Indifferent. As I rode home from the abortion clinic and the days after the procedure, I felt indifferent. I had been told to expect overwhelming feelings of sadness and physical pain, yet I felt none. I felt fine. Not better than normal, but also not worse than normal. Indifferent. It was not at all what I was told to expect, by the doctors, the nurses, or what I had heard from friends.
I grew up in what many would call a ‘liberal’ family. We were middle class; my parents are both nurses, college educated, we lived in the suburbs of a major city, and we were a very open family. My parents are both ‘pro-choice’ and would have supported my decision when I was 19 years old to have an abortion, yet, why did it take me six years to tell them about it?
My experience wasn’t unlike other women’s; I had a steady boyfriend, I was on birth control, but I missed a few weeks of pills and became pregnant. At sixteen, when I told my mom about a friend’s abortion decision, she told me that it was a personal choice and one she supported. So, I should have been able to go to my parents when I needed support, right?
It just wasn’t that easy for me. Many of my cousins had children in their teens and were unable to finish high school and college, yet I was on track to do both. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, I felt that if I told her that I was pregnant, I would let her down, make her mad. I felt that she and my father would be disappointed, even though they would have supported my decision.
Even until recently, I was afraid to tell anyone, for fear of the reaction that I would get, or the way they would view me. I felt that if I told my story, I would be wearing the scarlet ‘A’ forever. I felt that I would be one of the vicious women that senators and representatives talk about who ‘abort their babies to fit into a prom dress’. That kind of rhetoric hurts me because that wasn’t what happened. How could I make others understand without having to share the whole story of the abuse I had endured during that relationship, how to say that it was my choice and it was a way to get out of a really bad situation. It’s hard to justify your actions without giving away a huge part of yourself every time.
Even though some people may see me differently after knowing I had an abortion, I’ve chosen to share my story to let others in the community know that abortion shouldn’t be a taboo subject. We can comfort one another and change the conversation. We can shape what people hear about our lives and our stories.
After talking to many of my friends, family members and co-workers, I found out that almost everyone has an experience with abortion; whether they themselves had one, a partner, a parent or a sibling, it is not uncommon. It is an experience that crosses all racial lines, the gender spectrum, class backgrounds and sexual orientations; yet, we don’t talk about it. I understand that there are many reasons some folks won’t want to share about their experience. Even if I don’t hear their story, I want them to know they are not alone. We’ve been through a similar experience and there is love and support available to you.
I recently told my mother about my abortion experience and she cried, not because she was mad, but because she was proud of me for having the strength to make a tough decision on my own. She wished she could have been there to support me. When I asked her if she was disappointed in me, she said, “No honey, I am proud of who you have become. You made a decision for you.”
Abortion is different for everyone. Each abortion is like stripes on a zebra; while on the surface they may seem similar, no two experiences are exactly the same. I hope that in the future, the abortion debate moves from above the heads of the people it affects, down to a conversational level, where women and family members who have experienced abortion can talk about how to best support each other. Our voices matter. Let’s listen.
Renee is a reproductive justice activist who shares her own abortion story to encourage others who have had abortions to speak out and end the silence and stigma around abortion. Renee is a Generative Fellow with CoreAlign, a contributor to Echoing Ida, a project of Strong Families, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at Cornell University. Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman.