Roar will publish a first-person story about abortion, “My Abortion: A Daily Story,” every day for at least 365 days. Clare Dempsey’s story is below. She reflects on the complex emotions surrounding her decision and how she moved from shame to healing and action.
I had always maintained that I would have an abortion should I get pregnant and find myself ill-prepared to have a baby. I believed that since it would be the logical decision, I’d be able to make it without emotional turmoil or distress. I didn’t know how wrong I was until the two lines appeared on the stick. In that moment, a wave of despair washed over me like nothing I’d ever experienced. As I felt the test slip from my grasp, I envisioned a life where I became a mother with an unsupportive partner, insufficient funds, and an unstable emotional state. I knew that an abortion was the only responsible choice I could make for everyone involved – so why was it so painful?
That Saturday, I was driving home in tears when I rear ended the car in front of me. I had become oblivious and failed to notice the slowing pace of the cars ahead of me. As the driver and I exchanged contact information, I began to feel a rage build within me. I wanted to scream that I didn’t care about her bent fender – that I was going to have an abortion and that everything else was irrelevant. I wanted this stranger to comfort me. I longed for her to feel my desperation. Instead, we got back in our cars and drove off.
The morning of my abortion, I put on my new socks I’d purchased the day before. They had a French Bulldog pattern and I’d gotten them specifically to wear to the clinic. I felt so juvenile taking comfort in socks, but I couldn’t find any elsewhere. When I got to the clinic, I was stunned by the number of patients waiting to undergo the same procedure as me. Throughout that day, I was presented with multiple opportunities to rethink my decision. I was shown a graphic video outlining the mechanics of an aspiration abortion, followed by several hours of tedious sitting in the barren and unfriendly waiting room. I then met with a counselor where I was expected to convince her of my desire to have an abortion. It was difficult to mask my sorrow and prove that the procedure was the best choice for me. I eventually managed. As I sat in the recovery room following my procedure, I felt only relief and gratitude. I had made the right choice.
The months following my abortion, I attempted to suppress any negative feelings that arose. I confided in a small number of friends, but I avoided talking about it regularly. My relative silence on the matter was established by a sense of shame I couldn’t seem to shake. I told myself I’d feel better with time, and I did to a certain extent, but I still felt like I was missing a piece of the healing process. I got a taste of that missing piece one day when I told a coworker about my procedure. We had been discussing abortion legislation, and it dawned on me that my experience was more relevant to the conversation than impersonal factoids. Immediately after uttering my secret aloud, I felt relief of incredible magnitude.
It took me several more months before I was able to voice my experience to someone again, but the more I did, the more relief I felt and the easier it became. Soon, I was discussing it with an ease I once thought impossible. Speaking about it openly created a space where people could ask questions, offer their support, and hear from a patient’s perspective. Too often, rhetoric surrounding abortion is created by men who haven’t had to face this decision. This was a chance to shift the conversation, but I often wished I had a bigger platform to do so.
That platform was presented to me when, early this past August, over a year after my abortion, I was driving home from work when I saw a man at the corner of a major intersection displaying a large sign. At first glance, I couldn’t tell what it said, but as I got closer, I realized it was covered in anti-choice sentiments. The one that infuriated me especially read, “Women DO regret their abortions.” It seemed bizarre that a man who would never have an abortion would so brazenly declare that those who do will regret it. It felt like I was on autopilot as I sped off, stopped at the drugstore, and bought a poster board and Sharpie. I wrote the words “I do not regret my abortion” and drove back to stand next to him. I felt bold and empowered as I stood next to this man. Drivers honked, waved, and smiled at me. I was the recipient of a sea of thumbs ups, rounds of applause, and cheers of support. I stood there until the anti-choice protester went home.
Later that day, I shared a summary of my afternoon on both my personal Facebook page and the Facebook group “Pantsuit Nation.” I was no longer interested in keeping my abortion under wraps. I was ready to be healed. That meant making it clear I am void of shame. It meant declaring my unwavering support of every person who has had to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy. My post was seen by tens of thousands of people and I read each of the 3,000+ comments I received. Women were thanking me profusely and I was entrusted with so many personal stories. I never recognized the need to speak out candidly, until I did. It is the only way we can ever hope to destigmatize this vital medical procedure. In my journey to heal myself, I helped heal other women, and for that I am grateful. I have stood with that man and my sign three times since, and I’ll continue to do so and scream my truth until everyone listens.
Clare Dempsey is a nanny and aspiring writer living in Metro Detroit. To see her original Facebook post described in her story, visit it online here.