“I was driving to Boston Market when I decided I wanted to write this. It took a gentle shove from a journalist friend, the echoes of angry protestors in my mind, and a heaping pile of mashed potatoes to convince me that writing my story down would serve some greater purpose for someone, somewhere. Someone, somewhere, like me.
Today, on Halloween, I had an abortion. Before I tell you about it in full detail, know this: I have no regrets. Yes, I was emotional. Yes, I felt the pressure to feel guilty. I am confident in my decision, but that does not mean that I didn’t let myself experience the full array of emotions that come with this decision. In the spirit of Halloween, I was terrified, hidden under a mask of bravery, and had to walk through crowds of very frightening people to finally arrive at a doorstep with kind people inside who were willing to help me. My day began at school, in my classroom, where I was feverishly working to finish a lesson plan, so I could make my 11 am appointment at the clinic. I had deadlines, an assistant principal breathing down my back, and anxiety building from falling behind in my lessons—that I neglected, since I had found out I was pregnant.
The past week had been a blur of nausea and exhaustion, with moments of panic and a consistent fear for the future. I did not know what to do. Like most women, I was never taught how to prepare for this. The 26th was a Wednesday. Two days after my missed period, at 5:32am, I decided to take a pregnancy test before I went to school, almost positive nothing would come of it. When I saw the two lines, my heart sank into my knees and my eyes began to swell with hot tears that smeared my make-up on to my starched collar. It took every ounce of strength in my body to get into my car, drive to school, and lead a classroom of children promptly one hour after I found out I was with child, myself. I never wrote the date on my white board like I usually did for my kids. October 25th stayed on my white board all day, because subconsciously the 26th was a day I did not want to remember living.
At twenty-three, I found out I was pregnant with a baby I was not ready for, with a man I no longer knew. I live in the South—North Carolina to be exact. Fortunately, I reside in one of its liberalist cities, Charlotte. I never wondered if I had options, I figured of course I had options. Luckily, I’m part of a fortunate population in the South that does have a clinic to go to when I decided I wanted an abortion. Unfortunately, that did not mean I had an easy experience. Governor Pat McCrory would not want that to happen. North Carolina abortion policy has been described as restrictive by many politicians and lawmakers. According to the Guttmacher Research Institute, in 2011, 90% of North Carolina counties had no abortion clinic. Yeah, 90%. Once a woman is able to finally locate a clinic, there are a few other ropes she must jump through.
First, she must have a counseling session where a registered nurse lists the risks that come with abortion. To those who are unaware, they are the exact same risks that come with carrying a pregnancy to term. The nurse also described the procedure, the cost, and shows the medical history of the doctor that the patient will be assigned at the clinic. The nurse is also in charge of reminding you that the decision is one that you ‘cannot take back’ once it is completed. And if that were not enough, the patient then has to wait an additional 72 hours before she can actually get the procedure. Most states require a 24-hour waiting period, but North Carolina (and six other states) require longer periods of time to save women from a lifetime of regret if they decide to change their minds—as if we had not already agonized over making the decision.
Finally, living in the South means being constantly exposed to anti-woman, anti-choice beliefs. I cannot write this post without condemning the protestors that stood outside the clinic, on the streets, terrorizing every car that came by. My friend who drove me was mortified and almost hit one of the protestors because they got so uncomfortably close to each car as they hollered. They had pictures of mangled babies, they screamed inaudible insults about murder that I ignored as best I could. They scared me. My whole adult life I knew there were people that protested outside abortion clinics (Thank you, Juno). Though even with that knowledge, I had no idea they would be able to scare me. There were two armed security guards that walked every woman from their car to the clinic to ensure they were not harmed amidst the protestors. But even once I was safely inside, I could hear them through the windows of the waiting room, for the excruciating 5-6 hours that I waited to complete my procedure. I somehow imagine that their words, the fear they struck inside me, is something North Carolina lawmakers wanted—to save me from what they believed would be “a lifetime of regret.”
As I sat hearing the echoing voices of protestors, I knew that the women here deserved better, and that lawmakers should offer them better. I sat in a waiting room with thirty young, scared girls in hospital gowns, throwing up and writhing in pain from the medication. The clinic was a small brick building with not enough space for all of us. We sat so close together that our shoulders were touching, and I could smell the vomit from across the tiny room. Every nurse tried their best to console the sickest patients—the ones that cried, the ones that vomited. They were worried about all of us. They had bags under their eyes that matched the dark waiting room with no windows. Many of them were tired volunteers. They didn’t wear name tags because working at the clinic could threaten their careers.
I watched girls in fear, struggling to make difficult decisions with their partners, and wondered how much of their anguish and guilt comes from the society that lawmakers and conservative idealists created. I watched proud women hold their tears, wearing the faded hospital gowns with pride, and wondered if they also felt tinges of guilt. I myself, clinched my stomach, and pondered for a second if I was a murderer. The protestors, the long wait, the counseling session, the anonymous nurses, it all was adding up in my head—should I feel guilty about this decision? Everything around me is telling me I should not be in this room right now. Yet, here I am.
Now as I sit here eating these gloriously delicious mashed potatoes, a comfort food the South has perfected for moments like this, I know the answer: I have no regret. I made a decision, for myself, that was right for my life. But I wonder how much easier it could have been for me, for the other women in that room, if these restrictive laws or ruthless protestors, or an ignorant governor, did not belittle my decision. No amount of delicious Southern food can sooth the worry, the guilt, the sharp cramps, and unrelenting nausea that comes with the decision to have an abortion. If you are one of the 25% of women who know what it is like to make this decision, I have an unrelenting respect and admiration for you. I applaud the women who sat beside me, the nurses that took care of me, and the security guards that protected me. Even with their support, laws in this region of the country have made this one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of my life. The people and mindsets of the South may have created comfort food, but their abortion laws have no ounce of comfort in them. Southern policymakers—do fucking better. *I wrote this piece on October 31, 2016*” —Tara