Someone recently told me that every trip is a necessary part of the journey. I would have never guessed that my abortion experience 16 years ago would have birthed The Abortion Diary Podcast.
I woke up in a small room with 2 or 3 other women. I was sitting in a chair with a thick maxi pad between my thighs, and I was throwing up in a plastic, kidney-shaped basin. I was seventeen years old. It was the summer after my high school graduation. I just had an abortion.
While I was in high school I lived in a rented house in Yonkers, NY with my strict, Dominican parents and two younger siblings. My parents never talked to me about sex except to tell me not to have it. I didn’t learn about sex at school either. I had attended an all girls Catholic high school in Hartsdale, NY. A mousy woman with frizzy brown hair taught my “health” class. She was visibly shaking in front of our class of thirty girls when she tried to talk about sex. The bottom line was that I didn’t have the tools to keep myself from getting pregnant.
During my senior year of high school, Sr. Marie asked us to write an essay about why we were pro-life for an essay contest whose prize were tickets to see John Paul II on his trip to New York. She didn’t explain what an abortion was or what pro-life really meant.
I started dating a nineteen year-old guy when I was sixteen. He had two children and sold drugs in Washington Heights; information I tried to keep from my parents. He was my first boyfriend, the first guy I had sex with and even my first real kiss. I wasn’t allowed to go out on dates with him so he would come over to my house and we were chaperoned by my younger sister as we sat in the living room. Nevertheless, I got pregnant.
The day before I woke up in that small room, my aunt came over to visit. She asked me if something was wrong. What I knew was that I was sick, really sick. The sight and smell of food was nauseating. I remember crouching on the bathroom floor and feeling too weak to get up. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew that things were not right. I felt like my body was rebelling against me. I realized later that those were the signs of pregnancy that my mother noticed, but she never talked to me about it; instead, she asked my aunt to talk to me. My aunt took me to a clinic near her apartment in Washington Heights and they confirmed my pregnancy. My aunt asked my parents what they wanted to do about it and they said they didn’t know. My aunt took care of it. I don’t remember feeling like I had a choice in the matter. We went back to the clinic the next day and I had my abortion.
I didn’t share my abortion story until I was thirty years old. I just didn’t think I could tell anyone. I couldn’t talk to my family and I was afraid that I would feel judged by other people. For years I pushed the memory of my abortion to the back of my mind, but occasionally it would resurface suddenly and then go away. It usually resurfaced around my family. We pretended like it never happened.
The worst thing about my experience was the secrecy and the weight of it. It made me feel so small. The culture of shame and stigma in our society required me to hide my abortion experience. I didn’t know people who had had abortions, but I knew what people thought about them. Later on, I realized that I knew many people who had had abortions, but they were also afraid of the stigma and judgment. Instead of creating a network of support and understanding, we remained complicit in the shaming and marginalization of each other. If I had only known I had someone else with a similar experience to talk to I don’t think the load would have been so heavy.
Even in the reproductive justice movement there can be a failure to recognize the diversity of experience and the complicated emotions that people feel around their choice to have an abortion. My feelings about my abortion experience were extremely varied and I didn’t feel like I could talk about all the negative emotions I carried. I didn’t feel like an empowered feminist. I felt voiceless. I felt alone. But I also felt grateful.
What made my story even more complicated for me was that I didn’t feel as if I had made the choice. I didn’t feel like I was part of the decision, and felt disempowered and voiceless for years after that, but I do not regret my abortion and I am grateful that I had the access to abortion care. I am grateful to my aunt for stepping in and dealing with something I wasn’t able to deal with.
When I finally shared my abortion experience it was because I felt safe. Liza made me feel safe. As I continued to share my story, I realized how many other people wanted to share their stories. I also know how privileged I am to hear the stories people share with me and to witness the myriad of emotions present in every story. Through listening to them I began to understand the importance of community.
The Abortion Diary is a space for sharing our stories and for listening. I chose podcasting as a platform because, more than anything else, I wanted to listen. This podcast is a support system that anyone can access at any time so that people know they are not alone. I hope that people will feel safe enough to share their stories. I hope they experience a listening they have never experienced before. I hope they feel supported. I hope they share in their own time and only if they feel compelled to do so. I hope people listen to each other.
I no longer allow the secrecy, silence and shame define my experience. My abortion is now a part of the narrative of my life and I get to define it for myself each and every time I share my story. As I share my experience more often I realize how raw it still is and how difficult it is to share. But there is also so much power in sharing. The more I tell it the more I claim ownership. And as I share it I understand that I will be defined as this person for the rest of my life. It is part of me.
You can listen to Melissa’s story here.