I think that’s still my record.
The decision to make it public was a simple one even if the experience itself was simultaneously one of the hardest and easiest things I’ve ever encountered. I’ve always been a bit of an over-sharer and have been referred to as “blunt”, “direct”, and “honest” (with the subsequent “to a fault” implied) more times than I can count. Small talk is of no interest to me. I find it painful, really. So why should this have been any different?
More than just for the sake of being open, I did it because I wanted to make an example of myself. My abortion story is not a typical one, if we want to assume there even is such a thing. I am precisely the type of person that anti-abortion advocates don’t want to acknowledge exists, and I refuse to be dismissed as nothing but a statistical anomaly. I have what you might call terrible luck, the general interpretation of which seems to be not having much luck at all. But I get “lucky” in all the worst ways. If it’s unlikely and it sucks, you better believe it’s going to happen to me.
It all started five years ago when I was diagnosed with a rare lung disease called Pulmonary Hypertension. You may have heard of it before, perhaps here? On top of coming to terms with what’s just about guaranteed to be a shortened life expectancy, I also had to accept that I’d never be able to give birth. By that time I was pretty certain I didn’t want to be a parent anyway, but I surprised myself with how angry I was that the possibility of changing my mind was taken from me. Regardless, I didn’t have to worry about an unintended pregnancy because a few years prior I had gotten an IUD inserted at Planned Parenthood. So imagine my surprise when one Saturday morning, almost exactly a year ago, I found myself sitting on the toilet staring, stunned, at a little pink plus sign on a home pregnancy test.
I immediately called Planned Parenthood and made an appointment for later that morning. I was firmly in the bargaining stage of grief by the time I arrived and kept asking if one of my many prescriptions could have caused a false positive but the clinician wasn’t having any of it. I was four and a half weeks pregnant. She removed the IUD and I prayed that it would induce a miscarriage, as I had been warned it might. My abortion was scheduled for a week and a half later, the soonest they could get me in.
It was at that appointment that things finally started to make a little sense. I was laying on the bed during the ultrasound, trying to relax and convince myself that everything was going to be fine and this was all no big deal, when the technician hesitated for a moment. Slowly she asked, “… have you ever had an ultrasound before?” I responded that unless years of biannual echocardiograms counted then no, I had not. After another brief pause she very matter-of-factly informed me that it appeared that I had not one, but two uteruses.
Presumably this was missed by every Doctor and Nurse Practitioner I’d ever seen (and there have been many) because the second was underdeveloped and situated up and to the right of the “primary” uterus, which is of normal shape and size and located exactly where it should be. It was later confirmed that I have two distinct cervixes as well, though the second was described to me as looking like a “dimple” that you could “pass through when probed” and had also escaped notice. Despite a very thorough and slightly over-enthusiastic search, it was determined I only have one vagina.
So if you’re keeping score, I was already one (or two) in a million for having gotten Pulmonary Hypertension, and uterus didelphys is reported to occur in only .1-.5% of women. While the IUD didn’t actually fail, the chance of getting pregnant with one is just slightly less than one percent. I’m inclined to think I should start gambling if I wasn’t so sure I’d just end up losing an exceptional amount of money.
As you might imagine, conceiving in your secret spare uterus presents a few challenges. During the procedure there were at least five people in the room, not including myself, and no less than three of them coordinating just to get into the right spot. One of the women in the room seemed to have no other job than to hold my hand, look and me reassuringly, and remind me to breathe. She was an absolute saint, and I don’t know what I would have done without her. I don’t exaggerate in the least when I say that my abortion was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. Having your cervix dilated and probed is incredibly unpleasant. Having two of them alternately and repeatedly dilated and probed is torture. The Ativan I was given does absolutely nothing for pain and at that point was no match for my adrenaline, rendered completely useless for sedation or anxiety. What should have been a five minute procedure stretched into something more like twenty five. After it was all over I was told how lucky I was to have had the doctor I did; she was the best and most experienced they had, if not the most caring or gentle. Because my case was so challenging had anyone else been on duty that day they would have been forced to send me to Regions to go through the whole ordeal again.
Still though, I was fortunate. To have a second—or third, or fourth—clinic available in the immediate area to choose from is rare these days. About seventy clinics across the country have been forced to close in just the last five years and at least eighty seven percent of counties don’t have a provider at all. I have a job that provides me paid time off, health insurance that covered the procedure, and a wage high enough that I could have afforded to pay out of pocket if it hadn’t. I had no children to arrange care for, and a partner to accompany and support me. Sadly these things again make me the exception to the rule.
Before all of this, somewhere deep down, I felt a little disingenuous when I’d play my disease card in order to shut down arguments against reproductive rights (most people aren’t willing to tell you directly that they’d let you die if given the chance). I felt secure that it would never actually come down to that for me. Until it did.
Abortion is an intensely personal and endlessly complex issue, and when either side of the “debate” refuses to acknowledge that we all lose. Anti-abortion advocates think it’s selfish, it’s reckless, and it’s murder, while there’s a growing contingency within the pro-choice community that insist on arguing that abortion is great! No big deal! We love it! Neither stance is entirely wrong, nor is either entirely right, but both erase experiences like mine. Until we can all get comfortable mucking around in the middle ground there’s never going to be meaningful progress on the issue.* An abortion might very well be the worst thing that has ever happened to someone and a decision they’ll never be able to forgive themselves for. I’m sure there are also people for whom it was as simple, routine, and unemotional as getting their teeth cleaned. Both experiences are valid. I think that for far many of us, though, it can be all of the above, none of the above, and so much more. These are the stories we need to hear. Theirs are the faces we need to see. We are the people that will change the conversation. But only as long as we’re willing to speak up.
That’s why I put my abortion on Facebook. That’s why I refuse to stay silent regardless of how uncomfortable I might make people or how many conversations I bring to a screeching halt. Because this conversation belongs to those of us who have actually been there; not ideologues that only think they know. I hope you can find it in yourselves to start sharing your stories, to stand up and not only be counted, but validated. I’m sure many of you fear that you don’t have the support of those around you, but I think they may surprise you if given the chance.
And hey, if not, I’ve got sixty one people to introduce you to.
*Recent legislative efforts aside
Angela Hershberger is a “writer” living in Saint Paul. She spends her days pushing paper for The Man and her nights throwing balls for the dog. In between catching up on TV and naps, she volunteers to care for injured wildlife and promote healthy sex lives for all. If you would like to pay her for either of those things, that would be swell. Her ultimate goal in life is to be made into an action figure and/or cartoon. She likes swears and is sorry for what she said when she was hungry.