When I was 20 years old I had a medication abortion. I’m going to describe my experience in detail so please don’t keep reading if you think this could be triggering for you (cw: blood, placentas, depression, and freedom).
My abortion cost $500. $530 if you count the Plan B medication that didn’t work. I was under my parents’ health insurance at the time. I think it would have been covered but the primary policy holder would’ve been notified and that wasn’t an option for me. I split the cost with the father-would-be and that was about the end of his involvement. I went to Planned Parenthood on Joralemon street in Brooklyn with a friend who was essentially the only person I turned to for help at this time (thank you forever!). It was optional to view the ultrasound image. I think in some places it is required. I opted to look at it because, frankly, I was curious. It looked like a pinto bean. I made an appointment to take the first pill (you take the first one under supervision).
During the short window of time I was pregnant, I managed to fuck up at my job (I was a barista and the coffee was not agreeing with the morning sickness), fuck up at school (I was so stressed out I couldn’t keep up with assignments), and get fucked over by the father-would-be (he refused to help me beyond the payment because he needed to ‘focus on school’). I was also struggling with an aggressive roommate and didn’t feel safe enough around them to take that second medication at my own home. But I had my friend and I had the resources to go through with an abortion. And that is a lot more than many people have when going through this experience.
I took the first pill at my appointment with a very nice medical professional. I don’t remember any symptoms. I was given the second medication to take home and take 48 hours later (I believe the second medication is misoprostol).
48 hours later I decided to take it at my friend’s apartment. I’ll walk you through my memory of it. From what I remember, you take multiple pills and kind of hold them between your gums and your lips. And it acted fast. I was so nervous all day that I hadn’t eaten earlier and I ate some chips (because I was still basically a teenager) before taking the misoprostol. Unsurprisingly that came up immediately. I was stuck in the bathroom vomiting and shitting at the same time (fun). But that only lasted for about five minutes.Then I was pretty weak and shaking. My friend brought me a blanket. I curled up on the floor of the bathroom with the blanket wrapped around me until I started cramping. The sickness before the cramping lasted about ten minutes in total. After the cramping, I started using some pads because I knew I was starting to bleed and would pass blood clots. By the time the cramping came along I wasn’t feeling sick anymore. And I don’t remember the cramping being much worse than period cramps.
I think most people just see a lot of blood but I actually saw the embryo intact. I saw a strange brown thing (I know this is disgusting but honestly it looked like ground meat in a clear sac) and realized it was the placenta. And attached to the placenta was a much smaller teeny tiny white thing with a black dot on it. Let me tell you, it was no pinto bean! It looked straight out of a biology textbook.
It looked exactly like this image (but not backlit obviously).
I’m probably going to misremember the size but I want to say it was much smaller than my pinky fingernail. This part of my experience could sound traumatic. But I want to bring radical honesty to this account and if I’m being radically honest, I kind of felt lucky to see the embryo. How many people get to see that? In fact, at this point my friend also came in to see. What a scene: Two womb-wielding people marveling at what they can make but also what they can choose not to make. In some ways, I think this is my most feminist action to date. Refusing to reproduce. I didn’t really feel like what I was looking at was human, but at the same time I was able to feel a sort of respect and awe for what our bodies can do.
I think I bled for the rest of the day quite a bit and passed more clots. But I felt ok otherwise and all in all the whole experience in the bathroom took maybe 15-20 minutes. After I saw the embryo, I was able to pad-up and go on with my day. I read online that you have a follow up appointment and so I know that I did but I don’t even remember it really. Physically, I was fine after this.
I’d be lying if I said I was emotionally okay. I want to say I was because I don’t have any regrets. But I grew up in a religious family and you internalize those values to some extent whether you like it or not. And so I wrestled internally for a few months. I have also struggled with clinical depression since I was in my teens and I’m sure that didn’t help either.
But what I find particularly infuriating is this idea that a pregnancy would’ve been better for my health than an abortion. Anti-choicers like to equate the kind of mental stress that I experienced after my abortion with regret. But I’ll tell you the one thing that would have helped me emotionally would’ve been if there was less stigma around abortion. And you know what wouldn’t have helped me emotionally? Being forced to carry a pregnancy to term in a country that has despicable reproductive care and exorbitant healthcare costs.
I’m not sure how to approach the conversation of sentience and embryos. I’m not sure that I even care that much? If something or someone is making a home in my body, I think I have the right to evict them within a reasonable timeframe. And if I ever want to have a child, I want to be able to welcome them, not exist in spite of them.
Anyway, I mainly wanted to share in detail my physical experience with a medication abortion since there seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around with the recent events here in the U.S. I also think that (especially for non-womb-wielding individuals) people forget this issue is close to home. Chances are, you know someone in your life that has had or will have an abortion. Or maybe you can be the friend that supports them through the experience instead of the one they don’t feel like they can talk to.