With a headline like that, you are probably ready to read a story about how I worked to get pregnant with my husband, how we discovered a dangerous medical phenomenon, and how we had to make the heart breaking decision of choosing an abortion to secure my own safety.
But there weren’t any medical complications. There wasn’t even a husband. I was a straight up a 17 year old high school student faced with unwanted sex and an unwanted pregnancy. I decided then, if I couldn’t get an abortion, I was going to kill myself.
Saying that last sentence, I don’t feel an ounce of shame. I feel stubborn, just as I did seven years ago when I choose to have an abortion. I’ll try to simplify what happened and why, but every woman’s story surrounding abortion is complex. But for me, the decision was simple: I would rather be dead than forced to carry a pregnancy I didn’t want.
Now, in a perfect world, being a pregnant senior in high school wouldn’t feel like a death sentence or life in prison; and in this perfect world I might not have resorted to thoughts of suicide. In a perfect world, I might have freaked out a little, went over my options calmly with my support network, and comfortably decided an abortion was right for me. It wouldn’t be traumatic. I wouldn’t feel trapped. I wouldn’t feel like a dead woman walking. But I didn’t grow up in a country and community where one could feel safe with discussing ideas of rape and teenage pregnancy, let alone abortion. I come from a far, distant land for most, from a place people will likely never visit. My home is North Dakota.
I was raised a Catholic in the smallish town of West Fargo; when I graduated in 2009 the city was home to 25,000 people.
North Dakota, then and now, follows a strict abstinence-only sexual education policy. It is followed so religiously that while I was in high school, a senior student handed out condoms on World HIV Day and nearly avoided school suspension. There is one clinic to service all of North Dakota’s abortion needs. North Dakota does not host even one Planned Parenthood clinic (only one office in Fargo); the nearest is strategically placed right across the river (and state border) in Minnesota. If you can’t drive or find a ride, you’re out of luck. I only truly learned how to put on a condom when I was 20 years old. North Dakota’s policies and people are widely and unapologetically very conservative about sex.
So imagine how trapped I felt when I got drunk, raped, and potentially pregnant. My family and my best friend are Catholic. Just a few years before, I was dealing with terrible family issues. But by my senior year, I has working my ass off to get my grades up so I could go to college. The idea of a fulfilling career helping people was now my reason to live and thrive.
And then imagine the horror of when I started running out of my first period AP English class to puke in the bathroom every morning. Imagine the loneliness when I bought and took the pregnancy test in the Walmart bathroom. Imagine my desperation as I sat across from the school nurse, begging her to write me a note out of class so I could go to Planned Parenthood .
Finally with a short window of safety provided by the school nurse, I made my way to Planned Parenthood across state lines.
I did go to Planned Parenthood, and I took the test. They told me it was negative; that I wasn’t pregnant. Relief poured out of me as I rambled on to my nurse about the paranoia I had been experiencing — when she suddenly excused herself. She came back and informed me that there had been a mistake. She went to double check after I spoke of my symptoms. When the pregnancy test sat longer, it showed I was indeed pregnant, but very early. She was sorry she had told me otherwise at first.
I never blamed that nurse. It just felt like life was playing a cruel joke on me. My moment of relief was demolished by a confirmation of my worst fears. She asked me if I knew my options.
For the first time through this wonderland-like ordeal, I was being offered control on my situation. I said without a moment of hesitation, “I want an abortion.” The nurse seemed taken back at my lack of consideration for other options. I told her again. “I know what I want. I want an abortion.”
Because sometimes, it is NOT that hard of a decision. Some of us know our answer to the simple question of “Do you want to have a baby right now?”
Because to me, what she was really asking was, “Do you want to give up control over your body? Do you want to go through physical pain and mental instability? Do you want to give up your freedom to decide your future?” And I knew my answer. No. I did not want to give up my right to my body, mind, or the future I wanted. I wanted an abortion. I should not even have to explain why I wanted an abortion. The fact is, I did not want to be pregnant. That’s all the reason a woman should need.So, I now knew I was, indeed, pregnant. I had a referral from Planned Parenthood on how to get my abortion, but largely, I was on my own to get one. I made the phone calls to a non-profit fund and was able to secure some money to help me pay for the procedure. I still needed to come up with around $400. I used all the money I had saved up in my piggy bank over the last years. I had serious plans for that money, but those plans didn’t matter anymore. Those dreams would have to be put on hold for a few more years.
