On the anniversary of Roe v Wade I’m reminded of my own abortion story
When I was 23 I got pregnant in a country where abortion is illegal. I had been in Chile, teaching English, for about 5 months and had known the man for even less time. Naively, I took a pregnancy test during the 15 minute passing period between classes. When the ‘+’ appeared it felt like my stomach had fallen out of my body. It’s still the only time in my life I’ve ever felt faint.
I did what I’d always done when I didn’t know what to do - I called my mom. Shaking, I picked up my prepaid tiny brick of a Nokia and dialed long distance; this couldn’t wait until our next Skype date.
“Hey mom, how’s it going?” playing it super cool. (I was a theatre kid in high school!)
“You’re pregnant aren’t you?”
Knees shaking, pacing back and forth, I broke out into nervous laughter. “Um yes, how did you know?”
“A mother can always tell.”
My mom figured out a long time ago I was going to do what I wanted and the only thing for her to do was hold on, provide advice, and be supportive. I could feel her presence across continents. She told me it was going to be alright between fits of “Oh no!” and “Have you told him?”
There was never any doubt that I was going to find a way to have an abortion. I was just out of college living in a new country and I couldn’t learn to be an adult while also raising a baby. Plus I barely knew the guy! My Spanish was abysmal at that point - our relationship wasn’t purely sexual, but there wasn’t much else we could do together since communicating was such a struggle. He lived across the street from the flat I rented from a little old Chilean woman named Georgette. She spoke English well and saw me as a daughter. Once a week she would invite men over to have dinner with us. Cristian was one of those men.
That evening my initial shock fully evolved into fear; crippling, paralyzing fear. I was thousands of miles from my loved ones and I didn’t have anyone in Chile I trusted enough to tell. I didn’t have the money to go home and I refused to give up on my dream of living abroad so I began furiously scouring the internet to see what my options were. Luckily I came across a wonderful organization out of The Netherlands - Women on Web. After filling out a lengthy questionnaire and sending a donation of about $125 (about 1 weeks pay in Chile) they would send you pills to have an in-home abortion. You just had to meet the following criteria:
- Live in a country where access to abortion is restricted
- Be less than 10 weeks pregnant
- Have no serious illnesses
They shipped me pills from India within a week. Georgette got the mail that day and asked what might this little package be?
“Oh, uh it’s natural birth control that my mom got me.”
“Better to prevent than to have to harm a child! Fetuses are people!”
At least she never found out what happened under her roof.
After I knew the pills were on their way I decided to tell Cristian. I had gone back and forth a million times. Men shouldn’t have a say in what a woman does with her body. But I would want to know if the roles were reversed. The roles are never going to be reversed; his opinion is irrelevant. But he’s a human who deserves respect and full disclosure. In the end, it was fear of ectopic pregnancy that convinced me to tell him.
Ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg attaches inside the fallopian tube instead of inside the uterus. It’s very dangerous. They warned me throughout the questionnaire and instructions that were sent along with the pills: IF YOU TAKE THE PILLS AND BLEED EXCESSIVELY OR FEEL FAINT YOU MAY HAVE AN ECTOPIC PREGNANCY! GO TO THE HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY! YOU COULD DIE!
Telling him was difficult on many levels. Of course there was the language barrier but there was also the vulnerability of telling someone I hardly knew something so personal and intimate. There was a power dynamic: I was in his country. He was older and owned a home and a car and I was young, wild, naive and a stranger in a strange land. But I resolved to tell him because I needed him in order to protect myself. He took it a lot better than expected. Almost immediately he agreed that terminating the pregnancy was the best thing to do.
I chose a night the following week. The bleeding started as a slow creep and then came wave after wave of cramps and pain from about 9pm to 2am. To this day I’ve never felt that kind of pain and I can’t even fathom what childbirth feels like. Cristian fell asleep by 11pm. I was in too much pain that I couldn’t even care. The insane urge to push kept me in the bathroom while he was curled up in my bed. I’m angry now remembering it. This was something we did together and he’s warm and comfortable and not in excruciating pain and he couldn’t even sit with me? Or at least force himself to stay awake outside the door for moral support? Add it to the list of privileges men don’t have to think about.
I continued to bleed for about two weeks but it was much more manageable. Cristian and I ended up dating for about a year and he turned out to be pretty goddamn manipulative. He was probably always like that, I just couldn’t see it because of the misguided amount of importance I gave to our shared experience. Pre-pregnancy I had known we were incompatible but after the abortion, I felt like I owed him a real opportunity at a relationship. I’m grateful that over the last decade I’ve learned to trust my intuition and let it guide me.
Along with embracing my intuition, I’m grateful for my mom’s support. I’m grateful for Women on Web for helping women take control of their bodies in countries where the government won’t allow it. And I’m grateful to Cristian for doing the bare fucking minimum. Actually, I’m not grateful for him because men doing the bare fucking minimum is not praise-worthy. I’m semi-grateful to be back in the US and in a country where abortion is ‘legal’ although Roe v Wade gets eroded more and more every year. I guess I’m grateful we at least still have the principle? But that simply isn’t good enough. Services need to be available for everyone regardless of location, economic status or proximity to religious fanatics. Ladies, if you have the means, make a donation to Planned Parenthood because we cannot rely on our current government to fight for us - we must do it ourselves. We must take care of each other. Someday I hope we will live in a different world where all women are respected as autonomous humans with equal access who have the right to make decisions about their bodies. But it starts with us. The louder we voice our experiences the harder it will be for them to ignore us.
Casey is the founder of the ELU and is unapologetically navigating creative entrepreneurship. While she admits she doesn't always know what she's doing, she's fully embraced the 'fake it til you make it/everyone is faking it mentality.' She enjoys naps, whiskey and all things cat-related.