I am using my stimulus check to pay for an abortion.
As I went from Day 35 with no period, to Day 36, 37, 38, I thought seriously about what to do if this wasn’t just a late period. It became very clear that getting an abortion was the right choice for me, my husband, and my family in this moment. We have a 15-month-old and we want a second kid, but the thought of a pregnancy, a birth, and a second baby amid a pandemic – when we could lose our jobs, when a hospital delivery could be dangerous and isolating, when our out-of-state and elderly parents couldn’t travel to help in those early weeks of parenthood – is terrifying. In fact, were it not for the pandemic, we very well could have made a different decision. As Republican governors across the country question whether abortion is an essential service in these times, I know it absolutely is—all the more so because of these times.
Though we made this decision quickly, my husband and I didn’t make it lightly. It didn’t take long for other thoughts to creep in. I felt dumb for getting pregnant: I miscarried two years ago after trying to conceive for a year, and I have a toddler. I know exactly how this works. I felt shame for making this decision: isn’t this a frivolous reason to do something so serious? Aren’t abortions reserved for when you really need it? Of course, my internalized guilt couldn’t specify who should get to determine justified need. Will people I love hate me? That wasn’t even a question, because I knew at least some would. The real question was whether they knew they hated me specifically when they spoke in generalities about the sanctity of life and abortion as murder. Is this the burden that people I love who have had abortions have carried with them for decades?
As I type this, I hear my husband on the phone with his mom. She loves us and supports us, and also has concerns about the burden of going through with this. Is this how stigma creeps into relationships? Wedging itself, word by loaded word, into conversations? Creating silence and one-word responses where there should be jokes and laughter?
Also while writing this, I bought myself a swimsuit for Mother’s Day (“for” is generous, quite frankly, that just happened to be the nearest excuse on the calendar for retail therapy). As a mother I am more in awe of my body than ever before. I’ve always hated most of it; on a good day, only parts of it. But my body is amazing. It creates life, it nourishes life, and somehow it keeps me going, too. How dare this society make women hate our bodies, make us want to hide them away, perfectly priming me to think I don’t even deserve to control mine?
Before moving to Madison I lived in Washington, DC and volunteered as a clinic defense escort at a Planned Parenthood just a few blocks from the White House. I saw Catholics pray in circles in front of the clinic. I witnessed white Anti-choicers harass Black patients with race-baiting arguments. For years, I heard dehumanizing hate spewed along the clinic sidewalk week after week after week.
Last week, when I arrived at Madison’s East Side Planned Parenthood, I saw a lone old white man wearing a sandwich board that explained contraception as “chemical pornography.” Of all his slogans, that one was actually the most logical; the others I couldn’t make enough sense of to remember. He yelled when I got out of my car, lazily, in my general direction. I was already frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t exercise basic autonomy over my body in this moment – by the fact that I had to be treated like a child, forced to wait a week to make sure there were no take-backs – and I was in no mood for this harassment. I stared him down and yelled “Sir you can go straight to hell.” This time, he acknowledged me directly and yelled back: “You think you’ve changed my mind but you haven’t.” I don’t think he got the irony of the moment. I told him “Right back at you,” but I still think it went over his head. When I left the clinic two hours later, he was still there, joined now by an old white woman saying the rosary. I flipped both of them off as I drove home.
Inside the clinic, the staff was kind, compassionate, and respectful. I was there just for a consultation. Due to a 1996 law I have to wait 24 hours before actually having an abortion. Due to a 2012 law I have to be seen by the same doctor for my consultation and abortion, and because of limited staffing (no doubt due to ideologically-driven funding cuts) that meant the 24-hour waiting period would be a full week.
During my consultation, a staff person explained the process of a medicated abortion. First, I would take a pill called mifepristone to block hormones from reaching the small, almost invisible cluster of cells inside my uterus (thanks to a 2013 law she was forced to conduct an ultrasound of this cluster of cells and show it to me, though I was not obligated to look. I looked anyway; the flowery covering on the overhead fluorescent light I was staring blankly at made me feel pitied, and I did not want to be pitied.). Then, I would take a pill called misoprostol to tell my uterus to contract and expel those cells.
