Several months ago, my internet meandering took me to a great article/response about a young woman contemplating an unplanned pregnancy. It got me thinking about the issue for the first time in a really long time. I am 36, happily married, financially secure, I have health care and a wide family safety net. My husband and I don't want any more children, in spite of the fact that those longings for just one more hit me now and then. For me, abortion is no longer a personal issue. My husband and I have discussed that if I got pregnant accidentally, barring any major complications or my own health risk, we would just have another baby and adjust our plans to fit that decision. It was only a few short years ago that an unplanned pregnancy would have felt catastrophic. I still vote on the issue but this one no longer affects me directly beyond the fear that my two young daughters may not have the reproductive freedom that I did.
When I was in my early twenties, my best friend got pregnant. She was on the verge of a breakup and not only could she not cope with the idea and responsibility of being a parent, she could not get her head around having a lifetime tie to her soon to be ex. Her own family life had been very fractured and it wasn't so much the responsibility of parenting that scared her but the idea that she did not have the skills to be a mother since so many of those critical skills had not been displayed in her own parenting. She was upset, no distraught. She had been on the pill and had gone on a course of antibiotics for something I cannot remember. Her doctor had failed to mention that her birth control would be rendered ineffective for the period she was on the antibiotics and voila, just like that she found herself pregnant.
She needed someone to go with her. She couldn't tell her mother and she didn't want the soon to be ex there. She asked me, knowing that even in the most stressful of situations, I remain level headed, feeling the stress acutely later on when the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared. I need you to come with me, she said, I need you to ask the questions I will forget to, I need someone to hold my hand while I figure out if I can do this or not. We talked into the night. What do you really want I asked. I just want to turn back time she said, I want this to never have happened. Do you think you can go through with it, I asked. I don't think I have a choice she answered. You do I reminded her. If this is something that you feel like you might not be able to be okay with, you do have choices and I'll help you no matter what, doing whatever I can.
The next morning we set out for the clinic. My own doctor was in the same small office building and I remembered the harsh glares of the crowd as I pulled my car into the parking lot. I wanted to tell them, I'm getting my strep throat checked you assholes as they shouted toward my closed car window. Thankfully the day was grey and drizzly keeping the usual handful of regular protesters away. We walked in and I could not help but look at the faces of the other women filling the lobby and wonder what brought them to this moment. No one looked happy or carefree or even ambivalent. The air was heavy with regret and fear and uncertainty and desperation. I stupidly wanted to tell people, I'm not here for an abortion, she is. If I didn't judge the act, why did I want no one to mistake that I was the patient?
After a few minutes a counselor called my friend in and we went into a small office where she spent a long time going over every possible alternative option. She talked at length about adoption. She talked about resources that were available to my friend if she wanted to have a child but feared that she could not afford it or lacked an adequate safety net. It made me think a little that if pro-lifers are so adamant about stopping abortions, why don't they adopt or donate money to organizations that would provide options for women who find themselves pregnant rather than hold up signs of fetuses and throw bags of urine at cars.
She went through the entire procedure with us. She made it seem neither easy peasy nor a horrendous ordeal. She very matter of factly explained what to expect and what would happen. She told me that I was allowed to be with my friend through all of it except the few minutes they would actually be doing the procedure. That's what they called it, the procedure, rarely the abortion. I was silently grateful that I would be absent during this part. I would have stayed and held her hand through it all but the part of me that wrestled with her choice didn't want to be there.
My friend had the abortion. It was the opposite of nice. I will never forget the quilted fabric cosy that covered the cylinder that collected the material from the abortion. I held her hand in the recovery room as she came back from the light sedative they gave her and waited to make certain she didn't hemorrhage. How do you feel I asked her.
Relieved was all she said.
That day was the best birth control I could have ever had. It was sad, it stuck with me. I supported my friend through word and deed but I promised myself that day that I would do anything and everything to make sure I didn't ever have to make that decision.