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Too often, conversations about abortion are dominated by the voices of those who seek to shame and intimidate.

In general, when people talk about abortion it is very black and white; us versus them; pro-choice versus pro-life. There isn’t a lot of room for people’s real emotions and experiences about their abortion. Our goal is to strip away the stigma associated with abortion by lifting up the voices of those who have actually had abortions. The Tennessee Stories Project wants to reclaim our stories and reshape the conversation.

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Read and watch their stories below.

Adrianne

It was August 27th, 2014, a Wednesday night. My husband had a work dinner in Baltimore. My two-year-old sonand I spent the night with my parents in Philadelphia, about a one-hour train ride from Baltimore. I remember stepping out of the shower and briefly looking at my round belly inmy mother’s bathroom mirror. I hold that mental picture close to my heart because it is the last image I have of myself pregnant with Andy. My niece had also spent the night, and I remember the kids were difficult to put to sleep because they were so excited to be together. Exhausted, I had fallen asleep next to my mom.

At 3am I woke up, feeling what I thought was a small stream of pee trickling out. More annoyed than alarmed, I went to the bathroom to pee. I had heard women complain about incontinence during pregnancy, so I figured it was happening to me. I made a note to myself to call the doctor in the morning about the issue. I put a towel under me on the bed just in case it happened again. Then I fell asleep.

A few minutes later a much larger stream gushed out. This alarmed me. Still thinking it was some kind of dramatic incontinence, I called my OB’s night number and explained that I was having serious incontinence. This was the moment when everything changed. As I spoke to the nurse, I felt a huge “whoosh,” as enormous amounts of liquid poured out of my body and pooled on the floor. That’s when I realized what was really happening: my water had broken.

Thinking back to this moment, I can’t believe how innocent I had been. I did not even considerthat the gushing could have been a ruptured membrane. But then again, I hadn’t experienced any warning signs. No pain, no contractions, just exhaustion that I considered to be typical of pregnancy. It shocks me now to think how quickly your body can betray you.

I rushed to the bathtub and sobbed loudly as my mother washed me off. “My baby!” I wailed. The kids thankfully slept straight through it all. My mother tried to calm me down, telling me that things were going to be alright. But I knew that he would not survive. I knew he was too young to survive without an intact sac. I knew the membrane had ruptured devastatingly wide open. I had felt it happen.

My brother-in-law drove me and my dad to the hospital. I talked to my husband on the phone. He said he would catch the earliest train to Philly. As we rode to the hospital, I vacillated between hope that Andy could survive and certainty that today would be the day my son died.

Hope: “We will only be a few feet away from the best children’s hospital in the nation. They have cutting-edge technology and research on micro preemies. Maybe they can save him. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think. Amniotic fluid replenishes itself.”  But as I felt the fluid continue to drain from my body, and we got closer to the hospital, I prepared myself.

As they wheeled me into the ER and sat me in front of the intake nurse, I sobbed quietly, with as much restraint as I could muster. I was somehow trying to prepare myself for the nightmare I had vaguely sensed I would experience but couldn’t fully comprehend. She asked me the reason for being here. Between soft sobs I answered, “My water broke.”

She was puzzled. “Well, honey why are you crying?”

“Because I’m five months pregnant,” I said.

She averted her gaze and called the pregnancy monitoring unit. The unit had been expecting me, since the on-call doctor had talked to me on the way to the hospital. When I arrived they sat me in a small waiting room with two pregnant women who didn’t seem to be at all in distress. They chatted with relatives and read magazines. Meanwhile, I sat alone sobbing softly as I felt my baby’s life-giving fluid drain away from me. After a painful evaluation by a midwife,it was confirmed that the course had been set. There was no intervention to fix this. My dad came in, and I told him I was losing the baby.

A doctor asked if he could perform an abbreviated anatomical ultrasound, for the purposes of medical records and future pregnancies. Andy’s regular anatomical ultrasound had been scheduled for that very Friday. My dad went into the room with me but couldn’t bear to look at the screen. I was surprised to see that Andy was alive and seemed fine. I commented to the doctor how calm and peaceful he seemed. It’s as if he didn’t notice anything had changed in his environment even though the sac was completely drained. The doctor said that this was usual. Fetuses Andy’s age don’t appear to have developed enough nerve endings or refined their senses enough to perceive distressing changes. He hypothesized that they are blissfully unaware of their fate until the moment they fade. Andy’s behavior definitely supported that hypothesis. It was hard to see him so whole and healthy knowing that he would cease to be in the next few hours. But I’m also relieved that I got to see him so calm. That way I don’t ever have to wonder what he was going through. I don’t ever have to ask myself, “Was he struggling to survive? Were his little lungs desperately trying to adaptto breathing in order to survive only to fail miserably?”I know none of that is true because I saw it myself. The doctor commented that Andy was small for his age, not dramatically, but that it might be of clinical interest. Apart from that he appeared completely healthy and in the normal range for everything else.

My husband finally arrived from Baltimore and sat with me. He suggested that something could be done, hoping aloud that his son could be saved. It was up to me to throw harsh reality at his face. No, I explained, there was no hope. I knew enough about biology and the limits of current medical technology to tell him with certainty that the baby was not viable. That we would lose our son.

He cried with abandon on my chest, broken and resigned. We talked about how hard all of this was, how we couldn’t believe this was happening to us, how surreal it all felt. We also tried to anticipate how we would be able to survive the aftermath. Even though he hadn’t been born, we couldn’t fathom a family and a life without Andy. Along with our other son, he was our life. A living symbol of our love for each other and for our family. Andy and our older son were the foundation upon which we built our future; that drove our existence. And now we would have to say goodbye without ever getting to meet him.

A “termination” specialist came in and told us about our options. We could go home and wait until labor began naturally. We immediately eliminated that option due to the chance of infection. Besides, if I had had to go home with a dead or dying baby in my belly, I think I would have torn my hair out with grief.

Option number two was a surgical intervention. I would be put under general anesthesia,and Andy would be removed from my body. But there were risks to the procedure: serious complications from general anesthesia (which I’m at greater risk for due to allergies) and possible ruptured uterus (bad news for a future pregnancy).

The third option was to induce labor and deliver naturally. Although the doctor tried to appear unbiased, I felt thatshe was subtly endorsing the surgical procedure. Doctors, it seems to me, tend to like efficient and quick procedures. Labor would be a messy and long process. “An advantage of the procedure is that due to the sedatives most people don’t remember almost anything about the day,” she said. I thought that was an odd thing to say. Why would I want to forget the day my son was born? Why would I want to wipe from my memory this very important day in my life? Forget one of the only memories I will ever have with him?

No, the person the doctor was trying to appeal to had a very different outlook than I do. She was talking to somebody who was so overrun by grief that she wanted to deny the experience she would have to live through anyway, whether she remembered it or not: the loss of her baby.

My husband and I briefly discussed it. But it was soon obvious that we both wanted the same thing. At first we were both hesitant to express it for fear of putting the other through something they didn’t want to experience. Finally,I told my husband, “This is a horrible thing we are going through, but there is only one way out of it, and that is living through it. I am going to live this experience fully. I am not going to deny it.” He[maybe: We agreed.]agreed. The last thing we could do as Andy’s parents was give him a birth with dignity. He would enter the world whole, with both of his parents fully present.I was going to deliver our son.

We were taken to the labor and delivery unit, and they induced labor. My husband and I had a caring nurse dedicated to us. It was good for my husband and me to be in the hospital room with each other to process what was happening to us. We talked.We cried together. We were gentle and loving to each other because we knew only we understood the others’ loss. We were going to need each other to get through this.

After a few hours, Andy’s kicks subsided. When I delivered him he was already dead. I could not look at him. I wanted to remember him as I saw him in the ultrasound. My husband chose to look at him and to briefly hold him. Andy’s tiny size and translucent skin finally convinced my husband that there had been no chance for survival, that there was nothing we could have done to save him. “He was beautiful,” he told me.

A prospective tissue analysis found that Andy had a very rare chromosomal disorder. Nobody can tell me definitively, but the theory is that my body might have reacted adversely to this chromosomal difference by spontaneously aborting him.

As tragic as this story is for my family, throughout the event we were given the opportunity to make the right choices for us. I could not change the reality of what was happening but I was able to choose the most healing course for me. I will be forever grateful for that. Not everyone agreed with our choices. Just recently, a close family member commented that women in my position should, “just go home and pray for a miracle.” I get it. People don’t want to accept that “baby” and “death” can belong in the same sentence. But babies get sick and they die, just like everybody else.

Most people have the privilege of not having to contemplate that. They can pretend it doesn’t happen. But when you are carrying the dying inside of you, you don’t get to look away.

Our story would not have been possible in several states because it would have been considered a late-term abortion. Before this happened to me I lacked the imagination to foresee what kind of circumstances might compel a mother to choose a late-term abortion. Now I understand that most of the time nature has already made the choice for them. If I would have been living in Texas or Florida, my family would have suffered two tragedies: the loss of our son and the loss of my psychological health.

I am emotionally scarred by the experience of losing my son. But I know that if I would have been forced to go home with a dying child inside of me, the trauma would have been emotionally destructive, perhaps irreparably so. This is what abortion regulations take away from a woman at the moment she needs it most: the power to make the choice that brings her the most peace.

Annie

I was 21 and I was married. He was 10 years older, two inches shorter and he just mowed grass, smoked grass, and had a Mustang. I got pregnant, and my parents told me I needed to get married. That was before, that was in ‘91. So I married him, and I really wasn’t ready. You know, that definitely changed my life, being a mom. It was difficult at times during all of this. I wouldn’t say that he was an alcoholic, but he was borderline. He was happy if he had beer, cigarettes, and some weed to smoke. That was all that really mattered.

            I had him come work for my parents. My parents had a campground, and we worked together; we ran that. Then, I got a different job as a counselor for a dating service. I was interviewing people and finding out about love and kind of realizing that I wasn’t in love. I got married because I was told to, I really didn’t have anything in common with him. He wasn’t my soul mate or anything, and he wasn’t really much help.

Anyways, I got pregnant again. I was finally in a place where I was doing well. I had a job. He wasn’t working, but I was working. He wasn’t working for my parents anymore. There was a brief time where he pretended he had a job, but he would go sit over at his mom’s house. He opened up a credit card, got cash advances, just made minimum payments, stuff like that. I didn’t find out about that until after we were divorced. I got pregnant again, and I told him. He was just like, ‘if you think I’m gonna start busting ass, well, you’re wrong.’

I couldn’t be a stay at home mom. I didn’t want to be unwealthy anymore. When I had Carol, that’s what it was: WIC, Food Stamps, all that assistance, TennCare when I had her. I was finally being productive, and I was going to have another baby, and he couldn’t take care of the one baby. Carol was sick one time, she had Penicillin and she did like the way it tasted, it was that bubblegum flavor. I came home from work one day and she was just walking around with the bottle. It was all dumped down her face and rash. She broke out and was very very sick. He wasn’t an active parent. He wasn’t a bad guy, he wasn’t abusive or anything like that, but I didn’t want to be trapped in that any longer. And I knew that if I had another kid that was going to be it. I was going to be on government assistance for the rest of my life like all of his family. We’d probably all live up on their hill together and have chickens and cock fights, and it was just not what I wanted. It was not what I wanted and not what I wanted my daughter to see either. I wanted to be a better role model for her and more independent. I wanted her to be independent.

So, I called about it. I had a friend that I'd had for years. He knew Carol’s dad, but agreed not to tell. So he took me, and I never told my husband. I just told my daughter probably a month and a half ago. It was after a function, and the Tennessee Stories Project gave me a little card about sharing your story. People do look down upon it, but it was good to get it out there and to talk about it. My mother told me that she had actually had an abortion, too, right after having me. Kind of a similar situation, you know? She was married to my dad, and he was abusive. That was it.

It wasn’t that scary. They were nice, they didn’t make me feel bad, and there weren’t people outside protesting or anything like that. My friend dropped me off, and I watched a video I think, they gave me a Valium or something, and that’s it. I just remember being a little bit sore and having to check some things. And I just didn’t talk about it to anybody until I saw the Tennessee Stories Project and put that out there. I don’t want to think about how I would have maybe taken things out on my kid because I couldn’t handle my life and my decisions. And I think because of that I was able to go on. So I did that, I had my abortion, divorced him a few months later, and then, you know, did my life. I ended up meeting a guy a couple months after my divorce, and we dated for five years and then got married. I got pregnant, like, a month after we got married, and I had that baby, and then he asked me to be a stay at home mom. So I did that and then we got divorced so now I’m in school for welding! I’m just taking from that that you can start over and build on layers.

Her dad never paid child support. I think he’s gotten three cards for birthdays over the years, and one of them being her graduation card when she graduated college. It’s $20,000 in back child support. I didn’t pursue it. Every now and then they do fishing together, and I didn’t want her to know.

I don’t regret it because I would have been a single mom with two kids struggling and trying to make it, and I don’t think that I would have ended up where I am. It hurts me--the relationship that she has with her dad--I wish that she’d had a better father figure. I’m glad I didn’t do that to two kids. I know sometimes it hurts not having a dad be there for you.

Telling my daughter was very emotional. A lot of crying on my part. I was sobbing when I told my daughter and she was crying, too. What led up to the conversation was that she was telling me that she felt like my son and her had two different moms. And in a way they did, because when I had Carol I was more independent. She said, ‘You always looked nice, you didn’t take shit from anybody, you were independent, you were making your own money and decisions and stuff like that. And then with James, you went into this stay at home mom.’ My second husband made a lot of money and wanted me to quit work. I reluctantly did that, and I gave up a lot in that. I didn’t stand up for myself anymore, and through the years I was kind of beat down. It was an abusive relationship, my second marriage, and we were together for seventeen years. That was her stepdad who was a total douchebag, he helped her financially, but was not a good person. So that was it. I just told her, ‘I did it because I wanted to get out of a marriage with your dad.’ She just cried and said she didn’t blame me. She wasn’t mad at me for divorcing her dad, and she wasn’t mad at me for having an abortion. That was it.

My mom actually told me years ago, but I never confessed to her that I had had one, which I should do. But she told me the story, and it did surprise me because my mom is Catholic, so that just really surprised me that she had an abortion. I guess they were doing it back then too! I guess I knew it happened, but I didn’t ask her any details like ‘was it legal, did you have to go to a shady doctor or anything?’ But she went on to have more kids after that. It just wasn’t the right time.

I moved to Tennessee my senior year of high school, so I didn’t get a chance to form a lot of friendships in high school. I reconnected with people when I went back up north, and seeing some of my old friends, I just remember meeting with one of my friends and that was the big gossip: ‘oh, Amy got an abortion.’ That was coming from my friend that had the baby and was struggling in her apartment and was government funded. And here was Annie graduating college and getting ready to do something else. My friend worked out fine, too. I recently found out that she’s in the iron working business, and I thought, ‘oh, that’s crazy! Us girls.’

I’ve recently realized through Lady Scouts and through meetings we have that I’m not alone, and it’s pretty common. I definitely think that it’s a woman’s right. I don’t think I could have done the adoption thing, that wouldn’t have worked out. Nobody would have let me give it up for adoption.

It did feel good to talk to my daughter about that, and to let other people know, too. It’s really not a bad thing. I have family members that definitely do think that it’s wrong. Like I said, there’s a lot of Catholics in my family, so they don’t--and my sister doesn’t--approve of it. But I think that it is a person’s choice and that you know what you’re capable of.

To people experiencing unplanned pregnancies or who have made the decision to have an abortion: There’s probably going to be some crying and stuff like that, and if you’ve got somebody that you can talk to, that’s good. But don’t dwell on it. I don’t feel like I killed a baby. That’s not what it was. There was some “cardiac activity. It’s okay, just do the best you can. I think that my kids would have suffered, and I think that I’m a better parent because of it because I did have a little bit more time, more love.

Ashley

My doctor advised me that legally he couldn’t do anything or tell me where to go because of his affiliation with a religious hospital, but he told me to ask around and see if anyone could point me in the right direction.

I’m sharing my story because I really want to work to end the stigma surrounding abortion and make other women feel comfortable coming forward with their stories. Women don’t feel safe sharing their abortion stories, but maybe my sharing will encourage another woman to do the same.  You have to start somewhere, and, for me, this is where I start. My story is unique because originally, I was staunchly pro-life. 

I got pregnant when I was 16 the very first time I had sex. I had been raised by a very Catholic mother (who similarly became pregnant at 19) who worked very hard to raise me to be pro-life. I’d been to the pro-life rallies; I’d handed out the fliers with the tiny embryos on them that are meant to tug at your heartstrings. So, when I got pregnant as a junior in high school, abortion never once entered my mind. It wasn’t something I was interested in entertaining at all honestly. Despite having good grades and being an honor student, the public school I attended tried to kick me out.  Members of the administration believed pregnancy was a disease and that it would spread among the student body.  My argument at the time focused on the fact that other women were similarly getting pregnant, but they weren’t choosing to keep the baby.  Luckily, the principal of my high school decided that aiding me in attaining my high school diploma would be more beneficial to my unborn child and me than any example he could make out of my situation, and I ended up doing homebound to finish my junior year.  I went to a different school for summer school, turned 17, graduated early, and started college at a prestigious university the next month. I remained very pro-life; I even took my son to pro-life rallies when I was 17.  However, I ended up pregnant again when I was 21. I had just finished college and once again abortion was never an option for me. I had my second child and continued on as a single, working mom.

Then, at 23, I got pregnant for the third time.  The guy and I had only been together for 2 months.  Initially, I planned to keep the baby.  I went to prenatal appointments and sorted everything out with my insurance.  I did all the things you do in the first trimester when you’re preparing to have a baby. My son was living with my parents, and my daughter was living with me.  I had finished my degree but wasn’t done with my thesis so I worked in the restaurant business as a way to support myself.  I was already living below the poverty line, worked really long hours, and found out I was pregnant with a third child.  Initially, I told myself I was going to be just fine. However, things didn’t work out with the guy, and I ended up falling into a really bad depression with suicidal thoughts. I went to see my doctor for my 8-week appointment and told him about my negative thoughts and feelings. He had been with me through both of my previous pregnancies. At the appointment, I told him that I thought the baby had miscarried, even though I didn’t have any symptoms of it (clearly, wishful thinking). He put the Doppler on my belly, and I burst into tears from sadness when I heard the heartbeat. I’d never felt that way before at the sound of a baby’s beating heart. I truly felt like my life was essentially falling apart, and I’d never wanted to have a miscarriage more in my life.  My doctor said to me, “Are you sure this is what you want to do? I’ve seen you through a lot, Ashley, and I’ve never seen you this depressed.” His acknowledgment of my pain was so piercing and a huge wake-up call for me. The stress of dealing with this pregnancy was slowly eating away at the life I’d worked so hard to create for myself and my children.  My doctor advised me that legally he couldn’t do anything or tell me where to go because of his affiliation with a religious hospital, but he told me to ask around and see if anyone could point me in the right direction.

After my appointment, I began to reach out to my friends about what I was going through and the second thoughts I was having about becoming a single mother to 3 children.   Slowly but surely, a few of my closest friends came forward about their abortions and how they felt it was the right decision for them.  That idea was very contrary to what I was taught through my entire pro-life upbringing. I had always been taught women were suicidal and suffered from anxiety and depression after abortions.  Planned Parenthood had always been a place I picketed, so I knew to call and make an appointment there.  I had an overwhelmingly positive experience at PP, which was in stark contrast to the horror stories I’d heard from the pro-life movement.  Unfortunately, PP couldn’t get me scheduled for almost 2 weeks, so I called Memphis Reproductive Center and told them my situation.  Similar to the folks at PP, they were wonderful to deal with and worked with me to get me in before my daughter’s second birthday party. Then came the problem of the money: the procedure cost $450 – a significant amount of money to a working-but-still-below-the-poverty-line, single mother. However, as I contemplated if I could come up with the money, I said to myself, “If I can’t come up with $450 to have an abortion, how can I raise another baby?”  Studies say that a child costs 1 million dollars over a lifetime. If I was struggling to come up with $450, then I felt that I had absolutely no business having another baby. My best friend loaned me the extra $200 I needed in addition to dropping me off and picking me up from my abortion.

The entire experience was as good as it could have possibly been. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was definitely the right decision. Prior to the procedure, I was afraid of the unknown. Since this isn’t something that is talked about in the public realm, you can’t go to the library and read about what to expect the way you can with childbirth. The beautiful thing I saw while at the clinic was women banding together and supporting each other, despite all being there for different reasons.  I would say 90% of the women there already had children.  That’s something I never thought about growing up being pro-life – women choosing to not have more children because they were already struggling to take care of their kids already. I similarly chose to prioritize my 2 living children because having another baby would have potentially sent me into more severe poverty (& certainly an even worse depression). Despite being disappointed in myself that I was in this situation, I made a commitment to myself to finish my degree and work even harder to be the best parent I could be to my children.  I did end up telling my mom that I was having an abortion, and ironically enough, my mom was picketing there that week.  It was surreal to be in there and know that my mom was outside protesting my decision about my body.  However, that was her right to do just as I had the right to exercise my right to choose what was right for me.

When I got home, my friends were there waiting with Advil and a heating pad.   I remember immediately taking a shower, looking in the mirror, and finally feeling like it was my reflection looking back. That was the greatest sense of relief I had ever felt, and it completely changed my life. I remember the exact moment that I knew I couldn’t be pro-life anymore. I had to embrace the new future that lay ahead of me as a pro-choice individual. I am much more active on the pro-choice side now and actively work to end the stigma surrounding abortion. 

For me, I’ve never regretted my decision.  Not once. It almost felt odd that I didn’t feel sad about my abortion because that’s what conservatives tell women will happen. I didn’t feel guilt – I felt relief. All the things the Right told me I would feel - the suicidal thoughts and the depression -that’s how I felt BEFORE the abortion. I never felt any of the negative emotions because abortion was 100% the right decision for me. People don’t feel sad when they’re making the right decision for them. I truly believe this has made me a better mother and a stronger woman.  I’m much more educated about comprehensive sex education than I was raised to be, and I will similarly raise children who can make educated reproductive decisions based on facts, not politically-influenced information. 

I will be able to tell my kids that I know what it’s like to be in a situation and keep the baby.  Conversely, I know what it’s like to NOT keep the baby. I understand the potential choices and subsequent consequences on both sides.  I was always taught “God wants you to have a baby” but when you go through your 3rd unplanned pregnancy at 23 years old while watching good people around you struggle to get pregnant, it just makes no sense. If God loved me would he want me forced into this position of poverty and stress? Would he want me to be suicidal at the thought of another baby?  Not any God that I know or want to believe in.

I would not be the person I am today without that experience.  I learned so much about myself both during the process and afterwards, and I am that much more grateful for my life now.  I finished my thesis and even went back and pursued another undergraduate degree. I married a wonderful man and had two more beautiful children whom I adore and cherish.  I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without my decision to terminate that pregnancy. 

I want this story to reach other women in this situation, butI also want it to reach pro-life people.  I want to encourage them to do more fact-based research, reach out to women who choose to terminate, and learn why people make the decisions they make. I want the world to know that not every woman regrets her decision to terminate.  On the contrary, some women are completely ok with their decision and even thankful to have had the access to the care they needed.  I’m not pro-abortion; I’m pro-choice. Abortion isn’t always going to be the right choice for everyone, but women should have the right to choose that for themselves. I am overwhelmingly confident that abortion was the right choice for me.

Aurie

As I sat holding and staring at the pregnancy test with those seemingly BOLD, two pink lines; I remember asking myself one very distinct question, “How could I, would I explain?” I was a 30 year old full-time college student, a single-mother of a beautiful soul, and working two jobs. I was exhausted on a daily basis, as is, barely able to make ends meet at times and struggling to find balance as a single parent. I was smarter than this, Right? After all, I was a non-traditional college student with “life experience” under my belt. Old enough to know better! Over the next several days, I tossed questions and statements like these around in my head wondering, “how could I have been so “irresponsible”?” About a week later, I accepted that I had a decision to make about the life that had been created inside of MY body. I replayed those same phrases that rang in my head that day I found out I was pregnant reminding myself that I was a college student working toward my goals, a provider, and most importantly already a Mother. I knew in that moment that, for me, becoming a single mother again was not in the best interest of myself or my child. Mentally, emotionally, and financially I knew I could not manage the responsibilities of being a single mother of two. You could insert judgement here, but there would be no need because I already have judged myself far beyond what you could administer. I asked myself all the questions of morality that one could conjure. Cried when none of the answers soothed the idea of terminating the pregnancy more than the last. Fought with myself about even questioning the existence God’s flawless creation. Screamed out loud to myself knowing that having this child was the wrong decision for me, but the “right thing” to do by the world’s man made standards. On the day of the operation, my anxiety did not ease. I STILL contemplated running out of the doors as I filled out paperwork to pay for this “horrible” act I was about to commit; as I left my best friend in the waiting room and the privacy door shut and locked behind me; as I waited in the private waiting room with other women crying, laughing, then crying again; as I hesitantly answered, “Yes” when the ultrasound technician asked if I’d like to keep the ultrasound pictures; as I sat in the service room for what seemed like a thousand hours listening to every tick of the clock, every voice in neighboring rooms, every single footstep, every nearly drowned out expression of pain and sorrow by the same women that had been in the private waiting room with me; and even as the Doctor and nurse and support aide entered to begin the procedure but I stayed. In the coming months, I questioned MY decision, cried, screamed, slept with the ultrasound pictures under my pillow, became tense at the sight of babies, hugged and kissed my child in desperate attempts to “apologize” for the lack of a sibling; I also knew. I knew that while no law maker, congressman, senator, mayor, judge, father, mother, neighbor, co-worker, cousin or friend could explain why life would present such a painful and definite conflict in decision making neither could they judge that decision. Everyday I live with the Spirit of my unborn child, some of those days I am sad, but I have peace in my decision to terminate my pregnancy. I have peace because I no longer ask myself the question, “How do I explain”? because I know that MY decision is both My Truth and MY Story, not my explanation.

Bekki

One month before my twenty-first birthday, I had my son. Two and a half years later, I had an abortion (I won't go too much into it, but my mental health, my marriage, and my finances were a wreck). It was such a heartbreaking experience that I immediately got on birth control. Six months later, my birth control failed (as it sometimes does) and I ended up pregnant again...and since I was still in the same boat, I hung my head and tearfully went back to the clinic. My (now ex) husband was not supportive of my choice, but he knew he couldn't stop me. A few years later, after a lot of hard work and healing, I planned a pregnancy that grew into my fiery little daughter. And then two years after she arrived, I found myself divorced from the man who STILL to this day constantly complains about the child support he has to pay (the state requires it based on our incomes...I didn't ask him for it) and sometimes I think, "I wonder if he remembers that he could be supporting three children."

To be honest, I didn't consider myself pro-choice until I had my son. Before that, I was completely ignorant to all of the challenges of raising a human being. I was raised "pro-life" Baptist and I parroted every silly myth that had been shoved into my head (you know, women who like/have sex are sluts and women who have an abortion are selfish, irresponsible murdering sluts).

But when I found myself breastfeeding my son for the fifth time in the middle of the night, crying from exhaustion and the chilling desperation that accompanies post-partum depression, wondering how I could keep functioning...I understood. It took me awhile to recover and to even LEARN how to be a mother (I was the youngest of my immediate and extended family for a long time and I had barely even held a baby before I held my own). And to realize that if it took that much for me...even with all of my proverbial ducks in a row (I was married! I had a mortgage! A job!), I knew that having a child wasn't something that just anyone could do.

It's no secret where I work. Y'all wouldn't believe the plethora of reasons women come there. At the end of the day, unplanned pregnancies (and many are using some form of birth control) and sometimes planned pregnancies that go terribly wrong (just look up anencephaly or Trisomy 18) are tragic. Nobody wants to ever have to make that decision, but sometimes reality interferes with our idealism and we have to. That's why we need this right.

I tell all of my patients that having my two children and having my two abortions were the best four decisions I ever made. And I am not ashamed. I am not a murderer. I am a damn decent mother who had to make a really fucking tough choice so that my kid(s) would have me around to care for them.

People who want to take this choice away need to understand one thing very clearly: forcing a woman to be pregnant against her will is violence. And if you're one of those folks that have found yourself referring to children as nothing but a blessing, then turning around and using the same mouth to say that children are punishment for being a normally-functioning sexual human, you need to check your hypocrisy and check it fast.

 

Defunding Planned Parenthood won't reduce abortion and won't save you tax dollars (they'll take all that money and either cram it into a military budget that will kill actual living, breathing children in some country that you've probably went on a mission trip to OR there will be more mothers and children requiring the government social services that are perpetually demonized by the right). Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions than they provide and you are (I know this isn't polite, but I'm just about over being polite) a complete fucking IMBECILE if you think defunding them will actually reduce abortion rates.

You don't have to like it, but you need to understand it. Peace.

Beth

As soon as I told my mother, she told me about all the other women in my family who had had abortions, and then you’re like oh! Okay. So that was another time I thought, why is this something we hide? … Anything I can do to try to reduce stigma and keep women safe I’ll do. It’s important.

I can’t remember how old I was because it was kind of a non-event, but I was about 26, and I found myself pregnant. It was a new relationship and I was fairly inexperienced about relationships. Immediately I knew to call Planned Parenthood. I called so quickly they said I had to wait until it was six weeks for a procedure to be effective. My boyfriend went with me and, as we walked in, this older gentleman was standing on the sidewalk. He came up and actually put his hand on my arm, which was strange, and said, “Honey don’t let him ruin your life.” I didn’t say anything, but I was immediately angry because I thought having a baby right now would ruin my life! I had already been accepted into graduate school in another state. I couldn’t imagine having to stay where I was, in a low paying job, to raise a child with a man who was not going to be a lifetime partner. I don’t know why but I didn’t expect protesters to be there– this was in Boston, which is fairly progressive. It was also a time when you didn’t hear a lot of complaints about Planned Parenthood.

The procedure was completely fine, painless, just an outpatient procedure, nothing complicated about it at all. Afterwards you have a little cramping, and it’s just like having a period, nothing unusual. I did call in sick to work that day. I didn’t think about abortion stigma at the time, but I also don’t think I told my roommate where I was going that day. I know I was embarrassed. You feel like an idiot – people who get pregnant when they don’t mean to must not understand how sex works or how birth control works -- and so you immediately just feel stupid. Educated people aren’t supposed to let this sort of thing happen, so it’s not something you go around advertising.

My boyfriend and I split the cost. It wasn’t very expensive, although as people who had just started working, we didn’t have a lot of money, so I’m incredibly thankful that it was manageable at Planned Parenthood. The other thing I remember, a few days later at work I got a phone call. The people at Planned Parenthood had asked if they call me, should they use a password, and I had agreed to that. I was in the lab, and someone said I had a call and told me the fake name which meant it was Planned Parenthood, and I kind of froze. They were calling to make sure everything was fine, and it was. But I remember feeling how strange it was that I was lying to my co-workers, who were friends, about this secret phone call. It was really odd. Nothing about having the procedure felt shameful to me, but then with that phone call it hit me again that I was hiding all of this.

I did not tell my parents until maybe a year later. As soon as I told my mother, she told me about all the other women in my family who had had abortions, and then you’re like oh! Okay. That was another time I thought, why is this something we hide?

Then you go on with your life, and your life is what you thought it could be. I got to go to graduate school. I have two amazing children now with a husband I love -- we’ve been together forever -- and everything is great. I would not have been able to have this life and provide for my children the way I can now if I had been a mother so young.  I can’t imagine not having access to a safe abortion.

The other thing about my story is that two years later, the clinic in Boston did have somebody come and shoot people. The guy went to two clinics on that street and killed people. At the time the news didn’t affect me much, but what scares me now is I have a daughter. If she ever needed services, clinics are targets, and that’s incredibly frightening to me. Anything I can do to try to reduce stigma and keep women safe I’ll do. It’s important.

Betty

I found the hurtful remarks from a friend and neighbor cut deeper than I ever believed they could.

I had recently divorced, married a second time, and had moved from my hometown in Tennessee with my three children to a US Marine Corps base. My husband was a newly returned Marine officer from a second tour in Vietnam. He had also divorced and had been given custody of his two young children. We lived on the base in officer’s quarters in an elegant old building, which was now a two bedroom, third floor walk-up apartment with steam heat and no air-conditioning. Our bedroom was a glassed-in porch, the five children shared the two large bedrooms.

This background is part of the rationale for deciding that an unplanned pregnancy, which occurred early on in our marriage, was more than our family could manage. In fact, I now believe that the lack of shared responsibility during this crisis was the cause of a downhill spin of over a decade from which this marriage never recovered.

The elation I had always felt during pregnancies with my three children, which were all planned, was instead a feeling of panic, which grew every day. I had never considered choices one might make in pregnancy. Abortion was illegal in all states except in cases of danger to the mother or embryo, as evaluated by a psychiatrist or obstetrician. Furthermore, these exceptions applied only until gestational week 20. I had not come to a decision and needed to talk to a professional counselor about my ambivalence. I expected that my husband would find out what was available under the military health care system or by word of mouth within the Corps scuttlebutt. Meanwhile the weeks were approaching 20 and nothing had been done. Assuming my husband would take care of this, I asked him about it daily. I felt abandoned and scared. It was an emotional crisis for me.

Finally, the urgency became clear to my husband who then gathered all the necessary information. A local psychiatrist saw me for approximately 15 minutes and signed a paper, which I suppose declared that I was a danger to myself or others. I really don’t know. He had no interest in hearing of any ambivalence about the abortion; in fact, he chuckled when I tried to introduce the subject. I recall only the attitude of this office, nothing else.

Later a neighbor, who somehow heard that I’d had an abortion, used her religious upbringing to justify marching upstairs to tell me she would have been happy to raise that precious child that I didn’t want and had killed. That hurtful remark cut deeper than I ever believed it could.

My abortion story essentially ends there. It has three significant parts: the sadness I felt upon not resolving my own feelings about ending the pregnancy coupled with overwhelming anxiety about what was available to do about it, the 15 minutes visit to a psychiatrist whose receptionist loudly announced in his waiting room, “It’s another one of those,” and the shaming visit from my neighbor about my abortion, which I thought it had been completely unknown.

It may come as a surprise that I have absolutely no memory of the abortion itself. I have no memory of my husband finally getting the information we needed, which he did, nor of the trip to the hospital, nor when or where it was. It is all a complete blank and always has been.

My feelings today are still the same about the decision I made almost 50 years ago -- that is was a painful and difficult decision. It was much more painful for me because of the social condemnation of it, having it done in secrecy and without kindness and support from friends and family.  But it was most certainly the right decision for me and my family then and I have absolutely no regrets. And now I’m 80 years old and have a 2 ½ year old great-granddaughter!

Brandi

My name is Brandi, I come from a small little town in Virginia. I was raised like so many other small town girls not really knowing much about sex, other than the actual act of course, we didn’t really discuss birth control and the word abortion was as dirty as the coal dirt that covered everything. I had been told the possibility of children wasn’t likely due to a medical issue when I was younger so I never took birth control seriously or on a regular basis. So many of us grow up in different circumstances and belief systems it’s hard to fathom someone being so ignorant, but I was and so are many others. See, even though it wasn’t discussed at the dinner table or during late night talks so many of us have now with our children, we are curious creatures so as little children we played Dr or the famous truth or dare game, and that was our sex ed. I was a victim of molestation most of my life, since the age before I could even start making memories and I learned to be promiscuous in hopes of finding love one day. I had sex with so many partners by the time I was 15 I lost count. By 16 I was pregnant and I honestly didn’t know who the father was, but I had a boyfriend who was, what I thought, the love of my life and being the ignorant child I was I thought “hey this is perfect I’ll have him forever” so when my own mother asked about my choice I was livid. “I’m a grown woman” I said “I made my bed I’ll lie in it” and I meant every word, at that moment. I don’t regret my choice that day, I love my son who is 20 today but it wasn’t an easy road. I had been honest with my future husband about him not likely being the father but he gave him his name and has always been his father but, that wasn’t the issue. We would fight physically with one another, we was horrible parents to say the least my son has suffered deeply because of the mistakes we’ve made, we turned into alcoholics and would do any drug we could get our hands on. We would split up and get back together, all the rotten things horrible parents do. That baby boy didn’t deserve to have us as his parents but, thankfully we both had decent parents that stepped in and basically raised him for many years. During this time of course I was sleeping around, not being a responsible human being not to mention parent so when I discovered I was once again pregnant and didn’t have a clue who the father was, I had to face that choice again. I would hold my son and think about how screwed up his life was already, I knew I was weak and even though I wanted to change I still knew I wouldn’t. I was deep in the world of drugs, I didn’t love myself, I thought I didn’t love my first son enough to change so I would likely put another child through the same hell. Was I being selfish? Hell yes I was that’s what an addict is best at being. So I told my parents, who were extremely disappointed in me, again, they swore they wouldn’t raise another, I couldn’t blame them because they was getting older and this was my responsibility. My mom was my support though, she understood my decision and helped me through it all. I was 7 weeks pregnant when I made the 9 hour journey to Charlottesville, VA. My mom has anxiety so my dad and uncle drove me, it was the longest and quietest drive of my life. We reached the clinic, my dad slipped me the $500 and left me to walk around the block to the actual center alone, I was 19. I walked past protesters screaming “baby killer” all the propaganda they love to scream but I knew I didn’t want another child to be born only to live like my other son had so I held my head down and walked the walk alone, like so many others. The staff saw my broken soul and welcomed me in with open arms and shoulders to cry on. They gave us all 1 valium to calm ourselves after they explained what was going to happen and gave us all a chance to change our minds. I walked into the room and 2 nurses held my hand and talked me through the procedure, keeping me calm and making me feel like I wasn’t such a piece of trash. My dad picks me up and I sleep the whole way back again it’s very quiet in the car, neither asked how I was they just looked broken hearted at me and I guess they just didn’t know what to say or how to and that’s ok. I arrived home late and laid down for the evening, I tried telling myself I would feel better tomorrow and I did. I knew I made the right choice for my situation, putting another child into that mess was more cruel than ending the pregnancy in my opinion. I needed a follow up appt to make sure everything was ok but I wasn’t able to get that appt because in the small town I was living no Dr. would do follow up abortion care, it was against their policy or whatever excuse they made and I wasn’t able to afford another long trip so I had to cross my fingers and hope I was ok and I was. You see, mine isn’t the only story like this and I’m not special by any meaning of the word but I can say this, drugs hit my small town like so many others and because abortion is so stigmatized in that town many don’t see it as an option. There’s so many children living with grandparents, wondering why their mom or dad doesn’t love them, wondering if they are even alive and many more children whose parents are dead from overdose. Hundreds get thrown into abusive foster homes or sent to live with other relatives who get left to pick up the pieces. My story isn’t only about abortion but the effects of the opioid epidemic as well. Babies are being born with horrific deformities because of addiction and the stigma of abortion. Communities are left with the responsibility of caring for these children and they don’t want these children, they only want you not to abort. We have generations of children that are continuing the cycle, it will never end all because someone wants to tell us that our choices aren’t choices anymore or make it so difficult you have no real choice. They care so much about that child while it’s inside of you, but wash their hands after it’s born and it’s wrong! They aren’t trying to save babies they are trying to keep us in this cycle and control our bodies. I know this is long but if you made it this far just know that no matter what the reason is it’s still your decision. It’s our bodies, we have a right to decide what we do or don’t do with it.

Cassie

I am so thankful for the services that planned parenthood has provided. My pregnancy was unplanned and caught early on 4wk mark. Being a full time college student, worker, and mother of one, I would not have been able to supply the income or the ability to raise two children without being in poverty. Right now I currently do not receive child support so I work doubles to compensate. I chose my abortion so my child can have a better life to be able to go to extracurricular activities and go to the best school. Even with birth control being used pregnancy still can occur. I am one of the 100s that it happened to. I hope Tennessee will allow women to keep their rights to their bodies. I hope I don’t have to drive my own child, my daughter two or three states away if she has to make the same choice I had to make.

Cherisse

When I realized that I would be left to raise a baby alone, I looked in the yellow pages for a place that I could get an abortion because I really did not have any idea of where to go.  The yellow pages said, “Need an abortion? Call us!” I called them.  They made an appointment for me, I came in for my abortion and when I got there…um, I mean it didn’t look like a medical facility, but an hour and a half into the visit, I realized I was not in an abortion clinic. 

Maybe it was the white lady who tried to rationalize with me about why my choice to have an abortion wasn’t a good idea.  Or possibly, it was the black woman that she sent in after she realized that her efforts to try to sway my decision had not worked.  The black woman went into trying to explain to me how she and her husband were considering an abortion because it wasn’t the right time for them.  They chose to go ahead and have the baby and it ended up being a really great idea for them and she thought that was something I should consider.  I explained to her that my baby’s father had already said he would not be there for me. So I didn’t want to bring a baby into this world and raise that child alone.  I know exactly what it is like being raised in a household with a single parent. I know what it’s like to be a child and NEED your father. I did not want a child of mine to not be able to access their father. So…that’s why I was there!  You know?  So I looked at the black woman and said, “Well my baby’s father doesn’t want the baby…and basically, me either, he’s already moved on, I’m ass out, so I need to have an abortion, isn’t this an abortion clinic?!?!?”  Instead of answering me she asked me to watch a video that would help me understand what I was doing. First it was an animation of what an abortion was. Then the animation was more graphic showing a fetus’ head being crushed by the triceps during a D&E.  It was just so traumatic.  I went for an abortion.  I didn’t understand why I had to sit through an hour video.  I didn’t understand why I had to talk to so many people! I was like, “Is this not an abortion clinic?  I can’t get an abortion here?”  They were like, “No…this isn’t a clinic…we can send you to a clinic and they can give you an ultrasound, and tell you how far along you are.”  I knew I was at least 3 months, because I knew when I got pregnant. I was in a play at the time. I was the lead and it was my first big tour. I found out while I was on tour that I had become pregnant.  Bottom line is, I was willing to be a mother, I just didn’t want to raise the baby by myself.  Nobody really wants to talk about what happens to a woman’s decision making when she feels like she’s got to make a decision by herself.  When she doesn’t necessarily have the support that SHE feels like she needs.  I’m not talking about the support of my family, pastor, friends or family. I’m talking about the man who laid down with me, and helped me create the baby.  Nobody really wants to have that conversation. Not the pro-life or pro-choice side of the debate to be quite honest.  But anyway, they sent me to a place to get the ultrasound, and there was a woman that told me that I was about 3 months and that basically if I had an abortion that far along, that my uterus would be perforated and I wouldn’t be able to have another baby.  That’s what a medical provider told me! Am I not supposed to believe the medical provider!? So…I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have an abortion.  But the problem here, the part that must be said, is that none of those people, not the one that told me if I had the abortion, that I was gonna damage my uterus, not the woman who sat her ass in there and told me about her husband…not the white woman who tried to tell me about changing my choice – none of them have been here for me! None of them have been here for my baby! Not when I lost my job, when our lights were cut off, when I was moving over and over again to avoid eviction. Not when my car broke down and I was pushing my baby through the damn Chicago snow to the sitter so I could go work a temp job – nowhere.

They sent me away with a parting gift. It was a little basket that had a rattle…a bib…and a bottle.  I came for an abortion….and I left with a rattle, a bib and bottle.  Hmph.  Thirteen and a half years later and I’m still handling parenthood – ALONE.  The pro-life people, they’re not here….and neither is his daddy…just like he said!  So, now what?

CJ

There was NO question that I was not prepared go through a pregnancy or be a mother.

Holding our first baby boy in 1988 - what a joy it was. A joyful pregnancy too, with friends and family support, and now this little bundle of love. I was a mature 30-year-old, married to my high school sweetheart, a career woman with a Masters Degree in Education and a wonderful, loving husband. We had built our new dream house with a big backyard in an affluent community a few years before. Our daughter was born three years later. We were ready for a family, and it was wonderful. We had life by the tail. Fourteen years earlier though, I had a very different story.

I was an immature 16-year-old girl, a high-school junior, and more interested in the guy I had been dating for a year than in what high school had to offer. It was 1973. I wore huge bell-bottoms with inserts sewed in on the bottom, and I embroidered my boyfriend and my jeans and jean jackets with peace signs, butterflies, and trite sayings, like, “If you love something set it free. If it doesn’t come back, it wasn’t meant to be. If it does, love it forever.” I don’t remember choosing to be a hippy, but I was some kind of flower child. I was more interested in sex, pot, and my boyfriend than anything else in the world. And I was stupid thinking "it" wouldn’t happen to me. I knew if it did though, I wasn’t going to be a teen mom. I just knew I couldn’t be a teen mom. THAT would be disgraceful. I couldn’t live with that.

I was well aware that Roe vs. Wade had passed the year before. It was only a couple months before that I had thought if I ever did get pregnant as a teen that I’d run away to Canada or wherever I had to go to have an abortion. I was just a kid myself.

So, I did get pregnant at 16 years old. I knew by six weeks. There was NO question that I was not prepared go through a pregnancy or be a mother. My boyfriend (now husband) and I borrowed money for a gynecologist appointment. I was seven weeks pregnant. My boyfriend and the doctor asked what I wanted to do. I told them. The doctor gave me the name and phone number of a clinic. I called and after a consultation visit, I had my abortion at nine weeks. I also now had my own doctor and a prescription for birth control pills so it wouldn’t happen again.

For those who haven’t had an abortion, it’s actually a simple procedure. You receive a mild sedative and your cervix is numbed. They insert a tube and turn on a vacuum type machine. The little tube is moved around to suck out the lining.  I was there maybe an hour or two. I had cramps afterwards. I was back to normal the next day with the weight of the world off my shoulders. I could go back to my life and finish high school and grow up.

Did I regret it? Never. Would I do it again at 16 years? Yes. I did not kill a baby but removed the very beginning stage of a pregnancy, and I saved myself as a result. I was immature, stupid, had low self-esteem and wasn’t prepared to take care of another human. I would have ruined my life and probably the one I bore.

More than anything, it’s not someone else’s decision to make; it’s mine. It my body and my decision.

The good news ending is my boyfriend and I went on to marry a few years later.  I got an advanced college education and a rewarding career. When I was 30 years old, we had our son (now 27-year-old) and then had our daughter (now 24 years old). They are also both college-educated, independent, happy people with good careers. We did it our way. Thanks to progressive women for fighting for our right to control our own bodies.

As a side note, I later learned my mother had an abortion after my two older brothers and before I was born. My parents were very broke and with two boys under five years, it seemed a logical choice that they couldn’t afford another child so soon. It was different for her in the 50’s. It was illegal. My mom tells a story of dirty and unsafe abortion. She said women still had them but it often could be deadly. She said she thought she was going to die and was forever marked by the scary decision and procedure. She later had me and then my little brother.

Debra

I guess I’d have to say right out that I was young and stupid.I was sexually active a year before I was pregnant, and I didn’t use birth control because my mother had taught me that using birth control meant that you were promiscuous. I was afraid to ask my parents for birth control and there was no way I could access it without them. I didn’t want to tell them I was sexually active at 14, so I did without, and lo and behold one year later I got pregnant.

So there I was pregnant during the summer of 1970. I panicked, to say the least. There was no way I could afford an abortion and I would need my parents’ permission anyway. I knew immediately that I didn’t want to have a baby. I didn’t like kids and had never even babysat! There was no way I was going to raise a child and I wasn’t the least bit interested in giving it up for adoption.I’ve never believed a child’s soul was present at conception. The idea that somehow there is a soul just because a heart is beating is very foreign to me.

I was terrified to tell my mother I was pregnant because I wasn’t sure how she would react. To my delight when I finally told my mother that I was pregnant the first thing she said was, “You’re not going to keep it are you?” And I said “Oh thank god, she feels the same way I do.” HALLELUJAH!! I was so freaking relieved. I totally underestimated my mother. She supported me when I needed her most. Back then it was incredibly stigmatizing to be pregnant in high school. There was no way you were allowed to go to school pregnant; so a baby would have meant leaving school and delaying or cancelling college.

Amazingly, the abortion law in my state (New York) had just passed in April, and about 6 months after it passed I got my abortion. I consider myself to be incredibly blessed. My family had enough money that I could have gone out of the country for an abortion, but I didn't need to, so I was very fortunate. Traveling for an abortion would have greatly increased the difficulty and I was so glad I could go home after the procedure.

Being pregnant for several months and not knowing what to do was the most traumatic part of the entire experience. I was absolutely terrified. The abortion was the easy part. It was the possibility that I wouldn’t be allowed to have an abortion that appalled me. I was too chicken to do it myself, but I think I was desperate enough to have obtained a back street abortion if it hadn’t been legal. I have never experienced one moment of guilt, shame, or regret about my decision. In 46 years, I’ve never felt anything but gratitude that I was able to have an abortion. I wish women today had the same access to abortion resources that I did.

Of course I got on birth control afterwards and I made darn sure, many years later, that my daughter got on birth control as soon as I knew she was in an extended relationship. She was about 15, and had been in an extended relationship for about 6 months when I said, “It’s time for you to go on birth control, are you ready?” And she said, “Are you serious?” I said “Of course!” She said “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad because we had just been talking about having sex!” At that point, I told her why birth control meant so much to me.

My mom thought birth control was only for married women. You have to remember, the 1960s were a time of great change. It was a shock for my mother to think I might have sex before marriage. Even though my mother was open-minded, her views on sex were not. Married people couldn’t even be shown sleeping in the same bed on TV! When I told my mother about putting my daughter on birth control, she said the same thing that she had told me so many years ago: “Won’t that encourage her to have sex?” That's when we had it out. That discussion happened 39 years after my abortion and I think she finally got it. She finally understood that birth control had nothing to do sexual desire. I was still angry with my mother after all those years, believe it or not. I told my mother that her attitude is what got me pregnant. Her inability to discuss birth control with me rationally is why I got pregnant and I didn't want the same thing to happen to my daughter.

To me, birth control is like a vaccination. It’s no big deal. The anti-choice attitudes about birth control and abortion are totally irrational. Blaming birth control pills for promiscuity is as illogical as blaming sexy clothing for rape. What kind of attitude is that!? People lose all logic and common sense when these discussions come up and it’s beyond my comprehension.

Over the years, I have told some people very close to me that I had an abortion (husbands, best friends),but people have strong opinions, more now than ever. I don’t believe it’s anybody’s business but mine. If I shared, it was because it was important for the relationship. Both of my husbands felt the same way I did. I would never marry a man who did not believe that a woman's body is hers to choose what to do with.

By sharing my story, I hope that women who are thinking of being sexually active, or are sexually active already but not on birth control, will seriously consider getting pregnancy protection. I also hope we can help parents learn to talk with their children about birth control as a legitimate option. I would love it if parents were able to realize that birth control as just an inoculation against pregnancy. I also want women to know that having an abortion does not mean you will experience emotional trauma. The anti-abortion faction is using emotional manipulation, shame, and blame to discourage abortion and making a difficult situation even worse. It can be a difficult choice, but I want everyone to know that just because you have an abortion doesn’t mean it’s going to be emotionallydifficult. There are lots ofpeople just like me who would be far more traumatized by maintaining the pregnancy.In my opinion,raising a child at 15 or giving a child up for adoption would cause more emotional damage than an abortion.

I'm really grateful for the support and resources being developed for women whose choices are being threatened by the anti-abortion folks. I had an incredible mom who had the resources to help me, but not everyone has that support. Women need our support more than ever so they can exercise their right to choose what will happen with their bodies.   

Denny

This is Denny’s actual  testimony at a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing held on May 22, 1979.

Mr. Chairman, committee members, I am Denny and have here with me my wife Donna, and a doctor of the U.S. Medical Corps, who is here to provide the answers to any technical questions you may have to ask when I have completed the testimony. It will take approximately 8 to 10 minutes, sir.

I have come before you today to present to you the problems that I and my family have encountered and the terrible tragedy that we have had to endure due to the wording of the law concerning the use of Federal funds for abortions.

I am in the Navy and have been for the past 5 years. We have a little girl named Betty Jo who is 3 years old. Because I am in the Navy, my family receives all their medical needs from them, but we have been restricted in the type of medical services we receive because of the wording in the law that affects funding of military medicine.

Let me make it clear, I am not a pro-abortionist, but neither am I an anti-abortionist. I believe that each case should be judged on its own merits. The best way that I have to show you that belief is to let you know what my family and I have been through.

I cannot give you a fancy speech, because I am just a simple man who is trying to do a job and provide a living for my family. All I can do is tell you what has happened to us, and pray you will understand, and try to do something so that we or anyone else will not have to go through the same type of ordeal again.

In April of 1978, my wife became pregnant with our second child. We had planned on having another one, so we were both very happy and pleased when she found out, for we both wanted this child very much. But our want and desires for this child was nothing compared to our daughter’s want. She had been asking us for months to give her either a baby brother or sister. And she was overjoyed to hear that her wishes and prayers were finally going to be answered. So we were all very happy and things were going good for us, for a while. My wife was receiving her prenatal care from the Naval Regional Medical Center Portsmouth. She was doing what the doctors told her and was taking care of herself. Then the doctors began to suspect that there was something the matter with the baby, because my wife was not as big as she should be.

The doctors began to run tests on my wife to determine exactly what was wrong. The tests that they ran were 1) ultrasounds, 2) fetalgrams, 3) amniocentesis, 4) x-rays, just to name a few. All of the tests pointed to the same thing, that the baby was an anencephalic. Anencephalic is where the baby effectively has no brain and often has no skull, spine, or head, and the baby would die either during birth or shortly thereafter. The tests were not conclusive at first, so they were run time and time again to give the doctors enough information for a diagnosis.

The doctors were finally able to obtain a conclusive diagnosis after several  months of testing, and their findings were the same as what the tests had pointed to all along, the baby was an anencephalic.

Upon receiving this news, and knowing that there was nothing anyone could do to save the baby, my wife and I were extremely shaken up. We had known the possibility of an anencephalic child, so we had grudgingly sat down and discussed what we should do if the baby was in fact anencephalic. It was a very hard decision, but we asked the doctors to terminate the pregnancy, because of the tremendous strain that it would have on all of us, me, my wife, and our little girl, if my wife were to carry the baby to full term knowing the entire time that it would die. The doctors told us that they would have to send the request to the Surgeon General of the Navy for his approval. His reply, needless to say, was “No, because it was not covered under the Defense Appropriation Bill” which was signed by the President.

After this reply we were terribly shaken. We were being forced to carry a child which we knew would die and no one was able to help us. Upon receiving the “No” reply from the Surgeon General, I sat down and wrote a letter to Senator Talmadge asking for his help and he replied, after checking the matter with the Department of Defense, “I am sorry but it is not covered in the law and at this point there is nothing I can do to help you.”

I wrote to the Surgeon General himself, asking and demanding to know why we were turned down in our request. I received a reply from his special assistant JAGC lawyer, stating that the Surgeon General had no other alternative because of the restrictive wording of the law concerning the use of Federal funds for abortions. I also wrote to the President begging and pleading for his help. I received a reply to his letter from Assistant Secretary Vernon McKenzie, and his reply was the same as all the others, “I am sorry for your situation but there is nothing that I can do to help you.”

I tried to take my wife to a civilian doctor, but because I am not paid an exorbitant amount, and I do not have any medical insurance, since I am in the military my family’s needs are supposed to be covered, I did not have the funds to take her. The cost estimates that I was able to obtain were in the area of $2,500 to $5,000 not counting any complications which would have added even more to the cost. I could not use CHAMPUS because that, too, involved the use of Federal money, and we could receive no help from Navy relief because I could not get a doctor to quote an exact amount of money that it would cost for the termination of my wife’s pregnancy. Having this type of situation thrust upon you where you could not receive any type of medical help could force me and others like me out of the military service.

Do any of you have any idea as to the pain and hell that a pregnant mother goes through when she feels her child move and kick inside her and knowing all the time that there is no hope for her child and that child will die? Let me tell you, I have seen that pain on my wife’s face and seen that pain almost kill her. And I pray that no other woman in the world has to go through it. Especially another military wife or mother, for with the way the words of the law read now, the government which employs her husband or herself will not stand behind her and help her and she will be forced to carry her baby, the way we were, knowing the entire time that all the pains and tests that she has endured, and will endure, have all been for nothing, for her child will die anyway.

This disease strikes every 2 out of 1,000 babies and the chances of it happening to us again are now 1 in 20, which are not very good odds. With the wording of the law as it reads now, how can we possibly try to have another child knowing that if the next one is anencephalic that we will be forced to carry it to full term, again knowing the baby will die, simply because the government will not allow money for military doctors to take the baby in a case like this.

In the law it says that if a woman gets pregnant because of rape or incest then she has a right to an abortion. But that child has a chance to live outside the mother’s womb, where our child, who did not have that chance, had to be born into this world just to die. How much more of a mental strain can a woman who was raped carrying a child which she does not want have as compared to a woman who does want her child and knows that no matter what happens that nothing in the world can save her baby and she is forced to carry her baby with this fact in mind, that her baby will die.

On December 22, 1978, our daughter Patricia was born and died, and she was, as the doctors said she would be, an anencephalic. I cannot describe to you what I saw when I went to her side after her death. Let me just say, Patricia was my daughter, and I love her very much, I did then, I do now, and I always will, but seeing her there with a perfectly formed face, but no brain was a very grotesque and terrifying sight.

The autopsy report showed afterwards that not only did she not have a brain, skull, or spine, but that her pelvis was separated into two separate pieces, she had bad kidneys, and some of her other organs were not completely formed, so you see she never even had the slightest chance for survival. But even if the rest of her was normal, how can someone with no brain live? It is a strange thing that a child who has a chance to live outside the womb of the mother can be scraped away with Federal funds, but one poor deformed child with no chance of life (whose dad is in the military just trying to do his job) has to fight and suffer just to come into this world just to die. Why do you appropriate a huge amount of money, to get modern medical technology to the outstanding point it is today, if the results of those technological advances are not used? And why spend money doing all those tests on pregnant women when nothing will be done in the end, and the same woman must suffer through all these tests with the knowledge that even if her child will die nothing will be done to help her.

I feel that my family has been prejudiced against simply because I am in the Navy and my money comes from the government, and it is a shame that some of our leaders apparently do not care about us little people at the bottom, who are dedicated to the defense of this country. Furthermore, how can they ask me to leave my family, to go out and put my life on the line for the defense of this country and to depend on me to do my job right, when I cannot even depend on them to make and pass the right laws to protect my family.

The circumstances surrounding the birth and death of our daughter have left an almost unbearable amount of stress and strain upon my wife and I had to seek out psychiatric help and ask for help from a  marriage counselor, to see if they can help us get our lives and our marriage back together again. I have also asked the Navy for and had approved a request for shore duty due to humanitarian reasons, because of what we have been through since we found out that our baby was anencephalic, and that the Navy could not help us through Patricia’s birth and death.

Also because of the way the law reads and the suffering we have been through, we have both decided not to pursue the possibility of another child. So you see not only has this affected me and my family, it has also interfered with my job for the Navy, because I am so concerned with my family’s well-being that I cannot concentrate on my job in the Navy to the extent I should or would like to.

Mr. Chairman and committee members, I realize that it was not the actions of this subcommittee that put the anti-abortion language in to the fiscal year 1978 defense appropriations bill, and I realize that it is not clear at this point whether similar language will be included in the fiscal year 1980 bill. However, I feel that it is with you that I must begin to make people understand that this is a situation that cannot be covered so simply as, “Yes, it is okay,” or “No, it is definitely wrong.” I am not here to change every mind on the issue of abortions, for it is a far too complicated matter. It is itself a very touchy issue that brings forward much emotionalism. I would say that rules governing abortions should be tight, but not so tight as to prevent the Department of Defense medical authorities from helping those people who find their lives suddenly completely disrupted and torn up because of the unfortunate circumstances of a pregnancy that will end in the death of the child because of extensive birth defects, especially when that child was desperately wanted by both of its parents and the family.

It is in this light that I genuinely beg you to review your conscience and feelings, and try to place yourselves in our place and ask yourselves what you would have done in our position. I beg of you to convince your colleagues that in the issue of abortions if there are exemptions allowed then certainly there should be language that would protect families such as mine.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to present my case to you and the other members of this subcommittee.

Desiree

The condom failed. I feel like so many people may end up in this situation because they did something that was being irresponsible. But for us, I can say, September 25th, 1993, the condom broke. And by October 15th, 1993 I was having an abortion. [When I found out I was pregnant] I was horrified. The person who I got pregnant with and I were no longer a couple. I was a freshman in college and just starting my life. So, obviously having a baby was nowhere in that picture. Even though I was totally shocked, I knew immediately what I was going to do. I didn’t have to second guess myself. I went on to finish college. My mother decided to get married instead of pursing college, and it’s something she always regretted. And so it’s something I promised myself I wouldn’t do.

I didn’t tell my mom about it. She found out many months after the fact, because I did hang onto my paperwork after I had the abortion, and she found it. She was not angry with me. But she was not necessarily thrilled about my decision to go it alone. I just didn’t want to have the conversation, because I was so afraid that she would try to talk me out of it. I think that when she understood that for me it was quite well thought through, she was like, well, I understand.

It wasn’t stigma. But what would have changed, what would have made it okay for me to tell her? I guess, at the time, and I don’t know how things are in schools now—I’m pretty curious—but abortion wasn’t a conversation that happened in sex ed classrooms in high schools. Abortion, still, then—now, was something that you didn’t talk about as a health option. And, sex itself was not a conversation that we had in my family.

I did tell my boyfriend, although we were broken up. He went with me, we split the cost. It wasn’t as prohibitive as it is today….He took me. He was super nice about. We’re still best friends because we didn’t have a family together. His dad performed my marriage ceremony to my husband!

[The procedure itself] was a little scary, but that’s mostly because I’d never had a surgery of any kind before. It wasn’t because I felt like, ‘Oh I’m killing my baby.’ It was, ‘I’m about to walk into this room, and I don’t know what to expect.’ It was quick and it was painless, and the people who performed the procedure were super kind and very patient, and explained the whole thing. Honestly, we had to be in and out within in an hour. I don’t recall the actual procedure being an overly emotional event.

I feel like today, if I had to go through what they want women to go through today, and it was the first time and I was the age that I was, I might chicken out. But probably not, because good god. To me, what the result could have been, is literally unimaginable. There was just no way that I was having that baby. So, had I ended up being a coat hanger girl, I would have been a coat hanger girl. There was not an option in my mind saying, yeah, I’m going to go for this. Just no.

People ask me that sometimes, ‘Well, what did you think?’And all I can really say is, I never intended myself to be a mom, in my life. It’s not who I am. I’m a stepmom now, and that’s wonderful. But I have zero interest in birthing babies.

I always felt really open talking about my abortion. Because I’m open, when I start talking about it, people feel really free to ask me questions about my experience and to share their own feelings about what has happened to them and their experience. I think one of most important things is that we can talk about our personal experiences openly whatever they happen to be. I know people who have miscarried and they carried that around like guilt. But because I say that’s terrible, and I tell them that I made a choice, then the floodgates will open, simply because I’m able to be open about my own experience.

At the end of the day, there are also women who have not been able to conceive and they are very angry about what I’ve done. They’re very angry about the fact that I’m a woman who has chosen to never have children, even though I can. But I don’t feel like my choices mean that I’m a worse person. Or that their inability makes them less of woman. Or that my lack of desire to be a parent, makes me less of a woman. There’s so much expectation that we be someone else’s definition of normal.

I think what I wish someone would have said to me is, ‘Don’t be afraid. You’re not alone.’ I felt isolated and emotional for a few weeks after. Because I had just started college, and all the friends I had had four months earlier went way to school. I felt isolated but not because I was having doubts about my decision, but because you just put your body through this hormonal experience of being pregnant and then not being pregnant. You know that whole PMS thing where you lose your mind for a week? That’s going to happen for a few weeks. But not because you had an abortion. But because your female hormones are going wacko. [I wish someone had said] that in the six weeks immediately following having it done, go see a therapist. Because even though it’s a smart choice, the internal monologue of everyone else’s voice, inside…I just have this memory of other peoples’ voices inside my head, judging me. Even though I knew that I did what was right for me, I needed to talk about it. And I needed somebody to tell me that it was okay. Because I didn’t have my mother to turn to, because I didn’t really share it with any of my friends, because no one was doing that. I went through this by myself. And while I know myself to be a really strong person, it would have helped to just talk to someone about it. And someone whose business it was not to judge me, but to listen to me. People are going to need to talk to someone about their experience. Because even though it was the best decision I ever made, and the easiest decision I ever made, the experience itself is so fraught with other peoples’ opinions.

Sometimes the judgment that I cast on myself, or the judgment that I worry about the most, is that other people will hear my story and think that because of what I chose, that I’m a person who can’t love. And that isn’t true. I’m able to be a more open and loving person to the people in my life because I made a choice not to do something that I wasn’t ready for. I know that I’m not a unique person. There’s a weird tendency for people to automatically assume that nobody else has ever felt this way, nobody else has ever gone through this. And it’s simply not true. For everything that you’ve gone through or experienced, there are other people out there who can say, ‘Me, too.’ So when [the Tennessee Stories Project] said to me, ‘Do you want to tell your story?’ My first thought was, ‘Me, too.’

Dorothy

I am a self-employed insurance agent and have had this business for the last 15 years. I have a 26-year-old son who graduated from Union University 5 years ago in Biblical Languages. He’s the only one out of 5 grandchildren who graduated from college. I’m a fiscally and socially conservative Christian with strong beliefs that people are in charge of and responsible for their own lives. One of the reasons I have conservative values is because I know what it is like to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps to survive and hopefully, by the grace of God, come out happy and grateful in the end.

I lived in an orphanage for the first 7 years of my life. I’m the youngest of 5 children whose mother could not care for us all. My arms were broken twice before the age of two and I have no memory of how it happened. I grew up feeling like I wasn’t wanted.  We all eventually made it back to our mother, but that wasn’t the best family situation either.  I won’t go into that, so just believe me.

I was 28 years old when I had my son. I made a bad decision on a marriage, so I became a single mom without child support. I made a smidgen more money than what would qualify me for any kind of public assistance.  I paid for quality childcare by the skin of my teeth and paid for private school because I wanted to get the best education in the city for my child. I owed it to him to give him the best I could. 

Fast-forward 10 years, I was dating a man that I loved very much and had known for 17 years. When I told him I was pregnant, He reacted by saying “You women!” So I shooed

him off the bed. He had recently found out he’d gotten another woman pregnant before we were in a relationship. We talked about it and whether we were ready to have a child together. We decided that could have another child later on when it was a better time. The stress of his previous relationship was too much on ours and sadly, we broke up. I was heartbroken.

I thought about adoption, but I didn’t want to talk to my son about giving away his brother or sister. With my abusive upbringing, I knew that children don’t deserve to go through being with parents that don’t want them. I could not do that to any child. Not to anyone I brought into the world! I miss the child I could have had, but a part of me is grateful that I never brought it into that situation. I could not have brought a child into this world and taken care of two children by myself. Who knows what the stress of that would have been on my son? He thanked me recently when I told him about my abortion. He understood that I was protecting him and was grateful that I had not told him until he was grown.

My abortion was an act of love for the child I chose not to have and for the one I had already brought into this world. Abortion was a way to break the cycle of poverty and abuse for my family. 

Ebony

I don’t think it has to be a scary experience for everybody. I think everyone has their own individual story.

When I had my abortion, I was 22. It happened out of the blue. I was late, but I wasn’t stressed out about it. In fact, in a previous relationship I thought I was pregnant because I went a whole month without having a period. I went to get a blood test and found out that I wasn’t pregnant, but that stress could really push back your period. So, I woke up one morning and thought that was what it was again. I thought, “Let me just go get a pregnancy test so it can be negative and then I can stop stressing about it. Then it’ll just start.” I went to the grocery store around the corner and bought a pregnancy test. I went home, took the test, and saw that it said positive. I looked at it and thought something must have been wrong. But I was like, no, that’s definitely a plus sign.

So I immediately called my OB/GYN, who was a family friend of ours. The first thing I said was, “Hey, I took a test.” And she said, “It’s positive, isn’t it?” I said, “It is, it definitely is.” And she told me, “Go to Planned Parenthood, walk in there and they’ll take care of you, you can get everything taken care of.”

And that’s what I did. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth for the day. I literally was in pajamas, I looked probably the most a mess I could ever imagine myself looking. I went to Planned Parenthood first, but they hadn’t opened yet. So, one of my friends worked at Pinewood Social here in Nashville and they open at like 6 a.m. and she worked the morning shift. I went in there to her, sat by myself, and asked her to pour me a drink because I was pregnant and was about to have an abortion.

I actually had to work that day. So, I called my boss, who is also someone that I developed a friendship with and asked her, “Hey, this is the situation, I can’t come in, just please kindly don’t mention this to anyone right now.” And she didn’t. One of our other coworkers who we were friends with covered my shift and everything was fine.

And so, after I had my drink at Pinewood, I went into Planned Parenthood. I went in, and went through the entire process. Towards the end of the appointment, I did the pill. So I did the at-home abortion. But what I think is interesting about my story is that for me having it wasn’t traumatic at all. I felt almost nothing.

To me, the hardest part of my abortion story was the guy that got me pregnant. When I realized I was pregnant, I knew he was the last person I had sex with. And the last time I had sex, I knew he knew he did this. He knew he did this. Because I thought he possibly did it, but normally whenever we’ve had slip ups, he always notified me, and gotten the morning after pill…but he didn’t say that this time. Once I thought about it, I realized that he knew what he did and just did not say anything to me. In fact, one of the reasons I was so adamant about it was because I always knew that I would have an abortion. I think for me, the reason why it was not very hard of a decision to make, and I didn’t have to think about it, and I wasn’t sad, was because this particular guy was a piece of shit. So much so that he lied to me about having a child for a year. So, as you can image, not that hard of a decision to have an abortion.

But, I also felt like he needed to know. One, because I felt like he needed to help pay for it. When I told him that day, he answered my first text, and then I told him that I needed him to call me. I was like, “I need you to call me, I don’t want to talk about this over text. We have to talk about this through the phone.” And he wouldn’t do it. Another friend of mine, who I was also texting at the same time, she said you need to just tell him. So, I did. I did not hear back from him for the entire day. For the entire day. It was my good friend, the one who I went to go see at work, who helped me pay for the abortion off the bat. I did not have the full $450 it cost at the time to have the abortion done. So, she met me in the nick of time, right before I had to make that payment, and gave me the remaining cash. Then waited there with me. I think I was there, I think the entire process of being there was at least like…I got there pretty early…so I think they open at like 8 or 9…I don’t think I left there until 2 or 3 o’clock.

I was very much bothered by the fact that I hadn’t heard back from him. It felt like a very huge sense of abandonment, you know what I mean? Someone not helping you through this. Despite what it is that I might be to him. It’s like, be a man. Be responsible. Take care of this. But I was very thankful to have my friend there with me, and she was so much there with me that the next day, when I had to do the at-home miscarriage, she let me stay at her house and her other roommate took care of me through the entire process. I was there all day. Which I was very grateful and thankful for. I will never, ever forget about that. That’s such a big thing, to be there for somebody through that experience. You never forget something like that.

So, for me, that’s pretty much my story when it comes down to what happened. I never told my parents. I still haven’t told my parents. Which is something that I probably will do. I’m now 25, I feel like I’m old enough to where I don’t feel the need to lie about something like that. Especially when it comes to, not just what’s going on in this country at this point in time, but also just the things that I’m involved in and the views that I have. That’s the type of information you have to divulge in order to gain some credibility when talking about such a serious topic. So, it is probably something that I will tell them, but it’s never something that I’ve been ashamed of.

I think that the hardest thing for me was not having that particular guy take responsibility. That was incredibly hard. Especially because I spoke to him later on that day after the abortion happened, and of course he had some excuse as to why he didn’t text back. Then he said he would help out and be there the next day and completely was not, completely bailed. That’s such a vital part of my story because it drives home the point about why I was so adamant about getting it.

And even sitting in that room at Planned Parenthood with some of these girls waiting to get that first initial pill to start the process, some of the girls were talking about how they were there, and why they were there. I was so desensitized and so not bothered by my decision that I asked how and why everybody ended up here. At first it was like, complete silence. I realized how uncomfortable people may have been, or maybe how difficult this process was for some people, more so than it was for me. But hearing all the different reasons as to why people were there, it wasn’t just about…for example, there was a woman there who was in her forties and was just like, “I have too many kids. I have too many kids. I don’t want another one.” And then hearing some of the girls talk about the process of it. For me, it wasn’t painful. Some girls said the at-home abortion was very painful. It was like cramps times ten, which I have absolutely horrible cramps so I’m thinking it’s going to be incredibly painful and it wasn’t really at all for me. But, I also think that’s because of how early I was. I couldn’t have been more than three weeks pregnant, honestly.

For me, it was a pretty painless experience besides the way in which I think I was neglected. That was really the hardest part. But I don’t regret my decision at all. That’s not someone I would want in my life, and I wouldn’t want to bring a child into this life with that person being the father, and him always being in my life. I don’t think I would want to have offspring with that person.

For me, my decision was very, very easy. I think it would have definitely been a little bit more emotional had it been with someone else, a couple of other guys I’ve been with in the past. Because I know they probably would have been a good father, but I just didn’t want to have the child. I still don’t want to have kids until I’m like thirty-something years old. If it happens again, you know, it is what it is. I know some people might sit here and say, “Well, were you using protection?” No, I was not using protection. Was I on birth control? No, I was not on birth control. Some people might say that’s incredibly irresponsible, and maybe so, but shit happens. That’s not an excuse, I’m just saying that shit happens and for me it just wasn’t a scary experience. I don’t think it has to be a scary experience for everybody. I think everyone has their own individual story.

I am so incredibly thankful that I had the resources and the access to Planned Parenthood so that I could do that, that day. I can’t really imagine today having the abortion and waiting 48 hours. I didn’t have to do that then. I got it done right then, that day, and I moved on with my life the next day. That’s exactly how I feel like, if that’s how somebody wants to do it, then that’s how they should have the right to do it. They should definitely be able to do it like that.

To this day, like I said, I’m very open about my experience. I’m open about it because I feel like there’s no need to hide it. But I also feel like, in a way it helps people better understand me and why I’m so hardcore as far as being pro-choice. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. I don’t think it’s a big deal. And I don’t think I would feel the need to share it if it wasn’t under such an attack. I don’t think I would feel the need to sit here and say, “Hey, I did this, it’s okay, I’m fine, I turned out fine.” If you didn’t have people who were so adamant about how bad of thing it is, or how negative of thing it is, or how maybe destructive of an act or practice that it is. I don’t think I would feel the need to disclose all of this information if people didn’t give a reason that I have to defend it. I think that’s what it comes down to, for me, which is why I think I am so vocal about it and not scared to share it. I feel like if you’re willing to judge me, then in my opinion, I think that’s very narrow minded. If you can’t really understand what it’s like, if you’re someone who I feel like if you say you would never do that…you know props to you to have that much confidence. I don’t have that much confidence in myself right now to raise a child. And I don’t think I could let someone else raise it.

We’re all different people. I think we forget that. We’re all very different people, we’re individuals, our brains work differently. The chemicals in our brains react differently. Our bodies are different. Therefore, we’re going to have different decisions. And I don’t think that you can run a country or make policies in a way where you think that people are all the same.

I want anyone who is against abortion to hear my story. I want anyone who can’t decide. My story is really not for the people who are already pro-choice. My story is for the people who can just really not decide, or are against it. I’m someone who will welcome discussion of that opposing opinion than someone who agrees with me, because I feel like the opposing opinion opens more of a space for both parties to learn, to grow and to develop. And for me, to do this is to show people who might be against it or also don’t understand it another perspective. And to just take a second, and think about the other side of the equation.

Elaine

I’ll just always remember that woman and how she died. We should all remember her.

In 1979, I was in my last semester of college and was graduating with a BS in nursing. I’d been dating a guy for almost a year, a really kind man, when my birth control failed, and I got pregnant. It was ironic because about 6 months earlier, my boyfriend had finished chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Disease, and the doctors had told him they didn’t know what that would do to his fertility or to the integrity of his sperm, meaning that there could be some chromosomal irregularities. That didn’t have very much to do with my decision to end the pregnancy, although it was a consideration. But neither he nor I were ready to have a family and we also knew we didn’t want to have a family together. Our relationship was one in which we cared deeply about each other, but it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And sadly, several years later, he did succumb to his cancer and he passed away.

As I said, he was a very kind man and supported me whole-heartedly in the decision. I remember him holding my hand the day that we went to get the abortion, and I knew it was the right thing to do. I went to a very good clinic where I’d actually worked previously when I was 19, and they were as professional and kind as you can imagine somebody could be. I got really good care and never regretted the decision. It was my decision to make. I think that choice lies within every single woman. It’s not the government’s decision to make, it’s not the government’s story to tell, it’s my story to tell.

The only time I ever felt guilty about it was when I’d hear some women -- like a particular acquaintance of mine who was having fertility problems -- who would say: if all these girls would quit having abortions, I could have a baby. Certainly I didn’t say anything to her because -- you just don’t. But I remember thinking: I would never tell a woman to carry a pregnancy to term just so I could have a baby. I mean, that seems wrong. We are surrounded by people who say it’s wrong or whatever, but it’s our story to tell. It’s my story to live through. And 10 years later, when I would tour my sleeping children at night, I knew that I would never have had them if I hadn’t had made that decision. That decision gave me my family, and so now I’m proud of that decision.

As I said, I had worked in that clinic when it was just opening. I was a telephone counselor and I remember setting the chairs up and taking the first calls, and I remember them hiring the first nurses who were all really caring people. And I remember how excited everybody was to be able to offer this service to the women in our community.

The first patient that we had was either 12 years old or 13 years old. She had downs syndrome and her family did not know how she got pregnant which meant, obviously, it was some sort of rape. The nurses were concerned about her mental health and how we could best take care of her. Somebody knew some counselors who dealt in puppet therapy, so our very first patient was counseled with puppets. And they did seem to get out of her the aggression that had happened and who had raped her, but I was really struck by the kindness and compassion that we gave that young child. And then oddly enough the second patient was 52 or 53 who found herself pregnant. She was in the cusp of menopause and had grown children but, besides that, she was also a diabetic so she certainly had a lot of health reasons to terminate the pregnancy. She felt very guilty, never expecting to find herself in that situation, but she certainly didn’t feel like she could bring this pregnancy to term. I thought everybody did a good job of counseling her and I remember a week later she came back with a cake for everybody. She felt like we understood and helped her through a very difficult time. I just knew this clinic was one of the best things that had happened to the community. We had several women who came and talked to us about a known back-alley abortionist. We called it “back-alley,” even though he was a doctor and gave good care, but it was illegal, and it was in his home.  And to go from there to this spanking new clinic I felt like, yeah, we’ve come a long way.

That became even clearer after my mom told me her own story. It happened in the late 1940’s when she was working as a secretary in New Jersey. There was a young Black woman who worked in the secretary pool with her, and this woman was beyond excited to have that job. She and my mom became fast friends. Their boss was a misogynistic man who would try to flirt with them, but they just thought that was as part and parcel of what you have to put up with. But then one day the boss asked this one particular secretary to stay after work and then he raped her. She got pregnant and was beyond grief-stricken. Her family was so proud of her. She was the one in her whole family making the most money and she didn’t know what she was going to do. She told my mom that some women in her neighborhood had told her where she could go to get an abortion. Mom asked her, do you think it’s safe? And she said, I don’t even think that matters now.

Then one Monday morning, she didn’t come in for work and they were worried about her, and so my mom got her address and went over there after work. Her mother answered the door and said she had died that Sunday night. She had had the abortion and they took her to the hospital but she had just lost so much blood she died. My mom always felt guilty, thinking about what could she have done to save her friend, but I’m really proud of my mom because she quit that job that week. torBecause of that, she told me she’d never vote for a president that wasn’t pro-choice–and this was a big deal –even if it canceled out my dad’s vote. I’ll just always remember that woman and how she died. We should all remember her.

Elizabeth

It happened in 2014. This was my third abortion, and the most traumatic one. I went to Planned Parenthood in Nashville. This is where I'd gone the other two times. I trust them. I thought it was going to be routine, but it turned out to not be routine at all. The other two, I just took the pills and they were perfectly okay. This was the time it didn't work out. They give you the statistic that 1 out of 1,000 will have complications and I turned out to be that one in a thousand. It just wasn't coming out like it was supposed to. So I called Planned Parenthood and they prescribed me a kind of medicine that was supposed to move the process along. That didn't work either, so they said, "You need to go to the emergency room."

I went to the emergency room at the hospital in the small, rural town where I live. The moment I said why I was there, their attitude changed completely. I knew that could happen, but I guess you just don't think that's going to happen to you. I could see the disgust on their faces, that I had made this decision. They may have never dealt with a woman who'd had an abortion before. It's a small Christian town in the south. I may have been the first. It wasn't really their words, it was their actions that resounded in my mind. The lady at the front desk was standoffish once she found out. After they called me back and put me in a room, the nurse was flat out rude. I could very much tell that she did not agree with the choice that I'd made. She knew nothing about abortion. She knew nothing about the pill in the first trimester. She knew nothing about DNCs. Thank goodness Planned Parenthood gives you packets you can hand to other practitioners to let them know what procedure you had. So I handed it to her and she just looked at it with this dumbfounded face. It's like she'd never experienced this before.

She walked out of the room. I waited an hour before the doctor would even come in. He was flat out ignoring me and my mom was wanting to rip his head off by the end. It wasn't busy. It was three in the morning. We could hear him talking outside at the nurses station. My mom had to go out and find him and make him come in and see me. He also acted like he had no idea, like he'd never been trained in abortion. He knew nothing about symptoms or complications that could come from this procedure. He just stood there and read over the packet. If someone comes in complaining about abortion issues, the first thing I would do is check their pelvis or their vagina. He never once looked at me or touched me, he never did an exam. He never took my pulse or checked my breathing. In the end, his diagnosis was that I probably had a viral infection.

I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew where it was coming from. So when he said that, I thought, "I don't think that's what this is. I don't have a virus. I had an abortion and I'm having some adverse reactions to that." With any procedure there's going to be something like that in certain cases. He didn't agree. He kept saying it's a viral thing, prescribed me an antibiotic and sent me home.

I went home and laid in my bed for three days, bleeding. I couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom and had to use Depends. I was so physically exhausted and had no energy. My mom was having to clean me.  The doctor had told me, "You'll be better in a few days, just take these antibiotics." By the third day my mom said, "We've got to go somewhere, you're not getting any better." I told her, "I can't even get to the the bathroom from my bed, much less the car outside." So we called an ambulance.

They took me back to the same hospital. Thank god it was during the day, and it was a different doctor. It was starkly different, the way the people in the day treated me compared to the people at night. I was so white because I'd lost so much blood. They were very scared when they saw me, so they were very kind to me, very considerate. It was women. The nurse practitioner and head nurse wrapped me in love. They took care of me and told me it was going to be okay. They had an ambulance zoom me over to a bigger hospital 30 miles away. When I got there, they were all really nice, too. They said they'd never seen anyone who'd  lost that much blood and was still alive. It was bad. I'd lost three pints of blood. They had to give me a blood transfusion for two days. Then I had to have the DNC to have it all taken out. It was a long experience. But the doctor who performed it was great. She turned that experience around for me.

The prejudice I'd experienced at the other hospital almost killed me. This is why I'm so avidly pro-choice, because of attitudes like that. You would let someone die, all because they made a choice that you don't agree with?

When I'd first found out I was pregnant, I thought, "I think I'm gonna keep it." Because I'd had the two before. But as it went on I thought, "No, this is not what I want." I never argued with myself over what I should do. This was just the obvious choice. I'm not going to carry it to term. I don't want to have children. I was 25. I have thousands and thousands of dollars in school loans. I'm helping my mom and my nieces financially. It just wasn't financially the time for me and I don't think it ever will be.

I was 21 when I had my first one and 23 when I had my second one. I just think it's a choice and it's one we should be able to exercise. I never really questioned it. When I was younger, I felt a little regret about what could have been. Not anymore. I just don't. It was my decision and I don't regret it. I would do it again. I don't want to do it again, but I would if it came down to it. 

My dad has been in and out of my life for my whole life - coming in for a couple years, leaving for a couple years. Before my last abortion, he'd been in my life. But once I used my insurance to help cover some of the medical costs (which he could see on the insurance forms), he stopped talking to me and I haven't heard from him since. So I know how he feels about it! I'm actually kinda glad. You may be a bigot, you may not agree with "pro-choice", but at least you're not in my life.

My mom was there for all three abortions. I was really nervous to tell her the first time. I didn't know how she'd react, because we're southern and Baptist and we don't talk about these kinds of things. I called her when I was having the first one and she could just tell something was going on, just in my voice. I told her and she said, "I'll be there," and drove two hours to be with me (I was living in Murfreesboro then). She stayed the whole time, all three times. She's a great support system.

The whole situation I went through last time still pisses me off quite a bit. I should have sued the hospital. I think I would have been able to win. That's my biggest regret - not the abortion, not in the slightest. Making them pay for their actions, their bigotry. I don't want another woman to have to go through that. But she probably will, and that's unfortunate.

Elizabeth L.

I had my abortion in December of 2014. I found out I was pregnant just after the November election in which Amendment 1 passed (a ballot initiative that allows the legislature to restrict abortion rights in Tennessee). In May I had moved to Nashville from New York City, where I had seen Planned Parenthood health centers protested.An even more divisive reproductive rights debate was taking place in my new state.

My politics were already opposed to Amendment 1. After learning I was pregnant, I felt personal anger when I saw bumper stickers or signs opposing abortion rights, knowing that voters and legislators in this state would restrict women’s rights – my rights – to the procedure I was choosing to have.

I got pregnant accidentally.I had been on birth controlfor the better part of 8-10 years; it was a great option for me when I was younger. But several years ago I decided I didn’t want to modify my body with hormones anymore. Artificial hormones or devices implanted into me do not need to be the only ways to have responsible sex. I knew that I was being responsible in taking measures to avoid pregnancy, and if I were to get pregnant, I was financially, physically and emotionally prepared to make the right decision for me at the time. When I became pregnant and chose to have an abortion, my health insurance paid for 60% of theprocedure, just like any other out-of-network medical cost.

When I found out I was pregnant I had been with my partner for two months. I was 31 at the time, and in my first year of a PhD program. For about 48 hours I considered staying pregnant. I had never thought I would want to have kids until my own mom died a couple years prior, and I started to feel I might want to be the mom in a mother-child relationship. So when I discovered I was pregnant, it occurred to me this might be that opportunity. But after careful consideration, I decided that the right opportunity for motherhood is if and when I choose to have and raise a child.

My partner was extremely supportive of me, and my decision. I had strong feelings forhim, but I wasn’t ready for us to be parents together. If I had carried to term, I would have chosen to be a single mom. I didn’t want to become bound together purely because of this circumstance. I wanted to give our relationship a chance to flourish.

My choice was clear. I was more uncertain about what the procedure would be like physically, so Ireached out to a friend who had discussed her abortion with me in the past to learn more about her experience. She walked me through what happened during and after her abortion procedure. She described that it would likely be uncomfortable, may involve cramping and some bleeding, but that I would heal quickly. I opted for the surgical procedure over the medical abortion because I wanted to be able to leave the health center and know it was over.

I didn’t find the surgical abortionparticularly invasive – not much more so than routine gynecological procedures like pap smears and pelvic exams. I was well cared for at the health center. A close friend drove me to my appointment and stayed with me while I got settled in at the clinic. My partner was there while I had the procedure and brought me home. Afterward I was hungry and tired and relieved. We filled the prescriptions from the health center and went out for tacos.

My partner was worried about how I would feel after the abortion, that I might be upset, or resent him. I have never felt anything but certainty about the choice I made, andgrateful that I had access to a safe, legal, affordable abortion. While I talked to and had support from a lot of friends, my partner didn’t talk about it with other people. He felt that it was about my body, and my private decision.

However we did talk about it together. It made us a team.The sharedvulnerability we experienced led our relationship to grow quickly.It opened up conversations about our values, what we wanted in our lives and in a relationship, imagining our own futures, and what life together could look like. We got engagedtwo months later, and married four months after that. We talk about having akid when it is our choice and when it makes sense for us. This abortion experience is part of our love story for each other and for the family we will one day have.

Elizabeth, Memphis

When I was 15, I was having sexual relationships with men in their mid to late 20's. I was a stereotypical byproduct of PTSD from an unreported rape that happened to me when I was 13. I acted out sexually for years without ever sharing with anyone the story of how I lost my virginity to a man twice my age who drugged me. Anyways back to being 15. I got pregnant. I was in high school and knew I couldn't handle having a child. I was at the mall with my older sister stoned as fuck when I suddenly lost my vision. I collapsed to the floor inside of Express at the Oak Court Mall and cried out "Dede I can't see! I'm blind!" My whole body started to shake. Then I threw up and my sight returned. I thought it was weird but I wasn't alarmed. I knew I was pregnant and weird stuff happens. I still hadn't told anyone I was pregnant. My plan was to travel to a state that provided abortions without parental permission. My 26 year old fuckboy was willing to take me but we were figuring out the logistics of taking a 15 year old on a road trip to have an abortion. My other option in my mind was to sit on the railroad tracks and wait for a train to hit me. I already felt like human trash the last thing I needed was a pregnancy. Back to the incident at the mall: my mom was worried I had some kind of mild seizure and had me taken to have a scan on my brain. My doctor knew I was pregnant from a urine test but confided he wouldn't tell my mom because of client confidentiality. He urged me to tell her. Then came the neurologist...He had my records and said directly in front of my mother, "How pregnant are you?" So that's how my mom found out. Our relationship suffered a lot from the start but she eventually agreed to let me have the abortion. To this day she's the only family member who knows and supported me through it despite feeling upset over what would have been her first grandchild. It's something that happened that goes on unspoken. I rarely think of it. When I do I have never felt sad for having it done. I feel sad for keeping so many secrets from my mom during that time of my life. I wish I'd confided in her sooner to save us both a lot of suffering. I love my mom.

When I went to have my abortion I went to Planned Parenthood. No one was judgmental towards me about it or anything at the clinic. They urged me to get on a contraceptive pill but I didn't. My mom told me I was grounded until I was 18 so I knew it'd be hard for me to have sex for a while. The actual procedure was very painful. My procedure took longer than usual. Once the doctor was already inside of me he had to stop and get a nurse to take an ultrasound mid-surgery. I had two uteruses and he didn't know which one the fetus was in. So I found out I have a double uterus thanks to my abortion.

I wish I could've been more open and talk to people about it at the time, especially my family. The whole event and all the things that led up to it felt very shameful. The very thing that triggered this domino effect of me feeling more and more like trash was already taboo and shameful. If things like discussions of rape, and sexual education, and abortions were less taboo women could feel less like trash for being women.

Elizabeth S.

I’ve wanted a baby for as long as I can remember. My mom says as a toddler in daycare, when kids’ parents showed up, I’d be the one getting them in their jackets and chivvying them to the door. I started working in the nursery at church with my mom long before I was officially old enough to do so, and had my first babysitting job at 12. I started working as a nanny shortly after I got married (couldn’t previously because those jobs don’t have insurance). So all that to say, I had been getting a bit impatient about the baby thing for a while. But my husband and I had the sense to take things fairly slow. We got married after almost 5 years of dating, and didn’t rush to have a baby afterwards. Still, around our 4 year anniversary, we decided it was time to start trying.

We got pregnant quickly, and were thrilled, but at 9.5 weeks I started bleeding and an ultrasound showed that the baby no longer had a heartbeat. We grieved, healed, and tried again, only for me to miscarry again, this time at 5 weeks. But finally, a few months later, just a month before our first baby would have been due, we got pregnant with what seemed to be our "rainbow baby.” I was due September 6th, just 4 days after my own birthday, and we were nervous, but happy.

Everything seemed to be going perfectly. The baby’s growth was on track, I was able to check the heartbeat whenever I wanted with the doppler my cousin loaned me, and we were finally starting to breathe easy and believe that this pregnancy might finally end in a healthy baby. Then at 20 weeks, during the standard anatomy scan, we were told that the baby (who we found out shortly after was a girl) had a moderate hydrocephalus. The ventricles of the brain are always supposed to contain fluid, but they should never be larger than 10mm at the most. Her’s, at 20 weeks, were both around 20mm. We were devastated, but still hopeful. At that point, there would be brain damage, because the fluid was taking up space that her brain needed to develop, but it could be fairly minor. And even the worst outcome with 20mm ventricles would still allow her a good quality of life.

At that point our options were explained to us, based on the different ways things might progress. If things stayed mostly the same, and the fluid build up didn’t get any worse, I’d probably carry to term, around 37 to 39 weeks, at which point she would come on out and they’d place a shunt (a tube that would run from the overfilled ventricles in the brain all the way to her abdomen, where it would drain the fluid). Then we would just have to wait and see how much her brain was able rebound from the compression it had been under from the fluid.

If the ventricles did keep growing, hitting around 30-40mm, they would recommend a c-section around 34 weeks. That’s when the risks of prematurity would cease to outweigh the benefits of early intervention, and she would be strong enough for the surgery. The treatment would be the same, inserting a shunt, and she would probably be in the NICU till around the original due date, so a month or two. In that case, we don’t really know what the damage might look like. It could be more severe, but since they’d be able to intervene sooner, she would have those extra two months of development without the hydrocephalus.

And if things got drastically worse, with the ventricles growing up into the 50, 60 or more range, then we were probably looking at no hope at all. She either simply wouldn’t survive, or we’d consider going to a state that allowed later termination, because at that point we really would be looking at a worst case scenario for her. There would be no quality of life possible.

We continued to go in for ultrasounds every few weeks. At 24.5 weeks, there was virtually no growth in ventricle size, which was encouraging. But at 28 weeks, they had increased fairly significantly, to something like 26-28mm on one side and 32-34mm on the other. That was a lot of growth in a relatively short time (four weeks), especially since she had another six to go for sure (remember they said 34 weeks was the earliest they could deliver, because before that the risks of prematurity would be too great, and she’d be too small to handle surgery anyway). We began making plans to deliver via c-section at 34 weeks, and started researching what we would need to do to get her the therapies she’d need, since she was definitely going to be special needs. I was scheduled for my first steroid shot, which would help her lungs develop and make the early delivery safer for her.

We had a doctor visit scheduled at 30w5d, which started off with another ultrasound. This one was just 2 weeks after the previous, which is close enough that the ultrasound tech wasn’t even sure she should bother taking measurements, because that’s not long enough to show much growth. However, the ventricles had enlarged significantly, to the point that the larger was up into the 40+ range. Worse, her head had not grown, and the increased fluid had further compressed her brain, so that the damage was now catastrophic. On ultrasound the image of her brain was almost entirely black- all fluid, no tissue except a tiny ring lining the skull. The neurosurgeon said that at that point the odds were in the “high 90’s” that she would never progress mentally beyond infancy. And she still had at least 3.5 weeks left before she could be delivered and the ventricle growth halted, so it would only get worse.

This news left us with three options. One, we could deliver at 34 weeks as planned, have the shunt inserted, and simply see what happened. More than likely she would survive, because her brain stem was still unaffected (meaning she would still breathe and her heart would beat, etc). When the brain is that severely compressed, there is some risk that when the pressure is relieved by the shunt, the brain will spring back too quickly and tear the blood vessels supporting it. The odds of that are only around 10% however, so she would probably live. But she would have no quality of life, no higher brain function, no ability to live in any sense of the word that truly matters.

Our next option was to carry to term, and let nature take its course. No shunt, or other form of drainage to stop the hydrocephalus. Again, she would likely live, but in this case not for long. It’s impossible to say how long it would take, but eventually the pressure would destroy the rest of her brain, and she would die. It would be a short and probably painful life, and cruel to both her and those of us who care about her.

Which left us with the third choice. We could go Colorado or New Mexico, and we could terminate the pregnancy. It had to be done before 34 weeks legally, and even then we had to provide proof that this is a case of medical necessity. But it would be quick, for her, just an injection to stop her heart. For us it would be a four day process, starting with the injection, followed by two days of gradually opening the cervix, and ending with basically a combination of delivering (though with very limited pain relief) and a D&C. Of the three choices, it was the one that would hardest on us, at least emotionally. There would be no chance to hold her, or to ever see her alive other than on an ultrasound screen. But of the three choices, it was the one that would be best for her. It would give her the grace of a quick death, instead of a protracted, painful one, or a life that offered her nothing at all.

And so we began to take steps to obtain a late-term abortion. My doctor here (who was amazing throughout all of this) provided us with the information for a doctor who would do the procedure. As it turns out, there are only three doctors in the country who will. The risk is just too high. There used to be at least one more, but he was murdered, while at church, ironically. We had planned to handle it as quickly as possible, but the doctor was out of the country for the following couple of weeks, so we had to wait for him to get back.

It also turned out that the whole thing is more complicated than expected. Growing up (in a fundamentalist Christian home, though I’ve since moved away from that), I always had this thought that there were women out there getting late term abortions all the time, for no good reason. Turns out, as I mentioned, you have to provide (fairly extensive) proof that it’s medically warranted. It’s also far more expensive than we expected. The price we were given, which was based on her size, was $25,000, and, unlike most medical procedures where you simply deal with the bill later, it must be paid up front. Thankfully for us, our insurance would cover it, but the standard procedure is for us to pay and then send the bill to insurance for reimbursement. And since there are no providers “in network” that do the procedure, our insurance company would be obligated to reimburse us for only whatever they thought reasonable, and leave us with the rest. In this case, the initial amount they approved had them paying a grand total of $700 of the $25,000 bill. But we’re fortunate to have very good insurance, and my husband was able to work with them to get an exemption (to basically count this doctor as in network), which left us only responsible for our deductible. They also told us that we’ve set a precedent for this type of situation, so if someone else with our insurance faces the same thing, they won’t have to deal with the hours on the phone and tons of paperwork to get the out-of-network exemption. Unfortunately, even with the extra couple of weeks it took, there wasn’t time to get them to approve paying it up front, so we were still forced to come up with the money ourselves.

I don’t know what we’d have done if our insurance didn’t cover it. There is an organization (a charity of some sort, I assume) that helps with the costs in situations like ours, but it’s based on income. We make enough that I doubt they’d be able to do much for us, but that doesn’t mean we have $25,000 just sitting around. And we had to deal with our travel costs no matter what, not to mention the sick leave my husband had to use for the week that were gone. (Again, we were lucky in that his company gave him an extra 40 hours of sick leave for it, but many people wouldn’t have that available.)  It makes me really, really angry that it was so hard. This situation was incredibly difficult already, and added to that was a ton of financial worries, travel, and stress, so that we could go to an office where every single employee is risking their life every day just by doing their job and helping people like us who are facing an impossible choice. We’re not just some flighty kids that made a baby and then decided that maybe we don’t want to deal with it after all. We didn’t make this decision because we were unwilling to raise a child with special needs and wanted to just scrap this attempt and try again. This was a baby that was badly wanted, but whose medical situation was so dire that the only kindness we could offer her was to let her go as quickly and painlessly as possible. We shouldn’t have had to go through so much to do something that’s already the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. And the people who helped us should be seen as heroes, not murderers.

The two weeks between making the decision to terminate and actually doing it were hard, but not terrible. In some ways it was good to have that time to say goodbye, and not feel rushed. My husband spent plenty of time with me, including taking some extra time off work. Though at that point it hadn’t really sunk in. There were some tears when we first found out, but not really after. That came when we had to actually say goodbye, and go through with it, and continue on without her. Thankfully my husband didn’t try to pretend she was already gone. He still wanted to feel her move and talked about her. Part of me did want to put on baggy clothes and pretend I was just fat, but it wouldn’t have been right. We had the whole rest of our lives to mourn her, but we only had those last couple of weeks to be with her.

We did have maternity photos done. We wouldn’t have, but my amazing sister-in-law put the whole thing together. They have a cousin who lost a baby under similar circumstances, and she told my sister-in-law that we would regret it if we didn’t do it. So she called around and found us a photographer willing to meet us last minute (on a Sunday, no less), and a hair stylist who touched up my highlights and did my hair, and even a makeup person. She also paid for the photographer (the other two worked for free for us, though I tipped them). It was kind of hard to do, and I don’t exactly expect I’ll want to keep the pictures displayed to look at all the time, but I’m really glad we did it. This might be our only pregnancy (we may pursue adoption, though we’re not really thinking that far ahead right now), and I think the cousin is right that we would have regretted not having the pictures as a sort of remembrance.

We’ve boxed up all of her things and put them in the attic. We are keeping pretty much everything for a future baby. To us they’re for our baby (and we will have one someday, one way or another), not for her specifically. I did choose not to use any as props in the maternity photos for that reason. That would have made them actually hers. The only exception, I think, will be the blanket my cousin made for her. For whatever reason, that feels like it should be kept special. I’ll have that, and I’ll be getting some sort of Christmas ornament as well. I never did get one for the miscarriages (I might yet), but she needs one.

My husband’s also getting me a ring with her birthstone, to wear with my wedding and engagement rings. It’s what I’d planned for any babies we had, this will just be in remembrance instead of just acknowledgement. We’re going to go with ruby, the July birthstone. She was due in September, then planned for August, and eventually July, so it’s hard to say which one is really appropriate. But the last date we were planning for her birthday was July 27th, and that’s the day I want to commemorate. September, I feel like, fails to acknowledge everything we went through, and in August we just had a general idea, not a specific date. I don’t want the day we terminated to be the one we choose to remember either, so as far as I’m concerned her birthday is July 27th.

So for now it’s just a matter of waiting for time to do its job, helping us to heal emotionally and (in my case) physically. It’s very slowly starting to feel a little easier, and while I’m sure there will always be bad days, I expect they’ll come fewer and farther between. We’ll be sad, but we’ll move on, and we won’t forget, but neither will it seem like such a huge, all-encompassing thing standing in our way forever. I hope so anyway.

The choices that we were forced to make will be controversial, but I’m not going to try to hide them either. It’s not fair for us to have to live with this as some big secret, nor do I think it’s something shameful or wrong that merits secrecy. And I’ve blogged all this so far in case someone else who is going through something similar finds it, and finds some comfort in it, and some reassurance that I, at least, understand what they’re going through, and there is no judgement here. I’m not ashamed of what we did. I don’t have doubts that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t a selfish choice. If I was being selfish I’d have carried her to term, and had those days or weeks or months with her. Or maybe even have delivered early and had her get the shunt, and risked her never having any sort of life for the sake of that maybe 1% chance that she would be, not okay, but not quite as bad as the worst case. I didn’t want to give up the only time I could have with her. But our job as parents was to do what was best for her, even when it meant letting her go. And I’m not going to apologize for that, or try to hide it.

 

Her name is Katlyn River.

Emily

I kind of already knew. I knew I needed to get a test to be sure, but I just felt like I knew what it was going to say. I took a pregnancy test before class and I was right, it was positive.

I was 20. It was in February, 2013. The biggest thing for me was that I never had any doubt. I’d always been pro-choice, so I didn’t have any moral doubts or anything like that about it. As soon as I knew that I was pregnant I knew there was only one option. I was very certain in that decision. Never doubted it then. Haven’t doubted it since.

I got home after class and called a health center immediately, but they didn’t take my insurance and it was going to be around $300. Then, I called another health center and they accepted my insurance, so I made an appointment. This was on a Monday and the appointment was for a Friday. And I was like, “Wait. I have to spend the next four days pregnant when I don’t want to be?” So, that was really the hardest thing, thinking about how I don’t want this to be happening inside of me, but couldn’t do anything about it for four days.

I think about my abortion a lot in terms of access and advocacy, but I don’t think about it in terms of something that defines me like I used to. There was a period of time where I would think about how old would the baby would be at this point and things like that. I haven’t had a thought like that in probably two years. It’s just become something that happened. That’s the most important part of why abortion needs to be accessible. This unplanned pregnancy was able to just be a part of my story and not define my story. I knew that it wasn’t the right time for me or the right situation for me. It allowed me to continue my life as usual. It allowed me to be where I am today and do the things I’ve done because I didn’t have to significantly alter the rest of my life. This is so important to me because pregnancy and parenting should be something we can choose.

I was a sophomore in college and I was dating my high school boyfriend, but we had gone on a break because I had met someone else ( my now boyfriend), and I had feelings for him and had no idea what I wanted to do. I got pregnant by my current boyfriend, but at the time I had no idea if it was going anywhere or what was going to happen with my ex. I was thinking if I did get back together with my ex that that seemed like a really shitty situation to bring a child into, when it’s someone else’s child. There was so much going on in my life at that point that I didn’t know who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be, or who I wanted to be with that the idea that I would bring a child into that was too much. I was afraid of the idea that I may end up with one person who is dealing with the psychological weight of raising someone else’s child, or my now boyfriend and I would end up trying to parent together and would have to face trying to build a relationship in the middle of this sudden huge life change, or that I may end up with no one and becoming a single parent at 20 without a college degree. I knew that that wasn’t right for me either. I knew immediately that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I feel like my story is so important because it was so easy. I recognize that it’s not that way for all women and it should be that way for all women. I had insurance, I didn’t have to pay any money, I didn’t have anyone in my life who was trying to stop me from doing it, and the only person who was trying to shame me was my ex. When I told him he called me a whore, called me lots of various other things, and kept sending me pictures of fetuses. I was lucky in the sense that I was secure in myself so that I was just like, “Fuck off asshole. You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to talk to me.” The person who got me pregnant, who I’m still with today, was so supportive. He said he totally understood and he didn’t want a kid. He said, “I appreciate you telling me but you don’t have to. This is your decision to make.”

I had a friend who went with me to the clinic. I was really early along. So, in addition to having to wait 4-5 days after making the appointment the other biggest thing was that when I got to the clinic they were worried I was too early. That to me felt like such an injustice. I didn’t know that was a thing! I was like, “I have a pee stick. You guys can confirm I’m pregnant!”

I did the medication abortion, so it was over after a few days. I took the first pill in the doctor’s office and then the next at home. Within two weeks it was done. Then I finished that semester, then I finished college, and I went on vacations and to Europe, and I was able to really build a relationship with my boyfriend because we weren’t all of a sudden parents after only knowing each other for five months or whatever. The only weird thing about the medication abortion was that it felt like very almost illicit because I went back to class while I was still bleeding. So I would just be sitting there thinking things like, “I’m having an abortion right now and no one in this room knows.” I remember one time when I went to pee during class I looked down and was thinking, “Did it happen while I was taking notes? Is it going to happen during this next class?” It all just felt so normal when I’ve always been told it shouldn’t feel normal. I just wanted to ask people, “Can you believe what’s going on in my pants right now? Because I sure as hell can’t.”

What’s most remarkable to me about my story and what also shouldn’t be remarkable was that there were no obstacles. I lived a mile away from the clinic, I was able to take a day off of work, I had a friend who could drive me, it was before any type of mandated waiting period requiring two visits, and it was able to just be a closed chapter in my life. I don’t take that for granted at all. I hear so many stories about how it wasn’t like that for other women. I’ll always have a soft spot for where I went for my abortion and that’s still where I go for my healthcare because I love being able to go somewhere where I know everyone knows me and isn’t judging me and is totally open. I love the nurse practitioner there and how she wears a Roe button on her labcoat. So, it’s just great to be able to have that choice and live in a city where there are multiple abortion clinics.

I remember being in the clinic with other women who were there to get an abortion because there were clearly so many women who were struggling to be there. There were women there who had had abortions before and they were giving advice to the others on post-operation care and things like that. I was shocked because there were like 15 other women there that day. I was sitting there thinking that I thought I was going to be there by myself or by myself with just a teen mom or something like that. There were so many different women there from different walks of life and that was the first time that I heard that 1 in 3 women get an abortion. I just remember being shocked that this many women come here every week. Why is nobody talking about it? I grew up in Knoxville and as far as I knew it was a super pro-life town, which it is, but the fact that there were like 15 women there with me that day and the doctor saying it’s like this every week blew me away. It really made me realize the importance of finding community with each other. There’s that sense of shame that you’re going to be the only one there and everyone’s going to be looking at you weird. But that wasn’t what was there at all.

The other thing that most defined my experience was that I was living with 3 other girls at the time. They all knew and were super supportive. I kept expecting it to be a major life moment, this turning point, and this huge emotional decision and burden, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel guilty or anything and I knew what I wanted to do right away. I remember joking about how 1 in 3 women will have an abortion and saying something to my roommates like “don’t worry guys I took one for the team and I’m the one” and no one thought it was funny. There was this expectation on me that I was supposed to be traumatized, but I was joking around. When I got the co-pay refund check (because it ended up not being necessary) I took it to the liquor store for a party we were having that night. I felt fine, confident, and strong about my decision. It felt as though other people expected me to be upset. It made me wonder if I was like a sociopath because I wasn’t feeling all these things people thought I should feel. I mean I did cry about it though. I cried a lot when I had to tell my ex that I was pregnant by someone else and I cried when I had to wait four days. I was crying because I didn’t want to be pregnant. It seemed like other people had so much more to say about it than I did. It made me start questioning myself. Not whether I was doing the right thing, but if I was doing it the “right” way.

I know that I’m still not ready to be a parent and I’m just glad that I don’t have a three year old right now. I’m just now getting started in my career and I want to go back to grad school and all these things that would be a lot harder, if not impossible, if I didn’t have this life that I do now. It’s all so important to me, but in the ways that society tells us it shouldn’t be. That’s why it’s so important for women to be able to make that choice. If I was ready in that moment then great, but it’s great that I was able to decide it wasn’t the right time. It was able to just define my past and not my future.

I still go back and forth about if I want to ever have a kid. I still don’t know if it’s right for me. I’m 24 now and so is my boyfriend and we both like a lot of things, like traveling and eating fancy meals, that aren’t super compatible with kids. It’s beautiful to be able to figure out myself before I have to figure out this life-altering decision.

Francie

I have a 14-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. I have also had a miscarriage and know how painful losing a fetus can be. I had an abortion when I was 19 and in college. I am thankful that I was able to get an abortion because if I had not made that decision, I literally would not have had the two children I have right now. My children are the light of my life and no one can make me regret that I had them instead of giving birth when I was a teenager.

I did not take this decision lightly. I consulted with my boyfriend who was in medical school at the time and is now a heart surgeon. As a Southern Baptist young woman, I was shocked to learn that I was pregnant. I had planned to save myself for marriage and when that didn’t happen, I thought I was responsible enough to have taken every precaution to not get pregnant. I would like to tell you that my decision-making process was like making a pros and cons list, but it wasn’t. I took a long walk along the river and prayed and prayed and prayed for guidance. While I appreciated my loving boyfriend’s input, there was only one place I turned to know the right thing to do. After a very long walk and many tears, I finally felt relief when I knew that God has different plans for me; this choice was purposeful; he understood my choice and he loved me. 

It would be dramatically useful to tell you that if I had not had an abortion, my life would have been terrible-- I wouldn’t have finished school or I wouldn’t’ have been able to provide for my child. But I really can’t say that because I just don’t know. All I know is that this is the path I was meant to have. This is the life I thank God for every day.

Interestingly, we have fewer abortion rights now than we did right after Roe V Wade. States are removing access to abortion care and piling on restrictions, while at the same time, making it harder to get birth control and slashing billions from public education, childcare and health care. It’s time to hear from the experts: women. We know what we need and don’t need. We don’t need a state-mandated 48-hour waiting period to “make up our minds.” We don’t need to be told we must look at an ultrasound of our pregnancy. We don’t need politicians to force words into our doctor’s mouths.

If we don’t start speaking the truth, then the anti-choice propaganda will continue to take over, enabling the government to have more power over our lives. State politicians and our fellow Tennesseans need to hear women share their abortion experiences so that we may foster compassion, sympathy and respect for each other.

G

“I’ve always wanted a family. Having children is my dream in life, and it’ll be my greatest accomplishment to be a mother. But when I found out I was pregnant, the only feeling I had was terror.”

I’ve been on birth control since I was 17. I was always kind of bad about taking it – I would miss a day or two. Recently, I was on vacation in Amsterdam and forgot to bring an extra pack of birth control pills. I ended up missing it for two weeks.

I had sex with my boyfriend when I got back. It’s crazy, I thought, “I’ve been taking the pill since I was 17, it must be engrained in my system. Nothing can happen.” But, no – I conceived.

The timing was awful because my mom came to visit for her birthday. I’m an only child and close with my parents. I’ve always thought that in my life, my biggest accomplishment aside from having a career – and even more important than that – will be to have a family. I want to get married, have three kids and a white picket fence. It’s a dream of mine and very important to me.

When my mom arrived, I was two weeks past my missed period. Since I always messed up taking pills, I wasn’t worried. Then, I felt a gut instinct. I was starting to feel crampy and tired. It didn’t feel right, but I didn’t want to say anything around my mom to freak her out. I had to hang out with her for three days and act like nothing was wrong.

The day she left, she went to the airport in the morning, and I went to work and told my coworker I thought I was pregnant. I’d had scares before, but something in me felt different. My plan was to leave work that night, buy a test and take it at my boyfriend’s house. I’d clued him in the whole time, from my first suspicion on. He was pretty insistent on me being with him to take the test. But my lunch break rolled around, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I couldn’t sit at my desk not knowing. It was tearing at me.

My coworker walked with me to Walgreens, we bought a test and I took it in the bathroom at work. There are nearly 400 people in my office and it’s a quiet environment – typing, phone calls and customer service. I went into the private bathroom. The first line showed up, which means “not pregnant,” and I thought, “great!” I waited for a few seconds, the second line appeared, and I thought, “oh, shit.” I can laugh about it now, but in that moment the lights got bright, I was hyperventilating and my heart was racing. Something I thought I would never see was, all of a sudden, right in front of me.

On the way back to my desk, my coworker made eye contact across the room. My face told her the results. I had to leave the office immediately. I didn’t tell anyone other than her, saying to tell my boss there was an emergency. There was no way I could sit at my desk and do my job knowing I was pregnant. It just seemed like my world was crazy. I didn’t know what to think, I was in a state of shock for the first couple of hours. I drove straight to my boyfriend’s house, and the drive there is still a blur.

The first person I called was my gynecologist. I have two, one from back home and one here in town. One didn’t answer, and I spoke to a nurse at the other office. She suggested I go to [a local health center]. At my boyfriend’s house, I cried, called [the health center] and made my appointment.

I had previously booked a trip to go home for two weeks, and planned to leave four days after I found out I was pregnant. I was about to be in between jobs, and wanted to spend time home over Mother’s Day weekend. I knew I was going to have to be around my whole family and not say anything. I scheduled my consultation appointment for the day my flight landed back in Nashville. It sucked knowing that I could have done it a few days after finding out, but instead, I’d need to wait two weeks and just sit with it.

I didn’t want to tell my family because I don’t know what they would have said. I still don’t really know. Part of me wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to convince me to not have an abortion, and I just didn’t really need anybody doing that. It was heartbreaking because, like I said, it’s my dream to have kids and be a mom one day. That’s something I want so badly. While home, I was three to four weeks pregnant and I started cramping horribly. That surprised me – I wasn’t aware that one of the first symptoms would be cramps, but that was one of the most significant I had. It would stop me dead in my tracks and force me to lean over. I started getting tired, too, and taking long naps in the middle of the day. My parents were commenting on that. One day I had heartburn, and mentioned it to my parents. My dad said, “oh, you’re not pregnant, are you?” He was joking, but it was rough.

At the same time, it was surprisingly easy not to say anything because I was so certain I didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy. I had friends back home who knew what was going on, and it was good to vent about it. Not having to stay bottled up the whole time was really helpful.

Two weeks later, I went to the consultation appointment. The second I met with [the health center], they totally exceeded my expectations. I know you can go there to get STD testing and birth control, but I had just never done it. The first person I spoke to just made me feel so comfortable and in good care. I never felt rushed. They were sympathetic, empathetic, all of it. It was really cool. It felt like everyone working the desk and the nurses were people I could be friends with. I felt really comfortable with them.

The same week I got back to Nashville after two weeks at home, I had a separate health issue. Eight months ago, I found a lump in one of my breasts. The doctor told me it was fibroadenoma. When I returned for an ultrasound months later, it had grown pretty significantly. That very well may have been because of my pregnancy hormones. My doctor knew I was pregnant, but my parents only knew about the lump. I couldn’t tell them it grew because I was pregnant, so they were worried. I had it biopsied. It’s called PASH (pseudoangiomatous stromal hyperplasia). It’s a solid mass, not a cyst, but it is fairly uncommon.

My ultrasound showed that my pregnancy was a lot earlier along than I’d thought. I was told to calculate pregnancy from the time of your last period, but I was about four weeks earlier than expected. That was good, as I wanted to take the pills for my abortion, my first choice because it isn’t invasive, and I’d worried I wouldn’t be able to at this point. The technicians offered me a picture of my ultrasound, and I took it. I needed to hold it and look at it, say to myself, “this is what we’re dealing with.” I also wanted to show it to my boyfriend. He didn’t come in with me, so I just wanted – I don’t know, I don’t know why.

At my consultation appointment, the staff gave me a fact sheet with pros and cons about taking the pills versus going through the suction procedure. After reading the material and talking to them, I changed my mind. The pills can lead to pain for up to 24 hours, and I’d be home, bleeding profusely and going through cramps as my body expelled everything on its own. I also read online testimonies to inform my decision, and read that one woman saw the fetus – a little lump of tissue – come out of her body. I didn’t want to deal with any of that, so I decided to have the suction procedure.

While pregnant, I developed a weird little nickname for the fetus. I couldn’t help Googling, “what does your fetus look like now?” One week, it said the fetus was the size of a lentil bean. My boyfriend and I would call it Lentil. “Ugh, Lentil’s making me sick today.” Part of me felt like we shouldn’t call it a name, but that’s just one way to cope with a shitty situation.

I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive boyfriend throughout this process. Before I knew for sure, when I just had a feeling I was pregnant, he said he’d be 100 percent behind any route I wanted to take. He didn’t pressure me to make a decision based on what I thought he’d want – he totally put me behind the wheel. We’re young, 23, and it would just be unfair. Still, it was hard. We’re so in love. We’d be at a restaurant or at home, and he’d put his hand on my stomach, and I’d be like, “you can’t do that.”

I returned to [the health center] a week later with a friend. Again, every service exceeded expectations. I took an antibiotic and opted for an IV anesthetic over an oral one so I wouldn’t leave the office feeling groggy. The staff made me comfortable and walked me through everything so there would be no surprises, and introduced me to the doctor before the procedure got started. It only took about five minutes and I was awake for the whole thing, but I was in another world, not really aware enough to know what was going on. Afterward, the staff moved me into a room with a heating pad, water and a snack. Someone sat with me the entire time, asking how I was feeling. I wore a pad to monitor any bleeding. It just felt good to know that most of everything was out of me, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it later. When I left, I felt fine – the process was easier than I thought, I was not in pain at any point and I was supported emotionally throughout. I bled for a week and a day after the procedure, which was way longer than my normal period. I had to wear pads to monitor how much I was bleeding, and it was frustrating.

One thing on my mind leading up to the procedure was, although I have naturally big boobs, mine were so swollen. I was cramping, I was tired, I was bitchy, and it just dawned on me: I feel like I’m in a stranger’s body. This is not my body, this is not me. It became annoying. I was ready for it to be over, ready to reclaim ownership of my body. I wasn’t feeling good mentally or physically, and I felt ready to start hitting the gym again like I always had, and get back to normal.

The sense of relief I had after my abortion is one I can’t begin to describe. It was just really good to know that I could finally bury this hatchet. I had to sit with it for longer than necessary, just playing a waiting game. Now, it’s crazy to think this is a fact about my life. I don’t regret it – I knew I wasn’t going to regret it. Having an abortion was my plan from Day One. I thought about the other options, but not too much. It’s just crazy to think, if I’d decided to keep it, it would have been fine. The baby wouldn’t have grown up in poverty. My family would have taken care of us, and my boyfriend’s family would have been fine with it. But it just wasn’t right. None of it was right from the beginning.

Before the procedure, I met with a [health center] counselor and I told her I’ve always wanted a family. Having children is my dream in life, and it’ll be my greatest accomplishment to be a mother. But when I found out I was pregnant, the only feeling I had was terror. That’s the opposite of what I should feel. When circumstances are right, pregnancy would make me feel excited, overjoyed. I was the total opposite. There’s so much I still want to do with my life. I want to go to grad school, I’m still trying to figure out my career path. I want it to be perfect when I do have a family. I’m very fortunate that I live in a city and country where abortion is an option. It’s important to have that option, and to have supportive friends. Out of the friends I told, none cast any judgment on me; all said they would have done the same thing. I had an overwhelming number of text messages and phone calls from people checking in on the day of my procedure. It felt good.

As for my PASH diagnosis – I’m getting it removed next week. I feel super relieved now, but that one week I had the abortion on Monday, a biopsy on Wednesday, I still didn’t know if this thing was cancerous or not, and I had all of that weighing on my head. I’m really glad that’s over.

My abortion will stay with me forever. When I do have a family, one day, it will be weird to think of my children, and then one other in heaven or whatever greater power might exist. That’s a whole different conversation. When I was little, I would always ask my mom questions like that. “Did you ever lose any kids?” I wanted a sibling so bad, and always wanted to know if she’d had a miscarriage or anything else.

One day, after the storm has passed, I want to tell my parents about this. My mom and I are so close and I want to share this with her. I’d tell her before my dad, but maybe one day, he’ll know, too. I don’t know what good would come of it, but I feel like she should know. But I knew at the time that she would try to persuade me otherwise.

Hadleigh

Dear Pro-lifer,

I've quietly stood by listening to your opinions. I feel every painful assumption you make about me. You draw a line between right and wrong without hesitation, as if you know exactly what it feels like to be faced with a life-changing decision. The problem is, the picture you paint doesn't look anything like me.

On January 5, 2016, I had a second trimester abortion at 18 weeks and 3 days pregnant. I was not involved in rape or incest. I was not an unwed teenager. I did not have financial concerns with raising another child. I was not using abortion as a form of birth control. My baby was not unloved, unwanted, an accident or a mistake.

My baby was not a "fetus." She was a precious little girl that my husband and I named Grace, meaning "Gift from God." She was a younger sister, daughter, niece and granddaughter, and she was so loved and so wanted.

During an ultra sound at 17.5 weeks pregnant, we learned the devastating news that our daughter was sick. Fatally sick. Our sweet Grace was diagnosed with Trisomy 21 and Nonimmune Hydrops Fetalis. As a result, her body was filling with fluid and her organs were shutting down one by one. Her little legs had already stopped growing. Multiple specialists told me it was medically impossible for our daughter to survive longer than a few more weeks of pregnancy. Every ounce of excitement and future dream I had about our growing family was taken from me in a matter of minutes.

I am a Christian and I believe in miracles, but I also trust modern medicine. I could not stand the thought of my daughter suffering in the one place she should feel safest. I could not fathom bonding with her longer and watching my belly grow bigger, only to say our inevitable goodbye. I could not labor for hours to deliver our dead daughter. The day my two year old son was born was the best day of my life. I did not want those beautiful memories of the best day tainted with the worst.

My doctor told me waiting several weeks until she passed on her own increased my risk of infection, hemorrhaging and other medical issues, including death. I didn't want to take that risk. I still had the responsibility of being a mother to my son and a wife to my husband. Suddenly I was faced with the most horrific choice of my life, one that I didn't ask for nor wanted to make. I chose to end my wanted pregnancy.

Due to the laws you fought to pass, I learned that I was unable to end my pregnancy in my own state of Tennessee. Planned Parenthood can not perform an abortion after 15 weeks gestation, and the hospitals denied my request.

I was overcome with shame when the doctor who delivered my son told me she couldn't legally perform the procedure. My own state legislators don't trust me, her mother, to make the best decisions for my daughter and family. I felt like a fugitive fleeing the state to have my taboo procedure done in a state that didn't see it that way. On the worst day of my life, I couldn't even go home to my own bed. I had never given much thought to the pro-life or pro-choice stance until the laws put in place failed me, leaving me feeling alone, scared, and quite frankly, angry.

I haven't used the term abortion because there's such a negative stigma around that word. It's difficult to even type. With the elections coming up, it seems to be everywhere, haunting my every move. Not only do I have to grieve the painful loss of my daughter, I also have to carry the weight of the judgments you make about me.

Many pro-life family members and friends have said to me, "But your situation is different." While comforting to hear at first, I now believe that thinking is the root of the problem. I am not different. The procedure I had is not different. If we continue to shy away from the term abortion the perceptions will never change. The laws will never change. While it's painful and uncomfortable to admit, I had an abortion and this is what it looked like for me. It's not always right or wrong, black or white. Some of us struggle every day in the gray, keeping our experiences hush-hush for fear of shame and judgment. We choose not to stand up for our rights in an effort to protect our already broken hearts from even more pain. And so the cycle continues...your voice shouts louder, restrictive laws get passed, and we heartbroken mothers continue to lose our rights to do what's best for our families.

So while you were busy pushing your pro-life agenda, my husband and I said goodbye to our daughter in an out-of-state hospital surrounded by a group of strangers. While you stood outside a Planned Parenthood protesting, my husband stood alone in an out-of-state funeral home picking out a tiny urn to hold our daughter's ashes. While you sit behind your computer clicking "share" to yet another anti-abortion article, I am on my knees praying that God's arms are tightly wrapped around my sweet little angel. You talk about abortion as the selfish act of killing a baby, but what you don't realize is a part of the mother dies that day, too.

Please, include us in the abortion debate. Consider all of the gray before you support anti-abortion laws. Don't shy away from us because it makes you uncomfortable. We are mothers that have chosen abortion due to a severe prenatal diagnosis. We made this choice out of love and we are doing the best we can with the cards we've been dealt.

Heather

I was in college up north. Getting into that school was a huge deal to me, one of my biggest achievements. I had an on and off relationship with a boy I went to high school with. He was my first boyfriend, my first love. We lost our virginities to each other – you know, the whole thing. We never could quite cut those ties. When I would come back home, we would be together. But after we graduated high school, he ended up getting really involved with drugs and became addicted to heroin. It’s something he is still dealing with today. That complicated things. We were super young. We had no idea what we were doing.

So, I came back over winter break during my second year of college, and we were together. I got back to school, and something just felt off about my body. I had been on birth control since I was sixteen, but I got an infection in my lymph nodes, went to the hospital, and they gave me a lot of different medicine. I don’t know if one counteracted my birth control, or in the midst of taking so many medications I just didn’t keep up my regiment of taking my birth control.  Before I went back to school, I actually saw my gynecologist here. I told her something felt off about my body. They only did an exam on my body. They didn’t even give me a pregnancy test. Instead, I was given some cream for vaginitis, which I took when I got back to school.

My period has always been sort of sporadic, but something just felt different. My college roommate and I went to get some pregnancy tests in between classes. When I got back to my dorm, I took one. The lines were super faint, so I asked some of my friends back home what they thought, and they told me “You need to go get another pregnancy test.” So I went back and got a digital one that even tells you how many weeks you’re at. I wanted to be sure. I was so anxious walking to the pharmacy, and buying the pregnancy test at the CVS on campus. I could see anyone I knew in there. I took it, and it said “Pregnant, less than 4 weeks.” I could see it, and I knew what it meant. But I was in shock. In that moment I couldn’t even think about what I was going to do.

My roommate and I were from very different places. She was very conservative, but she was my best friend. In that moment, she was so supportive. She told me everything would be okay and that we were going to get through this. There was no judgment. She didn’t push me to decide what I was going to do. I was so overwhelmed. The only people I had told were my roommate and my friends back home.

Growing up, I had always been super pro-choice. My parents are both doctors, so I didn’t view it as a moral decision. It was a medical decision. I was thinking, “Well, I’m in the middle of college. I am not in a place where I want to interrupt my education. There’s no way I could carry this pregnancy to term.” There was some weight given to the fact that the man involved in the situation was not in a place to do this either. He was addicted to drugs and not in a place where he was capable of taking care of himself, let alone being mentally or emotionally present in a situation like that.

So, I thought about it for maybe a second. It wasn’t a choice for me. It was more like, “Okay. I’m not going to carry this pregnancy. That’s how I feel, and now what are the steps that I need to take?” The first thing I did was call my gynecologist back home. They wouldn’t let me speak to my doctor, but I told the nurse practitioner that I had found out I was pregnant. Now I have become so comfortable and open with my story and the word “abortion.” But back then I was very new to this experience. I had never had a friend or anyone close to me go through this. I was on the phone trying to get out the words, “I need an abortion. What do I do?” I was met with, “Well… we don’t do that here. We don’t really do referrals for that. You should ask a colleague or something.” I was a student. I worked in the university office. Did she want me to casually ask them?

Clearly I was going to have to figure this out on my own. I started doing some research, but I got a call back. They accused me of lying about my period at my last visit, and they were worried because the medicine they gave me for vaginitis could be harmful to a pregnancy. I also took Vyvanse for ADHD, and they told me that wasn’t supposed to be taken while pregnant either. So I went back to my research. I was looking at different clinics around town, and I found a women’s clinic nearby.

First, I was blown away at how expensive it was. I wanted to keep it as confidential as possible because I was still really overwhelmed. I didn’t really want to tell my parent at the time, so I couldn’t use my health insurance. They gave me the option of the pill[s] or the surgical procedure. I chose the surgical procedure because I wanted assurance and peace of mind when I left that everything was done. Also, I didn’t want to deal with the medical abortion in a dorm. They told me about all the different levels of sedation, the price going up with partial and full sedation. I had a part time job, but coming up with that much money was a challenge for me at the time. I did have savings, and my friends were amazing and lent me money. While this was really hard, it was eye opening to see that when you’re down, there are people who will be there for you. My friends were so supportive during that time.

My roommate and I took an Uber to the clinic. Thankfully, there were no protestors outside, because this clinic was about 20 minutes outside the city. My roommate wasn’t allowed to come back into the procedure room with me, so she sat in the waiting room and studied. They took me back and let me know what was going to happen. I wasn’t nervous about my decision, but about the procedure itself, which was all new to me. You know, you’re sitting there, exposed. It’s a little strange. The physician was very nice, and there was a woman who stood beside me and held my hand. I can’t remember her face, but I will never forget how she made me feel and how grateful I am that she was there. They did a mandatory ultrasound and were required to ask me if I wanted them to print out pictures. Of course the answer was “No… Thank you, but no.” We went through the procedure, but now that part is kind of hazy for me. I remember feeling overwhelmed and scared just because I was in a place by myself. But the woman next to me, holding my hand, was so strong and amazing for me in those moments when I thought I couldn’t be. I was a little shell-shocked right after. She helped me get dressed and walked me to the recovery room, holding me like I was her best friend. I thought, “I don’t know you, and I’ll probably never see you again, but thank you so much.”

I walked out, and my roommate was there. She asked me if I was okay, and I assured her I was. We got another Uber back to campus. I was definitely drained from the whole process. I crawled into my bed, and my roommate went and got me giant pads, ginger ale, and soup from the deli. This girl does not want to have kids; she [is] not maternal. But I saw these caring instincts come out because she cared about me. There was no judgment There was no, “You got yourself into this,” just a friend being a friend. I will never forget that. I am so proud to have her as a friend.

I was so relieved to have it done with. I’m the kind of person who loves to do research and be informed about everything. So, this is when things got complicated. I started doing some more research. Now I know that there’s no normal way to feel about abortion and every woman has her own experience with it. There are no right or wrong feelings. Unfortunately the Internet can be a dark place. You can click on things that seem like they’re for support after an abortion, but really they’re full of shameful, critical, anti-choice rhetoric. So I had a couple of instances where I clicked that. It didn’t really affect me or make me question the decision I made, but it made me realize that there are people out there who actually believe this. There are people who think of me as a lesser person or damaged.

I decided to visit some more credible sites. I started reading everything on the Planned Parenthood and Center for Reproductive Rights websites.  I watched some PSA-style videos about celebrities and their experiences, even their mothers’ experiences with abortion. It was really comforting to see people speaking about it without being shameful. It helped me heal a lot, but I did keep it to myself for an entire year. I’m a very open person, but I think I allowed the stigma to change who I was and not be so open. I didn’t feel like myself because I wasn’t allowing myself to feel strong and confident and proud of my decision and speak about it openly. I felt inauthentic because I’m so supportive of people and their rights, and here I was almost cowering about this. After a year, I told my parents, and they were extremely supportive. I wish I had told them when it happened. It was definitely a learning experience, and they are still so supportive of me being involved in protecting reproductive rights. We are all capable and should be trusted to make our own decisions. I’m so grateful I wasn’t somewhere like Texas, where I’d have to drive 100 miles or wait two days or have protestors outside. You’re in an emotionally vulnerable place walking in there. You already have to deal with so much that day.

I consider it something that was meant to happen to me. It wasn’t a tragedy. I’m so grateful for this experience because it opened my eyes and made me understand things from a perspective that I was previously only imagining. I finished college. I’ve never looked back and questioned my decision. I just found out that I got into law school. I’m so excited because now I want to make sure that the next person that’s in this position has an easier time than I did. I was privileged and had resources, but it was still one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I can’t even imagine the burdens that are on people financially, emotionally, and geographically. I want to make sure that I can almost pay it forward. It’s motivated me to get involved with Planned Parenthood, which has reinforced how grateful I am that I live in a country where abortion is illegal. I am so excited about Tennessee Stories Project because when I was going through this, all I wanted to know was how other people felt and that I wasn’t alone. Abortion can be very isolating because nobody talks about it. Being myself again and using my experiences has been wonderful. I am so happy to be in this place.

J

I was 30 years old. My amazing daughter – I had wanted to have, was 5, and I could no longer use birth control, without serious side effects. I had tried multiple formulations of pills, the Nuvaring, the shot, and I knew I only wanted one child – that was my decision and choice my entire life. I was denied any form of sterilization when I was pregnant and planning for delivery – back then they said I had to be 35 before the would allow it – allow me to make the choice to be a proud and content parent of one child. So, my husband – at the time, her dad – said he could not orgasm wearing a condom and I reminded him I only wanted one child and did not want to get pregnant and have to get an abortion. He told me he would get a vasectomy, which made sense – cheap and fast and allowed for him before 35. I had to go out of town to help family and was taking my daughter with me, so he said he’s have a friend drive him, then just stay home and rest all weekend – made sense. Well, he said he went, but it turns out he lied, but he even told me that he had to go for a check-up to make sure it worked, so I trusted him. About a year later I start getting sick in the morning – my period had never been regular, so I could not assume that not having a period in 4 weeks meant I was pregnant, I would go months without a period. At first I thought I had some kind of flu, but after a couple days with no fever, I knew something was wrong. I went to the drugstore and took a pregnancy test in their bathroom and then began to vomit and cry when it came back positive – one of my worst nightmares. This may be surprising to some, but not all women want get pregnant and have babies – some don’t want any children, and some like me only want one. I felt terrified about having to get an abortion – I had always believed in having that choice and had taken a friend for one, when her pills and his condom failed, but I knew it would be a hard decision – I was aware of the reality of my decision. I also knew I had to have the procedure immediately, since I didn’t want the fetus to get any more mature. I also felt betrayed and trapped. I called the abortion clinic – still in the Walgreens bathroom – to make an appointment. I had to wait two days to get in, by Florida law (that’s where I was at the time) I had to hear the heartbeat and see the fetus on the ultrasound. I was 6 weeks pregnant the day the ultrasound was done. I then was required to wait three days to make sure I was committed to my decision. All the while I was dealing with not letting my daughter know what was going on, while confronting her father about his actions. He said he wanted more than one child and thought he would trap me into having another one and having to stay with him for financial support, plus he didn’t want a vasectomy, so he lied. I had the abortion and declined the pain medication, other than a local, so that I would be completely aware of the procedure and what I was going through. After recovering from the procedure, I tried again to get some sort of sterilization procedure and was still denied any options due to my age. To avoid divorce – which should have happened (and eventually did), he agreed to have me go with him to watch the real vasectomy and then I drove him back for the check up. I have not ever regretted my decision and am thankful I had the option to make that choice. I didn’t ever want a second child and it is my body, so my decision to make, and I had not been irresponsible – as so many judge-mental people say. I had been denied sterilization in the hospital after my daughter was born, been denied any procedures in the 5 years after her birth, still denied any type of procedure after the abortion, and been lied to by my husband about his vasectomy, all because he wanted a more pleasurable orgasm and to trap me into getting pregnant against my will. Each woman that gets an abortion has her own story and it’s her choice to make. Plus, as my daughter says, they are not pro-lifers that oppose my choice or her choice, but they are pro-birthers, because once they are born, they are not there to provide support and care. As a mom, I will do everything I can to guarantee she always has a right to make a safe choice.

Jaye

I have a niece. She’s 15, and I’ve been raising her off and on since she was five—more on than off—and, she’s on birth control. I made sure to put her on it because, well, kids are stupid and because that’s how old I was when I got pregnant.

And I don’t want anybody that I love ever having to go through a really heartbreaking experience like mine.

I was in high school. I was 15 and in the tenth grade, and I had a really good, super best friend who was a boy. He and his ex-girlfriend had just had a baby who was maybe three months old, and when I found out I was pregnant I was like, “Shit. I can’t put him through that again.” I didn’t take a pregnancy test or anything, but I just knew. I could feel it, and there was no way I was going to be able to finish school and raise this kid. Not only that, but I really didn’t want a baby.

I couldn’t tell my mom, but my best friend from high school, she had a car. So, one day, we ditched class and she took me to the free clinic in California. I was on birth control at the time, but the doctor told me it was “user error” and that I was pregnant. Nobody ever taught me that you had to take it every day at the same time—I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. So, I screwed it up because nobody ever taught me how to use it correctly.

But, the doctor was amazing, and she super sweet to me. She made sure I knew that my options were open, and she gave me information about where to go if I wanted to pursue having a child or if I didn’t. There was no pressure for me to pick right away. She wasn’t like “Oh, congratulations! You’re having a baby!” She was very medical and matter-of-fact which made it so much easier. I didn’t feel like from the start that it was my “duty” to have this baby at 15-years-old. She gave me this piece of paper saying how far along I was, and for a week I didn’t tell anyone. I had to live with this shitty secret at school, and I felt like everybody knew. It felt horrible, and the boy who had gotten me pregnant, when he found out, said “Oh shit! What are you going to do?”

That really stuck with me. He said, “what are YOU going to do,” and I immediately realized that I was on my own.

So, I was having a pretty shitty week. I didn’t know how to tell my mom, and I just thought she was going to be so mad. One night that week, I was super grouchy, and I was just being an asshole to her. She was asking me to do the dishes, clean up the kitchen and all this stuff, and I was just snapping back at her. Finally, she said, “Oh my god, what is wrong with you?!” And I was like, “You know what’s wrong with me…” but I couldn’t say the words. Normally, I have no problem saying just what I want to say, but I’ve never had to utter such difficult words in my life. So, I didn’t. I went to my room and got the little piece of paper the doctor gave me and said, “Here, this is what’s wrong with me.”

She looked at it for a minute and then she just said, “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.” She gave me a hug and said, “What are we going to do?” She said we instead of you. That always stayed with me.

I didn’t know 100 percent what I wanted to do, though. This baby was a part of me, but I knew it wasn’t going to work with my life. It was a really difficult decision to have to make, but I did not want to be a mother at all. And, it’s so scary to me that people can be so scary mean and judgmental when they have no fucking idea what it’s like to be in that position.

So, I made the appointment. My mom made me do it. She was supportive, but she was still pissed that we had to go through this and you could tell she was annoyed. When I went to the clinic, I brought my sister, my best friend and my mom—and we waited for seven fucking hours that day. Seven hours in the waiting room. We watched two VHS movies, and then rewound them and watched them again. By the time they called my name, we were all hot, we were all hungry, and we were all tired. But, we went back in the room and I brought my friend with me because I wanted her to hold my hand. I just wanted somebody to be there when I woke up.

Once we were back there, they started explaining to me what they were going to do, and they had this little tray with all these different tools and needles. They told me what they were going to use to numb my cervix and to take the embryo out. And, I was like, “Ok, but when are you going to knock me out?” The girl just looked at me and said, “Oh no, this is a local anesthetic.” I didn’t know what the fuck that meant. Well, it means that you don’t get knocked out.

 I was like, “Hell no. Fuck no. I’m not doing this.” Nobody ever explained that to me. I was fifteen! I didn’t know what that shit meant. So, I was like, “No, I’m not doing it.” There was no way I wanted to feel any pressure, see anything, even hear anything. It was like a nightmare that I just wanted to wake up from—literally.

So, we left. We got food, and everybody was pissed at me.

I made another appointment and by that time I was educated. I found another place that got me in really quickly, within four or five days. But, by that time, I had had a birthday. So, I was pregnant on my 16th birthday and that was really, really shitty.

The second time I went, it was just my mom and I. When I made the appointment for a Saturday, the woman I spoke with said, “I just want to warn you—on the weekends, we have protestors. They’re not allowed to come on the property. They have to stay on the sidewalk, but don’t let them bother you. They’re here every weekend. Just drive by, come into the parking lot, and come right in.”

So, we were having to do this again. My mom was pissed because she had to take another day off work, and we’re driving in and there were so many protestors it was insane. They were holding huge blown up picture of dead babies, and they started throwing rocks at my mom’s car. They were spitting on my mom’s car and screaming, “Baby killer! You’re going to hell!” I started crying I was so scared. My mom was mad; she was pissed. And, there was so much drama going on and so much energy being focused on this one thing, she finally said, “I can’t believe you got yourself into this! Where the hell is the father? He should be here not me. What the hell were you thinking?” So, I was like, “Ok, mom. Just drop me off. I’ll do this myself.”

So, she did. She dropped me off.

I walked into the waiting room, and there was no one there. It was so weird. The lights were dimmed, so it was dark and I was by myself. Of course, I didn’t have a cell phone back then so I was just sitting there scared out of my mind. I was crying. I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to wake up at all. My mom and me left on bad terms, and I didn’t have anybody there or anything. I felt so fucking alone. Sitting there in the waiting room was the worst I had felt during the entire ordeal.

When they finally called me back into the changing room, they gave me this shitty paper-thin gown. The room looked like a surgery room, so different from the previous facility I went to. All the assistants and everybody had covers over their hair and mouth and they were wearing smocks. Everything was just super sanitary. And, they had an anesthesiologist in there who made me sign a waiver right before it happened. He said, “Ok. You’ll feel a little burn and then start counting backwards from 100.” I was like, “99” and then my ass was out.

After that, I don’t remember anything. I didn’t have a dream or vision or feeling. Nothing. When I woke up, they were taking my legs off the stirrups, and I was just so hazy. I forgot why I was there I was so confused. One of the girls wheeled my bed into the recovery room where there were like three other girls too. They gave me some water and hooked me up to an IV, and I still had no fucking idea what was going on. Then, she went and got one of those super old-school maxi-pads that had a fucking belt on it. It looked like suspenders that hook in the front and the back. She was trying to put one of those on me, and, as she was lifting my legs, I just remember crying and saying “No more. No more. Please, no more.” And, she said, “We’re just going to put this on you, it’s okay.” And, I said, “Will you please hold my hand?” And, she did. She held my hand, and I don’t even remember her name. But she made me feel so much better. She stopped her job for just a second to just comfort me. I was in so much pain, and I was sad.

Over the years, I did think about the “what ifs” and whether or not I made the right choice. I was so young. I was 15 and now I’m 36, and I still think about it. But, I know that I made the right choice. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and things turn out the way they’re supposed to. Years later, my sister had her baby—my niece. And, even though I didn’t give birth, I have a child. I don’t think that energy was supposed to be in my life at that time. For whatever reason, it had to be put on hold. But I’ve been caring for my niece for many years.  I raised her, I love her, and I care for her like she’s my own child.

After having my experience, I realize how important it is being a parent that you discuss this stuff with your kid. My mom didn’t talk to me about it because it was always awkward, and whenever we talked about sex it was just like silly. It made it worse because I didn’t feel comfortable asking about anything. So, instead, I experimented.

But, that’s my story about the time I had to change my entire life because of an accident. People fuck up. Yeah, there’s so many things people can do to prevent accidents, but if you look at traffic accidents, you could have been a better driver, you could have done something different. But, you know what? You didn’t, and I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to make somebody pay for that for the rest of their life. It was an accident. I got pregnant on accident, and I tried to take precautions. It didn’t work. If I had had that baby, I would have like a 20-year-old kid right now and I’m 36. No fucking way. My life would be so different it would be insane, and I wouldn’t have been able to go to school or accomplish any of the things that I’m proud of. It still hurts sometimes, but I cannot imagine my life otherwise. I don’t regret my decision whatsoever. I didn’t want that life, and maybe that sounds selfish of me. But, this is my life, and I’ll be damned if somebody is going to tell me what the fuck I’m supposed with my life.

JD

I wanted to tell my story because I feel like I can offer a different perspective.  I don’t have any kids and I’m older. I was 39 when I got pregnant. And I never was the type of woman who had an urge to have children—it was never like a question. And so when I got pregnant it was unexpected and it was the first time in my life when I had to ask myself that question- “do I want to be a mom?”  And I was surprised that that question was so hard for me to ask. And my boyfriend, whom I’m still with, had stated from the beginning that he never wanted to have kids.  He has no interest in being a father.

So when I got pregnant I knew that if I were to go through with the pregnancy, I would have to raise the kid on my own.  So that became another part of the question. Is this something that you can do by yourself? I’ve always been pro choice but it had been a label I had given myself that was out there because I’d never had to think about it. When I started asking myself those questions, the answers were more complicated and much heavier than I had anticipated. So I knew that I could not raise a kid on my own. I know there are women who do it and they do a fantastic job.  But that’s not something I feel like I was capable of  doing in a healthy, holistic manner.  And I’m a teacher, so I see what our community does to kids and it’s just not a good place to have children and I didn’t want to contribute to that either.  And so, I went ahead and said I’m going to get an abortion and the thing that surprised me was how hard of a decision it was.  I had no idea. 

When I made that decision I was able to go to Planned Parenthood. Well, first I went to my doctor and it was weird because they didn’t ask me—they just assumed I was keeping this baby.  So they put me on vitamins and started scheduling follow up appointments and I felt like I was doing something wrong.   So I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood.  I felt like I was lucky because there’s one in Nashville and I didn’t have to drive 6 hours to get to one in a different state.  Then I remember thinking before it--I couldn’t remember about legislation about listening to the heartbeat.  I didn’t know if that had passed so I was nervous about that. 

I had about a week before my appointment. The entire time I just don’t know-I hear people talk about getting an abortion and how they knew it was the right thing but for me it was such a grey area since I never expected to be in that situation. At my age too, if I wanted to have a kid, this was probably the last chance because I’m getting older. So it had to be a for sure thing.  When I went to my appointment, my boyfriend was really supportive, as much as he could be.  He went with me.  The process was long but less scary than I had thought.   There were girls there who were younger than, maybe one girl who was older than me.  There were couples and people by themselves. 

It felt right when I got there. I kind of knew what I was doing and felt better about my decision. I did the medical abortion where you take the pill. It was on a weekend, it was crazy.  There was physical discomfort.  My body was doing things that I didn’t know it could do.  They prepared me and they didn’t.  The doctor said there would be pain and discomfort but I didn’t know how much pain.  And there was it was a lot more painful than I thought and it was bloodier than I thought.  I had to call in sick the next Monday. The follow up was really great.  The nurse had suggested birth control using an IUD and I went back and got one at Planned Parenthood.  That was really helpful and I’m grateful for it since I cannot take any hormones.  I think the aftermath is that even though I know I did the right thing for myself and my life, it’s still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and that I’ve ever had to deal with.

It makes me kind of angry that abortion has become a key word with politicians and with legislation—they just kind of throw it around as an issue when in reality, it’s very personal.  It shouldn’t be politicians deciding and it shouldn’t be governed. When it’s being talked about now and people are drawing lines in the sand about it I just think “you have no idea”.  It’s hard. I thought it would be black and white for me but it wasn’t; it was scary.  That was about three years ago.  I haven’t necessarily regretted it but I felt grief. I’ve definitely grieved. And I think women need to know that. For women who are already mothers I don’t know if it’s the same. For me it’s been a grieving process and I needed to know that that was normal. Nobody told me that. I thought there was something wrong with me.  They didn’t give me any resources for follow up on the emotional side of things, just clinical follow up.  The process is where you can get the most patients in at the same time so that the doctor can perform as many procedures as she can. I just felt like cattle. It wasn’t comfortable. We were in a waiting room for 4-5 hours. And I don’t know why.  People were on their phones and that felt really weird.

 I think that the main thing I took away was really working on not feeling shame about my decision and` honoring that grief.I grew up in another state in a very liberal town.  Here, in the clinic, I was so scared I would see one of my students or see their parents.  I couldn’t talk about it except for with a couple of people and my family. In the South it’s a stronger “thing” that I wasn’t prepared for.  The Planned Parenthood where I grew up was amazing. They were very chill.  It was a very different feeling than I got here at the clinic in Nashville.

But I knew when I saw the Tennessee Stories Project that I wanted to share my story.  I think it popped up on my news feed-- I found it randomly and I needed to see that at that moment. I had to do work to feel at peace about the decision, especially when I meet moms who have been single moms their whole lives and I find myself comparing myself to them.

Jessica

I’ve had two abortions. My first was when I was 19 and had come home from college for the summer. My second was when I was 23 and was working at Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic, a privately owned abortion clinic.

At the time of my first abortion, I wouldn’t really call it dating, but I was seeing a guy who was, for the lack of a better term, a loser. He had an arrest record and was a bad boy. Even though my mom was a working single mother, I had always grown up around a lot of well-to-do people, so it was kind of fun to date someone who I knew wasn’t good for me. It felt really dangerous and edgy which also felt kind of exciting at the time. This was until I found out I was pregnant. Then it was like, “Oh shit. This is real. This is real life. This isn’t pretend anymore.”

I didn’t really know a lot about him so when I told him I was pregnant I didn’t really think about how he might react. I just thought he should know he had gotten me pregnant. He got super excited and told his whole family and all of his friends.  He even made me a doctor’s appointment. Looking back, I think the hardest part about it was that he never asked me how I felt about be pregnant. Just that assumption that because you have a uterus you have to be excited about being pregnant is such a big misconception. His excitement and elation made me feel like I definitely had to have an abortion because this was not at all how I envisioned all of this going down.

About a week after I found out I was pregnant I called my mom and told her about it. She didn’t freak out, yell, or get upset. Instead she asked me how I was feeling, and I told her that I didn’t want to continue this pregnancy. I went over to her house, she made me tea, and we stayed up late talking about it. She told me the story of my grandmother’s sister who had died while trying to self-abort in the 30’s. The next morning my mom called Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic and made my appointment to have the abortion. I opted to do the abortion pill and took the first pill in the office that day to end my pregnancy. Over the weekend I freaked out and changed my mind about choosing the pill over a surgical abortion. My mom called the after-hours number that Sunday, and they got me in on Monday for a surgical abortion. It was a really positive experience, and I even ended up getting a job there eventually. I felt really lucky to have had that option and even luckier to have a mom who was so supportive. The staff was also really great, and it was one of the best experiences I ever had in a medical setting.

My second abortion happened  much faster and without nearly as much thought. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I knew immediately what I needed to do. I was working at Volunteer Women’s Medical Clinic at the time, and I had told everyone I was having an abortion that Saturday. It was even the same doctor who performed my first abortion. I was back at work on Monday, and it wasn’t a big deal at all. I had my second abortion, and life went on as I had planned.

When I’m counseling patients here [at Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee] I talk to them about all of this. I talk to them about how it feels like the weight of the world is on you when you are pregnant and trying to make this decision.  You feel like you have a mountain of stress pushing on you because for some women it really is the hardest decision they have ever had to make. For some women it is a major loss, and just like any other loss life continues on afterwards.

In both situations it wasn’t the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Neither were traumatic experiences and I rarely think about my abortions. I don’t even think about either as a pregnancy, but more like an illness. I just wanted it over.

After I had my daughter, a lot of people asked me if my perspective on abortion had changed now that I was a mother. My answer every time was that it had changed because now I knew without a single shadow of a doubt that I did the right thing. Having a child really reinforced my belief that those were two really positive experiences and the right decisions. I would not be able to give my daughter all of the great, wonderful, awesome things that I’m giving her now if I hadn’t had those abortions. Especially since she’s a girl, one day I’ll share those stories with her, and I want her to know that it’s okay to make mistakes to have accidents. I want her to know that she has options, and she is only bound by her own limitations and not the limitations of others for her. I feel like I’ve been more affected by abortion stigma since having my daughter. I think about it more because she may have a pregnancy scare one day, and I don’t want her to feel like there’s pressure on her.

Everyone in my family knows about my abortions. All of my close friends know, and everyone I work with knows. When I’m counseling patients at PPMET I’ll tell them about my story, and I encourage other staff to use my story as well. Sometimes we’ll have patients who will clam up because they feel like they’re a slut or stupid or dirty because nobody talks about their abortion(s). They feel alone or don’t know how to feel so I want people to know about other abortion stories. I really don’t like to say [unplanned pregnancies] are a mistake because that implies you’ve done something wrong. I don’t think that having sex is a wrong or bad thing. It’s just human, and we all have accidents.

I want to share my story because every woman has a different experience with their abortion. This wasn’t a hard decision for me, but it is a life-changing decision for anyone who has to make it because if you don’t have an abortion you have a child. It can be an incredibly hard decision for some, but I also don’t want women to fell like it has to be this big, sad, depressing ordeal. It’s okay to not feel guilty about your abortion, and there’s no reason to feel guilty for not feeling guilty. The decision is unique, individual, and everybody goes through their own process when making it. I was ten times more scared when I decided to go through with my pregnancy than I was when I had my abortions.

I don’t understand the judgment behind abortion because it is the most intimate and personal decision a woman can make with her body. If that decision is controlled by others then what do we have? I think it’s great for women to talk about their abortions and say that they’re okay. And if you regret you decision that’s okay too because all make decisions we regret sometimes. The truth is that most women don’t regret their abortions, and we have to stop using women’s bodies as weapons against each other.   

Judith

I want the same rights the Religious Right has to make my own decisions.

            I was 19, in New York, and had just started my second year of college when I found out that I was pregnant. I wasn’t using any kind of birth control; I wasn’t planning on this. I went to a regular ob/gyn and he did give me some pills at that time, something to help abort, but nothing happened, so I wound up going to Planned Parenthood. This was in 1972, so abortions were legal in New York.

            I found out what I needed to do and what it was going to cost, but I didn’t have the money, so I had to wait until my birthday to use my birthday money. Between that and my boyfriend and my best girlfriend, we came up with the money, but not enough for me to have any anesthesia during any of this. So I had to have the procedure without anesthesia.

             I couldn’t tell my parents. My parents were staunch Catholics. They were the type that: of course you would never think of having sex or living with anyone. They didn’t want me to get my ears pierced because it wasn’t considered appropriate. Twenty years later when I got divorced, they didn’t want anybody to know about it, they wanted me to lie because they were embarrassed. So I knew that this was not something I could ever divulge to them.

            I had the abortion but I don’t remember a lot about it. I remember squeezing the tech’s hand because it was so painful, and I remember being in the recovery room, and looking around and talking to some of the other girls. There was not one person from New York. There was somebody from Virginia, somebody from the mid-west, but not another soul from New York.

            I never regretted it. I didn’t have any kind of depression. I was so adamant that abortion was my only option, and that it was the option I wanted. Over the years I might have thought, gee, I would have a 30-year-old child, but I never wanted children for multiple reasons. So it was a comfort to me, something I never looked back on, never second-guessed myself. I just remember going back to school and my daily life. It was a relief. I was counseled at Planned Parenthood and received my birth control pills and that was the end of it for me.

            I remember also being amazed that it wasn’t legal nationwide at the time. But I never followed the issue, never was active. I never divulged it to any friends because it never came up. My husband knows about it. My closest friends know, but it was not something from the past that I felt needed to be shared. I do now. The repercussions are enormous. I look at Texas and everything that’s being done to make abortion difficult, especially for the people who can afford it the least. And what they are dong to physicians, making them read that horrible false statement about what can happen or the repercussions if you go through with this. They are infringing on my rights.I want the same rights the Religious Right has to make my own decisions. That’s the way I see it now. If we are a country with separation of church and state, then don’t put your religious beliefs on me. You do what you want; I’m going to do what I want. As long as it’s legal there should be no wall between what I decide to do or what my physician recommends. There’s no other medical procedure that requires this type of scrutiny.  Nobody tells a man he can’t have vasectomy. Nothing else has the restrictions and the stigma that a legal abortion has. I just can’t imagine what I would have done without mine.

Judith Ann

So, I had this boyfriend. It was a tumultuous time in my life! My father died when I was 15. My sister, who was a year-and-a-half older than me, got secretly married to keep her boyfriend out of the draft in the Vietnam War. No one knew. And my mom, who had lost two husbands, had some difficulties in her own life.
With all that in mind, it’s a good thing I had a boyfriend who was definitely an anchor for me. We did not actually have intercourse probably for a year. It was like Clinton sex, I guess. This was probably at least a year into our relationship and it was just that one crazy, funky time that he didn’t have a condom. I was too young and innocent to have gone to an OB/GYN to get on any kind of birth control – the pill or an IUD or anything. I should have been on birth control. But I didn’t do that until after.
My mom died in ’03, and she was 89. Think about that, she was old school. She was like, ‘don’t you let those boys take advantage of you!’ She was not someone I could go to with this sort of problem.
I was always aware of when I got my period and I was always aware of when I was ovulating. And of course the day after, I knew I was ovulating and I freaked. And within a week when I was late for my period, I knew I was pregnant. It was never a choice for me to go through a pregnancy and give it up for adoption. I just couldn’t even imagine that. I’ve always been very maternally oriented. I always wanted to be a mother. So, I couldn’t imagine having a baby and giving it away. It was not an option for me. Although, I applaud people who do that because there are some wonderful families who can’t have their own children.
I called a friend and said, “I don’t know what to do, I’m pregnant.” I was freaking out. She told me not to worry, and that she'd find someone to take care of it. This was probably 1967. So she gave me the name of some quack doctor. I mean, he was supposedly a doctor. I was lucky to have friends who supported me. My girlfriends were my support system. I’m not even sure who made the connection, but there was never any judgment on their side.
To go visit this doctor, I had to go from the Bronx in New York City, through a tunnel into Newark, New Jersey, and sit in this waiting room with all these people that I knew were doing the same thing. It was the creepiest thing ever. He examined me, I was very early, and he was like 'you’re not ready, you’re not ready.' This doctor never really told me much about the process. He was giving me shots, and I would get out of there and it was like I have no idea what I’m getting. I can’t believe I was that stupid, I’m not that stupid anymore trust me.
At one point, he walked out of the room and I checked the bottle to see what he was giving me. I believe it was Vitamin B-12, it could’ve been B-6, I don’t know. But I had no idea – where the abortion was going to take place or when it was going to happen. It was getting late into my pregnancy. I think this was past my third month when he finally said, “Okay, where do you live?” And I was just lucky that my mom would go to Florida for periods of time and leave me alone.
So he came to my house, the 12th floor of an apartment building in New York City and I laid on my kitchen table and I got an abortion. I had no idea if this guy was for real or not. You hear these stories about back alley abortions and people getting infections and dying, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones for surviving an illegal abortion.
I often marvel at how different my life would’ve turned out and I’m amazed at how many people end up having an abortion. The fact that 1 in 3 women have had an abortion is pretty powerful. They’re just lucky if they can do it legally. I didn’t have that. But that’s just the way it is. I’ve never looked back; I’ve never had regrets. I did have a wonderful, supportive boyfriend who would’ve married me, but it was just the farthest thing from my mind. I knew I was not ready, it was not what I wanted, and I felt like after that length of time with him I knew I was not in love with this person.
Anyway, I ended up going to California with a boyfriend when I was 19. Even though everyone longs to go to New York City and it is a wonderful place, it was what I call a concrete jungle at the time. It was difficult to live there, there was a lot of crime, and things had not been cleaned up yet. I’d been held up at knife point twice in New York City. So, I hitchhiked to California with a boyfriend with just a backpack and a sleeping bag. And ultimately, we split up and I’ve been happily married for 40 years. Now I have two daughters who have given me six beautiful grandchildren. My life would’ve turned out so differently if I hadn't had an abortion; it’s not even funny.
Living in a Republican state and a conservative Christian community, there are not a whole lot of people who know my story, unless I know that politically they are on the same wavelength as me. It’s not something I would just share. One time, I was at lunch with a bunch of people for someone’s birthday and it came up. I mentioned that I had an abortion, and one of the ladies just got up and left. She couldn’t handle it. That was really weird. I’m like, this is the 21st century—grow up. So, I don’t go blabbing it to just anyone, but I’m sure all my closest friends have heard part of the story and know some of it. My mother went to her grave never knowing. I never told her. But I’ve never looked back, and I’ve had no repercussions, nightmares, or bad feelings.
I want to tell my story because Roe v. Wade is probably one of the most important protections women have, and there’s a fear of it being it being reversed—a fear we’re going to lose women’s rights to make that choice. Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion. It’s not pleasant, but it’s necessary for women to be allowed to make that choice. And the fact that some of these idiotic politicians want to prevent women who are in distress or whose lives might be affected — it’s the scariest thing.
I always told my daughters to come to me if the time comes that they feel like they want to be sexually active. Of course, if they were 15 I’d tell them ‘hell no.’ Fortunately, we haven’t had any mishaps. They’ve had all planned pregnancies, and maybe that’s because they know my story. I feel like I’ve been blessed and lucky in life to have made the choice I made.

June

The main reason for my sharing my story is twofold. My grandmother died in an illegal abortion in 1933 that profoundly affected my mother, her siblings and family for a few generations.
In 1976 when abortion was legal, I too found myself fighting for my rights to reproductive freedom.
During my first six years of marriage, my cycle was unpredictable at best. I would bleed heavy clots for months and have months of no periods.
Upon expecting a diagnosis of pregnancy and at the initial visit, my gynecologist confirmed that I was pregnant. The problem was my uterus was the size of what a seventh month of pregnancy uterus should be and the fetus was the size of a four to six week.
My gynecologist thought my general health was at risk as the fetus probably died or if alive and survived would most likely be a vegetable requiring sophisticated medical care in an institution. My gynecologist told me to take time to decide, but the sooner the better.
This was before the days of ultrasound. After consulting with my husband and minister (who tried to remain neutral but is really pro life) I called my gynecologist as directed to schedule the therapeutic abortion. His nurse stated their office does not perform abortions and referred me to a cold, heartless doctor who ran his practice as a factory for abortions. He didn’t even keep the remains as directed to help the specialist understand why I had multiple miscarries.
I was admitted to a prestigious Pittsburgh hospital for a two night stay. This hospital was almost my second home as I had numerous D&Cs here and laparoscopies. I was surprised when the anesthesiologist was placing the mask over my nose, he whispered, ” You don’t have to do this, you can change your mind.” That was not helpful. Plus, it seemed to me that my post op experience was that the women who had abortions were the last to receive nursing care as compared to my other stays at the same hospital. We were the forgotten ones on the floor.
The great ending to the story is my personal gynecologist left the practice where the nurse told me they don’t perform abortions. He said that I was his patient and should have been the one to perform the procedure. I felt validated and supported in my choice. I thought that perhaps this would make it easier for other people in his practice facing the same decision.
My advice would be to question authority and believe in yourself for making the most personal decision of your life. My husband, daughter and I have no regrets. My wish is that medical professionals listen to the patient, treat without prejudice, explain post op, and if you don’t want to be associated with abortions, then work somewhere else. It’s a personal choice!

Kalynn

It was an easy choice to make but still a hard thing to do.

I was 25 and had just moved back to Minnesota from California. I’d lived in Minnesota and the Midwest my whole life but had gone to California for a year. That didn’t work out so well, but those post college years are, I think, some of the hardest for young people. So I was living at home and trying to get my act together. I had applied to graduate school and had been accepted at Michigan State University, and that was exciting, but I was not necessarily my healthiest or happiest. I had a relationship with someone who wasn’t very healthy himself and we broke up about two weeks before I found out I was pregnant. That was about two days before I was leaving for graduate school in Michigan.

Planned Parenthood had always been good to me. That was where I’d gotten all my reproductive services throughout high school and college, so that was the natural place for me to get a pregnancy test. In college I’d had a stable relationship and had been on birth control, but in the turbulent years after college I’d gone off birth control.

I went to Michigan knowing what I was going to do. I did talk to the father, and we were on the same page. He already had one child and was not interested in having another. We were not in a committed relationship and, anyway, he was not good news for me or for another child. I moved to Michigan with a few belongings, a German Shepard and only about $1,000 total. Since over half of my money had to go to paying rent, and the abortion procedure cost around $300, I didn’t have much left to live on until my first small graduate stipend check came in. This was a very stressful time.

The first thing I did in Michigan was go to another Planned Parenthood and was disappointed to learn that they didn’t do abortions there, but they had a list of providers in the area and they insisted that I come back to them for post surgical care. So I made an appointment at another place. Michigan had just enacted a 24-hour waiting period, so I did that and got their counseling, and it was fine but not necessary in my opinion, and then scheduled the abortion for about a week later. I was in a strange land and feeling disoriented, starting graduate school and all by myself trying to figure out this new life. I told my younger brother about the abortion, and he flew out to be with me, which I didn’t expect but greatly appreciated. When the day came, I was beating myself up because I was 25. Being 41 now, that doesn’t sound very old, but at the time I thought, what’s wrong with me, you know. I know better, I shouldn’t be in this position. I think I really expected to walk into a waiting room with 15-year-old girls and their parents, but there were women of all ages, ethnicities, and races, women with children, women with their husbands, and that was one of my greatest comforts that day, other than my brother being with me. It was like, oh yea, this is part of the burden of being a woman, and I don’t judge any woman here for her life circumstances, so it’s time for me to stop judging myself so harshly. And so I did. I let go a little bit of some of that self-hatred for putting myself in that circumstance.

However, again this was not a Planned Parenthood facility, and it did not take me long to realize it was not going to be a good experience. The first thing they did was call us all back, there were probably 10 of us, and give us all vicodin, like all in a line even though there was going to be a lot of time between our procedures. We had numbers and it was just very cattle-like. The other thing I noticed was just the unprofessionalism of the staff. The women at the front desk had these gigantic lollypops in their mouths, and they were sort of cackling with each other. There was not a lot of eye contact, and they kept their lollypops in their mouths when they were giving us the vicodin. It was unprofessional at best, and insulting. I had to wait a long time and I felt like the vicodin had very little effect. Anyway, when they called my name, I was ready. I didn’t have any doubt that having the abortion was the right thing to do.

But I remember being on the procedure table, and the doctor came in and he also had a gigantic lollypop in his mouth. He said to me, “Hello, I’m Dr. something something,” but I couldn’t understand because he had this lollypop in his mouth. He just said, “Sorry the receptionist gave me this lollypop, and it’s really good.” That bothered me of course, but I kind of let that go until it became clear that he was going to leave it in his mouth during the procedure. I did ask him to take it out, but he was very offended that I would even question his medical practices even though it clearly wasn’t sanitary in any way, shape, or form.

The procedure was quick. It’s not pleasant but it’s not horrible. There was a very nice nurse who held my hand and was professional, unlike the rest of the staff or the doctor, but it was emotional. There was one point in the procedure that I felt overwhelmed by unexpected emotion. I remember thinking, is this hormonal, because I wasn’t conflicted about what I was doing. Then in the recovery room when I was still upset and crying, the staff continued to be unprofessional. If I recall, it was the same women who’d been at the front desk, and they were having a conversation about how all the people who came in gave them colds. They didn't notice that I was crying. I ended up asking if I could just leave, and then my brother was there and that was great, and he provided me a lot of comfort.

After that experience, that’s really when my advocacy for Planned Parenthood took off, because I’d always had wonderful experiences with Planned Parenthood, not just for birth control but for basic things like pap smears. When I went back to the Planned Parenthood for my follow-up care I let them know what had happened at the other facility, and they took that very seriously. I don’t know if they took that facility off their list of providers, but they were quite surprised and upset to hear what had happened. I knew my situation wasn’t typical. What I took from all of that was the importance of supporting Planned Parenthood and other good services, safe services, women-focused services, not-for-profit services. Just out of curiosity I recently looked to see if that clinic was still in business, and it is, and there are recent reviews that say very similar things about it. I mean, my procedure was over 15 years ago but there are online reviews now talking about unprofessional and horrible experiences. That’s why we need places like Planned Parenthood that are focused on women and their care.

The happy part of the story is I met my husband not long after my experience. It’s sort of funny how these things happen because I’d definitely sworn off men for a good while. I’d told myself that I was focused on school, on getting this PhD, but then unexpectedly I met my future husband. I didn’t really know how to tell him about the abortion or how he would react but he was very kind and understanding and empathetic and we were married a year later. Now we have two amazing children.

I was in no position to have a baby back then. I was not well at that point in my life; I didn’t know who I was yet. I was in transition. I had no money, no partner, and I didn’t know where my life was heading. To bring a child into that chaos and expect to be successful was not at all realistic. The most frustrating thing to me is the perception that abortion is a form of birth control. It’s really not. It’s not an easy decision for anyone to make: I still remember May 3 every year. It was an easy choice to make but still a hard thing to do. No woman goes into it lightly. But it’s still our choice.

Katy

I’m pregnant, but I’m totally fine. I know what I want to do, I need an abortion.

My name is Katy and I am forty-nine years old. I had an abortion the summer after my junior year in college. I was dating this guy who lived in the apartment across the street from me, and not very seriously. We were just kind of fooling around. I wasn’t on birth control because I didn’t have a serious boyfriend at the time. I had been on birth control before when I did have serious boyfriends--I had been on the pill. I can remember, I was in Birmingham, Alabama by myself in college. I had to find a doctor, get myself over there, get an exam, and get the pill and he was a man and I just remember that it was all kind of creepy. But I was doing it because I didn’t want to get pregnant. But then I got off because it was a pain and they were expensive and I didn’t have any money. So I was just kind of dating casually and having sex with this guy across the street from me at my apartment. I wasn’t in love with him, it was just kind of boredom. We had unprotected sex, and I remember when I thought, “Oh god, I think I’m pregnant from that.”

I was home in Pensacola, and I went to some clinic and got a pregnancy test. I don’t remember where I went or how I knew to go there. My mother was a Social Worker in town, and she was one of those people who everybody knew. So I did the test and it was negative, and the counselor woman was so sweet to me, and she said, “I know your mom! Your mom would be super helpful and supportive.” I said, “I know she would.” And she said, “Well, you’re not pregnant, but you can talk to your mom about this. I’m not going to say anything, obviously, I can’t. But you should.” That was very nice of her, and I knew she was right about that. I have some vague memory of my parents helping a girl--a family friend of ours who was around eighteen--get an abortion. You know how as a kid you hear adults talking about things? I remember hearing them talk about helping her find abortion services. So I knew my parents were cool. But when you’re the daughter, you don’t necessarily want to say, “I did a really stupid thing!” and let your parents down.

So, I go back to Birmingham, still with no period. I got another pregnancy test, probably from a drugstore, and that one was positive. But I sort of already knew. I spent a week trying to smoke as many cigarettes as I could, because I somehow thought maybe if I smoked a ton of cigarettes that it would spontaneously abort. The pregnancy would be like, “Get me the fuck out of here! This is bad, this person is not healthy!” But that did not happen, so I finally knew what I had to do.

I don’t remember having any conscious idea about how far along I was or what the laws were--I didn’t know any of that. I just said to myself, “Okay, get real, stop smoking cigarettes.” So I called my mom, and I can remember sitting out on the balcony of this apartment place, smoking cigarettes and talking to my mom, telling her I was so sorry. I said, “I’m pregnant, but I’m totally fine. I know what I want to do, I need an abortion.” I knew there was an abortion clinic in Pensacola. I don’t remember if this was before or after the doctor got shot [in Pensacola], this was back in the 70s or 80s. But I knew there was a clinic on 9th Avenue, because there were all these protesters there, that was their thing. I asked my mom to make me appointment at that place, told her that I’d be home that weekend, and she was totally fine.

She made the appointment, I drove home on Friday, and the appointment was on Saturday. She took me and she stayed in the waiting room. They wouldn’t let her come back, which now that I work at CHOICES I guess seems normal. But looking back on it, I wish she could have been with me. I don’t remember it being super painful, but I also don’t remember the people being super nice. There was no Patient Advocate or abortion doula, there was nobody holding my hand, there was no “you’re going to be fine, you’re doing great.”

I remember a speculum and a scrape a little bit, and then that was it. I went home and I remember telling my dad the next day. Both my parents lived in Pensacola, but they were divorced and lived in different houses. I was fine, so I told him that I was totally okay, but I just wanted him to know that’s why I was home. He told me he was glad that I was okay, and he was very loving. Then I went back to school. I remember telling one girlfriend at Birmingham-Southern, where I was in school, and she was super fine and sweet. She wasn’t a super empathic person, but she was glad that I was okay. Looking back on it, I wish that the clinic had been more warm and caring. It was very cold and clinical. It wasn’t bad, they weren’t mean or demeaning or anything, but it was just very sterile and clinical. So different from what we do [at CHOICES].

I didn’t really think about it again. I do remember the next time I had my period I thought that I was going to die, I thought my uterus was going to come out, because it hurt, it was so difficult, and I bled so much. I don’t remember being prepared for that. Then I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m done with that, and I’m never thinking about it again.”

So, I never thought about it again until--fast forward twenty years--and I had two kids and I was either trying to get pregnant again, or I was pregnant again. We didn’t know if it was a boy or girl, and I remember driving down Poplar Avenue by Overton Park with my mom. And I said to her, “I don’t regret having an abortion at all. But now that I have these two boys and I would love so much to have a girl, I do wonder if the pregnancy that I aborted would have been my girl.” And then my mom hit me on the shoulder and told me, “Don’t you dare think like that!” It was just twenty-whatever years later, and I did end up having a girl. I think once I did become a mother and had these children that I am over the moon about, it does make you think, “I wonder what that child would have been.” It’s just a weird thing, when I was thinking about wanting a girl for this pregnancy, it crossed my mind that maybe that was my girl and I chose not to have her. But I never would have wanted to not have that choice. But there are certain things that you go through in life that you think are compartmentalized until you’re going through something different in your life and you’re like, “Oh! That makes me think of this other thing in a different way.” That’s the last time I thought about it.

I am hesitant to give people advice about this because I wouldn’t expect everyone who was in my position to have felt the way that I felt. It’s so individual. I think some people do probably feel really bad about it for whatever reason, so I’m almost hesitant to say too much about how I was totally fine, super relieved, happy, and thankful that I had a family that I could depend on to help me. But I’m glad that I did.

Kay

Abortion wasn't legal when I first got pregnant at the age of 15. I would hate for any young girl to go through what I did. It was about 1957 and I was madly in love and positive that I was going to grow up to marry my steady boyfriend, who was 16 at the time this happened. We’d been having sex since I was 13 and our method of birth control was for him to pull out, which as it turned out, didn't work very well. My father was a pediatrician who was well respected in the community and my mother was socially active and a pillar of the Methodist church: to let either of them know I was pregnant was simply unthinkable. Since abortion was illegal, we took care of it ourselves. The plan was to have him hit me in my lower abdomen with his fist so that I would miscarry. The problem with this is that if I was aware he was going to do it I’d involuntarily tense my stomach muscles, so he had to do it by surprising me when I least expected it. Eventually, I started a very heavy menstrual  flow. I probably wasn’t more than eight or ten weeks along. I never saw anything that looked like a baby, although I looked for one. All I could find was great globs of blood.

The irony was that in the couple of years we'd been together my boyfriend had converted me to Catholicism, but my parents wouldn't let me join the Catholic Church. Since I couldn't go to confession and be absolved of the “murder” I had committed, I had to live with that guilt for several years. Still, I was glad we had been successful because being a murderer wasn’t as bad as being a social pariah would have been at that time. I had never heard the word “abortion.” I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Back then you got sent away to live with a relative and you came back either with a baby or without one and that was it.

Later on, in 1977, when I was 35 and had been married for several years, I had been nursing my first and only child for 11 months and became pregnant again even though I was using a diaphragm. My husband and I had not planned to have another child. We were astounded. Neither of us felt we could handle another baby at that time. He was 45 and I was looking forward to going back to work. We just didn’t see how we could do it emotionally, financially, or physically. We didn’t feel it would be fair to our daughter. I realized even if I could do this I would resent the child. I wanted to continue with my career and I was 35 years old. I had started to learn by then that our energy is not infinite; and I’d started to have some physical problems. My husband and I were in agreement, he was fully supportive, and we went to the clinic together. We were both very thankful to have that choice. Neither of us has ever regretted that decision. Having that support system made all the difference.

My third and final abortion occurred around 1984. During that time I was divorced, living with my nine-year-old daughter on around $800 a month in child support and alimony, and doing some freelance writing while looking for a regular job after being laid off. For a couple of years I had been going with a young man who was living with me. He was a returning serviceman who had seen the US Embassy in Beirut blown up, and he was working at a local restaurant as a cook and dishwasher. He had some of the same issues many returning veterans did at that time, among them heavy drinking. On the night I told him I was pregnant, he had come home late from work and he had already been drinking. He went ballistic. He broke an antique screen, hurled a chair across the room, tossed a stereo turntable out the door, and knocked the head off of a ceramic dog. When I tried to stop him he came at me and dislocated my shoulder before finally leaving. He came back a week or so later with roses, an apology, and no recollection of what he had done. I told him I planned to have an abortion and he said, “Well, that’s up to you.” I told him I’d appreciate it if he could see fit to pay for half of the medical fee. He didn’t say whether he would or wouldn’t help, but left after telling me he’d started to see a woman with whom I was acquainted.

On the day of my appointment at the clinic it was snowing and the roads were so icy I was afraid to drive, but I lived close enough to the clinic to walk and decided to do so, planning to take a cab home afterwards. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone as I did walking those few blocks in the snow to the clinic, but I didn’t cry until after the procedure. A woman who worked there spread some peanut butter on a cracker for me and said when she saw my tears, “It’s natural to feel a bit sad after.”

“Oh, it’s not that, but I think this peanut butter cracker is the best thing I ever tasted.” I had suddenly realized that her small kindness was the first thing anyone had done for me in months.

He never helped pay for the abortion or the cab ride home. I would see him and my acquaintance together occasionally and often wondered if he ever got violent with her. A couple of years after I had put it all behind me, I was reading the Sunday paper and saw that the Right-to-Lifers had taken out a full page ad listing the names of those who opposed abortion, and there amidst all of the other names were those of his parents.

So those are the stories of my three abortions, all different. What they have in common is that (after passing through my Catholic phase) I have never regretted a one. I was thankful for the choice of a practically painless termination and a clean, safe, and kind place for the last two, and I hope every woman will always have that choice. I hope to help demystify the subject of abortion and help others who have had this experience know they aren’t the only ones who are out there. 

Kelly

“These are things that happen when you’re sexually active. That’s normal, that’s totally normal.”

Well the first time I got pregnant, I had met this guy. I was 19, and I thought he was super cool and nice, and I had hung out with him for about 2 weeks or so. The first time we ever had sex was at his apartment. He told me that because he wasn’t circumcised, he couldn’t use a condom.  He was just like, “Oh I can’t use one, I can’t feel anything when I have a condom on.” He didn’t ask me if I was on birth control, or anything like that, he just took it upon himself to start having sex with me without a condom.

And it was like over the series of a couple of days, we’re at his house and we’ve been sleeping together. He had told me he was going to get me a Plan B pill. But, by the time we ended up going to the store it had been 72 hours plus later. So, he did go in and buy me the pill, and I took it. And we hung out for maybe a week longer and then we had a falling out, and weren’t really talking any more. He was also on a lot of cocaine too. I wasn’t doing drugs with him, but I knew he had a drug problem. He came from a pretty wealthy family that I feel like probably encouraged that kind of behavior. But even though I’d taken the Plan B pill, I ended up pregnant anyway.

But, I lived right behind [a health center that provides abortion services]. So, when I started feeling weird I was like, “Something’s not right. This is not right. I feel really strange. I need to get down there and get a pregnancy test.” So, I walked down there from my apartment, and everybody was really nice. And I was very shocked, as a 19-year-old would be, to be pregnant by a man that I dated for about 2 weeks or so.

They were all really nice to me, I told them that I had to go and tell him. We’d had some sort of conversation where he had talked about buying me the pill, about whether or not we were going to split the cost of it. And he said to me, “Well if you were to get pregnant and have to get an abortion, I would pay for that, so I’m going to go ahead and pay for your Plan B pill.” And so, when I got pregnant I was like, “Hey remember that conversation we had last month? Well, I’m pregnant now.” So my friend took me out to his work and the ladies at the clinic had given me a piece of paper because I was afraid I was going to get pushback when I told him. So, they gave me a form that said I’m pregnant and this is where the test was done.

So, I went over there and at first he tried to tell me I was a liar. And I was like, “I’m not a lying bitch, you did this, you were a part of this as well.” Like, you know, we need to get this taken care of. And he wanted to go down there with me to make sure that it was all real. So, I let the ladies know that when I went down to have my ultrasound done that I was going to be bringing him with me, that he’s an asshole. And so they were extremely supportive and very, very kind to me, and were like, “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We got you, it’s okay.”

So, he comes down there, I have my ultrasound done. I give him a printout of the ultrasound where you can visibly see there is something in there, like, “It’s right here asshole.” And I give it to him, and he went ahead right then and there, and I’m sure it was parent’s money, but used his credit card to go ahead and prepay for my procedure. He just went ahead and paid for it, took care of it. And I mean, he and I didn’t ever really talk again after that.

So, when I had my first procedure done, the clinic allowed my friend who used to work there to come in the back with me and hold my hand, while the doctor was performing the procedure, which was amazing and like a godsend to me because I definitely think about that now and I’m like, that’s crazy. I can’t imagine them letting anybody back there, even if they did used to work there. But back then, they were just like, “Of course, we know her.” If you feel more comfortable having her here then she can come back with you, that’s fine. It was certainly a painful experience. I remember my friend took me back to my mom’s house that afternoon. Right after the procedure had been done and I went and I sat in those chairs, I just felt such a tremendous feeling of relief. And like I had some demon inside of me that had been somehow exorcised and it just removed it. And I didn’t have to worry about it. All the weight that I felt while I was pregnant. Because that’s such an intense feeling, when you’re pregnant. I mean, you know. You’re like, “I feel fucking crazy. Why do I feel like this?” But right afterwards, because it takes no time at all for the procedure. Right afterwards I sat down and I was just, “Oh my God. I feel so much better. I don’t feel terrible anymore. This is so great to not feel this enormous pressure.”

