I had an abortion 20 years ago, in Louisville, KY. This is my hometown, and I now live here again after being in Portland, OR for about six years. I would like to contrast my "reproductive health" experiences in the two places. First, the abortion.
I became pregnant from a guy I had dated for a couple of months. In fact, we had just broken up when I found out. My life at the time was a big stress-ball anyway, and I had no idea what to do. I was in college and working, and facing the typical young-adult-what-will-become-of-my-life-angst. I was struggling financially, and had virtually no family, friend, or professional support for my decision. But I was a very smart and conscientious person, so I buckled up and set myself to the task of figuring it out for myself.
I think I told one or two friends, which helped. And after some thought, I did call the guy who knocked me up to discuss the situation. He was great. He left the decision up to me, and told me he would either help financially for the abortion or would marry me and raise a kid if that's what I wanted. In hindsight, I realize there was probably a lot going on in his mind too that he needed to discuss with someone (now we have a few orgs like Backline that can help with that), but I appreciated not being asked to help him deal with his emotions when I was struggling so much with my own. We weren't in love, and I didn't want to marry him or have his baby. That part wasn't hard. But did I want to have a child at all? Does anyone really ever plan these things? Might this be as good a time as any?
I hemmed and hawed, made lists, wrote in my journal, and did everything I could think of to make the right decision. It all felt very complicated. But in the end, I lay in bed one night and made a simple pros and cons chart, and it became pretty obvious that abortion was the right choice.
The guy drove me for the procedure, and waited for me at the clinic. I was so lucky in this respect; I know a lot of women who struggle to find someone to take them.
When they called my name from the waiting room, I was sent into a very narrow room with a bare concrete floor (and not the fancy polished kind... the gross kind). I was just herded in and waited about 20 minutes with four or five other women. So much anxiety! I didn't know what to expect. A couple of them stood, a couple of them sat on the floor. And one at a time, they called us back into the "operating room." The actual procedure was totally painless and quick. It was just the atmosphere that was awful.
When I got in there, I got disparaging looks from the nurse or doctor, or whomever she was, when I answered two questions with what must have been the wrong answer: no, I had not used birth control that time, just the pullout method. And, yes, I would like to look at the ultrasound-- it looks like a jellybean. She was like,"Most women don't want to look at it."
I don't blame her, and never did, for this atmosphere of shame and degradation that surrounded the procedure. She was surely overworked in a dangerous and thankless profession, with sorely inadequate training in patient service and counseling. But the whole experience was depressing. I felt like I was treated wrongly by society because I was poor, and young, and a woman. And nobody had anything to say about it, and there was no space for me to say anything. I was just to be herded about, and discarded. I felt all this, but it was mostly what I was used to from my lower class background, so I just tried to let it go.I was a little depressed for a couple of weeks after the procedure, but this was because of the intense strain of making such a big decision without enough support. I have never once regretted it. I know I made a good, responsible decision, because I am a good person. I think another reason why I felt bad was because I was kind of angry or hurt by my experience at the clinic, and just, I guess, society in general.
I moved to Portland when I was 28 years old, and really enjoyed the culture of activism and can-do mentality. I apprenticed with an herbalist, and at one point, since I hadn't had a pap smear in a long time (hardly ever have had health insurance), I went to get one from a nurse practitioner/herbalist who was also a former student of my teacher. Her office was in a comfortable, well maintained old house in the neighborhood, and it also housed midwives and doulas, and a free baby clothes exchange. She always made sure I gave the nod before she did anything, answered all my questions with compassion and care, gave herbal and nutritional consultation, gave me my own speculum, a mirror, and instructions for performing my own pap smear. And the fee was sliding scale. I actually enjoyed the visit, and saw my os for the first time!
My point in contrasting these two experiences is that I look forward to the day when ALL women, regardless of income or geography, have access to this kind of support for ANY reproductive and sexual choices they make. We would all be healthier and more productive.
I am 39 now, and still looking for Mr. Right-- my personality is not one that can deal with settling though I respect others' choices to do so. Someday, if I feel I have enough financial, mental, etc support I would like to adopt. We'll see what the universe brings.
I know this isn't supposed to be a "political" forum, but I think the personal is political. So I also just want to mention that I think we need more clinics that are more geographically accessible and affordable, and where women are free from the shouting and intimidation they now face from protesters. At least I don't remember having to go through that, but I have seen it firsthand, and it's terrifying.
Thanks for doing this; it's a great idea.