I work very hard not to fall prey to our society’s “victim promotion mentality”.
I dislike the term “trigger warning” and I believe people have become too sensitive to controversy and claim anything which doesn’t agree with them is “triggering”. The problem with this is “triggering” is a term associated with PTSD: it’s not just about evoking an emotional response because someone says/does something you don’t like. A “trigger” is a type of time lapse. A smell, sound, or touch- a physical sensation which literally brings you back to the a place of great and intense trauma. If you haven’t experienced real trauma…. then you’re not being triggered, you’re just coddled: privileged. Sorry, but while there’s no such thing as “Trauma Olympics”…. there is a difference.
Main point. I have moved across the country multiple times. I’ve lived on the East Coast, the West Coast, and in flyover country. I have contemplated a religious life, and lived in deep and unrepentant sin. I’ve given away everything I own in a fit of Zen detachment, and had four children- plus loved two step-children. In all of my travels, all of the manifestations of my persona, there has been one item which has traveled with me. This dress-
I purchased this dress when I was 17, at Sears. It was a staple item in my wardrobe, worn with doc martens and an ugly, brown, corduroy hat. It was also the dress I wore to my abortion when I was 19. It has been the most valuable thing I’ve owned, for years, because it is the last tangible item I own which is connected with my baby- it’s even outlasted the uterus which held him/her. It hangs on the outside of my closet door. In my view at that the quietest moments, the beginning and end of the day. As I drift off to sleep.
So what does this have to do with fake trigger warnings? Part of the reason I’ve held on to this dress is because my abortion experience was exceptionally traumatic. I had my abortion before the FACE laws were enacted. The person who drove me to my appointment had to drive through a sea of humans crushing their bodies against the car trying to physically stop it. They plastered images of bloody fetuses against the windows. They were loud and angry. They made the clinic seem like a safe haven.
Walking inside I had to show ID. There was an armed guard. Because it was the second trimester, I had a two day procedure.
The first day of my procedure was to insert laminaria into my cervix to soften it, making it ready for the surgical abortion the next day. I was told once this was done, there would be no option to reverse the procedure. I later learned this was not accurate, and that many pro-life pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) have procedures for removing the laminaria and saving the pregnancy. I know of at least one child in my direct circle who was born after a laminaria removal. This was the first instance of abuse.
The second instance of abuse came when I was being examined and I was denied permission to view the screen during my dating ultrasound. I was still unsure of my decision and felt I would be better able to make a decision if I could see fetal development. I asked to see the ultrasound, and was told no. I did not know that it was my legal right to view all medical records, including any results from an ultrasound. In addition, I asked if they could see the sex of the child which the tech said was information she was not allowed to give me, yet during the same ultrasound the tech informed me the fetus had an anomaly of the skull and brain, and would most likely not survive anyways. I was confused because my understanding was that I was not permitted to receive information about the fetus, yet this information was shared It was after receiving this information that I became resolved to end the pregnancy, and had the laminaria inserted and left the clinic.
I returned the next day I to see protestors outside with posters advertising laminaria removal. When in the procedure room, I questioned the nurse who was preparing me for surgery as to the efficacy of removal. She informed me the protestors were “dishonest” and laminaria removal wouldn’t make a difference because I had already had the sticks in too long. This was the third lie I’d been told about my own “healthcare”.
As I was prepped for surgery I came to the conclusion I would prefer not to go through with the procedure. I had already begun an IV drip, and was unaware they had already administered a sedative medication. I spoke to the nurse, informing her I had changed my mind, and she told me to wait and explain to the doctor when he came. When he arrived I repeated my request, but was already falling asleep. This was the most insidious dishonesty: I was not feeling the affects of the medication when I initially requested they discontinue the procedure, and if I had been aware that the sedative had already been administered I would have removed the IV myself. The last thing I remember saying as I dropped off was, “I changed my mind”.
I woke up in a recovery room with many other young women. There was a nurse’s desk in the center of the room with beds surrounding it in a half-circle. Most of the girls were crying, and I was in intense pain: another lie, as even the paperwork described the potential pain as “similar to menstrual pain”. This was much worse than period pain, and I was bleeding heavily. Each girl was given a snack of orange juice and graham crackers, and after lying for a few minutes we were individually taken to use the restroom. I could not urinate, and was threatened with a catheter should I fail to do so. I managed to squeeze out a few drops of urine and was allowed to go home. Now- you’ll see why I’m sharing such private details in a second. If you’re still with me: there’s a point to all this. I promise.