I  remember with my first one, afterwards, going to my mom’s house and watching Brokeback Mountain. My mom got me all kinds candy and food and snacks and stuff. My friend just sat there. My doctor at the time prescribed me a low dose of Klonopin or Xanax because when I talked to her about it, she was like, “You’re not going to have the baby?” I was like, “Absolutely not, I just feel really crazy and really anxious.” And so she was like, “If you were to have the baby, I would not be giving you this.” But she gave me that for my nerves because she knew. So, that first time I kind of just chilled out afterwards and relaxed at my Mom’s.

Afterwards, I didn’t talk to him anymore. I mean, I had no desire to talk to him. I didn’t want him to be a part of my life, and that’s a large reason, on top of the fact of being 19 and not financially secure in any way shape or form, and growing up in a single parent household, that I said, “There’s no way I’m having this baby. There’s no way. I’m not prepared for this. This guy definitely isn’t prepared for this. He doesn’t want this and neither do I.”

I think I’ve seen him once since then. That was when I went to see Lady Gaga five or six years ago, and I was really angry because this is my favorite person in the entire world why do you have to be here? I didn’t speak to him. I just kinda looked at him and walked away. No, not going to do this, not having this conversation. We’re not friends.

Right after my first procedure I got my first IUD, because I’ve always had problems with birth control. I get severe migraines, I gain weight, I have super crazy hormones. So, I haven’t really ever been a fan of the pill. I’ve been on the shot, I’ve been on the ring, I’ve been on all kinds of stuff. It always makes me feel like crazy. So I ended up getting an IUD from the same doctor that had done my procedure. I had gone to see him for my gynecologist, and he was really sweet. He told me about my IUD, told me about the plastic one and the copper one. I settled on the copper one, the Paragard. I had it for a few years, and I had a number of boyfriends in between those times and we were certainly having unprotected sex and things like that. I had just gotten out of a serious relationship that had lasted almost a year, and I had hooked up with a guy with a big penis and ended up taking the IUD out. I’d had the IUD for a couple of years, at least like four, five years probably.

I went in to have a pap smear and the nurse practitioner had told me that the IUD had moved and that she had to take it out. I was very upset, and was like, “Man, I don’t have the money to take it out or to get another one right now. I just got out of a relationship.” She was like, “I have to take it out. There’s no other option. It’s shifted, it’s coming out, it’s not going to do you any good. Let’s take it out.” And she took it out.

I ended up having a one night stand. I was 24 at the time, and the guy was 20. I met him at a party at my friend’s house. Going into it I was just like, “Okay here’s this young cute guy. I’m trying to get over my ex-boyfriend, I’m going to bang this young cute guy.” So, I take him back to my house. We fuck without a condom. He doesn’t ask me about my birth control. He totally comes in me.

We fucked that once, he definitely came in me. I wasn’t sure at first, but then we had sex that one time, and then I think a few days later he came over one other time and we slept together. But that second time I was like, “This guy is so dumb, I cannot bear even to be around him. Even if it’s just to have sex. I don’t want to ever hang out with this human again.” There was nothing there, not a lot of substance.

Like a week or so later after it had happened, maybe two weeks after we’d slept together, I was out drinking with my girlfriends and I was like, “Something’s wrong. I can’t drink this apple juice. Why is my body not okay with this?” I just felt nauseous, I took two sips of it and was like I can’t drink this, I felt sick. And I knew then, I was like, “I’m fucking pregnant. Again. Like, what am I gonna do?” I don’t have any money; I was living with my friend who was very supportive at the time. I was like, “I don’t have the money, the five, six hundred dollars to pay for this right now. I don’t have it.” But it was around tax season, so that was a good thing.

So, I had gotten pregnant, and I contacted him of course. I tried to talk to him about it. That was basically like talking to a fucking brick wall. I mean he didn’t know the proper response, we didn’t know each other really at all. Had only spent like two nights together, ever. So, he was just a total asshole about it, and kept being like, “I just need you to help me pay for part of this. I need you to help me pay for this. It is yours, 100 percent.” Because I wasn’t sleeping with a whole bunch of dudes. I had just hooked up with this guy trying to mend my wounds to make myself feel better. One hundred percent it was his, without a doubt in my mind. He’s being a dick, and finally his mom ends up calling me and fucking laying into me. She’s like, “You should have kept your legs shut, you should have been on birth control, you should have done this that and the other. How do you even know it’s his baby? We’re gonna get a paternity test, we’re gonna do this, that, and the other.” First of all, you can’t get a paternity test until I have the baby, which I’m not having the baby. I’m not having your son’s child. There is no way in fucking hell ever that I will have a child by your son ever. That is not reasonable. Especially when she’s sitting here cussing me out. And that’s supposed to make me want to have this baby? It’s just, “We’re taking this baby. Oh, you have it, we’re taking this baby, blah blah blah.” I’m like, “What?” I don’t know if that was supposed to make me go one way or the other, I don’t know what she expected from that conversation but she was extremely immature. I don’t get it.”

I already knew what I wanted to do but that was like the staple gun in the coffin. It will never come out, it will never be removed. This is totally unrealistic. They refused to help me pay for it, which I think they were very poor and that probably had something to do with it as well, but I got my tax return that year. I spent my entire tax return on my abortion.

I never saw him again. I tried to ask people about him because he’s a little bit younger than me, but we went to the same high school. Just so that I would know a little bit more about him, I was curious. But I have never seen him again. I think that if I did see him, it would not be good. It would not pretty at all.

I had a [surgical abortion] the second time too. I can’t really remember that second time what I did afterwards. I felt very similar to the first time, where I felt like there was this enormous weight on me and then right after the procedure I was like, “I feel great. I feel so much better. Thank god this is over with. Thank god I have the ability to take care of these things on my own, and don’t have to go through some crazy process.” That blows my mind. That people would have to fight so hard to get that kind of access, that other than financially it was pretty easily attainable for me. I was worried about not being able to pay for it that second time. I mean, but I feel like I would have sold my soul to the devil to take care of that.

The first time I told my friends that I lived with. All my friends were very supportive. They were certainly like, this is not someone you should be having a baby with. Thank goodness he’s taking care of it. They were definitely very supportive.

My mom was a little back and forth. I have a little sister that was adopted around that same time and she was an infant when she was adopted. At first my mom’s reaction was, “We’ll take care of you, and you can move in here. And we’ll do whatever.” And I was like, “Mom, that’s not what I wanna do. I just got out of the house, I don’t want to come back to the house for you to take care of me. That’s not what I want. This is not what I want for my life.” She very quickly realized that and was very supportive in the end.

But then the second time, me and my mom are close, I told her the second time as well. I mean, she knew, “You’re going to do what you’re going to do. This isn’t right for you.”

I didn’t really ever have any pushback from my friends or family. I mean the only family members I talk to are my mom. I’m sure that if I would’ve talked to my aunt and uncle or my grandparents, that would’ve been a whole different conversation. I don’t know, the only time I’ve ever had a problem with anybody saying anything to me about it is one of my old roommates that lived with me. I think that he lived there during the second one. He was just being hateful in general about a year or two later, and was just being a dick and saying a lot of really rude, mean things about my boyfriend at the time who was a drug addict. Saying a bunch of hateful stuff. And then said something about how I should own my own abortion clinic, because I’ve had so many abortions. And I was like, “Dude, I’ve had two abortions. That’s insane that you would even try to insult me like that, like that’s stupid.” But he did it on Facebook in a very public way that was very hurtful. I mean he’s absolutely apologized since then, but I mean that ruined mine and my friend’s friendship. He was mad at me at the time, and he did it being spiteful. I think that’s something that’s very hard to come back from. Other than that, I’ve never had anyone be ugly about it.

I feel like I’ve ended up sharing it with people that I wouldn’t necessarily think to share it with just because of the types of conversations that I’ve had with people where I’m like, “Well, just so that you can see some perspective, this is what I’ve been through.” And they’re like, “Gosh, I never would have known.” I’m like, “Yeah, because you don’t fucking know.”

I absolutely think that it’s something that I couldn’t go around and talk to just anybody about, yes absolutely. Especially when people start talking to me, in the political climate now, when people start talking to me, especially men. I mean I had a guy friend of mine tell me the other day, “I’m not super conservative, but I don’t think people should just be able to have abortions. I think it’s okay when they’re...life’s in danger but people shouldn’t be able to just go around and get abortions whenever, like birth control.” And it’s like, “If you only knew what it’s like to be a woman and have to take birth control, number one, and deal with those side effects. On top of the fact that sometimes birth control fails. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, and that’s what happens. That doesn’t mean that you should have to have that baby because your birth control failed.” That’s insane to me. Yeah, I don’t think it’s easy to talk to just anybody about it. I think it’s important to do things like this and to discuss, in safer places what you’ve been through and what people have been through.

I also feel like too, to be honest out of my group of friends, I don’t really have a lot of friends who haven’t had an abortion, is the thing. Abortions and HPV. Everybody I’ve known has at some point had some form of HPV, and has at least one abortion for the most part. And it’s weird because everybody is like, “Oh, no. I should be so ashamed. I had HPV or I had an abortion.” No, like these are things that happen when you’re sexually active. That’s normal, that’s totally normal. I don’t know, I just never felt bad about the decisions that I made. I’ve never felt like it was a bad thing, or a wrong thing, or wrong decision, or that I missed out. Now, being almost 30 I want to have children, absolutely. I still, if I got pregnant by some chump that I met, you know, I would be like, “No, I’m not having your child.” I don’t know, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I grew up in a single parent household. I grew up in government housing. I moved around all the time when I was young. I went to 11 different schools from kindergarten through the end of high school, just because my mom was a single mom and she got different jobs. We never had one steady place to be, other than my grandparents. Yeah, I just never...when I was 19 and had my first one, that’s what I told my mom. I refuse to have a child that I can’t give a better life than what you were able to give me. Granted, she gave me all she could, but I still want to be able to provide more for my children when I choose to have them.

I think too, all the things I would have missed out on. I have all my twenties. I can’t imagine having had a child, especially a child that I would have been taking care of all by myself through all that. There were so many things that I needed to experience. I was a child. I was a child when I was 19. Looking back on it now, I’m like, “Who was this baby girl?” I had absolutely no business having a child. And then, I have one girlfriend I went to high school with. She had two kids before she graduated. Before the end of our senior year she had two children. And I mean now, you can tell, she’s wildin’ out because they’re getting to be in middle school and she missed her twenties. She’s coming to me and our other friends, and she wants to party and get wild and we’re just kind of like, “Yeah but we’ve done that already. So, like you missed that part.” I can’t imagine missing out on all the experiences I’ve had in my twenties, because I had a child. I feel like that’s absolutely what would have happened. My life would not be the same. But, I like the way things are going.

Krista

“When my period still hadn’t come months later I thought – I can’t be pregnant I’m on the honor roll.”

Right now there is a war on women — their reproductive rights and the doctors who provide abortions. We’ve heard the rhetoric — we’ve heard the hate speech — we’ve seen lawmakers trying to use loopholes to make abortion illegal. But we will not give up the battle to keep abortion safe and legal.

I had an abortion when I was 15-years old. That was 32 years ago. But it was a decision that allows me to be who I am today.

Let me take you back to the time of leg warmers and big hair. It was 1986 — I was 15-years old and pregnant. My boyfriend and I had been using condoms – most of the time. When my period was late I thought it was just stress. When my period still hadn’t come months later I thought – I can’t be pregnant I’m on the honor roll. I waited so long to tell my parents – it was too late to have a first trimester abortion at a clinic less than an hour from my home. So my mother and I traveled across country to Wichita, Kansas – to the Women’s Health Care Services. It was one of the only clinics in the nation at the time performing late term abortions. The clinic was surrounded by a brick and iron fence. That is because this clinic had been firebombed before – and the medical director had been shot before but survived.

When I arrived, there were two protesters standing outside the gate, praying. Inside there were about a dozen of us – a cross section of ages, races and circumstances. Among our group was a 20-something who was so thin you couldn’t tell she was pregnant. There was an older couple who were making a desperate decision. The child she was carrying would suffer the same painful and deadly disease that took their other child’s life a few hours after birth. And a 12-year old girl who didn’t speak English and looked terrified.

The medical director was Doctor George Tiller. During my week long stay, Doctor Tiller and I spoke often. He told me I reminded him of his daughter. I told him I wanted to go to college.

It wasn’t until 2004 when I saw Doctor Tiller again. He was a speaker at the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. I was able to thank him. Thank him for giving me a choice.

In 2009 — Doctor George Tiller was murdered inside his church moments after serving as usher. His killer entered the foyer, put a gun to the doctor’s head and pulled the trigger. I mention this because the anti-choice movement is still dangerous and violent.

I would not be where I am today without Doctor Tiller and his services. I am not alone. Even though Doctor Tiller’s clinic closed with his death, other health centers have worked to help women in need BEFORE they need a late-term abortion.

Because of this dedication, and my own experience, I started volunteering as an escort. My job is simple. I am there to let them know they are not alone, they are supported and they are not judged.

I wouldn’t be here today without Roe v Wade – but it is continuously under attack. We must continue our fight to protect women’s reproductive rights.

Sara Weddington – the attorney who won the Roe v Wade case in front of the U-S Supreme Court said —
“It is time to renew the battle for reproductive rights. We have been outmaneuvered, outspent, outpostured, and outvoted by a group of single-issue activists. It has taken them nearly two decades to turn back the principles of Roe. Let’s make sure it takes us a shorter time to replace protection for reproductive choice.”

Linda

In 1976 I was in my late 20s in graduate school in Rome. I was married but my husband and I had been separated for quite a long time. He went off to British Columbia to finish his graduate work, and I was still in Rome, and I think I was a little resentful that he was gone. It was a long separation and I was in a community of all these creative, intelligent, alpha male type guys and was being pursued by several of them. I had always been a really, really good girl and, I don’t know, I thought it was time to be not quite so good. Anyway I did have an affair and I got pregnant but wasn’t sure who the dad was. It could have been my husband who had visited recently or it could have been this other guy.

There really wasn’t any question about not doing the abortion, especially being in grad school and not being sure about the dad. But even if I’d known it was my husband I wouldn’t have wanted to have a child then because I wasn’t sure about staying in the marriage, and it would have been horrible if it obviously was not his. But there I was in Italy where, at the time, abortion was not legal. It just so happened that this was toward the very end of my stay in Rome so I was able to go to England on my way back to the states. I went to England and the guy I had the affair with came with me. He was a nice guy, decent, kind, and supportive. In England abortion was legal and I found a provider through a sign on the subway. I went out there and it looked fine. It was a clinic, very clean and professional. The staff was also very professional and non-judgmental. Someone interviewed me briefly, asking me why I wanted the abortion, (seeing that I was married), but they did not try to dissuade me or influence me in any way.

In a way the whole thing seemed unreal because I had been using birth control. I had an IUD. And I wasn’t feeling any morning sickness or any symptoms, so I was really wondering if it was for real. I mean even at the last minute, I asked the doctor was I really pregnant? He said yes.

I can’t remember feeling much of any regret. Occasionally I would think, oh, if I’d had that child he’d be 8 years old now or 10 years old now or something like that, but beyond that I really haven’t had any regret. An abortion seemed the only option. I know some people would very much disagree with that, but I didn’t feel like I was a mother yet. And my marriage did break up in the next year.

But then I got married again and this time when I got pregnant, having a baby seemed like the right thing to do. But I had my baby at Fort Sanders Hospital and one nurse was awful. I don’t know whether the abortion was on my record, because I thought you had to tell them everything, but I when told her, I could just see a change in her face. She was very unfriendly after that, left me alone for long periods of time. The nurse’s reaction did give me the message that this is not okay to talk about, that people are going to react negatively to it, so I better be careful. I’m usually open and honest about stuff but not about this.

Maggie

I was 27 years old when I had my abortion. I had already had one son when I was very young, he was seven at the time. [Having my child] was the hardest thing I had ever been through, I ended up losing custody of him. I felt that I was incapable of raising another at that point in my life. I knew it wasn't the right time and the circumstances were all wrong. [The pregnancy was from] a one night stand, just a fling. He kept calling me but I couldn't bring myself to answer his phone calls, so I never talked to him again. He never found out.

I caught it really early in the pregnancy. When I called they had me schedule an appointment a month and a half out. [During that time] I was miserable, I walked around in tears. I made my sister go out to eat with me every day. I would get a bowl of potato soup and sit there and cry into it. She was probably going, “Oh god, I hope nobody's noticing.”

I was devastated, not about what I had to do, but it was such a hormonal, crazy time. I was scared about having it done, but they were so nice on the phone. They worked with me. I had it done at a Planned Parenthood in Memphis. I walked in, and there were a lot of women there. They don't all go to Planned Parenthood just for that. I was scared, but they sat me down and had a video with me and talked to me. The other women [in the waiting room] comforted each other, it was kind of neat. Some of them were in different stages of it, one woman was pregnant with twins but was not in a position to have them. We all spent time after in the recovery room talking.

I've never felt so relieved as I did after having it. It was such a devastating thing to me at the time. My mom didn't agree with it, but she had five daughters, and many of us had to do it. She stood behind us. Whatever our choices were, she was there. She helped me pay for it since I couldn't afford it. She knew I wasn't ready at that point. It was just such a weight lifted off of me afterwards.  I have not looked back and regretted the decision one time. I don't even think about it.

I didn't really tell too many people. I feel people out, because there is such a stigma on abortion. So it's not something that I go around and talk about, but sometimes it comes up in conversation, and you can tell who you can talk to about that. Because of that, I've never really had people come down on me for it, but I don't talk about it often at all. It doesn't need to be common knowledge that I've had an abortion, but I don't mind sharing with other women that are going through it, that are about to go through it, or just want to hear the story. The more knowledge about it, the more people grow. It sucks that women have to be scared, and have to feel like you're killing something. Sorry, I never felt like it was anything more than a stem cell. Or maybe a heartbeat, that was it. They made me hear the heartbeat, it didn't change anything, I knew there was nothing attached to that. It hadn't formed yet. There was no memories to lose, no anything. It wasn't anything at that point. I don't really feel like it's anything I'm going to go to hell for, that's just silliness to me.

I want women to know that there's other women out there who have gone through this. They're not alone. It is scary, it is devastating. I would suggest whoever you have at that point to pull them tight because it is nice to have someone to lean on. My sister was there for me for the whole thing, for me crying into my potato soup everyday for a month and a half. I'm very grateful to have that, God knows if I had to do that alone. Women are emotional creatures, we need someone else. It's nice to not have to do that alone, and even if you are doing that alone, they're so understanding at clinics like that. They understand where you're coming from and what a hard decision it is to make. This is not the end of the world, don't give up. I know it's a cliché saying, but whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Consider this a learning experience and move on, don't dwell on it. It's not going to make it better. I never think about it in a negative way. I never think about what coulda, woulda been, that never crosses my mind. I think about it if it's brought up, and sometime if something's going on, but I usually don't think about it.

It's our own decision. People have their own beliefs and their own opinions, that is their right and I can't change that, but they can't change mine. I know what is best for me, and that's what was best for me at the time. I was able to come up with my own decisions about what I felt at a very young age. My sister had an abortion at a young age, it was ok for her to have one, and she needed it. I mean, I know it's not a form of birth control. That's not what I'm saying. People use that a lot, and it's never a form of birth control. No woman is saying, “I can just have an abortion,” no one thinks like that, that's ridiculous. When I was 13 we had a dog that came off the streets and we decided to keep it. We found out it was pregnant, and we couldn't take care of a litter of rottweiler puppies, so we aborted those. It happens. Miscarriages happen, abortions happen, doggy abortions happen, it happens.

Marcia & Tom

Marcia:  When we found out I was pregnant, our daughter was three at the time and we were surprised but excited. We started preparing for another baby, but I remember it wasn’t a great pregnancy. That may be looking at the situation in hindsight but the pregnancy didn’t feel good. Because I was over 35, we decided to have an amniocenteses. We had had one with our daughter as well. So we waited for the results and the results came back and it was clear there was something seriously wrong with the fetus. It was a mixture of several genetic disorders. At that point, Tom and I had some soul searching to do and plenty of discussions.
 
Tom:  We met with the doctor and a genetic counselor. The genetic problems would have made for very, very serious emotional and physical problems for a child. We did a lot of research into the genetic disorders so that we were well informed as to the possible consequences of bringing the fetus to term. 
 
Marcia:  So we decided that, rather than going through with this pregnancy, we would end it. It was best for us, best for our daughter, best for our future. Interestingly, we did talk to my parents about it and the rest of my family and they were all very supportive. I was kind of surprised because my father was a staunch conservative Republican, but he was so supportive of our decision. When we told him what was going to happen and asked him how he felt about it, he said he was supportive because he loved us and knew that his mother had had a miscarriage and that there was something seriously wrong with the child. He said, sometimes God takes care of it, and sometimes you have to.
And so we made an appointment at the hospital. Thank goodness I could have it at the hospital at that time and it was safe and legal. I have to say the doctors and the nurses were just lovely, so sympathetic and sweet to me. The doctor was practicing at St. Mary’s but could not perform abortions there so he did it at UT hospital, and I loved him forever for being there for me during this difficult time. We had friends around us at the hospital that were wonderful and supportive of our decision. That meant a great deal to us. Our daughter got to come in to see me before I went into labor. Tom was with me every minute. It was hard and painful but the fetus was delivered and Tom got to see it and then they did the DNC. The very next day we got in the van to drive to Nebraska to be with my family and I never felt better physically. It was as if my body was telling me that it was the right decision and was such a relief. I felt like running a marathon. You know, it was one of those things I just knew that the pregnancy was not going well and something was wrong.  Of course it was hard emotionally just like it would have been with a miscarriage. You think you’re getting a baby and then there isn’t one. And then I got pregnant again a year later.
 
Tom: With our son.
 
Marcia: And we went through the amniocenteses again and dreaded hearing the results. But we were so thrilled when we got the results that he was healthy, and we couldn’t have been happier. People ask if I’ve ever had regrets. I regret that the baby wasn’t right. You never want to have an abortion. I had a pregnancy that didn’t end up with baby, but a year later we got a wonderful, healthy child.

Maria

I was sixteen and in love, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. I got pregnant and didn’t tell anyone, except a few close friends. I called my aunt and uncle, who I was very close to, and they gave me three days to tell my parents. By this time I was about four and half months pregnant. My parents called his parents, and there was a big sit-down meeting. We weren’t allowed to see each other, though.

I was very sick with Grave’s disease. I don’t know everything my parents went through, but I know they jumped through some hoops because I went to a special hospital. The decision to have an abortion was virtually made for me. I was going to die.

It was a two-day procedure, on my 17th birthday. The nurses sang happy birthday, and sometime during the two-day procedure, I found out it was a boy. I was told nothing about the procedure, how or when it would happen. It was the most awkward, embarrassing, frustrating, sad, emotionally devastating thing I’ve ever been through. I had no therapy or counseling. Three months later, I tried to kill myself and was institutionalized for a year. It was a kind and beautiful place that saved my life and helped me come to terms with my abortion.

Looking back, even if I wasn’t sick, I hope the same thing would have happened. My life would have been so different; I could not imagine having a child before the age of 35, when I had my daughter.

That was my first abortion.

I had thyroid surgery, and suddenly, I was down to a cute weight. I felt cute for the first time in my life. I got a cute boyfriend, and we got cutely knocked up. I was nineteen years old, which was not cute. He was cute, so I put up with a lot from him. However, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I thought, “I am NOT having this man’s baby.” I had no hesitation or doubt. I was going to get an abortion, and he was going to pay for it. That’s when I went to Planned Parenthood. They could not have been kinder or explained more to me, and it was very early in my pregnancy. It was the absolute opposite of my first abortion experience. I was back to normal the next day.

I don’t regret either of my abortions. I look at where I am now in my life, and I’m finally at a place in my life where I’m comfortable; I like my life. All of this was only possible because I lived in a state where abortion was legal and accessible. However, there is still so much stigma surrounding abortion, and I see that even more now that I live in Tennessee. I am absolutely livid about access to abortion in Tennessee, as well as things going on in Texas regarding fetal tissue disposal. I’m astonished that things are dialing backwards in this country. I don’t know what to do, but people doing this, telling their story, is a start. And it’s not easy to talk about.

I’m very open about my story. Before I decided I was an atheist, I took my daughter to church, and friends there knew I had had abortions. However, these are the people involved in anti-choice organizations that want you to have your baby, but don’t want to give you help after the baby is born.

I have a very close relationship with my daughter. As soon as she is old enough, I will make sure she has access to birth control. I would rather my daughter have an abortion than have the baby and keep it or have the baby and give it up for adoption. I want to protect my daughter’s future. I want to be able to call Planned Parenthood and say, “I need to schedule my daughter for an abortion.” I see how it used to be, just in the 1980s. In the north, if you wanted any kind of procedure on your reproductive organs, you had to go to the health department, sign a log, and anyone could come in the next two weeks and look at that log and object to it. I don’t want that for my daughter.

Mary

My abortion was hard. It was a rough time in my life. But now, I know that it’s led me to become who I am.

My partner and I had been together for almost two years when I had an abortion. I was on birth control, but I wasn’t good at taking the pill at the same time every day. I realized my period was late in December and started worrying. After taking three store-bought pregnancy tests, I thought, “okay, this might be a problem.”

I guess in my mind I always knew it wasn’t the time to have a baby, and I was okay with the idea of an abortion. I don’t know if I really second-guessed myself too much. Maybe it was the feminist in me growing up, but I was fine with it. Of course, there was a lot of stigma, and that made me really nervous. I didn’t want to tell my parents or my friends. It was just between my partner and I.

When I told him, he was shaky and had no idea what to do. I’d already started researching and found out that I qualified for the pills, but I knew there was a limited time for that to be possible. I looked into clinics near me, and although there was a Planned Parenthood in my town, they didn’t perform abortions there. I had to go to the next town over.

This was North Carolina in 2009. At the time, there was no waiting period for an abortion, which was awesome. As I retell this story, I recognize my privilege: I had transportation and a clinic 45 minutes away, versus five hours away. I was a college student at the time, so being able to return from the clinic in the same day was helpful. And just the fact that I could take the pills at home was really nice and convenient. It was still scary, especially when I thought about what could go wrong – I’m a practical person, and I worried about the details. What would I do, and how would I afford it, if I needed to go to the hospital?

At the same time, I was very appreciative that the pills were an option for me. The clinic staff was reassuring, and I felt very safe. It felt like any other doctor’s office because they were professional and informative. I watched a video and went through an ultrasound, and the staff let me know that I didn’t have to look at the ultrasound if I didn’t want to (which I didn’t). They did mention that they’d need to tell me if I was pregnant with twins, but that wasn’t the case. I took my first pill at the office, then went to the pharmacy to pick up other pills for nausea and pain. I took the second pill later that day, and just let it happen.

The pills cost more than other options would have, and I probably should have looked into other financial options. My partner split the cost with me, and it felt good that we agreed about that. He did not stay with me while I took the second pill, and I was upset. We broke up later that year, and looking back, I realize it was not a healthy relationship. As a contrast, I’m in a different relationship now, where we’re both on the same page. My current partner knows about my abortion and is totally fine with it; if we’d been in the same situation, we would have made the same decision. My partner’s brother actually had a kid as a teenager, so he's seen firsthand what it’s like to raise a child when you don’t have the financial means to do so, and when your mind isn’t mature enough.

Looking back, it wasn’t a simple decision, but it was the only decision for me. My life would have been so different if abortion wasn’t an option for me. I wouldn’t have been with the person I wanted to be with. I wouldn’t be doing what I am now, personally or professionally. I wouldn’t have traveled to all of the places I’ve been or met the people in my life.

At the time of my abortion, I was not mature enough to raise a baby. I was trying to get through college. I have a learning disability, I had switched majors and I was finally getting back on my feet after dealing with significant depressive episodes. I knew that my primary goal was to graduate, and then I’d need to start paying student loans. Now, things in my life have gotten much better. I’ve matured, and I ended up going to grad school for social work. My first internship actually involved working for a reproductive justice organization, which was really cool. An advisor suggested the group at a time when I wasn’t sure which direction my career should take. I didn’t even know what reproductive justice was – I was familiar with reproductive rights, but I wasn’t aware of the social justice aspects. I also knew how those policies affected me, but I hadn’t previously known how to get involved.

While working with that organization, I also started paying attention to news that made me realize how lucky I’d been to have transportation and access to an abortion provider. In 2012, North Carolina started really tightening restrictions on abortion. It hits you personally when you see that happening, and it’s something you’ve gone through. I was lucky to know what I wanted when I got pregnant. I realize it’s a much harder decision for other people, it’s harder to get access, and those restrictions will only increase. That recognition has motivated me to fight for abortion rights for other women.

In the months after my abortion, I found out that two of my best friends had gone through them as well, but we hadn’t talked about it until after the fact. I wish we’d been there to support each other. It was a harder decision for both of them, and I wish we hadn’t all faced the stigma that surrounds conversations about abortion. If I knew they were thinking about it, I could have told them what I’d been through and shared my experience. That recognition also motivates me to fight abortion stigma. Any decision that a person makes concerning abortion is fine, but we should feel comfortable talking about it. I grew up with these friends, and we didn’t feel like we could turn to each other and talk about abortion – we all felt alone. I felt like my partner was the only person I could tell, and didn’t even tell my roommate at the time.

Now, I’m really open about it. Surprisingly, people that I’ve told about going through an abortion never really push back about it. Some people might say they couldn’t personally do it, or if they only know that I support abortion, they might disagree with me. But if they know that I made the decision to have one, they usually respect my choice. Maybe that’s just a function of time going by, or me being comfortable in my own skin. However, for better or worse, the more you talk about abortion, the more stigma surrounding it falls away.

In a nutshell, my abortion was hard. It was a rough time in my life. But now, I know that it’s led me to become who I am. It’s led me to what I want to do with my life, led me to the people I want to be connected with. I’ve met so many strong women, personally and professionally, from all different walks of life. Some of them have kids, some of them don’t or don’t want kids. Some are LGBT, some are still figuring it out. My abortion has become part of my identity because it helped shape my past. I choose to look at it as an empowering moment, and something that makes me keep fighting for other women to have the same opportunity. 

Every woman has the right to make her own decisions, know her options, and talk to others for more information. No one should feel pressured into any decision concerning abortion. If you’re going through that decision process, reach out to the people in your life who you can trust, or an organization that specializes in the conversation, such as Planned Parenthood or a hotline. Talking about what you’re going through can help a lot, especially if you’re in an area with a lot of abortion stigma. It can feel like the scales are shifted against you, and you’re alone, but you’re not. There’s a whole world out there supporting your decision.

Max

Having an abortion because you simply do not want to be pregnant is a valid choice and sometimes the only viable choice for your mental health.

I had an abortion when I was 17. I was “careful,” but not careful enough. It’s so easy for things to go wrong at the most inconvenient time. I hate that when I look back at pictures from the day I graduated high school all I can think about is how I was pregnant at the time and had no idea. I hate that my boyfriend’s parents had to pay for it or even know about it. I hate that my mom felt bad for only having $30 to contribute. I hate that I contracted pelvic inflammatory disease from the abortion and didn’t realize it until nearly a year later. I hate that I didn’t take better care of myself emotionally and physically back then. But. I do not hate that I had an abortion. Having an abortion was one of the best decisions I have ever made. If I were to get pregnant today I would most likely make that same exact decision.

I had a surgical abortion because I was nine weeks and three days along. Ever since the second I found out I was pregnant all I could think about was wanting to be free and for it to just be over. I was certain that emotionally I really only had one option. I didn’t just not want a child. I didn’t want to be pregnant. I really do want a child one day, but I want to adopt and I want to be ready. I want to be financially, emotionally, and physically ready. The thought of carrying a pregnancy to term made me want to rip my skin off. It still does honestly. I’ve struggled with mental illness my entire life and I know myself well enough to know that I could not emotionally handle a pregnancy and I have zero desire to try. I’m glad I didn’t try to carry a pregnancy a term at the age of 17. I’m incredibly proud of myself that I ended up graduating college and finding my passion. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I’d stayed pregnant.

The procedure itself took about five minutes and was painless. Before the procedure I’d asked if it would hurt and they had said it varied person by person. I was told if you’re used to very intense painful periods then it will feel like nothing, but if you’ve always had light periods with few cramps then an abortion will feel like hell. I guess that’s the only time I’ve ever felt lucky to have incredibly painful periods. Despite the procedure being quick we were still required to be at the clinic for several hours so that they could do counseling, an ultrasound, explain the procedure about fifty different times with explicit detail (and even a video), and so much more. It was emotionally draining. I’m fairly certain there is no other medical procedure where you have to be lectured for five hours before you’re allowed to proceed. It’s an obnoxious process, but it verifies that you’re certain about your decision, you’ve thought it through, and no one is pressuring you into it. But it could totally stand to be shorter.

People in my life were supportive of my decision. There was only one protestor and he didn’t try to talk me out of it. No one made me feel bad about abortion. And yet. I felt like I couldn’t talk about it. I felt like I had been made different and othered and I couldn’t explain why. I really wanted someone to talk to about it, but no one in my life was all that helpful. That’s why when I found out about the Tennessee Stories Project, I was so excited. Finally a place for complicated emotions. Finally a place that didn’t paint abortion as black and white. Finally a place where talking about abortion not only felt okay, but was encouraged. I know there are national and global abortion storytelling campaigns, but it’s hard to feel connected to things so big. There’s a special kind of stigma in the South and reading other Tennessean’s feelings about their abortion feels so comforting and familiar.

It’s been about five and a half years since my abortion. I am grateful that I was privileged enough to have had geographic, financial, and legal access to an abortion. I am grateful that having an abortion allowed me to have my life back and become the person I am today. I am grateful for my abortion.

Megan

I was born and raised in Las Vegas and I was living with my dad. My mom lived in Virginia, she had moved there just a year or so earlier. At the time, I was 16, living with my dad, and I was having waves of nausea for a week or so. My dad would usually just take me to the doctor any time I said I was sick, but this time he said ‘Oh, it’s probably just nerves,’ and thank God he didn’t take me to the doctor, because he’s Mormon. If he had taken me to the doctor and I had found out I was pregnant with him in the room, it’d be a totally different story. Luckily I had a pre-scheduled visit with my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I don’t feel well. There’s something wrong with my stomach.’ She took me to a quick-care clinic, and they ran a bunch of tests and then the doctor came in. He looked at me and he said ‘You’re pregnant.’ And I just said, ‘What?!’ I had heard him perfectly, but there was no way.I kept thinking, ‘That’s not me.’ He just looked at me like I was stupid and repeated it condescendingly. I was totally in shock, again I was like things like this don’t happen to girls like me.

My mom took me out straight after that and was like, ‘Let’s go get some coffee and let’s talk about this.’ She laid out all of the options. She said, ‘You can go away and live with your aunt and have it and put it up for adoption. You can go away live with your aunt, have it, and I’ll raise it as my own.’ I didn’t realize what a big deal that was when I was 16. She had already had her four kids.She was done. She offered to raise mine. She continued her list of options with, ‘Or, you can have it and we can raise it as yours.’ I stopped her and said, ‘There’s no decision, I am having an abortion.’ When I was growing up, at least with me and my friends, it was never a matter of being pro-choice or not. The discussion was more of whether you would have an abortion or not. Nobody that I knew was ever not pro-choice, even in the Mormon Church, at least my girlfriends and me. It was never a taboo thing.

Then, I called my boyfriend, and turns out I had gotten pregnant on his birthday. I was just really crappy about taking my pill. I don’t think IUDs even existed. The Depo shot was around, but it wasn’t something that was given as an option. Anyway, my boyfriend and I got together when I was 14 and he was 23. And of course he was a loser.He didn’t have a car, much less the $250 for an abortion. I remember my mom chasing after me in the airport with a $250 check so I could have the procedure.

I made the appointment immediately. It was so much easier compared to Memphis. So easy. No protestors. I had five clinics to choose from. I didn’t have to drive across the state, or across state lines. I didn’t have to make two appointments within a week of each other and try to ditch school twice. I went in and I remember looking at a jar and thinking, ‘Is that where my fetus is gonna go?’ I remember a lot of things. The doctor was a little creepy. He tapped me on my leg and said, ‘We’ll get the ole’girl back into shape.’ Like I was a cow or something. I remember waking up in the recovery room. I don’t think there was anybody else in there with me. I just woke up in a dark room alone and my boyfriend drove me in my car back to his house. I lied to my Mormon father and told him I was going to a friend’s house. He still does not to this day know I had an abortion.

