like hours, and each day feels like it will never end. Dreams about food provide minimal relief, and all you can do is wait and hope that the next day will be the beginning of the end. That is, until you vomit again and realize this isn’t the day.
I endured extreme vomiting and starvation for two weeks before my family and I decided to abort the pregnancy. My mother drove me to the abortion clinic in Montgomery, paid for my $300 dollar procedure, which was a lot of money for us at the time, and held my hand through the whole thing. When it was done, I vomited one more time in the parking lot, got in the car, and fell asleep. For the first time in weeks, I slept without dreaming of food or waking up to vomit. It was the biggest relief I had ever experienced in my sixteen years of life.
I have endured this condition through two more pregnancies, but these pregnancies I wanted. I was able to get through each day of bodily anguish and torture because I wanted to have children, and I wanted to be a mother. I was thirty years old and ready.
Needless to say, my abortion was not an easy decision, but it was the right one. I wish that I had more support back then because once it was over, I had no one to talk to about it. I had not told any of my friends. My family was supportive, but they also wanted the experience to recede into the near past, so we could all move forward. I had no one to help me process this experience, and so I pushed it down, felt shame because of the cultural stigma around it, and stayed quiet. I stayed quiet for almost thirty years.
Do I also need to say that my abortion saved my life in other ways than keeping me alive? I graduated from high school, went to college, served in the military, got a master’s degree, and am doing the work that I love because I did not have to become a single mom at sixteen. I now have two beautiful children that I cherish every day. I wanted to have them, and because I have been able to give them financial stability and all of my energy, they too are better because of my decision. I can count the ways this decision affected everyone in my family for the better. The sad irony is that I had my abortion in the South in Alabama, a place where I feel even less safe to talk about it now, almost thirty years later.
I should not have to say this or write this story because it seems so obvious, but I do. This is why we have to continue to fight those that have refused to consider the circumstances around each complicated decision a woman and her family (if she’s lucky to have their support) makes. We have to stand firm in the face of these politicians, lawmakers, and sadly, other women that refuse to see us as people with the right to life. It is time to tell our stories, break down the wall of shame and stigma, provide healing and support, and protect our fundamental rights to our own bodies and the bodies of those we love.
Written by Leigh Bancroft
Co-host of the feminist podcast FemmSouth,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!