A few months ago, I sat on a bus headed to Salinas, California, a three hour bus ride from Oakland, where I was traveling with the podcast. As I sat on the bus, I watched the California landscape with the sun shining upon it; a view that was quite different from the snow covered trees and slush I left behind in New York City a month earlier. I was on my way to Salinas to meet a woman who wanted to share her abortion story with The Abortion Diary. Jean contacted me through The Abortion Diary’s website a few days prior to our meeting. As I sat on the bus I thought about how strange it was to once again be on my way to listen to a stranger share such an intimately personal experience. Sometimes these stories have never been shared with anyone else.
For the past six months I have been listening to people as they share their abortion stories with me and, with the help of digital media, podcast listeners around the world. I launched the podcast in November, a few months after the idea first entered my mind. Last summer, I felt a very strong need to connect to people with this shared experience. For sixteen years I remained relatively silent about my abortion experience as a seventeen year old. Most of the silence came from the understanding, from society and my own family members, that my abortion was not something I was allowed to talk about or even acknowledge. But what I came to realize was that I needed to share that experience and that I needed to be surrounded by the stories of others. I needed to listen and know I wasn’t alone.
I stood across the street from a Texas drug store, staring lazily at the glass doors that would lead me to fluorescent aisles. I was a few blocks from where my brother’s fiancé and the ladies attending her bachelorette party were thumbing through lingerie and hot pink sex toys. I sighed, hot and needing to pee. “Maybe I should just take a test so that I can enjoy drinking tonight,” I mused to my sister.
“Yeah,” she nodded.
Pregnancy test boasting 99.9% accuracy in my overstuffed purse, I rushed up the steps of the house we had rented for our weekend of fun. I pulled down my pants with fervor and ripped open the packaging of the $14 test. “Fourteen dollars,” I had moaned when I saw the price tag, reminding myself that I was clearly in no position to have a baby if I could barely stomach the idea of losing an extra fifteen bucks. My bright red toes pressed down onto the cold, clean tiles, and I placed the stick under my urine stream. Sweet relief. I glanced down, waiting to be relieved of my concern. A tiny, red, and maddeningly indifferent plus sign appeared almost immediately. I stared, my hands beginning to tremble. “Oh my god. Ohmygodohmygod,” I repeated out loud. Sharp, rapid sobs rose from deep within my gut, forced out along with streams of snot and mascara. I could not believe it, and yet, I knew it was true. Everything suddenly made sense. The exhaustion. Sore breasts. Dreams of babies and incarcerated parents.
Yesterday, January 22nd, marked the 41st Anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. This historic Supreme Court ruling guarantees the right to safe and legal abortions in the United States. This week’s diary entry from Ilene offers us a glimpse into what it was like for women who chose abortion before Roe v. Wade.
The first time I ever heard anyone share a personal abortion story publicly was in 2012 at “The Urgent: Free Abortion Now Conference” at The New School in New York City. I don’t know how I heard about the conference, but I do know that I was compelled to attend. I was intrigued by the prospect of entering a space where people would feel safe and open enough to share their abortion experiences. Two years prior to the conference, I had shared my own abortion experience with someone for the first time and slowly began to feel comfortable sharing it with others.
Sex education in my high school consisted of a simulated baby and scary pictures of sexually transmitted diseases; both negative consequences of having sex. The simulated baby would cry, require feeding and diaper changes. At the time, I assumed that the simulated baby was a tactic to teach us not to have sex and how difficult it would be to have a kid at the age of 16. However, methods to protect ourselves against STDs or how to prevent pregnancy were never discussed. Moreover, what happened when one did become pregnant, what it meant to continue a pregnancy or terminate one were also never discussed. I knew there had to be more to sex than virtual babies and frightening STD stories. It was obvious to me that people were having sex in high school. I learned about “real” sex from talking to my classmates in locker rooms, glossing over articles in Cosmopolitan Magazine and sharing Harlequin novels. But even in those conversations we never talked about abortion. I can’t exactly remember my feelings regarding abortion; I just remember that I wasn’t for it or against it.
My feelings about abortion changed my last year of high school. A friend of mine found out she was pregnant and wanted to terminate her pregnancy. She asked me to drive her to the clinic and, of course, I said yes. I remember that while walking into the clinic, a group of people holding signs and screaming at us stood on the other side. They were taunting anyone who walked into the clinic. I was immediately disgusted that there was a group of people berating women and making them feel guilty for making the decision to terminate their pregnancy. I stayed with my friend for the remainder of the day to provide her with support.
Like so many other women, I have stored hurt, pain, disappointment, guilt, shame and trauma within the confines of this vessel called “my body” and my womb has been the space where the darkest of these experiences have been held. When I was three years old; before I knew what a womb was or that I even had one, it became a dumping ground for the toxic energy of others. This pattern started with me being molested by an adult friend of the family, which triggered a great deal of confusion and imbalance in my life, that I now realize, is part of the backdrop for my abortion story.
As I came of age and fumbled into puberty, I had already experienced things that were too complex for me to navigate or comprehend. I had been prematurely exposed to sex, which catapulted me into a realm designed for adults. Yes, I was maturing psychosexually and intellectually but my emotional and spiritual maturation was stunted by the abuse and the secrets that I was harboring inside. This was the foundation on which my relationships and interactions with the opposite sex were built, and thus, more pain and confusion ensued.
When you think of someone who has had an abortion, what comes to mind? For many people the first images that might come to mind may be of someone who is promiscuous, selfish, young, single, and/or irresponsible.
Samantha’s story highlights that there is not one image of WHO gets an abortion and the difficulty in choosing an abortion when that choice comes with society’s stereotypes. When Samantha shared with others that she was getting an abortion, some people questioned her; asking her, “Why are you getting an abortion? Aren’t you marrying this guy?” Samantha’s decision to obtain an abortion was seemingly unexpected since she didn’t fit the stereotype. The media doesn’t portray images of individuals like Samantha getting an abortion. Even Samantha herself didn’t think that she would ever choose to get an abortion. Many people in Samantha’s life believed that she should have felt happy that she was pregnant since she was in a committed relationship. However, Samantha made a different choice for herself. She chose to have an abortion in order to live the life she was creating for herself. Samantha and many women like her should have the opportunity to make this choice. This choice could mean continuing a pregnancy or it could mean terminating one.
In her story, Samantha also shared that she struggled with that lies she would need to tell her co-workers since she didn’t want to tell them that she was obtaining an abortion. Abortion is not something that is openly talked about, especially in the workplace. So it is understandable that Samantha felt conflicted about sharing her personal choice to have an abortion with her co-workers. When I listened to Samantha’s story, I asked myself, why is there a silence around abortion if abortions are happening on a daily basis? Why is the word abortion still a “dirty” word? How can something so common be so taboo? I wondered about the reaction that Samantha would have received if she had been more candid about choosing to get an abortion. Surprised? Supportive? Angry?
While I believe that we should be discussing abortions more frequently, isn’t this a private matter that is decided on and done behind closed doors? Yet by listening to Samantha’s story, what I came to understand was the importance of not feeling alone and of talking honestly about making the choice to obtain an abortion. What if her experience was normalized? What if she had felt comforted, understood, and supported? Think of how many other people have probably felt like Samantha. Through the sharing of abortion stories, people may start to feel safe enough to share their experiences with loved ones, friends and other people in their lives. When people start sharing their stories on public platforms, such as The Abortion Diary, and we all start listening, we can all make a difference in experiences of people who choose to have an abortion.
stay sharing. be daring.
Listen to Samantha’s story here.
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.