I have since been married twice (never to the man who got me pregnant). I’ve got four dogs. I’ve got a really great career at FedEx. I am very grateful for my life now. I never wanted kids in the first place. My mom didn’t make it look like an easy job, and I was the oldest of four, so I was fully versed in what child rearing entailed and I was just not ready to sign up for that. I wouldn’t say I ever regretted it. I would say there was one time I felt guilty about my abortion. It was about a year or two afterwards, on a hot, hot Las Vegas day. I had been in a bad place mentally and I was stopped to get gas. There was acar parked next to me with a bumper sticker that read ‘Having an abortion doesn’t make you unpregnant, it make you the mother of a dead child.’ That hit me hard, in that one moment. That was the one time that I really felt guilty.

I am a reproductive rights activist not only because of what happened to me, but because I’ve always been a feminist, and women need to be trusted to make their own life choices. When you restrict abortion access, you leave underprivileged women with even less life choices than they are born with. What if my mom hadn’t been able to come up with $250? What if I had to get my Mormon father’s consent? What if I had to skip school to drive three hours to get to an appointment, only to have to skip school again a few days later after a waiting period had passed? Those are precisely the type of roadblocks the Tennessee legislature continues to put into place, limiting the life choices of low-income women. This effectively keeps poor people poor, and increases the number of under-advantaged children in the state. The Right to Life movement has nothing to do with feeding, clothing and caring for children once they are born and everything to do with oppressing women.

Melanie

I’ve been thinking about why I started talking about my abortion. It happened back in in 2003, and while it’s certainly not been a secret, I never spoke about it until the Amendment 1 campaign. I was at a rally on Market Square with my 4-month-old son, and there was a table where people were writing about why they were against the amendment. I looked down at my son and wrote something like: I get to be a mom now because I had an abortion.

It was like something kind of opened up then. There’s a weird privilege that exists being a married, white, mother. I already had some privilege as a white person but because of the way I look, the way I live, and the life I’ve always had, there have been a lot of doors that have not been open to me. I didn’t even know it. I was just used to people not wanting to cash my check,or asking for a second form of ID, or pulling their kids away in the grocery store. Then I got married and had a baby, and all of a sudden I realized things were getting easier for me. I have a higher value in our culture in the South now because I’m a married white woman with a child. I think that’s also what prompted me to start talking about my abortion, because I am someone people would look to as valuable, and yet I’ve done this thing that is considered shameful. Eight years ago, people might have said, yeah, you look like someone who would: you make $7 an hour, you work at a coffee shop, you have green hair. But now I have this weird platform, and people are listening to me when I share about it. It feels like a responsibility in a good way. And I’ve had the most amazing responses. When I mentioned my abortion to a woman I hired as a consultant, her whole face changed, her whole body language changed, and her whole story came out. Sitting on my couch, she talked about her own shame, and I was able to say to her, “You don’t have to feel like this.”

So I had my abortion when I was 23, living in Sacramento. I was an active drug addict, so was my partner, we were both alcoholics, but I don’t want to sound like I’m rationalizing because even if all of that had not been the case, it still would have been just fine for me to have my abortion. It’s important to make it clear:all that isn’t why I had the right to do it. But that was our world. We were barely making ends meet, and things were really insane, and of course of all the things you are going to remember during drug use, taking your birth control pill falls low on that list.

It was New Year’s Eve when I found out I was pregnant. My partner had been gone for 5 days, taken all the money, taken the car, locked me out of the house, and when he finally showed up, we were fighting. I went to Target and wrote a hot check because I didn’t have any money and I got cereal, a pack of cigarettes, and a pregnancy test, just on a whim. I don’t know why. I didn’t even think I was pregnant it was just one of those things I did. I remember it like it happened last night, you know, taking the pregnancy test and yelling through the bathroom wall and seeing the result, and then everything stopping and everything turning really codependent, and me saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay, don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s fine. I’m going to take care of this.” Because he had a child he couldn’t take care of already and it was his worst fear to pass along the addiction, the mental illness, all the stuff that was going on. I knew it was his worst fear, and so I was the one who comforted him.

I had already worked at a Planned Parenthood before and knew where I wanted to go because I wanted general anesthesia, but I didn’t have the $450 for the procedure. I had a really good job but we had no money because we spent it all on drugs.  The next day I showed up to work and the CFO of our company was walking up the stairs as I was walking down, and he said,“How are you doing Melanie?” I broke down and started crying. I said, “I’m pregnant and I have to have an abortion and I don’t have any money.” I have no idea why I told him,but then a couple of hours later he walked by my desk and handed me the $450, saying I could just pay him back. And I did, I paid him back like $20 each week. He had a daughter and I think he must have seen something of her in me.  And so five days later I went in and I had my procedure. The procedure itself was super simple and straight forward. I was only 5 weeks pregnant.

There were protesters outside but they didn’t really bother me because I knew they were assholes. I’d dealt with them for years going to my job every day. I remember my boyfriend putting my head on his shoulder. I knew I had to have the abortion because I knew I wasn’t ready, and I also knew I had taken a whole lot of drugs while I was pregnant, not knowing I was pregnant. But even without the drugs, our world was such chaos. One of my dearest friends, an old friend I hadn’t seen in three years, happened to call two days before my abortion. She also came with me to the appointment and stayed with me for a week and a half. She was there in such solidarity with me. She saw me drinking myself into oblivion every night and yet knew who I had been before that, knew the young woman I was and didn’t judge me. I will never forget what she did for me.

At the time I was so in love with my partner, there was nothing I would have wanted more than to have a baby with him. Despite the shortcomings. he was a wonderful person. That’s what’s sad, that there was this alternate universe that I wanted to exist where we weren’t on drugs and we could have a baby. I fought for seven years to find a way into that world but there wasn’t a way. It wasn’t our path. We were never going to be that. But it took me five more years to leave that relationship, and that was without a child. Now as a mother, the connection I have to my husband and my child, I don’t think I ever would have left. I would still be in Sacramento, not sober.

I never had regrets over the abortion. Every year around the time that it would have been a full term pregnancy I might think, wow, I would have a five year old now, or I would have a seven year old, but life was too crazy to really deal with it too much. I had always thought that if I had a child, that was when all the guilt would show up. Because obviously if you have an abortion you have to be filled with guilt and shame, right?  So I thought maybe I’d hidden it deep, but when I had a child I’d think about the abortion and just be destroyed. So I got pregnant with my son and waited for the shame and the guilt to come pouring over me. I gave birth to him, I looked at him, fell in love with him, I waited, but no guilt and shame came. Only gratitude came pouring through me. I have felt close to joy that those doctors were there that day and I was able to have that abortion because I am so in love with my son and he wouldn’t exist otherwise.

The only time I felt guilt and shame was when my husband and I were trying to get pregnant with our son. We had three miscarriages. I had a very easy-to-fix problem that would cause me to get pregnant but then miscarry, but we had to go to a specialist to figure out what was wrong. When I told them about my abortion, I felt like a palatable change in the room. So the next time I didn’t tell them. I lied about it because I didn’t want to deal with the judgment from the nurses. In a medical setting, you aren’t in a position of power and you need their help,but if I’m honest about my experiences am I not going to get the help I need?

I didn’t know that what I did 13 years ago was leading me to this life now. So my gratitude and appreciation for my abortion has just grown and grown every moment my son has been alive. He is one of the reasons that compelled me to share. I didn’t feel as if my story was over, it was just in limbo until I saw him. And then I saw, oh, it has come full circle now. This is the end of that story.

Molly

It was funny because I’d just found out that I was pregnant and then had to go on stage in front of a huge room full of people and talk about the importance of abortion funds!

Two days after the 2016 election, I got an IUD at my local Planned Parenthood. I’d had the appointment scheduled before the election, so it wasn’t one of those “run-out-and-get-one-while-you-still-can” things, but I did feel secure knowing I had this usually very reliable form of birth control going into the administration of someone so openly hostile to reproductive rights. 

My next period was awful, I had a light period after that, and then the next period didn’t come. I didn’t think I was pregnant. I just thought my cycle was just weird because of the IUD. But then, two hours before I was putting on this big presentation for an Abortion Fund benefit – ironically -- I went to the school nurse and told her, something feels weird with my body. I took a pregnancy test, not expecting it to be positive. I remember, I was chatting with the nurse, and everything felt very normal, and then all the blood seemed to drain out of her face, and she said, you’re pregnant. She’d just been humoring me by giving me the pregnancy test because I had an IUD. She’d never seen anyone get pregnant on one before.

I knew immediately I wanted to have an abortion because I was just about to graduate from college, and I just couldn’t have a baby right then, for obvious reasons. I happen to work at my local Planned Parenthood and, because of that, I knew they were supposed to be doing abortions the next Saturday, but I also knew they were going to close the clinic that day because of increased protester activity. Something Mike Pence was doing in DC was inspiring increased coordinated protesting at clinics around the country. There had been some talk about counter protesting, so they ended up deciding not to do abortions that day because of fears about patient safety. That meant I would have had to wait another week to have the abortion. But I was already having some uncomfortable symptoms, and I was really freaked out, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of staying pregnant any longer than I had to.

A friend who worked at a clinic in my hometown happened to be in town for my Abortion Fund Benefit. It was funny because I’d just found out that I was pregnant and then had to go on stage in front of a huge room full of people and talk about the importance of abortion funds! I told my friend what was happening, and she helped schedule an appointment at her clinic a lot sooner, but it meant driving to another state on two different occasions, once at the beginning of the week for my first appointment and then back on Friday for the actual procedure. But I did it. I was 7 weeks and had the option to do the pills but I wanted an in-clinic abortion because I just wanted it to be over with. I wanted to go into the clinic and leave not pregnant.

My mom took me to the clinic for the procedure, and she was wonderful, but it was scary and lonely, and you’re not allowed to have your phone with you or have anyone else come back with you, and you’re just shuffled from room to room with all these other scared, lonely people, and so I was really anxious.  When I was finally in the room and on the table, a male doctor happened to be there that day, and he came in. It was documented on my chart that I had all this anxiety and stuff, and I was obviously very anxious there on the table, and it was freezing cold. The doctor came in but didn’t talk to me at all. He just started getting everything ready and then started performing a manual exam on me without warning. I gasped, like a sharp inhale, because it was really surprising. He stopped and scoffed and looked around at everybody in the room, like am I doing anything wrong? Like, what’s the issue here? And then he said something along the lines of if she’s going to be uncooperative, then I’m not going to do it. He left the room without talking to me at all. I was understandably upset, and my friend tried to advocate for me, but he still wouldn’t do it. I even offered to be sedated. I just really, really didn’t want to leave that place pregnant. But he wouldn’t do it. They told me to come back tomorrow when another doctor would be there.

After that I went to the local Planned Parenthood and got my IUD out and the next day went back to the original clinic, but this time I got the pills and did it myself at home. It was a long, drawn out, painful process but it was still better than having to be in that place for any longer.  I realize I was really lucky because I had a safe loving place to stay that night.  But in that clinic I was talking to people who had come from Kentucky and Georgia and all over the place. Some of them weren’t taking the sedatives because they wanted to be able to drive themselves back to Kentucky that night. What if all this had happened to one of those people and not me? Would they have been totally out of luck?

I still have some very complicated feelings about speaking ill of an abortion provider in the South, but it was an awful experience, and it’s been weird having to sort out those feelings along with feelings around the fact that I was pregnant and now I’m not. I recognize that a lot of the conditions that made this experience so traumatic are because of abortion stigma. It fuels the restrictive laws that caused me to have to travel long distances, and it contributes to clinics being desperate for doctors no matter what the doctors are like.

I’ve gone through somewhat of a grieving process, but I definitely don’t regret having an abortion.  It was a loving, life-affirming choice for myself.  I’m so grateful that I still get to have my whole life in front of me on my own terms.  I’m so grateful for my mom and my partner and my friends who were all really supportive of me.  And I’m so grateful for the having access to the Tennessee Stories Project, because reading the stories on this website and listening to the Abortion Diary Podcast have been very helpful to me in processing my own feelings.  These narratives are a stark and empowering reminder that I’m not alone. 

Olivia

There was never a moment that I questioned if having an abortion was the right choice for me- but that doesn’t mean it was easy.

As a sophomore in college, I had been seeing a new boyfriend of mine for 3 or 4 months. We were sexually active, and did not usually use protection. One day he came over and told me he thought we should break up- I was bummed, but agreed we should both be moving on.

About a week went by before I noticed my period was late. I remember going to the pharmacy down the street to buy a pregnancy test and having two waves of emotions: 1. embarrassment, trying to hide what I was buying and 2. a surge of feminism telling me I was a grown woman, and that this was perfectly normal. I bought the test, brought it home, and took it. It read positive but I wasn’t convinced.

I waited a few more days for my period to arrive before I really started getting worried. I called my recent ex-boyfriend and told him that my period was late, and he came over. I took the test in the bathroom while he waited outside, and left it sitting on the sink. I was so scared to look at the result and made him do it. It read positive.

I called Planned Parenthood and set up an appointment. My ex took me to the appointment, and I remember there being protesters with pro-life signs in the front. I did not feel guilty- they almost reinforced my decision. The workers were SO kind, and I really felt a sense of protection. They asked me many questions about if I was making the right decision for myself, and I said yes.

I came back a few weeks later for my abortion appointment. I’ll never forget it was snowing that day. My local Planned Parenthood only provided abortion services via pill, so I took one pill and went home to take the other. As the nurses had warned me, I experienced some heavy bleeding and cramping. Mostly, I felt very alone. It felt like a deeply personal experience- and I made the mistake of not confiding in any of my friends about it for a very long time. Not because I was embarrassed or felt I had made the wrong decision- just because it felt like something that was mine. Looking back, I wish I had reached out to a girl friend for support- my ex-boyfriend was very helpful, but it just felt like I needed to let the feeling sit inside me, alone, for a while.

Now, 5 years later, I have finished college, I am living in New York City and I am thriving. I cannot imagine my life if I had chosen to keep a child that I didn’t want and couldn’t support. It was the best thing I have ever done for myself and I have no regrets. It is deeply ingrained in us as women that we don’t have the right to our own body or decisions. Do what fits into your life and your plan.

I feel so lucky there was a Planned Parenthood near me in my southern town and that even provided abortion services at all. The Tennessee Stories Project is a wonderful effort to get people to start talking about it! So many women you know have probably had an abortion- it’s nothing to be ashamed of. When I eventually told my older sister a year after mine, she told me she had had an abortion too and was so happy that she did. In the current political climate, it is so important to make our voices heard. So let’s talk about it!

Rachel

I had barely left my nineteenth summer behind when I had my abortion. I think about that summer all the time, sitting on my roof, smoking too many cigarettes, waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up in his black Honda Element with the lights off, waiting for him to take me on adventures to white lines and crowded bars and empty docks on the edge of the sun kissed lake. I knew I was pregnant before I took a single test. My period was just a little too late, and I had a feeling in my stomach that weighed me down like a ton of smooth stones. One night, rather early into the morning, my boyfriend left the apartment in a fit of mania and returned with four pregnancy tests. I only had to take one.

I was hardly nineteen, my boyfriend hardly twenty. There were a lot of reasons an abortion was the best option: we used a lot of recreational drugs, we weren’t’t financially stable, and we were too young to even know who we were from day to day. It wasn’t’t a hard decision; abortion was the first option mentioned and the only one to be taken seriously. We googled the closest clinics. Living in East Tennessee limited our options so we immediately decided on a clinic in Bristol, Virginia, right over the state line. The cost of the pill at the clinic we chose was five hundred and twenty-five dollars. My boyfriend called his mother the next morning to tell her the news and she immediately agreed to pay for the abortion. The clinic that we had chosen even had a student discount coupon, which I found to be a source of endless amusement. After we made the initial appointment, I made a lot of jokes. Jokes about the student discount, jokes about “our baby”, jokes about morning sickness. I felt okay. The first appointment went well. People magazines littered the waiting room where my boyfriend was left alone to peruse the lives of has-beens and step outside for the occasional chain smoking session. There was a counseling session to assess whether or not I was being coerced. The doctors then checked to see how far along I was to better inform me of my options. I caught it early enough to be eligible for the pill. They walked me through the process of the pill and vacuum, step by step. I opted for the pill. It was administered at the clinic. They wrote me all my prescriptions that same day. One for phenerghan and one for painkillers. They encouraged me to take the pill when I would have a few days to recover. My boyfriend took me to the pharmacy immediately after the appointment to fill all of my prescriptions. He even bought me soft serve at McDonalds. I puked it up in the parking lot all over the coat my dad bad bought me for Christmas.

When I got my abortion I couldn’t’t have weighed a pound more than one hundred and ten at five foot nine inches. I don’t know if my weight had anything to do with the amount of pain I felt, but the pain was more than I expected. At the clinic they told me that the pill would essentially cause me to go into labor. I remember thinking to myself if this is labor then I’m never doing this again. However, the pain subsided after five hours; the worst of the bleeding was over by then as well. For the next few days I laid in bed, occasionally taking painkillers, whining about the blood and the pain, whining about being unable to have sex. A week after I had the procedure I had scheduled a follow-up appointment at the clinic, to be certain everything had gone successfully. The appointment went well. The doctors performed an ultrasound to make sure nothing had been left behind. It had been successful.

I will never regret getting my abortion.  I was nineteen years old, completely unprepared for a child. I was in a relationship that revolved around the use of casual drugs. At nineteen, I had so much ahead of me that I would have completely lost had I been unable to get an abortion. I hope that my story helps other young girls to see that getting pregnant at a young age is not the end; abortion is not a selfish option. I got an abortion because I knew that at that point in my life I would have been unable to provide a full life to any child. And when you’re nineteen, twenty, even still in your early twenties, it’s okay to be selfish. How are you going to take care of someone when you’re still trying to understand who you are as a person and how to take care of yourself? I do not regret the choice that I made. It saved a life, and it helped me become the person that I am today.

Rachel L.

I guess I think I'll start with a little bit about why I wanted to tell the story and then tell the story. I'm pretty typical to I think what you'll hear from a lot of women; I don't regret having an abortion, I don't look back and say I shouldn't have done that. I've always looked back —and it's been over ten years now —I always look back and thought, ‘Why does this have to be private?' You hear the statistic one in five or one in four, but if you go by the stories, it may as well be one in a hundred. I'm compelled to share not as much for myself but because I think everybody should feel like sharing their story is cool, is acceptable. For me, I was eighteen, it was my freshman year of college, I was trying to find a girl to date at the time, and that went poorly but this young man met me at an outdoor smoking area on my campus. He was not a student at the University just a hanger-outer. You know young eighteen-year-old, first year of college not very great self-esteem, a young man says "I'd like to take you home with me," and I say "Yes, I will do that." And he doesn't have condoms, and I don't have a lot of great birth control education, and even though I know this isn't a very great idea, I do it. And I get pregnant. I'm still at university I have a very fundamentalist Christian conservative background and family and at the same time, I know I'm not having this baby. At first, I'm terrified, I'm trying to be like, "Well maybe I'm not pregnant," "I never really kept track of my schedule", blah, blah, blah, etc. But you know everyone who gets pregnant and has an abortion comes to the realization, "Yes I am pregnant, we have to do something about this." I faced some hurdles; it is not free, it is not publicly funded, and clinics that provide abortions and —rightly so for their own continued operation —require payment upfront. So I knew that my first hurdle was, my boyfriend was mostly unemployed, my parents are not even going to be told about this and I need about four hundred bucks. So one of the first things that I did was start applying for jobs after I knew that I had to have an abortion. Thank you 7/11 University of Pittsburgh campus, essentially you paid for my abortion, and I appreciate it very much. They hired me and within enough time, I was able to save up enough money before my appointment and not be over the cut-off, which was close in my case.

It's funny this is a little bit of an aside, but a part of the reason I want to tell my story, too, is because I think it mirrors a lot of women's stories that I think are sometimes misunderstood. I was very close to the magical cut-off point of I don't even remember what it was in Pennsylvania, probably fifteen [weeks]. It's fifteen here at Planned Parenthood. I've heard people wonder, "What makes a women wait that long?" Money. Money makes a woman wait that long. Fear. Fear makes a woman wait that long. For me, I was at university, it was late November when I found out. Planned Parenthood was accessible by a bus from the university campus, but I had to go home for Christmas break. So I was also dealing with being at the right location at the right time without my family so they wouldn't know. I was able to schedule that for right after I got back to campus —New Year.

So, I've got the money; I haven't had to tell my parents. I'm all scheduled, I don't have a car, but I can take the bus downtown. I get there, and I guess I knew what was coming when I got there, but you're never prepared. Different Planned Parenthoods dependent on where they're renting or owning space has varying access to their entry way. The Planned Parenthood here in Memphis is actually pretty nice; the entryway is on private property. The entry way at this one was on a public sidewalk, which meant that protesters were, by law, allowed to protest right in front of the entrance to the building. And they did. My boyfriend was black and the most shocking thing about my abortion to this day was the number of racial epithets that protesters hurled at my boyfriend and I while trying to convince us to not walk in the doors. I hate to be flippant about it, but my thoughts have always been, “Did you really think that strategy was going to work?” It just shows to me, adding to the reason I want to tell my story, the people who are against us are not reasonable, they're not rational, they're not trying to help people. The reason that they are winning sometimes is because of our silence. I think everybody will have a different reason to want to tell their story. For me, I guess it's not necessarily cathartic, I'm not getting anything out of telling it anymore, but I think that we speak the things that need to be spoken, and I really want to be there to keep speaking that. I want to do that for this project specifically because I think Tennessee faces a real hardship surrounding abortion access; it's facing a lot of stigmas. You have to be really brave in Tennessee to say "I will publicly tell this story." I want to tell that because, to be honest, for myself, I'm not afraid, maybe not even as afraid as I should be, but I understand why other women are afraid. I want to tell my story partially to have a voice out there and partially to say we need to have each other's backs. If we all tell our stories, we are a sea of faces. If it's just me, if it's just two of us, if it's just three of us you might be able to pick us all out but there are a sea of us. If we all told our stories together, it wouldn't be identifiable women in a crowd it would be a force of women. I think that's an amazing first step for some real positive change in access, in rights, in erasing the stigma.

Not even for people who have had an abortion because I think the story, especially for women like me who are willing to have their story be public and be published, it's really a strong message to young women who may be seeking abortion services. Even to those who just may be forming opinions on reproductive rights. Ten years ago when I went online, and I looked up Planned Parenthood's website, I knew I could get an abortion and I knew it was legal, but you wouldn't have been able to find a Tennessee Stories Project website. All of my knowing that it was okay was in my head. With a project like this, the next generation of women can know from our stories. Even if they aren't in a place where they can share their own story, they can speak out these other stories to buoy their own decision and to have a better, more normalized experience.

The one thing I would say to somebody reading my story is; you're going to be okay, not you have to be okay right now. Not you have to be totally one hundred percent fine, feeling happy —you might feel anxious, you might feel depressed, you might feel lonely. Honestly, just the experience of having a termination is very hormonal, so you could feel all of those things and it'snormal, it's okay, and you're allowed to feel whatever you're feeling, but you're going to be okay. That's always the message I want women to hear. Not that you should be okay or not that you should feel any certain way. But you're going to be okay. I guess also, to be honest, I would encourage women reading my story to tell their stories if they have them or to share with the women in their lives about abortion. Start an abortion conversation. I think all humans, especially all pro-choice women, have to be able to be open. The whole idea that you have this right but it's private, and it's shameful is not really a right. To add to that, though, I wouldn't want any woman to feel pressured to share their story either because that's personal too, and I'm not sure I could've shared it right away, and I don't share it with everyone. Kind of the idea that you get to make your own choices around the whole experience as much as you can. I think that's really important. Sometimes you think that you have to do this certain thing because of a boyfriend or mom or the OB at Planned Parenthood told you. Because it's so shameful and so silent, I think that women feel like the choices are made for them so I would tell any woman reading my story that some choices I had to make but I really look back and feel like every choice was mine. Sometimes I had to make the best of a bad situation, but I didn't let, for instance, the fact that my family would not approve hold me back. But I don't think that means that another woman should make that choice. I think that I would encourage women reading my story and maybe considering abortion but who have not yet made up their mind; don't make up your mind because of how I made up my mind or because of how somebody else made up their mind in their story. Everyone gets to have their own individual experience. The point of the story is just to show the diversity of our experiences. A lot of women have stories like mine, and a lot of women have stories very different from mine, and every abortion story is okay. You'll be okay.

I still have not [told my family about my abortion], in fact, I'm at a funny time in my life because I am pretty sure that there's going to be a video of me telling my story on the web very soon. I'm not normally an encourager of dishonesty, but I think it's okay for women to decide that they're not going to share their experience with people who aren't going to accept it, especially in their private life. Sometimes, with the push to erase the stigma, it can seem that there's this notion that honesty trumps personal comfort. While I think as many women as are able should tell their stories, I would never tell any individual woman where, when, or to whom she should tell it. Maybe —or not even maybe —certainly for some who have stories the reason they won't be able “come out”is because the threat of their being outed publicly could be a real threat. For my family, it would be awkward and emotionally horrible, but I would not fear for my safety. I think there are women who really might fear for their safety if they were out about their story. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. For me, I'm in a great place where I can safely tell this story. I keep going back to why I'm telling my story, but another reason is because I know that some people can't safely share. Maybe not safely because they're not in the right emotional place, maybe not safely for any number of other personal reasons. I think that encouraging as many women as can to tell their story shouldn't necessarily come at the cost of not allowing women to decide their own level of public or private experience.

I think that number one we should be normalizing for each other. Which is to say that I think a lot of the work that's being done to promote access cannot be done without this work of storytelling and reducing the stigma. I think sharing is an excellent method of reducing stigma. I think also reducing stigma in this arena also reduces it at the governmental level. I'd also love for people on both sides of the argument - voters, politicians, lawmakers, educators - to hear my story and to hear or to read all of the stories. I'm active in the LGBTQ community, and there's so much emphasis on visibility, on improving LGBT rights by making LGBT people visible and normal. I think that we've seen a lot of change because of that. Ultimately the reason that we have marriage today is because a lot of brave LGBT people came out, from the people who came out to their families to the people like Ellen DeGeneres and others in a more public forum, I don't think it's any different here. I think part of the reason why we're seeing this backlash of laws is because we are being silenced. Because abortion is only an abstract concept. Abortion is not something that has happened to a real woman - it's a concept that happens on paper, on laws. And the more people who share their stories and the more that voters and lawmakers and people who are not directly involved with abortion hear them, the more abortion becomes more than an abstract concept on Amendment One. It's now my mom, my sister, my former professor, somebody in my dorm complex - it's really so many of us. I think that everybody should read it.

I've never shared this part. I've talked about what happened beforehand, and I've talked about walking into the clinic, and then I stopped because we're not supposed to talk about the icky part. I think that's a stigma, too. Which is to say that people demonize the actual medical procedure of abortion. Like you go into a room, and there are monsters there. I can tell you for certain, there are no monsters. It's akin to a not terribly comfortable outpatient procedure. It starts out like a well woman exam. You're on a table, butt pushed toward the edge, feet up in stirrups, and they insert a speculum. No different than any other gyno appointment. As far as the rest goes, it's about a five-minute procedure. It's totally safe. At the end of the procedure, the doctor goes and makes sure that everything is going to be okay. When the doctor says everything is okay, a nice medical staff member gets you off the bed, helps you get dressed, and you go to a recovery room. You're in the recovery room for about half an hour to forty-five minutes so they can make sure that your bleeding is normal, and your blood pressure is normal, and then they give you aftercare information and send you home. If you've ever been in the ER or ever been in an outpatient procedure, just like there are no monsters in those, there are no monsters in the termination room. No part of it is scary except for the lack of societal understanding and silence. At least from my experience. I didn't want a baby. I don't think I killed a soul. So in the end, the only thing that's ever been hard for me is the fact that it's all supposed to be a secret. I'm happy that I don't have to have a secret anymore, and I'd really like to use that platform to help other women not to have any secrets either.

Rebecca

My story is fairly recent, late January 2015. We had finally kinda gotten settled in Tennessee. I was starting to work for a homeschool co-op and I'd recently weaned my 3 year old, which was a major thing. And that's probably got a little bit to do with why I may have been off with counting days, because it's a major hormone swing. But it had been a couple months and I thought I knew what was what. I guess I'd miscounted.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was so mad about it. There was no part of me that was like, "Aww!" I was feeling sick and angry. I was like, "I can't do this again. I can't do another four years of being pregnant and having a small child that I'm pretty attached to." I'd just started having another identity besides "boob". Having a baby wasn't going to work with my family and it also didn't fit with my personal beliefs. I'm really concerned with the environment and global population. I always said I'll have one, and if I want more then I'll adopt. I just could not square myself with it. We still had a house in Oklahoma that hadn't sold and we hadn't bought the house we were in yet. A pregnancy would throw everything so far off track.

So I started looking into my options and luckily in Tennessee, I still had options; unfortunately, not in Chattanooga. When I started looking things up, there seemed to be several options. But when I started making calls, I found out they weren't centers for women. They were centers to talk you out of abortion. But luckily, I'm old and I'm used to being in a predominantly Baptist culture. So I didn't really take it personally. And it's kinda the same as when I had my son; I wanted to have a midwife and wanted to do it as non-medically as possible. So I'm used to knowing what I want and advocating for myself, being able to bat away the standard arguments people will throw at you. With that experience, I recognized that I'd stepped into a trap, and was able to back off from it and to find out where the real options were.

The closest center was in Knoxville. I contacted them and they were amazing. Every interaction that I had with them was wonderful, from the lady who answered the phone to make my appointment and take my basic data, to the actual procedure and the follow-up, everything. Everyone was so positive, so affirming, so kind and gentle. I couldn't help but think that a little bit of that had to do with being a place run by women for women.

They have a great website that has all the information, so I could read everything before I even went. I knew in advance that I'd be able to do the medical instead of the surgical, because it was very early. And then I had that website there through the whole process, so I could read it as I was taking medications, double-checking to make sure that it was correct, understanding what was happening to me, and then reading it for follow-up to make sure I'd done everything right.

They did everything in one appointment, which was wonderful. They asked me my timeline and I said, "As soon as possible," and they said, "Okay, these are the dates." It was a week from when I called, which was kind of hard to wait through. But knowing the date and having everything to read on the website helped.

My husband went with me and we had a counseling session together, which was super cool. Everyone was so professional. They did the medical procedure. I didn't have much trouble with it. It wasn't overly painful, didn't take overly long. It was a few days of everything coming out. The statistics on it are great. It's much safer than pregnancy and birth. You take one pill that will stop growth and 24 hours later, you take one that starts contractions. They give you really good pain meds, but I didn't need one. At my husband's very concerned urging, I took half a tab and just waited it out. I didn't have to take any time off of work. I had the abortion before Tennessee legislated the waiting period and I feel very lucky for that. I've thought about that often, how I would have had to take another day, another trip to Knoxville. It would have been more time off for my husband.

Sure, it does a number on your hormones and it takes about a month to six weeks to get back to center. But that's just hormones. Other than that, the only really hard thing is feeling the cloak of silence that surrounds it. And husbands aren't really the best support for lady issues. They try but they can't see it, and if they can't see it they think it doesn't exist. They do the best they can. But there isn't a lot of support for them either, not a lot for them to read or people they can talk to to say, "Hey, this is happening." It affects them too and there should be support for them also.

Another thing that I noticed that I hope can change is that the other patients there were highly emotional, and there seemed to be a lot of shame and stigma. It wasn't coming from the people working in the center. The patients themselves were not meeting each other's eyes.

I don't have an ounce of regret. The only thing I've ever felt about it was relief. We were able to go through the rest of last year and achieve the things we wanted to achieve - complete the sale of the house in Oklahoma, buy the house we're in, and finish remodeling the back of our house. Also, I've been dealing with issues from my childhood. It was pretty abusive and I'm at a point in my life where I'm trying to unpack it and figure out what's going on and how I can keep from imparting this stuff to the next generation. At the end of last year, I started trauma therapy for complex PTSD. It took me years to arrive at that diagnosis and find a therapist who specializes in trauma. If I'd thrown a baby in on top of that, I don't think I'd be where I am now. When you have a small child, it's survival for two years. You're just trying to get through the day.

I'm a birth nerd. I worked with midwives in Honduras. I try to stay active in the birth community because it's something I really care about. I was already very firmly pro-choice in terms of pregnant women being able to get the full range of their options, being given full information and being able to make those decisions for themselves rather than being intimidated and forced into standard options. The OB I'd chosen to be my back-up was trying to bully me and scare me. If I hadn't been as informed as I was, if I hadn't known statistics that were true instead of the ones he tried to tell me, I might have fallen for it. It's the same with abortion issues, and now having been through this, I feel like it makes me an even better advocate. I've had the birth I wanted and I've had an abortion and I feel like it makes me somebody that other people can talk to. I have recently been supporting friends in different phases of that. I had a friend who got pregnant and wasn't sure about having a baby, so I was able to tell her what was available in Chattanooga for any of those options. I told her that I could help her with whatever she wanted to do.

I really hope that we're working on breaking down stigma, and that choice means all the choices. I want the pro-choice movement to hold the hand of the birth choice movement, because it's the same fight, the same rights. Everybody has the right to equal access for health care. Organizations like Choices Chattanooga really make me angry because it's not fair to get people in the door with a lie. You wouldn't treat a man like that.

Rose D.

I haven’t personally had an abortion but my life has definitely been affected by abortion in a lot of ways. When I was about 13 years old, a friend and I were hanging out and for some reason the subject came up. She said she personally was opposed to abortion because her teenage mother had actually gone into an abortion clinic but had decided at the last minute not to terminate the pregnancy. My friend was later adopted by another family who had taken very good care of her. So she was opposed to abortion because if her mother had had one, she essentially wouldn’t exist.

I knew that my mother had had two abortions and I also knew that my parents only wanted two children.  So, as the younger of two girls, I knew that if my mother had not had her abortions, my sister and I wouldn’t exist since she would have done something to prevent another pregnancy from occurring. And so I said to my friend well, yeah, because your mother didn’t have an abortion, you exist but if my mom hadn’t had two abortions, I wouldn’t exist.

That brought to light for me for the first time that having an abortion is not necessarily anti-child. It’s just that you end up with a different family than you otherwise would have had at maybe a better time for you.  After all, we are full of infinite groupings for creating life. Almost all of them never occur, and few of us concern ourselves with that lost potential. Rather than agonizing over all of the cellular combinations that never came to be, we should celebrate the beautiful randomness of human life and cherish the people who actually exist.

Sam

People have a lot to say about women who have multiple abortions, but if it hasn’t happened to you, you can’t understand the reality of it.

The first time I had an abortion, I was 18 and in an emotionally abusive relationship. I had gone to the gynecologist when I started having sex at 16 and was on the pill for my periods, but it was doomed from the start—as a teenager, I could never take it every day at the same time. I don’t regret any of my abortions because they’ve made it possible for me to keep discovering who I am, and that takes a long time! But I do wish that I’d known more about other birth control options. Although sex education in my school wasn’t bad, we only really learned about condoms, and someone telling me to be abstinent would’ve only made me want to have sex more. I already knew I wanted to have sex and telling me not to made absolutely no difference.

My boyfriend had been manipulative and emotionally abusive, and even though abortion would’ve been my choice anyways, if I had wanted to keep being pregnant, he wouldn’t have let me. I’m really glad that I had that abortion because we were very unhealthily codependent, and it would not have been good to be tied down to him with a kid. All of my abortions have been medical; for me, it was like a really crampy period, so it wasn’t too difficult of an experience.

The second time I had an abortion, I was 21 and my boyfriend was 20 years older than me. When we found out I was pregnant, he left the decision up to me, and I chose to have a medical abortion again. He had an apartment downtown and I was recovering there during MusicFest weekend, but I remember there was a huge storm so it had to be evacuated.

The third time I had an abortion, I was 23 and had been dating my 33-year-old boyfriend for a year. He’d just gotten out of school and was deep in debt, so it was a bad time financially, but I also think he wasn’t emotionally ready to have a kid. He thought he was being supportive, and I know he cared about me and what we were dealing with, but it was really hard to get him to talk seriously about it because it had just scared the shit out of him. I got another medical abortion and we ended up dating for 4 more years.

People have a lot to say about women who have multiple abortions, but if it hasn’t happened to you, you can’t understand the reality of it. If you chose abortion once and have another unplanned pregnancy, it’s less intimidating to make that choice again, plus I already knew how my body would react to it.