In February 2018, I underwent almost the exact same thing after learning that a pregnancy I desperately wanted had stopped developing at 9 weeks. It was heartbreaking and traumatic, and the physical and emotional memory of that moment will stay with me forever. At the time of my miscarriage, pharmacists from Michigan to Arizona were denying misoprostol for women suffering from the trauma of miscarriage because it is used in abortion. In my consultation, the staff person told me doctors here are also having trouble prescribing mifepristone for other uses because of its link to abortion.
Because I had taken misoprostol before, and because surgical abortion can be more than twice as expensive, I opted for the medicated abortion. My insurer stopped covering abortion years ago, so my costs would be out of pocket. My only concern was whether the prescriptions would affect breastfeeding; it’s a question you get used to asking as a nursing mom. The staff person told me it was a common question to ask. Let that sink in for a moment: people seeking abortions commonly ask if the medication they will need to take will interact with breastfeeding, because they already have small children at home.
Mothers know the physical burden of parenting: our bodies are not our own for 9 months as they are sapped and stretched to grow a little human; add another 6 months, or year, or more onto that if you nurse your baby. We know the emotional and mental burden of setting aside every other pressure in life to take care of this vulnerable, frustrating, perfect little one we’ve brought into the world. We know the financial burden of simply trying to survive; daycare costs more than my mortgage, and in Madison we were fortunate to even find an opening when we needed one.
At the end of my consultation, I met with the doctor who would prescribe my medicated abortion. She was legally required to read a two-and-a-half page document to me, telling me such things as:
- “The numerical odds of survival for an unborn child delivered at that probable gestational age.” Zero percent.
- “The probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus on this date.” Literally none. At just over 5 weeks, I had an embryo inside me, not a fetus, and my mandatory ultrasound showed a gestational sac that even to a trained eye looked empty.
- “The medical risks associated with the particular abortion procedure that would be used, including the risk of infection, psychological trauma, hemorrhage, endometritis, perforated uterus, incomplete abortion, failed abortion, or danger to subsequent pregnancies and infertility.” I am more worried about the actual trauma of pregnancy and childbirth in COVID than the feigned concern of anti-choice zealots.
- “That no payment for the procedure may be required from me until at least 24 hours have elapsed after the informed consent consultation has been completed, except if the waiting period is shortened by me because the pregnancy is the result of sexual assult or incest or medical emergency.” What must it be like to pass through the world with a body whose autonomy is not conditional? With a body that demands respect and trust wherever it goes, whatever it does?
- “A list of providers that would perform the required ultrasound at no cost to me.” Conveniently, there’s a very pink “crisis pregnancy center” just across the street from Planned Parenthood that I’m sure would be thrilled to talk to me. Unfortunately for the “crisis pregnancy center,” I was already seeing an actual healthcare provider—who coincidentally just gave me a mandatory ultrasound.
- “That the man responsible for pregnancy is liable for providing assistance in supporting my child, if born, even if he has offered to pay for the abortion.” Maybe I’m naive, but I wasn’t expecting racist dog whistles on healthcare paperwork.
- “That I have the right to receive and review, free of charge, state-printed materials that describe the unborn child and list agencies that offer alternatives to abortion.” I will never understand why lawmakers think a person makes an appointment for an abortion without first considering whether they want an abortion. I am at Planned Parenthood because I want and need their services, not because I’m window shopping.
- “That I have the right to receive and review, free of charge, information on the availability of public and private agencies and services that provide birth control information including natural family planning information; information on services available for victims or individuals at risk of domestic abuse; information about legal protections for me and my child should I wish to oppose establishment of paternity or to terminate the father’s parental rights; and information on the availability of perinatal hospice.” Republican lawmakers, I would like to inform you that natural family planning is the reason I need an abortion right now.
And now, I wait a week. A week of nausea and exhaustion where each time I feel like puking is a reminder that people will think I’m a murderer. A week of waiting where I am acutely aware that this nausea means that what is inside of me could grow into a human – like my son did – or it could grow into a lump of miscarried cells that I would have to pass just as I did over two years ago. A week of feeling selfish, stupid, and every other message people in need of abortions have internalized as a result of decades of anti-choice stigma. This waiting period is not helping me make my decision. This waiting period is making me feel like shit – my body wracked by the early stages of a pregnancy I do not want, my head and heart weighed down by the shame that other people say I should feel.
It will be a long week.