This is a guest post by Mel Walters. Originally from Nova Scotia, she moved to Ontario in 1997 for work and has lived there for over 15 years. She attended Mount Saint Vincent University where she studied public relations and communications. She is a Federal public servant, and has worked for over 13 years as a policy advisor for Aboriginal Affairs. A firm believer in the importance of addressing all sides of a controversial subject, no matter how hard it is to read or share. She lives in Ottawa with her three daughters.
The decision for me was made sitting on the toilet bowl that morning staring down at the double lines of the pregnancy test, it was never about what if I did this, or that or would I keep the baby. I was simply not prepared at 37 and a newly single parent of 3 children, to take on more financial responsibility.
I went to a women’s health centre near where I worked first to determine how far along I was, I was sure I was only a few weeks, in truth, I didn’t feel pregnant, I look the same, no morning sickness that I had with the previous two. I was pretty shocked at the positive result. As I sat in the waiting room, it was the longest wait of my life, I watched the staff and patients all with their own situations and stories…I could not believe I was sitting there, when I think about that day I always feel as though I was looking at someone else, not me, but some stranger sitting there, and I am watching them at a distance.
The results of the ultra sound revealed that I was 24 weeks pregnant, which in Canada means you cannot have an abortion in this country at all. (23 weeks is the cut off) Holding back tears, I remember sitting in the parking lot and trying to figure out what to do next, I called all the clinics in Ontario that might be willing to perform the procedure given how far along I was, one of the places I got in touch with was the Women’s Health Science Centre, I was told to go to Morgentaler Clinic in Ottawa to talk to someone about what my options were and next steps, they had connections to out of country facilities that might be able to help. Both of these clinics helped to guide and confirm my decision. It might surprise people to know that late term abortions done outside of Canada for residents of Ontario referred through the Morgentaler
Clinic are paid for by the Province of Ontario. Until you are faced with the decision you can never fully appreciate the stress and shame you feel. I don’t think that there is any way to mentally prepare yourself for what is involved with a late term abortion, no amount of brochures and literature can capture what is your about to go through, I guess if they shared everything right up front you would never go through with it. Ihave thought about this often since and maybe the reality is your own denial that it’s not going to be all that bad, as for me, I thought I was going to be asleep throughout the whole thing; they said I would be drugged, right? I was headed to Colorado. My flight was paid for by the Women’s Health Science Centre, they are remarkable and I owe them a debt of gratitude. I think few people know what goes on in these situations, but there is good support and guidance through the whole process. The journey I was headed on is that which you see on the news, headlines of murdered abortion doctors, patients or staff by radical activists directly to the dark horse of Dr. Warren Hern. He is in his 70’s and runs and owns abortion clinic in Colorado, there are no pre-tenses or sugar coated names on his sign,it is very obvious what the clinic is and what happens within it.
Unlike a typical D&C abortion, this is a 3 day procedure, 2 and 3rd trimester abortions take 3 days to prepare and ultimately expel the fetus at the end, you are basically giving birth, you are not drugged or asleep, you are fully awake and lucid. There are risks here for something to go wrong only no one tells you that when you’re trying to make a decision to have a late term abortion. You get the risks are very minor speech, but the reality, is that the procedure itself, what is it is…is awful. I can offer this piece of advice; this is not a decision for the faint of heart or for someone who is not sure they want to end their pregnancy. This procedure will rock the core of your moral compass and test every level of your humanity.
The short medical version of what occurs is this: the fetal heart is stopped the first day; you get an ultrasound to determine the gestational age of the baby. Then, with the aid of the ultrasound to guide a lethal dose Digoxin is injected into the baby’s heart directly through the abdomen. Digoxin gives the baby a fatal heart attack. After the Digoxin injection, the woman’s cervix is packed with laminaria, thin tampon-like sticks made of seaweed that expand the cervix gradually over the next day. In the meantime, you are walking around with a dead baby in your stomach, I am not sure if one can imagine what that must be like, and I am not sure if I can clearly explain it, but it is the most horrible feeling, you feel very guilty and relieved and the same time, but it’s like a dream and a nightmare. I now know why you sign to ensure you will be back, that first day, that injection is so traumatic you r just want to go home and never return. You think, if that was the first day can you imagine what will happen on days 2 and 3? 1st day and the last day are the worst of the 3 days. The 3rd day is mentally confusing and it is very very painful. Once I was done, I went to the recovery room for observation, but this is when things went horribly wrong.
