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You Never Fully Recover

 

Enclosed please find a "guided narrative" describing my experience with abortion. I apologize for the length of this document, but the subject is so important to me and I wanted to be as helpful as possible to you that I attempted to include every detail and recollection I have. I think it was Voltaire who wrote, "It is when I struggle to be brief that I become obscure." I didn't want to take that chance with this case study.

I hope you are able to gather the evidence necessary to convince politicians and others that abortion is a horrible and horrifying practice.

Thanks for giving me and others like me the opportunity to write this narrative. I found it a helpful project, and by participating in your study, I believe I achieved a few significant insights that eluded me before.


At the time of my abortion, I was a part-time graduate student living with my boyfriend, a full-time graduate student. When I became pregnant, my boyfriend insisted he could not handle the responsibility of a child, for he anticipated it would be another three years of full-time study before he earned his Ph.D. He was not willing to postpone his graduate study or attend school on a part-time basis. Neither was he agreeable to getting a job to help support a child.

I was overwhelmed at the prospect of being pregnant, and, like the majority of single women faced with this predicament, I felt scared, lonely, depressed and anxious. A child, I reasoned, would be an enormous inconvenience for me at this time of my life, for I was self-supporting and really needed to complete my graduate degree in order to advance my career and earn a more substantial wage. I knew of no single woman with professional/career aspirations who had children, and so I had no role models available and could not even imagine that alternatives to abortion existed for me. I confided in women friends at the time -- they were the support systems available to me. Each friend encouraged me to abort my child; not one recommended carrying the child to term and keeping her or placing her for adoption.

I should note here that I was not fully convinced I wanted to abort, and, in fact, had ambivalent feelings about the pregnancy in general. I fluctuated between moments of wanting to terminate the pregnancy and moments of wanting to keep my baby. I now understand this ambivalence is normal in the first trimester of any pregnancy, and it seems to be pro-abortionists exploit this common reaction.

Having an abortion was among the worst and most traumatic experiences of my life. I understand the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Reproductive Rights & Freedom argues that women who evidence emotional or psychological disturbances following an abortion are those women who show signs of emotional instability in general or are women who devote themselves to religions that prohibit abortion. When I had my abortion, I was not practicing any religion whatsoever (and had not been for six years). Further, I have never had a history of emotional or psychological instability, and, in fact, was classified by two certified counselors as epitomizing emotional health, strength and stamina.

I believe that contrary to what the American Psychological Association advocates, emotionally healthy women who abort their children are likely to suffer tremendously. In a letter I wrote to the Chairs of the Task Force on Reproductive Freedom, I said few normal women favor playing Medea.

But to address your question: abortion is painful, physically painful. I was told by the counselors at Planned Parenthood and by the counselors and staff at the abortion clinic that "the procedure" was painless and that, at most, I could expect minor cramping comparable to menstrual pains. That was the first of a series of lies I heard. When the fetus is being aborted from the mother's womb, the uterus is contracting just as it contracts during labor and delivery. Has anyone ever said labor and birth were painless? No (except for the breeziest of Lamaze instructors). When the uterus contracts during labor in preparation for the baby's birth, the mother feels excruciating pain. Now doesn't it make sense that when the uterus contracts during an abortion pain is experienced? Uterus contracts; pain results. It doesn't matter if the baby is being discharged voluntarily (as in birth) or being sucked out violently (as in abortion) -- the biological mechanics are the same.

I remember when I was on the operating table (yes, that's what I call it, because despite the bland term "procedure" used to identify abortion, an abortion is a surgical operation), the nurse assisting the abortionist looked at me and said, "Oh, are you feeling some pain or discomfort?" (She was a perceptive gal). When I told her that indeed I was, she said, "Then it's a good thing you terminated this pregnancy. If you're feeling this kind of pain, something was probably wrong with the fetus." She was as ethical as she was perceptive.

An abortion may be a relatively safe operation, and it may be true that one can expect few complications to ensue after terminating a pregnancy. In my case, however, I was bed-ridden for four days after the abortion. Let me explain here that I am not a person who enjoys being sick or who becomes incapacitated after stubbing a toe. In fact, I have a fairly high tolerance for pain. My activities (outside family and work responsibilities) include weight-lifting and mountain climbing. Forgive me if this sounds like a boast, but one has to be physically strong and hearty to voluntarily lift 235 lbs. or climb a high peak in the Adirondacks. As a matter of fact, I was back at my job three weeks after giving birth to my second child this past summer -- and I worked right up to the start of labor. I mention these tidbits only to demonstrate that when I become doubled over with pain and cannot walk the infliction has to be severe. Four days following my abortion I was confined to my bed simply because I could not walk or stand upright.

I also bled heavily and ran a fever. I was told by the counselors at the abortion clinic that I would experience no pain whatsoever after the operation, and that I could assume normal duties within twenty-four hours after the abortion. I was also told that it was unlikely I would have an elevated temperature, but that if I did, I was to contact the clinic immediately because a fever indicated an infection.

Here's an interesting part of my tale: per the instructions I received, I contacted the clinic after two days of running a fever and informed the receptionist that I had an elevated temperature and severe cramping. The doctor returned my call and was extremely irate with me. He told me it was impossible that I had a fever and pain, I was making all this stuff up and he wouldn't prescribe an antibiotic or pain killers for me. He told me I was full of "nonsense." I was badly shaken by his rebuke, as depressed and ashamed as I was angry. On the third day, I continued to bleed heavily, run a fever and experience pain, but I refused to call the clinic again. Fortunately, my boyfriend, who was becoming increasingly worried about my condition, contacted the doctor and furiously told him that I was to have an antibiotic prescribed immediately. The doctor was most kind and receptive to my male friend, and had the drug ordered within ten minutes after the telephone conversation ended.

I think a final comment to make about the abortion experience concerns the clinic atmosphere itself. I was amazed at how many women were having abortions that day. At least fifty women packed the waiting room. But what was most distressing was that we were herded like cattle in groups of six or seven, each of us nervous and scared, timid and anxious. "Counseling" was offered to ensure that each of us had made the right decision about her pregnancy. This counseling consisted of a young woman about 19 years old asking each woman in the group if she was sure she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Needless to say, each one of us stared stupidly at the others and said, "Yeah." Then we were asked if the significant others in our lives supported the fact of the abortion. Again, most of us mumbled an affirmative response. But I remember one or two women who expressed ambivalent feelings about having an abortion. The counselor didn't address their feelings -- not as a bona fide counselor would. She simply said, "Listen, you're doing the right thing," and then told them they might have some problems dealing with the experience afterwards. That was it! Next group.

The recovery room was another equally impersonal experience. I will never forget as long as I live the young girl -- she was about 18 years old -- in the bed next to me. She had her abortion immediately after I had mine, and when she was wheeled into recovery, she looked at me and said, "I will regret this experience for the rest of my life. I wish I hadn't just done what I did." I felt so helpless when she
said that, because I couldn't offer her a single word of comfort that I would believe myself.

I was in the recovery room for a long time (because I was bleeding heavily, had a fever, and nearly passed out). After I had been there for quite a while, a nurse or somebody came in and said in a cackling bellow, "Is there a Laura in here?" I responded, and she said, "There's some guy going crazy in the waiting room. He wants to know if you're all right." This woman's insensitivity amazed me. I could certainly appreciate the fact that my boyfriend was concerned about me, especially when I was in recovery longer than most patients. I thought it only fair that the clinic's staff take some responsibility for notifying the friends and families of the patients' health status. Instead, this woman seemed to indicate that my boyfriend was being unreasonable.

Abortion is a painful, humiliating, dehumanizing and awful operation to tolerate. Having been there once, I get chills thinking about any woman going through the experience.

The answer to this question of how my abortion affected me and others is simple and brief: adversely. Following my abortion (both immediately after and in later years), I was plagued with guilt, rage, devastation, shame, melancholy and helplessness -- feelings common to those who grieve a loss. There was no doubt in my mind that my child was killed and that I played a part in her destruction. The mourning process I have engaged in is typical to that of any parent who witnessed the death of a child, though at times the grief has been complicated. I haven't yet resolved the grief, and I don't believe I will ever come to terms with it. My baby is dead. An eloquent way of describing the effects of my abortion may be found in G. Brooks' poem, "The Mother."