Looking back, I have to laugh as I remember arriving at the only abortion clinic in the entire state. I laugh because I was so naive. A group of random men, bundled up and bulky from the winters’ cold, blocked the doorway to the clinic. Confused and nervous, I asked them if they knew the location of the entrance to the clinic. They just stared at me, as stone stares and thick clouds of winter breath filled the silence. “No, I’m sorry, we cannot do that.” They had no compassion in their eyes whatsoever. I was confused and hurt and wondered around the area looking for a door while my heart was crushing against the inside of my chest. I finally found the door. Before I went in, the men gave me a token with Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, on it. I finally realized they were Pro-Life protesters and quickly choked out, “No, I’m just going in for a regular doctor appointment.” Either they knew I was lying or they simply did not care what your reason was for entering a “baby killing factory” because he continued to stare coldly at me.
Walking into the clinic was the first time I had had any sense of relief for the past month. I was seven weeks pregnant. I looked at the ultrasound on the TV. I didn’t feel any different. I was ready. Of course, the staff went over the questions and asked if someone was forcing me to have this abortion. I made it clear it I was here because of the only opinion that mattered on the situation, mine.
The nurses held my hand as the procedure happened. They distracted me from awkwardness of my legs spread in the stir ups by asking me the one important question I needed to hear. “So why did you decide an abortion was right for you?” I finally cried and told them, “I want to travel the world to help people get their voices heard.” She told me that was a very good reason, and it was nothing to be ashamed of. I agreed with her and felt her warmth as she grasped my hand.
In the recovery room, they asked me who was going to pick me up. I said I came alone. Their faces revealed their shock. They said if I was going to drive myself home, I would need to rest for at least an hour in their recovery room.
I rested in a cushy recliner while surrounded by the only people I knew who would give me unconditional, caring support. I picked up a notebook which they encouraged clients to write down their feelings in. I read through many. Some were filled with guilt for having a second abortion. Some were saying goodbye to a life they knew they could not take care of. Others were just flooded with emotion, unsure of what to write. I calmly picked up the pen and wrote, “I have no regrets about my decision.” And even six years later, I have never once doubted my decision. I know myself better than anyone.
Some people will say “Better support for teenage pregnant mothers would have solved this!” While it is true there is a need for better support for teenage mothers, it would not have stopped my abortion. There are tactics that could have “prevented” my abortion. Reforming public education on sex, consent, and birth control. Those are all very important movements to me. But right now, reading over my story, my concern is that a young, smart, student, full of potential, almost died. I almost took my own life because I was not sure I was able to get an abortion.
My rights to having access to an unbiased education should include accurate sex education. My rights to medical care should include birth control and abortion. But those rights are bullshit if I cannot access them freely and without fear of harm. What good is the right to vote if you are afraid you will be harassed and beaten on the way to the polls?
Abortion is legal in this country, and yet even as I turned from minor to adult during my unwanted pregnancy, I almost could not get one. An 18 year old adult almost died, because she barely found the means to exercise her right to dignified health care. The journey to obtaining a legal abortion in my mostly rural state is filled with so many social, financial, and legal obstacles, that often only some people can access abortion safety. I was lucky.
The messed up part is that we live in America, the land of the free, the land of rights, the land of self-determination. Yet, that same country widdles away at the right for a person to self-determine if they can physically or mentally survive a pregnancy they do not want.
I almost died that year. Some may say that I was clearly mentally unstable at that time. But even today, if I was forced to carry a pregnancy I did not want to term, I know what I would do. I would obtain an illegal abortion, despite the risk of infertility or death. “Give me freedom or give me death.”
This post was submitted anonymously.