Every abortion I’ve had was absolutely the best decision for me because I’ve been able to figure out more about myself. From graduating high school to my early twenties, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and having kids would’ve prevented me from exploring my options and getting better at things. For me, it was like, “You have a kid—and then what?” I wasn’t ready to have kids because I need to know more about who I am before I commit to soccer and ballet camps, and because of my choices, I’m able to learn something new about myself every day. People tend to say women like me are self-centered, but you have to focus on yourself to be the best person for other people; I can’t give myself to somebody else if I don’t know what I want.

I hope that sharing my story takes some stigma away for me and for other women who’ve had multiple abortions. People should be able to talk about the choices they’ve made, and I am not ashamed or depressed about mine. I am confident in my decision to have my abortions because I made these choices about my own body and my own future, and I deserve to feel confident about that.

Savannah

When I was 16 my parents got a divorce and so I moved in with some family friends who lived in Texas and I spent my junior year of high school with them. I met this boy around July or August. He was very sweet and three years older than me. And then he wasn’t very sweet anymore. He started abusing me. I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of October. I initially didn’t want to go to him and say “hey, I’m having your child” because I had to be very careful with the way that I acted and the things that I said around him. He kept very close tabs on me. Eventually, though he noticed I didn’t get a period and I had to tell him. He got angry. His decision for me was that we were going to have this child. I decided that wasn’t going to happen.

I was nine and a half weeks along. In Texas you have to call and make an ultrasound appointment and then two days after that appointment you can get an abortion and in that time I needed to find the money to do this. I called my dad and I said that I needed money for a laptop, and so he gave me $600, some of which I used for my abortion.

It was right after Thanksgiving when I got my abortion. It didn’t hurt. It was a pretty painless procedure. It took like six minutes. A year or two after that I got an IUD placed and that hurt way worse. I remember that it said on the website to wear loose clothing so I wore these loose men’s sweatpants and an ET t-shirt. When I walked out the door that day, everyone asked if I was really tired or something for wearing such a weird outfit. I still have those clothes and I can’t really wear them or look at them very much, but I kept them. I felt like it was important for me to do that and face my demons. I remember having to take off school and my family friend who I lived with had a daughter my age who went to school with me and that day I told her I was visiting my godmother who also lived in Texas. I told my godmother I was with someone else. The school called the family I lived with to tell them I wasn’t at school that day and I ended up telling them that I skipped school to hang out in the parking lot all day. So, it was this web of lies. I didn’t tell anyone what I was really doing.

 I went back to school and everything was normal. Around the middle of December, right before Christmas break, my boyfriend noticed that I had started my period again. That night was very bad. He got very angry and hit me a lot. Then, I left the state for Christmas break for two weeks and during that time my family went to Disney World. The entire time I kept having trouble walking, I think because one of my ribs was fractured. I came back to Texas after the break and the relationship with my boyfriend got progressively worse and worse. So without giving him any notice, I left Texas and moved in with my mom in Tennessee the day after my junior year of high school ended. I haven’t seen him since. I went back to Texas last November for a wedding and was terrified the whole time that he would know I was there. He still emails me sometimes to tell me I’m a “babykiller.”

I was never ashamed to get an abortion. I was really mad at myself for being a victim though, since I thought that wasn’t something “strong women” were allowed to do. Now, I work with a lot of young women who are dealing with these types of issues. I really want to be an OBGYN, which is what I’m in school for, because of what happened to me. I want women to have adequate care. They deserve that as a minimum. I wanted to tell my story so that people who are in the position that I was in three or four years ago would know that it doesn’t have to define you and it’s not the end of the world.

Savannah G.

If I can tell my story, and if another woman can read my story, she’ll find out that even if you don’t have a great support system, there are other people out here who have been through it and we understand what she is going through.

I was a freshman in college, was 18, and had been casually seeing a guy. I went to a party with him, and we ended up having sex. He didn’t use a condom, and I wasn’t on birth control, and then, you know, a couple of weeks go by and my period was kind of late. I didn’t think much about it. It was exam week and so I thought it was probably just stress. No big deal. Then one of my suitemates asked me if my period had started. Our cycles had linked up, and she’d started hers so that’s why she asked. I told her no, I think I’m just stressed because of exams, and she said: what if you’re pregnant?

I didn’t want to talk to her about it and didn’t really want to think about it until after my exams were over, but all that day I just kept thinking and kept thinking: oh my gosh, what if that’swhy I’m late? What’s going on? And so that night around 11 or 11:30, my roommate and I went to a Wal-Mart far from campus, because I didn’t want anyone to see me, and I bought a pregnancy test. I didn’t want to take it right there in Wal-Mart but I didn’t want to take it in the dorms either, so I went into a McDonald’s bathroom and took the test around midnight.

So I’m in a McDonald’s bathroom, and I tell my roommate I’m pregnant, and we’re crying our eyes out. I didn’t know what to do. I called my best friend from home because she’d recently told me she’d had an abortion. She’d just wanted me to know: if anything like this happens to you, I’m here for you. I’m here to listen. So I call her and I’m crying and freaking out and she tells me it’s going to be okay. Whatever you want to do, it’s going to be okay, don’t worry.

After I got off the phone, my roommate and I went back to the dorms, but I didn’t want to go inside yet because I was still a wreck. Part of why I was nervous was because this was right before spring break and I was supposed to go to Florida with my friends. I asked my roommate to go get my friend from his room. I told him I was pregnant and he said, it’s going to be okay. We don’t have to go to Florida. We can just stay here. He was right, but I really didn’t know what to do because I would have to call my parents and tell them I was coming home instead of going on spring break. He kept telling me it was going to be okay, but all of this felt like the end of the world to me.

The next day I went to the student health center to find out for sure if I was pregnant. That was actually a horrible experience. There was a nurse who was basically trying to talk me out of having an abortion. I was pretty upfront with everybody. I was like, ‘I’m not having a baby, I’m not ready to have a baby.’ But this nurse comes in and holds my hand and she’s crying with me. I knew what I was going to do, have an abortion, but I didn’t know how to tell my parents I was pregnant. That’s what I was most upset about. She was saying, ‘you can do it, you can do this.’ I told her that I knew they would still love me and everything – I was talking about my parents -- but she said, “no, you can have this baby.” And I was like: hold on. What?

“This is a completely different conversation,” I said. “I’m talking about how I need to go home and tell my parents that I need to make an appointment at Planned Parenthood, and you’re trying to tell me I need to have this baby? I am very clear on what all my options are and I don’t think you should really be talking to me about what my choice should be.” She said she felt bad and was not trying to make my choice for me or anything like that, but she just knew I was a strong woman. I said, “You’ve known me for all of 10 minutes and you have seen me looking like a wreck. I do not look strong. I do not look cute. I do not look like I’m ready to have a baby.”

Then she tried to be more comforting, but I could tell she had a different opinion from me, and it wasn’t comforting at all. I just really needed a minute by myself. Then the doctor came in and the doctor was really great. She gave me the contact information for every option in Knoxville, and I really appreciated that. She wrote notes for my professors to allow me to postpone my exams. Then I called my mom and told her I was coming home.

“Savannah, don’t you have an exam today?” my mom said. And I was like, “yeah, well, it got cancelled and I’m just going to come home so I can hang out with you guys before I go on spring break”, and she said, “Savannah what’s wrong?” I told her I wanted to talk to her about it when I got home, but she said, “no. You need to tell me now.” So I told her ‘well, mom, I’m pregnant.’

Her initial reaction was anger: what? And I was like, yeah, I know. And she asked: who? And I said nobody, Mom. It was really nobody. It was just a casual thing, and he quit talking to me pretty much right after it happened and all that nonsense. She asked me if she should tell my dad or did I want to tell him. Since I didn’t know how he would take it, I asked her to tell him. And then she wasn’t angry anymore. I kept saying I’m sorry and she tried to console me. Savannah, she said, you don’t have anything to be sorry about. This isn’t the end of the world. It doesn’t change anything about you. It just means we are going to have to deal with this and your spring break is going to be a little bit different than you thought. I already had an appointment with the Planned Parenthood in Knoxville, so I told her that as well.

When I got home, my dad wasn’t back from work yet, although my mom had already told him I was pregnant. I was sitting in their bedroom on their bed when he got home, and my parents walked in and just hugged me and let me cry. They were really, really supportive. Then my dad told me that he was 16 when he got a girl pregnant and she basically told him that it was up to him whether she was going to have an abortion or not. He was like, ‘I’m not ready to be a dad but I’m not the one who’s going to have a baby. You are. I don’t think that’s a choice I can make for you.’  She had an abortion and so that’s something I’ve carried with me forever, the fact that my opinion might have been what made her make that choice. I never want you to feel that way, my dad said. If you want to have this baby then you can move home and we can make it work, but if you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to. It’s completely up to you.

That’s not at all how I thought that conversation was going to go. It made me feel so much better. It made me have hope for the world.

The procedure itself was a medical abortion but this was before the 48-hour waiting period so I just had to go in once. And I was lucky because I could be at home in a comfortable space. It was really nice to be there with my mom and let my mom hold me when I was going through it. I know I’m really lucky to have had the support system that I had.

I didn’t want to tell my brother and sister, although my sister knows now. She was scrolling through Facebook one day and she read something about everybody loves somebody who’s had an abortion. She said, I don’t know if that’s true. I said, I think it is true, even if you don’t know it. She was saying that abortion is not something a lot of people have done, blah blahblah, and so I said, well, I had an abortion. You know that spring break that I came home instead of going to Florida? She said she thought something weird was going on but didn’t question me or Mom. She was upset that I felt I had to lie to her about it, but I told her it was more of me being in denial. And I just didn’t feel like it was anybody else’s business. Sometimes people are just not ready to talk about it yet. But she was happy that I told her.

I’ve told a couple of other people but mostly I’ve been quiet about it.  It’s not something I regret or feel ashamed or embarrassed about; it’s more the stigma. It’s what people think about you after they find out. But nobody that I know looks at me any differently. That’s why I’m so intrigued by the Tennessee Stories Project because if I can tell my story, and if another woman can read my story, she’ll find out that even if you don’t have a great support system, there are other people out here who have been through it and we understand what she is going through. It may be the best thing ever for at least one person, so it’s worth it.

Shawnee

Abortion:  It’s one of those topics that has been stigmatized to a point that people don’t want to talk about it. The problem is, we NEED to talk about it. We need to talk about why women have abortions, why they should be legal, what emotions are involved, how to support each other, and how to keep women safe. 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime, yet many of us don’t know those close to us have gone through one. I want to alleviate that. I want others to know they’re NOT alone. I want others to know that it’s okay to have questions and to ask those questions.

The day I found out I was pregnant was just like any other day. I was at work, and felt cramps. I glanced at the calendar and that terrifying “I’m late” feeling crept up. My boss walked up to my desk, and I’m looking at the calendar, then at him, then back at the calendar. This went on for a few minutes until he realized what I realized. “You’re not pregnant, are you?! What are you going to do?” “I’ll have an abortion. That’s it. No question.” “What about your husband? What if he wants you to keep it?” “It’s not his body, nor his decision to make.”

Sure enough, that evening and 6 pregnancy tests later, I’m pregnant. Contraception method failure. Sure enough, my husband wants me to keep it. Mind you, I did not want children, and our marriage was already heading towards divorce. As upset as he was, he recognized that it was my body, my decision. I found an abortion clinic, which was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I was raised thinking abortions were acceptable medical procedures. It never dawned on me that clinics were few and far between.

The first appointment was frustrating. After a trans vaginal ultra-sound, the doctor said I was too early to abort. This had nothing to do with laws, but with biology. He said I would have to come back in a week. That was the longest week of my life. No matter what you’re raised to believe, the stigma attached to abortion can affect your mentality. Was I making the right decision? Would I regret it later? Was I killing a baby? The answers followed as “Yes”, “No”, and “No”. I was terminating an unwanted pregnancy. I was terminating a non-viable fetus instead of subjecting a child to an emotionally and financially stressful upbringing. I reminded myself of this every day for a week.

The day of the procedure, I was not prepared for the physical pain that I endured. The medication never really kicked in, and I felt the entire procedure. I’m surprised I didn’t break the nurse’s hand. Emotionally, I was a rock. Would I do it again, if necessary? Absolutely.

Another thing that struck me was where the actual abortion was performed. The doctor’s office had a room, downstairs, which they locked off from any access. What other medical procedure is done where you have to lock the patient, doctor, and nurse in a room to protect them?

Procedure over, the doctor once again reviews our future contraception plan, and I’m out the door. A glass of wine, some fast food, and I’m essentially back to normal. This was on Dec 23rd. I couldn’t tell you the year, because it isn’t something that I feel the need to dwell on. The only reason I recall the date is the next day was Christmas Eve, and I had decided, last minute, to cook for 13-15 people.

I was lucky enough to not have a single regret, other than getting pregnant. Thanks to Tennessee’s state laws, I now have no choice left in the matter. I was sterilized because I did not want to run the risk of becoming pregnant and not having access to a safe and legal abortion after Amendment 1 passed. My choice was taken from me. I never want to see another generation of girls and women that have no choice. I never want to see another generation forced to back alley abortion clinics and coat hangers. I never want to see women forced into carrying a fetus to term if they do not want to, for whatever reason, to have their life taken from her during a medical emergency, or to be forced to carry a fetus to term that has severe birth defects or developmental issues. Talk about abortions. Ask questions. Get educated. Be there for others. Understand that all emotions are valid. Vote for politicians that are pro-women’s rights.

Stephanie

It was 2006, and I was 16. My boyfriend and I used condoms, but not consistently enough, and on a warm day that spring we discovered I was pregnant. My best friend was the first to know; then my parents, who assured me they would support whatever decision I made. I wasn’t ready to be a parent, nor would I submit a child to a life in foster care when so many children already wait for someone to love them.

At that time, the Tennessee Constitution provided even stronger protections for women seeking abortions than did federal law, so there was no waiting period, no mandated ultrasound, no blatantly false, emotionally manipulative descriptions of the growing embryo. I only had to wait until seven weeks gestation because I wanted a surgical, rather than medication, abortion.

On the day of my appointment, my parents drove my boyfriend and me 30 minutes to the women’s center. The parking lot was empty; no protesters were there to shame and harass my family. My mom had a cigarette, and we all walked inside, where she signed the consent forms and helped me fill out paperwork. My parents and my boyfriend split the cost, about $480.

I remember being struck by the normality of the process; it felt like a normal office visit. I met with the nurse, who took me to the procedure room and gave me medication to help me relax. The gynecologist came in and performed the abortion, which was nearly painless. It was over and I was in recovery in less than 30 minutes. I had been nauseous for a couple of weeks, so I was thrilled to finally be able to eat. Then I was able to go home and rest knowing I had made the best decision for myself and my family, a decision I have never regretted. In retrospect and after hearing and reading the stories of countless women – particularly those of undocumented women and women of color – I realize how very privileged I am to have had both unconditional support and assistance from my family and no obstructions when seeking and obtaining my abortion.

Two years later, I gave birth to my daughter. My previous relationship had ended, and my daughter was conceived and born from a subsequent relationship rife with abuse and sexual assault. But in spite of the trials that brought her into my life, there is no one I cherish more than my wonderful daughter; having her has changed my life in a hundred magnificent ways, and she has given me new reasons to keep fighting for reproductive justice. I look at my daughter and see not just what might have been but what is and what could be; I feel an obligation to make the world safer, healthier, kinder, and more just — for her, for her friends, and for others.

Susan

I have been an OB/GYN in the Knoxville community for over 30 years. I would like to share my personal history with abortion and explain why I am an abortion provider today.

I grew up in a low-income family in Gatlinburg, although we never knew we were poor. My father worked as a cook, and my mother waited tables. Although no one in my family had gone to college (my father was not allowed to finish high school due to his family’s need for money), my parents encouraged my sisters and me to get an education. When I was 16, I became pregnant. Although my boyfriend and I used protection, condoms have a high rate of failure, and birth control pills were not available to unmarried young women. When I found out I was pregnant, I was very frightened due to my desire to continue my education and the limited choices available to women in Tennessee.

This was before Roe vs. Wade, and although abortion was legal in California and New York City, I could not afford to go to those places. I discussed my choices with family members and my boyfriend and elected to have an illegal first-trimester abortion in Knoxville. Even though I was lucky enough to not suffer any serious complications, as many poor young women did during those times, it was still a very painful and frightening experience done by a local gynecologist but without any counseling or explanations.

Because of this experience and hearing of similar experiences from my classmates, I felt a strong desire to work in women’s health. I met and married my husband of 36 years just before attending medical school at UT Memphis and went on to complete a residency in OB/GYN. My husband and I had discussed having children following our education but were dismayed to find out that our very effective method of birth control had failed just before I started medical school. We then made the decision to terminate the pregnancy. This time the abortion was done legally and was a much more humane and less painful experience than the first one. Several years later, after I finished medical school and my husband finished his Ph.D., we had two wonderful daughters.

In my 30-year career, I have referred all of my patients who were pregnant and who wanted to terminate the pregnancy to Dr. Morris Campbell, an excellent local OB/GYN working at the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health. I chose not to do abortions in my own office because the counseling and pre-abortion services available at an abortion clinic could not be matched in a private office setting. I never had a patient who had a bad experience with having an abortion done at KCRH. I also never had a patient have a complication from a procedure done by Dr. Campbell.

Tragically, Dr. Campbell died of a hemorrhagic stroke in 2012. I elected to start providing abortions following his death. Tennessee had recently passed several laws that restricted abortion providers, including a law requiring that doctors performing abortions had to have active hospital privileges at a local hospital. I think many people in the lay community and perhaps some of our legislators did not realize what having active hospital privileges actually entails. In order for a physician to have active hospital privileges, the hospital requires surgeries be performed in their facility. For the OB/GYN specialty, this includes hysterectomies, Cesarean Sections, and other types of pelvic surgery. Fortunately, due to the very low complication rate from abortions, abortion providers encounter complications very rarely and therefore almost never need to perform these surgeries in the hospital setting. The hospitals cannot credential physicians not performing procedures in their faculty and actually require a certain number of surgeries to be performed in order to maintain active privileges.

For this reason, to have active hospital privileges, a provider must have a private practice in which they see patients who need various surgeries. In other words, in addition to working in an abortion clinic, the provider must maintain an active private practice at the same time. Financially and logistically, this is very difficult. Most OB/GYNs are part of a group practice or work for hospitals with fixed office and employee costs. Contrary to the beliefs of some state legislators, abortion providers in the Knoxville community actually make less money by providing this service than they would if they spent all of their time in private practice. It is also difficult for me to arrange to travel outside of Knoxville, since most of the doctors who would be happy to cover the clinics when I am out of town have not continued to perform major surgeries in the hospital setting and therefore do not have active hospital privileges. Doctors outside of Knoxville do not meet the requirements either, since the law stipulates that active privileges must be with local hospitals.

Requiring clinics to meet ambulatory surgery requirements is also unnecessary for the safety of patients having abortions. Many minor gynecologic surgeries are routinely done in physicians’ offices. The multiple and expensive requirements for ambulatory surgery facilities are not required in most states, and in these states the complication rate for abortion procedures is very low. Multiple medical studies are available to demonstrate this outcome.

In looking back to my personal and professional history, and in light of the multitude of difficult decisions that women must make in their reproductive years, I am happy to have lived in a time when women were treated with the respect to make their own reproductive choices. Birth control is not 100 percent effective, and families have a multitude of difficult decisions facing them daily. Please leave the decision of whether to continue a pregnancy up to the woman, her family, and her physician.

Tara

Even before I learned I was pregnant for sure, I knew I'd have an abortion. It wasn't that I didn't want to be a mom eventually, but I was far from ready - 22 years old, perennially broke, struggling to get through college, depressed, and dating a guy who'd already told me he didn't want kids. I'd been drinking and smoking pot too often to believe the fetus wasn't damaged, but that was barely relevant to the decision. Accomplishing basic daily adult tasks was enough of a challenge. I had no interest in carrying a pregnancy to term, much less in being a mom.

When I told my boyfriend, he said he'd completely support whatever choice I would make, but I could tell he was relieved when I told him my decision. He promised to help collect money for the procedure, and was very sweet and gentle toward me throughout the entire experience.

Nevertheless, I felt very stupid for being in this situation. I had no moral issues with abortion. In spite of my Catholic upbringing, I'd quietly identified as pro-choice for many years. Rather, I gave myself a lot of grief for getting pregnant in the first place. I also feared the procedure itself, and dreaded having to deal with medical professionals. I didn't have health insurance and hadn't been to a doctor since I was 17.

Unfortunately, my encounters with the clinic staff lived up to those negative expectations. They were a small, independent provider, chosen because I could get there by bus (I didn't have a car and was too embarrassed to ask anyone for a ride). Looking back, I realize they were probably serving a lot of anxious, low income people like me in a field that is already rife with stress and danger; still, it was the exact sort of cold, unpleasant health care environment I'd always known from my working class upbringing. The receptionist asked me the date of my last pap smear and sighed heavily when I said I'd never had one. The physician who did my ultrasound was curt, but not outwardly rude. She asked if I wanted to look at the monitor. I refused. But a nurse in the room looked at it and said, "Whoa!" I have no idea what made her say that, and still get upset just thinking about it.

That preliminary appointment was on the 8th but my procedure was scheduled for the 17th, because Saturday was the only day they did abortions and they were already booked for the 10th. If I waited until the 24th, I'd be in the second trimester and the price would go up.

I felt so anxious and upset over the next nine days. Part of me wanted to just get it over with but another part of me was terrified of the procedure itself. I confided in a couple guy friends, both of whom were very sweet and non-judgmental; one of them demanded that I let him drive me and my boyfriend to and from the clinic, insisting he wouldn't let me take the bus.

He got us there well in time for the 9:30am procedure. But when the receptionist was taking our money, I learned I had the price wrong and was actually $90 short. While I waited in the lobby, my boyfriend called his roommate, who somehow scrounged together the extra cash despite being pretty broke himself (also, he'd had no idea I was pregnant, so now there was another person who knew my secret). My appointment was pushed back to noon while the two of them collected the funds. The receptionist was angry. I felt mortified and, again, really stupid.

The procedure itself was fairly quick and not too painful, but I could tell the doctor was annoyed that my last-minute appointment change was cutting into his afternoon; he didn't say much to me, but complained to his assistants about missing his golf game. When my whole body shuddered with anxiety, he yelled at me to hold still.

I was the last patient to leave the clinic. There was no one waiting for me in the parking lot. With everything running late, I missed my ride because my friend had to go to work. I had no idea where my boyfriend was. I tried calling his apartment, but there was no answer. So I sat on the hot pavement next to the pay phone and wept. The receptionist saw me as she was leaving and said it wasn't good for me to be sitting that way. She was trying to be nice, but that somehow made me feel even worse. That's when my boyfriend and his roommate pulled up, with an explanation I don't remember, and took me home.

I bled a lot during the following days, to the point where I wondered if I should see a doctor. But I hated that idea so much that I just ignored it. For years, I worried that I'd suffered serious damage to my reproductive organs and wouldn't be able to have a child. It was only after I became pregnant with my daughter at age 33 that I stopped worrying about that.

For the next fourteen years, I told very few people about my abortion for the same reasons I told hardly anyone back then - I didn't want to feel judged, and I didn't want to look like an idiot. But it always burned me to hear people air their abstract opinions about abortion when they obviously hadn't had one. I never second-guessed the choice I made, even if I was unhappy with the experience. I didn't want to discuss that unhappiness and have it confused with a regret I'd never felt. But if I just kept quiet about it forever, wouldn't that look like regret, too?

So I decided to stop being quiet. I wrote about my abortion for a memoir writing class. I started a blog that discusses abortion in pop culture, along with my personal experience. I became a reproductive rights activist. I figured out that all of my weird, uncomfortable feelings about my abortion stemmed from stigma and a broken health care system. I forgave myself for getting pregnant by accident. Having an abortion at age 22 was one of the best decisions I ever made. Coming out about my abortion at age 36 was another one of the best decisions I ever made.

Taylor

I was spending the weekend at my boyfriend’s house. He was in the military at the time and I was 19 and he was 21. I was feeling super crazy. I was just mean the whole weekend and I was crying over everything, just really emotional. Finally, I was like “I think I need to take a pregnancy test.” I just didn’t know why I was feeling so irrational. When I took it, I was legitimately shocked by my positive result because I was on the pill. I just cried and cried and cried. I couldn’t believe it. I just kept thinking about how disappointed my parents were going to be, and how my relationship wasn’t really in a place where I felt it could survive pregnancy. I initially was going to continue the pregnancy. Before, when my boyfriend and I had discussed the what ifs of an unplanned pregnancy, I had always said that due to my goals and dreams, I would not continue a pregnancy. At the time I was in school and I wanted to go on to med school. My boyfriend had expressed concerns about fertility issues in his family, and had concern that he would experience issues as well, so he felt he would want to keep a pregnancy, regardless of timing. Well, when we were actually put in this position it was flip-flopped. He was saying “well, maybe an abortion wouldn’t be the worst thing.” I was feeling that I didn’t know if I could do that. I already felt such a strong pull and connection to this pregnancy and I was experiencing this maternal protection. I was plugged into something bigger. I felt very insecure and very unstable because he was getting distant. He then said, “Just know at the end of the day, I’ll always be there for my child.” Then I started to feel that I didn’t know if keeping the pregnancy was the best thing. I didn’t ever want to raise a child in a split home. I felt that if we weren’t going to be a team or a unit then I didn’t want to go into this. I knew that I could adult if I needed to. I could suck it up, make the hard decision, and figure out how to navigate this. I knew that I could do it. I didn’t know that he could do it. I felt, “I’m not about to force someone to do something they’re not capable of doing.”

So, I chose to terminate the pregnancy. I had looked into Planned Parenthood and the two locations local to me did not provide that service. So I used google and found another clinic in the area that did. I chose to do the pill procedure; the medical version. It was awful. So painful. So emotional. It lasted three weeks of just bleeding and cramping and crying. I was so miserable. I felt like the biggest piece of shit in the whole world. I was having these thoughts in my head of “You’re a murderer”, which was awful because I don’t believe abortion is murder. I would never say that to someone who chose to terminate a pregnancy. I’m very scientific about it, a cluster of cells, and the first trimester is just cellular. I had this message playing in my head that I didn’t even believe, but I felt it so deeply because I had felt the connection be severed with the life I chose not to bring into the world. It was intense. It was really a grieving process for me. It lasted a really long time. I’m very surprised with how I felt about it. I’m not a very religious person. I’m very pro-choice and always have been. Yet, I personally for myself felt awful. I regretted my decision for a long time.

It took me years to realize that choosing to terminate that pregnancy was the best decision for me. I would not be where I am today had I not chosen to have an abortion. I have two beautiful children, I go to school full time, and my life path is headed in a direction I never could have dreamed. It was definitely the wisest decision I could have made for the circumstance I was in. The mom I am now is not the mom I would have been at 19. I have a lot of tools now that I didn’t have at 19. I don’t think I could have been the same mom and I don’t think I could have given my heart and soul to my role in motherhood had I chosen to continue that path. It wouldn’t have been ideal for anybody. I think we made the best decision.

I find it shocking when I see women generalized, individuals making comments about women using abortion as birth control. I know lots of women who have chosen not to continue pregnancy and all of them have really struggled. It’s really expensive. Especially if you don’t have somewhere near that will provide that service. It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s emotional. Most of the women I know who had surprise pregnancies were on the pill, or had an IUD, they had condoms that broke, or they used Plan B and it didn’t work for them. It wasn’t really that generalization that you see played up by people who don’t want to give women full control over their body and their future.

Reflecting back, I really wish I had been able to not shame myself. I think it is so important for people to treat THEMSELVES how they treat others. I think that it’s so important even if someone is accepting of other people, it is also really important to be accepting to yourself when you’re trying to figure things out. You should just be as kind and loving to yourself as possible. Whatever decisions you’re making in your life.

Toni

So, these were volunteer women who wanted to be trained to give abortions, and I was one of them.

Nobody can tell a woman what to do with her body. She’ll find a way to do what she has to do—whether or not it’s healthy or safe.

I was fortunate; I’m still here, and I didn’t get horribly hurt. But the reality is I had two abortions that were illegal, and I don’t know to this day—will never know—if they were really doctors.

The first one was when I was doing voter registration work in the early 60s, and I got pregnant. The guy was married, and he was older. I was very stupid, but I was also very young. The only access to birth control I had at the time were condoms, and they didn’t work.

This was before Roe v. Wade passed, and there were all these specific instructions to get the operation done. The guy had to pay $1500—which was a lot of money back then, and still is for a lot of people. I was in South Carolina, and I had to go to Baltimore at a certain corner downtown, at a certain time, by myself with cash. This big car pulled up, and I think there were two other girls in there. I got in, and they put something over my face to cover my eyes. So, I couldn’t see. It was like something out of a horror movie.

When they finally took the handkerchief or scarf—whatever it was—off my eyes, we were in the country at a big farmhouse. There were several girls there around my age—late teens, early twenties—and they just took us in, one-by-one.

At both of my abortions, neither of the doctors gave me anything for pain—not Valium or anything. But, it turned out I was probably better off. Two of my friends died from botched abortions, and one was given Valium, which was a horrible thing for her. It raised her blood pressure, and she bled to death.

So, they stuffed a stock in my mouth, did the abortion, and sent me back the same way I came—on the corner of the street. But I was all right, and I didn’t have any bad side effects.

When I told this story to my husband, he asked, “How did you feel after? Was it awful?” You hear so much about women who were devastated, and they can’t sleep or eat afterward. But, I was relieved. Abortion is the last resort, and if we had good reproductive rights and good family planning programs for women, we wouldn’t have to have abortion. And I was sorry I had to do it. But at the same time, I don’t have any trouble believing that life starts after birth. I don’t believe that I killed something.

I was sorry I had to do it, very sorry. But my overwhelming feeling was relief, and it always has been. I don’t have nightmares or regret; I’m just relieved that I was able to do that, and the same thing was true several years later when I was in graduate school in Tallahassee and had to do it again.

This time though, I was really sorry because I was madly in love with the guy. He would have married me, but he didn’t love me. He was seeing other women too, and I just couldn’t marry someone like that. He also paid for the procedure, and I’m sure it was a lot of money, but I honestly don’t remember.

I had the abortion in Jacksonville, and this time it was on the coffee table of a Howard Johnson hotel suite. The doctor, he didn’t like the bed. It was too soft, and he asked for a cot but apparently all the cots were taken. So, there wasn’t anything approximating a hospital bed. It was in the winter, so he just put my winter coat on the coffee table, and I laid on that.

Again, nothing horrible happened. It was painful, he put a sock in my mouth again—socks are good for that, apparently.

Afterward, I did feel a lot of self-disgust. I was really mad at myself for not taking care of myself better, although I tried. The only birth control pills I ever tried made me very sick to my stomach, so I stopped. Sometimes I didn’t use anything, but this one time I used a diaphragm, and it fell out. So, really, I just had bad luck with the available birth control options.

And this time, there were side effects. When I was engaged years later in my late 20s, early 30s, we wanted to have children. I went to have a pelvic and found out there was so much scar tissue—and I’m Rh negative—so I couldn’t possibly have had a healthy baby at that time. I ended up adopting two children, but I never had any of my own, and there was a time when I really wanted to.

Years after my second abortion, I was in Chicago working on another feminist issue just before Roe v. Wade passed. There was a group there called ‘Jane,’ which was a group of volunteer women who were trained how to give abortions by a couple doctors who, although they supported reproductive rights, didn’t want to lose their license or risk going to jail.

So, these were volunteer women who wanted to be trained to give abortions, and I was one of them. Many of these women were very wealthy, and they would bring girls to their homes, while their husbands were working. It, Jane, was originally organized by a graduate student who had gotten in touch with these women and the doctors and nurses, and the organization never had a bad procedure. Every woman went home, feeling a little shaky, but alright.

We were trained to look for women who didn’t tell the truth about how far along they were, and we wouldn’t take any woman over two and half months—twelve weeks. After that, it’s just too sticky and could be disastrous. If we didn’t think we could do it safely and that the woman had a good chance of being okay afterwards, we didn’t do it at all.

A lot of the women who used ‘Jane’ were married. I was atypical; there were very few of us who were unmarried. Most were married women who had a bunch of kids already and just couldn’t afford any more. We didn’t use the word rape back then for married women, but back then, their husbands owned their bodies. So, even if these women didn’t want sex or didn’t want to have unprotected sex, it didn’t matter. A lot of these men wouldn’t use condoms because they it didn’t feel as good, and their wives would become pregnant again. But many of these women simply couldn’t have another child—they couldn’t afford it.

Eventually, friends or relatives of some of the Jane volunteers told the police, and two of the women volunteering there were arrested. They were never held, though, because it was right before Roe v. Wade, and these volunteers were very wealthy women, with husbands in influential positions.

There were a lot of programs like Jane in some of the bigger cities just before Roe v. Wade. But I had two friends who lived in smaller cities that didn’t have support for pregnant women, and died as a result of botched abortions, and I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen again if we once again restrict and prohibit access to abortion.

Women will always find a way. Women haven’t changed, and they still have the same concerns about their bodies. If a woman is fertile, and she doesn’t have access to good birth control devices, she’s going to get pregnant. If she can afford to get care, she will. But if she can’t afford to get care, she’ll do it anyways.

Wealthy women and upper-middle class women will always be able to get abortions and there will continue to be a few doctors who are retired or unlicensed who will offer abortions to women in poor and working class women but these doctors will charge high fees for this. These doctors will be taking a chance and they aren’t going to do that without being well paid.

Thank God, there will always be another system of volunteers and people who support programs like Planned Parenthood who provide a network for low-income women, particularly women who are raped. But, unfortunately, a very large number of those women either won’t know what’s available or just won’t be able to access help like that.

But it is going to happen again, and women are going to be forced to find other ways to have control over their own bodies. I haven’t told my story to many people, and it’s not that I’ve been trying to hide it. It’s just that it hasn’t come up. But it’s coming up now, and that’s why I wanted to share my story. It’s appropriate, and it’s relevant, and it needs to be told.

Tracy

When I was a child, I knew that I never wanted to be pregnant and I never wanted children. As young as 4 years of age, I started saying that I would never have children. I had siblings who grew up in the home with me, so I was not an only child. As I got older, I still knew...I did not want children.

In the late 70s, when I turned 18 years of age, I started asking, “Can I have my tubes tied”? Of course, women at that time, were not, and still are not, allowed control of their own bodies. The medical establishment responded to my request with, “No, you’re too young to make that decision. You might want children one day”. I assured them that I would not want to take that path. The physician, reluctantly, prescribed birth control pills for me with the admonishment that “these pills are not a license to have sex.”  When I turned 21, I asked again if I could have my tubes tied and, yet again, the medical establishment would not approve the tubal ligation, responding that I was a young woman and did not know my own mind or body; that I might change my mind some day and want a child. I knew I would not.

When I was 29, I met a man whom I liked very much and thought that I might like to spend the rest of my life with him. I was not certain the relationship would result in marriage, but I was hopeful. It’s ridiculous to think that I wouldn’t want to have sex; especially with someone I thought I might like to share my life with. It’s a hard wired drive/need of humans. We did everything possible...contraceptive wise...to prevent pregnancy but my contraceptives failed and I got pregnant. I did not want a child...I wasn’t married...I wasn’t financially able to take on this responsibility alone. I had never wanted children. I discussed the situation with the gentleman I was involved with and he completely left it up to me. He washed his hands of it...”Do what you want”. So, I made the choice. I opted to terminate the pregnancy through abortion. I came here to Knoxville, December 15th, 1989...I still remember the date. I went through the procedure and it went well. The staff were kind, considerate and caring. I had a counseling session prior to the procedure. I was never pressured and felt safe in their hands. It was totally my decision to have the procedure. I was fine physically, mentally and emotionally. I would like to say at this point, that it was not an easy choice to make....I thought long and hard about it and I looked at all options available...but I knew my circumstances, I knew my heart and mind, and that heart and mind wanted no pregnancies and no children.

It was the only pregnancy I ever had. I don’t look back and wonder, “What if..”? I have never regretted my decision, nor, have I ever had any sadness or guilt. I did what was right for me. All women deserve that opportunity, the opportunity to make their own choices regarding reproduction and their health; and they deserve to make it without judgment or stigma attached. The only person who truly knows that woman's needs.....is the woman herself.

Having an abortion did not “damage” me in any way. It did not “destroy my life”, nor did it “scar me forever”. I have done well post abortion. I had a medical career I loved, I've now been married to a wonderful man for almost 21 years, and I am enjoying my new career as an artist.  I am thankful that I had the ability to do what was right for me and what I needed to do at that time in my life.