Having an abortion altered my relationships with a number of people. The damage it did to my relationship with my boyfriend was irreparable. I began to hate him with a seething passion and rage, and I found myself unable to support his educational efforts (I couldn't help but imagine his Ph.D. dissertation had blood on it, and I couldn't justify the human sacrifice that made his degree possible). Needless to say, despite efforts to keep the relationship thriving, the love was lost after the abortion, and the friendship ended eighteen months later. To my observation, the abortion itself had virtually no effect on him; he was merely affected by my intense reaction.

Further. I lost respect for the female friends who encouraged me to abort and who never mentioned other possibilities to me. I am not holding them responsible, mind you, but I couldn't see them as friends any longer. I think what really hurt, too, was that many of these friends did not like my boyfriend before I got pregnant (and they had good, solid reasons for their dislike). After I became pregnant and he supported my having an abortion, they liked him. In their opinions, he would have been an insensitive, self-centered, male-chauvinist if he insisted I carry the child to term. Ironic, eh?

Finally, the allegiance I publicly gave to the feminist movement eroded after the abortion, and I came to view the Right to Choose movement very differently. Feminist advocates for abortion became, to my eyes, like those who clamored to the Romans that Jesus must die.

I have done a great deal to cope with the trauma of abortion. In the month after having the abortion, I went to a cemetery one afternoon and sat alone for easily one hour reflecting on the loss of my child.. In some respects, I was staging a funeral for her. What was eerie about that afternoon (and what convinced me later that God stood by me in my grief) was this: when I got up to leave the cemetery, I glanced quickly at the ground and noticed that the whole while I was in the cemetery, I had been sitting next to a grave marker which read "BABY."

In May, 1983, the approximate time of what would have been my baby's first birthday, I went to a Mother's Day Mass at the university's Newman Center. This was a significant gesture because, as previously mentioned, I was not practicing any religion at the time.

I wrote a great deal about my loss, reflecting on it and giving expression to my grief in journals that I kept. I would typically do this in the fall (anniversary of her death) and in the spring (when she was scheduled to be born). Occasionally, I would try to discuss my grief with friends, but they were typically unreceptive. I fought with my boyfriend a lot, trying to force him into feeling the shame, guilt and sadness that I felt.

After my boyfriend and I broke up, I wanted "no" emotional attachments with men, and I attribute this in large part to my abortion. I selected companions with whom there could be no possibility of emotional involvement, and I engaged in a variety of self-destructive behaviors for about three years

I did fall in love again, approximately three years after my abortion. Interestingly enough, I became pregnant again while unmarried, and interestingly enough, this second conception occurred in July, just as my first did. The situation was so identical to my first pregnancy, I couldn't help but imagine it as a second chance from God, a test of my free will. But if I view it as a test, I admit I almost failed it a second time. After learning I was pregnant, I went to Planned Parenthood to seek abortion counseling. My new boyfriend and I considered abortion to be the most plausible, convenient and practical solution to this unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. He already had two children from a previous marriage, and we agreed another child would be an enormous burden. I asked him to locate for me the names and addresses of abortionists; when he handed me sheets xeroxed from the yellow pages, I recall feeling tremendous nausea and light-headedness. Breathing was difficult, and my vision became blurred. I knew right then and there that I could never abort again, and I was fortunate to have a loving, responsible and cooperative boyfriend this time around who supported my decision. I think this experience -- a second pregnancy whose conditions so closely mirrored those of the first -- helped me cope with the trauma of my abortion, because it was a second chance to "do things right," to make amends.

The father of my second child and I married around the same day that four years earlier I aborted my baby. My husband and I later returned to the Catholic Church, and there I found enormous support and assistance in coping with my grief. I have attended a number of Masses on the 22nd of each month --a day set aside as a time to make reparation for the sin of abortion. Further, I confessed this sin to a priest and sought God's forgiveness. I have remembered my dead baby in special - remembrances on Feast Days like All Soul's. I pray for my deceased child regularly. Finally, I have followed the practices recommended in "Healing Relationships with Miscarried, Aborted and Stillborn Babies."

All that I have done has helped me with my bereavement. But I now echo the words of that young girl I met in the recovery room of the abortion clinic: my abortion is something that I will regret for the rest of my life. The pain remains, just as any normal parent who suffered the loss of a child never fully recovers from that loss.

One major and significant change, however, is that I have become an adamant spokesperson against abortion in my community. I am the Respect Life representative from my church, and I have participated in certain anti-abortion protests.

Priests for Life
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