Everything that happens in the extreme case of this procedure basically happened to me, I became the minority statistic of the worst thing that could happen… I was hemorrhaging and I was slowly losing consciousness. When I awoke, I was in the inside of an ambulance with a paramedic asking me questions: ”Was this voluntary abortion?” What does that even mean, I was thinking, but couldn’t quite get the words out. I managed to croak out a feeble “yes” and the paramedic’s face went odd, as though the game had changed, but I wasn’t sure what game I was a part of.
I was on my way to a nearby hospital, there was a lot of confusion in that first 15-20 minutes I got to the emergency room, but what I remember distinctly was one of the nurses asking “why did you do this to yourself?” I just couldn’t get my mind and my mouth to work at the same time, but right from that moment, I knew that I would need to be on my guard and that I would be telling my story a lot before this nightmare was over!
I was given a mild pain killer to ease the pain I was in, the gynecologist assigned to my case, finally came in wearing an amused look on her face, resembling something that looked a lot like “I told you so” directed at Dr. Hern, there was a clear lack of disrespect for Dr. Hern and in my hazy drugged up self, even I could see how horrible he is treated by his own peers. She seemed to be insinuating that he was the cause of what had happened. The conclusion in their minds was that he had cut/torn something in the walls of my cervix or uterus and this was causing the hemorrhaging. It was later discovered that it was an issue with my uterus; it would not contract as it is supposed to after labour, it fully dilated and remained that way, and the blood clots that formed from loss of blood were now blocking its ability to retract properly. Fully awake at this point, the gynecologist decided she would remedy this by reaching up inside my very raw/sore uterus; pull out blood clots, one after the other! The pain was excruciating and when it was all said and done, I lost over 5 units of blood! The bottom line is that I could have died from this procedure that day. It took me over a year to get my hemoglobin and iron levels back; I was off work for over 5 weeks!
I was transferred to the cancer ward, not gynaecology, to the maternity ward with cheery walls adorned with teddy bears and pastel colors, but to white stale walls similar to most hospital decor. I was told it was to protect me from all of the babies I would be able to hear on the ward, nursing mothers and all of that. I would later learn it was because of the head nurse on the maternity ward would not allow me on the floor, a volunteer counsellor who came to talk to me informed me of what was going on, a direct quote…” I don’t want her on my floor, or any patient of Dr. Hern, I don’t care if she bleeds to death!” I now realized the game I was a part of, I was caught up in the medical controversy, in which I was the pawn.
At this point I was exhausted, and just wanted to close my eyes, but not before the nurse assigned to my case, would ask why I came all the way from Canada for this kind of procedure. So as I had done several times that day, I repeated my tale. She was nice enough and seemed sympathetic…except for her last comment, “Yes it is a difficult situation, my daughter had a similar situation, but she kept her baby.”
The next morning, Dr. Hern tried to convince me to stay another night before heading home. I told him that there was no way I was spending any more time here. I did not feel safe or welcome and I would take the risk and head back to Canada. The gynecologist, who had de-clotted me the evening before, came into the room to check on me, provide take home meds and let me know that I could and should get a blood transfusion. I refused, and against medical advice, I headed to the airport, I could barely walk, and it was an hour drive to the airport followed by two plane changes to finally get home to Ottawa.
It was a long physical recovery; the mental scars have been a longer journey, and after 4 years I am still working through it. I can’t close my eyes at night without reliving the whole thing again, I still have nightmares! This is experience is truly a two edged sword. However, despite how hard this was for me and the after effects that still linger today, it was still the right decision for me, and I regret nothing. In fact, I would do it again if presented with the same situation, but there is no denying that this was a life changing event! I would’ve been better informed, as I didn’t have much time for soul searching and fact finding. I do feel that clinics need to give patients more informed information, more explanation is needed on late term abortions and what is involved and the possible mental implications that remain years after it is over.
This is not a simple D&C where you are done in 15 minutes and have cramping for a day and you can head back to work the next. The mental feelings after those procedures are raw and emotional to be sure, and although I don’t want to diminish the after effects that come from theD&C procedure, it is in no way close to what occurs in a late term abortion. I think that this is the common misconception; you think it’s going to be similar to a D&C, only its 3 days instead of just one. You get a little lamina and you’re done!
My hope is others will read my story and realize that although this may appear to be a simple solution and I certainly know there are pro-life believers that would like to think that those of us who make the decision to have an abortion are taking the easy way out! I think my story proves quite the contrary. Any abortion and in particular a late term abortion at its basic level requires a lot courage and forgiveness of the human spirit. I hope one day I can be at peace, tell my girls about it when they are ready, but mostly look in the mirror and be able to look at the reflection staring back at me.