The next day I was still bleeding quite heavily, but assumed this was normal. I took the post-operative medication I was given, but the pain and bleeding did not abate. I can’t recall whether it was the second or third day afterwards, but upon using the restroom I noted a large wad of bloody gauze had fallen out of my vagina and into the water.
This was the first indication of a problem.
In subsequent visits to the ladies room I began to note tissue (a mixture of blood and translucent “goo”) in the water after urinating, and upon further inspection was able to discern that some of it was fetal tissue: I want to be clear— the tissue was identifiable as impossibly tiny, human body parts. When I called the clinic to report this they didn’t seem concerned and told me they would see me the following week.
When I called my local, non-surgical PP the nurse there instructed me to trust the clinic’s instructions. This was the fourth time they lied.
I called my regular OB/GYN who immediately scheduled a repeat procedure, because of risk of infection: he was worried that I may not expel all of whatever was left behind and after I finished with the antibiotics I would develop an infection which could jeopardize my fertility or even my life. In addition to the outright lies, in terms of my requests to see the ultrasound screen and twice questioning whether or not I could have the laminaria removed, these instances of dishonesty were also abusive:
not informing me the sedatives were already entering my body and instructing me to “wait to tell the doctor”, knowing I would fall asleep before I had the opportunity to speak with him
not explaining to me why it was imperative for me to urinate (acute urinary retention could be caused by something as simple as anesthesia, but could also be a sign of trauma which is not treatable in a clinic and requires more extensive medical care)
not informing me of the danger to my heath due to retained fetal tissue.
This experienced coupled with my experience with Beatrix left me in such a state of mistrust with medical professionals that a doctor’s visit caused a visceral reaction so far beyond what we think of as “triggering” that in the past, a therapist diagnosed me with PTSD (which has since resolved).
Something was taken away from me.
I am also a survivor of long-term, childhood sexual abuse. But that abuse pales in contrast to what happened to me when I had my abortion. I suffer no flashbacks, no physical suffering, when contemplating that time period, or those experiences. But the abortion? That was horrific.
I have a physical reaction thinking of it- I mentioned the FACE laws weren’t in affect yet. One item I’ve shared with a few people over the years: when I was being roused out of the anesthesia, I heard a baby crying. At the time, I didn’t know protestors often used bullhorns to make the sounds of babies crying into the clinics to dissuade moms from having abortions. I thought a baby had been born alive and they’d left it to die. I thought this was legal because it was an abortion clinic. I carried that weight for ages. Just ages.
The dress I mentioned? Not only was it the last thing that held my unborn baby, but it was the last thing I wore before I was made “unclean” by the biggest American sin. It reminds me that one day, I’ll be that innocent again- clean, new.
Abortion advocates told me I would be better and stronger, that I wouldn’t feel any regret.
Two days after my abortion, in a conversation with my grandmother, I learned she had talked my own mother out of aborting me. Her description was “I dragged her out of the office”, but this could be hyperbole. Whatever the details, the facts remained the same. I had been given the life I’d denied another human being. This, in addition to the genuine grief I felt immediately following the abortion (as in, regret before I even left the recovery room), sent me into a downward spiral. I did not abuse drugs, sex, or alcohol like many women do. But things changed in how I perceived my role as a mother to my living child. How could I claim to be a good mother when I had chosen to end the life of my unborn child?
It changed how I related to my friends and family. It changed how I chose to deal with myself, when I looked into the mirror.
For decades I internalized the reality of the expendable poor: because the reality was, my children were expendable, and so was I.
Abortion left me doubting my own self-worth, and it left me believing hope was something for other people. I no longer saw myself as someone who could overcome any obstacle. I became someone who never should have been born, and someone who had been so weak as to end the life of her unborn child.
Abortion did not empower me at all.
It grasped the little power I had — the strength which I had used to extricate myself from an abusive relationship, the strength which had turned me into a formidable single mother….. that strength dissipated within days following my abortion.
It took me decades to recover from my abortion. It took a second crisis pregnancy — this time one in which my unborn child was diagnosed with a “fatal fetal anomaly” — before I was finally able to forgive myself.
I know as an individual, my abortion drastically changed me. I am not the same person I was before I lay down on that table. I never will be, and I grieve for that girl.