When I was forty-four years old, I got knocked up by accident. M and I were careless because we bought into the myth that women over forty have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than getting pregnant. Turns out, that’s not true. And a few months later, my friend J, who was also in her forties, got pregnant even though she had an IUD. Those fertility stats really need some tweaking.
I ultimately had an abortion and so did J. After my procedure and helping J through hers, I realized there are two simple but important things no one tells you about the process. The lack of information isn’t surprising; the stigma around abortions is still firmly entrenched, and even female-centered media fails to provide simple information. Abortions are like cops, everyone hates them until you need one.
I wish that someone had told me these things, so I’m here to tell you.
1. Try Not to Canvas Your Friends for Advice
If you find yourself pregnant and can’t decide what to do, try your best not to ask your friends or family for advice. I realize this is counterintuitive. But people can rarely separate their own complicated and highly emotional feelings about motherhood, fertility, and pregnancy from your situation. You become a blank canvas for all their frustration, anxiety and resentment about their own choices. This won’t help you make a decision.
I learned this the hard way. When I found out I was pregnant, I initially didn’t know what I wanted to do and turned to my friends. Those unable to conceive were blinded by sadness at their own situation and told me that I had to have this “miracle baby,” even though I was telling them I was leaning the opposite way. This fell on deaf ears; one friend begged me to stay pregnant so she could adopt the baby. In contrast, my friends with kids seemed to derive gleeful pleasure from telling me that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and that I would want to throw the baby out the window more than once. “Your life is over!” my friend Katie screamed. There was no in-between.
Those unable to conceive were blinded by sadness at their own situation and told me that I had to have this “miracle baby,” even though I was telling them I was leaning the opposite way.
There are many more examples, but you get the drift. At the end of two weeks of asking friends what to do, I was more of a wreck than I was when I first saw those two little pink lines on the pregnancy test.
I don’t blame my friends. There is nothing more blinding than the elemental sadness of not being able to have kids or the resentment of having them when you may not have been prepared. But if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have told anyone. I would have sought advice from no one.
I eventually dug deep, took stock of what was best for me, and scheduled an abortion when I was about six weeks pregnant. I was fortunate that I had the means for a “fancy” abortion: surgical, while under general anesthetic, done by my ob-gyn. This would be an irrelevant detail, but for one important moment.
As I was waking up from the anesthesia, I apparently reached up and threw off my oxygen-mask, stating loudly, “I don’t like this thing!” Hearing the commotion, my doctor came to my bedside and I grabbed her arm, squeezed and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I have absolutely no memory of any of this. My doctor told me about it when I came in for a follow-up checkup. “Boy, were you sweet and thankful!” she said laughing. “You really didn’t want to be pregnant.”
I’m forever grateful my doctor told me about this moment. It confirmed that deep down, in my id or whatever you want to call the dark recesses of our minds, I did not want to have a child. Had I simply listened to that part of me, rather than canvassing my friends, I would have saved myself a lot of crazy-making conversations.
2. Post-abortion, beware of hormone-induced insanity
After I came home from my abortion, I was initially euphoric. My father brought me peanut butter and chocolate ice cream and I binged Criminal Minds. Bliss. I had cramps and was bleeding into a pad, but it wasn’t any worse than a typical period.
But a day or two later, I was a hollowed-out shell, crying at the drop of a hat and yelling at people for nothing. I was also exhausted and zombied around my day. No, this was not because I was sad or regretted what I did. It was because my hormones were being yanked all over the place and didn’t know which end was up. One minute I was pregnant, and then the next minute I wasn’t. One minute my hormones were building a condo for a new human, the next minute there was a wrecking ball to the whole plan. It’s crazy-making.
A lot of ink has been spilled about postpartum depression, but no one talks about post-abortion depression.
I can’t even confirm my suspicion that it’s a hormonally driven phenomenon, because I can’t find any studies on it. So this advice is based on a very small sample of two: my friend J and me.
Unlike me, J knew immediately that she wanted an abortion. She already had two children and was over it, done. She didn’t suffer through weeks of crazy-making decision making beforehand, but a few days after her abortion, J called me crying. “How long am I going to feel like this?” she sobbed. J was going through a now-familiar experience: she couldn’t stop crying and didn’t want to get out of bed. “Thirty days!” I said confidently.
By this point, it was a few months after my own abortion, and I was sure of my thirty-day diagnosis. After a month or so of feeling like a dusty sad shadow of my former self, one day I just snapped out of it. It was similar to what I’d observed when another friend was suffering from hyperemesis: one day she was barfing into garbage bags and the next day she was feeling better, getting a pedicure.
So, my working theory is that there is a precipitous hormonal drop post-abortion, one that will make you feel sad and crazy. If you’re not careful, you’ll misinterpret this awful period to regret, and perhaps think you made the wrong decision. You didn’t. Your hormones are just trolling you.
Of course, not everyone is the same. Around the same time my friend S also had an abortion. She was twenty-seven at the time and had the non-fancy version of the procedure at Planned Parenthood. I warned her about the month after; I told her she would be sad and feel crazy. But a week later she was happily chirping about the experience, telling me that she had no idea what I was talking about, because she felt great.
But if you do have an abortion and feel insane afterward, please remind yourself this is likely a hormonal phenomenon.
The best thing you can do is hang tight, know it will pass, and battle down the hatches for the next month of your life. Do not make big decisions, do not scream and yell at your friends and family, and do everything you can to make your life easier. If you need to order Postmates every night so you have enough energy to go to work the next day, do it. Do not, under any circumstances, get a haircut or a tattoo.
I hope that by providing these two small tidbits of information, I’ve made the process of getting an abortion slightly less mysterious and frightening. We should be able to get the same information about abortion that we do about any other medical procedure.
It’s 2020. Let’s finally open up the conversation.
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