Roar will publish a first-person story about abortion, “My Abortion: A Daily Story,” every day for at least 365 days.
“You’re sure you don’t want sedation? It would make the procedure a lot more comfortable for you,” the nurse told me, looking up from the paperwork I’d handed her only minutes before. My boyfriend, Justin, and I sat across from her in the small office we’d finally been led to, after almost two hours of waiting, on the morning I was scheduled to have my abortion.
“Like I said to the other nurse, and to the receptionist, and to whoever answered the phone when I scheduled the procedure two weeks ago,” I said impatiently, “I have three children. I’ve already been through labor and delivery three times. I’m okay with a little pain. I don’t want to be sedated. They told me they could give me a local.”
“They can,” the nurse said. “But it’s going to be more than a little pain. I don’t want you to be unrealistic. It is definitely going to hurt.”
“That’s okay with me.” It really was. In fact, I felt like I needed it to hurt. I needed to feel the pain. I was punishing myself. This pregnancy was a huge mistake.
I was thirty-seven; way too old to be getting myself into this sort of mess. But my genetic predisposition combined with the stress of raising a special needs child (and his two typical brothers) and the trauma of years of abuse at the hands of my husband created a perfect storm in my own brain. Out of nowhere, over the previous five years, I began to develop symptoms of bipolar disorder. I struggled with major depression, with self-harm, with anxiety and suicidality. I also had manic periods, where I would act impulsively and without regard for the consequences of my actions. I was hospitalized numerous times. My marriage ended in divorce, and I maintained custody of the children despite my difficulties. In the spring of 2016, a doctor at a psychiatric hospital finally seemed to hit on a combination of meds that worked for me. But after about six months, I started having crying spells. I was afraid of another depression, and upped my antidepressant without telling my doctor. It put me into a mania.
At around that time, I met Justin. He was a single father, with three kids just like I had. The first time we had sex, I dragged him into the bathroom at the restaurant where we’d gone for dinner. Justin backed me up against the wall, and started trailing kisses down my neck while he hiked up my skirt. He yanked down my underwear, and while he was unbuckling his belt I made a decision. I wouldn’t insist that he wear protection, even though I wasn’t on the pill. The sex was better without it. I was not capable of foreseeing the consequences of this choice.
When a month passed and I didn’t get pregnant, I was relieved. So clearly I knew that it was a possibility. But I didn’t care enough to change anything. I didn’t care enough to make him put on a condom, or to go to the doctor and get on the pill. From where I stand now, I can’t comprehend how I could have allowed this to happen. But that is the manic brain.
The second month we had unprotected sex, I did get pregnant. When I was a week late, I bought a test in a drug store in town and took it in the bathroom at the salad place next door. I took a picture of the “pregnant” test because it wasn’t real to me. I texted Justin, and I called him. He was on the train on his way home from work. It was a Friday night.
“I have to get rid of it!” was the first thing I said to him.
“We’ll take care of this,” he told me. I had told Justin about my mental health issues and he knew that I needed his help. He was also confused, because he thought I was on the pill. But he’d never asked.
It took me a while to realize what “it” really was. This wasn’t a thing. It was an embryo that would eventually become a baby if I didn’t do something. And I could not fully understand what that meant for a while. I somehow thought that I might have Justin’s baby and raise it, though he didn’t want the baby and that would derail my entire life. It is seriously dangerous for women with bipolar disorder to go through with pregnancy and the postpartum period; my three children were born before I was symptomatic. I would have been risking postpartum psychosis. And my oldest son, my child with special needs, had said to me, out of the blue, despite my not having mentioned my pregnancy to any of my kids, “Mom, I don’t want a baby here.”
The nurse that had taken our paperwork led Justin back to the waiting room, and me down a hallway to a bathroom, to take off my clothes and put on a gown. Another nurse then brought me into the room where I would have the abortion. I had been trying to remove the concept of a baby from this whole process, but to that point I had been fortunate enough to have three pregnancies and three healthy children. This would be my first pregnancy not to end in a healthy baby…I had to push that thought away or I would never be able to make it through the procedure. The doctor was around my age and very chatty, which helped to keep me occupied through the entire thing. “You have three kids? You’re younger than I am! You’re making me feel old…” Every time my mind drifted to what was happening, I would push it away. I couldn’t allow myself to think about it. This would be my last pregnancy. There would never be another bundle of living cells inside me. It would not be safe for me to have another baby ever again.
The procedure itself took fifteen minutes, tops. I walked out to the recovery area, but since I hadn’t been sedated I just sat there for a few minutes so they could make sure I wouldn’t pass out and then I walked out to the waiting room to find Justin. He’d disappeared. I tried calling him but he wasn’t answering his phone. I walked over to his car in the parking lot but he wasn’t there either. I walked back to the clinic and waited for him there.
About half an hour later, he walked in. “Where have you been?” I demanded. “I was done half an hour ago!”
“I’m sorry,” he stammered, looking embarrassed. “The nurses said you’d be about an hour. I walked down the street to get something to eat. Are you ready to go home?”
“I’ve been ready,” I snapped. We went out to his car, and he drove me home. I never saw him again.
Jennifer is a writer and mental health advocate living with her three children in the United States.