I know you’re pissed off.
Gun-loving hypocrites are endangering our lives and trampling our rights by telling us what to do with you. We’ve been through this, though. You and I, forty-five years ago this year. Our abortion at seventeen was legal and protected. We just had to walk by a couple protesters, two men holding signs, in front of the Preterm clinic near our house. Even then, it was a choice made for me by my parents, without discussion, but I was fine with it. I felt so sick and didn’t want to have a baby in high school.
I had been a virgin when I was raped. Mom didn’t believe it was rape, though, because I didn’t tell her and Dad everything. I’d lied about where I’d been and I didn’t want to get in even more trouble. Dumb, I know. I knew she’d say it was my own fault. That’s what I got for hanging out with a twenty-seven-year-old stranger with a sporty car, just because he’d said a few nice words to me. I did fight and try to make him stop, but I believed it was my own fault too, for many years. I even tried to romanticize it in my high school diary, because I felt like such an idiot for thinking a grown-ass man could actually like late-blooming, nerdy Natalie. What had I been thinking? Didn’t I remember when the junior high school boys had ranked me as a “Dog” on their Foxes and Dogs list of girls?
Mom was mortified by the potential scandal and embarrassment of an unwed teen pregnancy. I was ashamed and in denial. How could you have let that happen, U? How could you have allowed that blastocyst to attach to your lining? When I went to the pediatrician (yeah, I was still going to a pediatrician at seventeen) for my worsening stomach flu, he asked if there was any chance I could be pregnant. I honestly believed it when I said, “No.” I mean, I’d been a virgin. I fought the whole time he was on top of me. I was a good student—a good girl who didn’t get in trouble. No way I could be pregnant.
Dad, whom I expected to fly off into one of his rages when he found out I was pregnant, was shockingly calm and nurturing. It was Mom who told me I was going to have to get the abortion without any anesthesia because Preterm charged extra for it, she said. Really? She knew it wasn’t about money. She wanted me to feel and remember everything, to teach me a lesson. I’m sure she believed she was doing the right thing. Natural consequences, after all.
Forcibly dilating your cervix, scraping and suctioning your lining hurt, and I cried a little. I yelled out once and was immediately embarrassed. The doctor, a man, said, “This shouldn’t hurt that much.” The abortion procedure was a D&C — dilation and curettage — and you and I went on to have multiple D&Cs over the years due to your completely unrelated heavy bleeding, grapefruit-sized polyps, and endometrial hyperplasia. Every time we had one, there was never any mention of optional anesthesia. Anesthesia was always standard, because — duh — the procedure is painful.
After the abortion, in “recovery,” they gave me a Styrofoam cup of Swiss Miss instant hot chocolate with marshmallows. Marshmallows seemed too festive … too happy for the occasion. You definitely were not happy, but I was very relieved to no longer be pregnant. All I wanted was to go home and curl up with a heating pad for your cramping. Then, Mom finally came in and told me the doctor thought I had an ectopic pregnancy because there was no embryonic tissue in what he’d removed. Mom’s eyes teared up when she whispered the doctor had warned a tubal pregnancy could “kill” me if a fallopian tube ruptured. I remember thinking, right. Whatever.
Tests days later determined I did not have an ectopic pregnancy. Turned out you were prolapsed and the doctor just hadn’t done the procedure properly for a tilted uterus. At least, that’s what I was told. How was it even possible to mess that up? We needed to have it done again, correctly—a second abortion procedure for the same pregnancy. I know what you were thinking. Same thing I thought: BOGO, with free anesthesia due to screwing up the first time, right? Nope. We went back to Preterm for a second procedure, again without anesthesia. Double lesson-learning.
You’ve really always been uncooperative, U. A rule breaker. Late to start our period, holding out until I was almost sixteen. Then, horrible cramps and crazy bleeding. When I wanted to get pregnant after getting married at twenty-nine, you and my ovaries conspired against me. When I finally did get pregnant and carry to full term at thirty-four, you tried to kill my son during birth by letting the umbilical cord wrap around his neck, trying unsuccessfully to strangle what would end up being my only child. I know some may say this was payback for the abortion at seventeen, but I don’t believe that and have never regretted having the procedure to remove an unwanted embryo.
I’ve never liked you much, you know. I’m sorry, but you have been difficult; lashing out at me and causing me pain, embarrassment, and fear since the tenth grade. I’m told my maternal grandmother died from uterine cancer, so I was surprised when my doctor refused my request for a hysterectomy years ago, during peri-menopause. She said we’d gotten everything under control and all looked normal. She said she didn’t believe in removing you unless it was absolutely necessary.
Our periods have been gone completely for almost ten years now. No more out-of-the-blue flooding. Remember how you used to love surprising me with gushing, clumpy blood after five or more months of no periods? You’d open the flood gates while I was standing in front of a classroom of second-graders, or sitting in a meeting in the light-beige upholstered conference room chairs at school. But all that fun is finally gone at sixty-two.
Now, there’s nothing fun about what’s been happening to us … to women and our uteruses. Time keeps passing and we keep changing with age. Our bodies move forward in time, while changing laws are turning back the clock on our daughters’ and granddaughters’ reproductive health and freedom of choice. The lives of nineteen born and breathing children were aborted by guns recently. Their beating hearts were stopped by gunfire in a firearm-worshipping state. A state that has made it illegal for even a rape victim to surgically abort a pregnancy if she’s carrying a cluster of cells emitting a detectable electrical signal. The freedom to carry killing machines trumps the freedom not to carry a pregnancy. What fucking bullshit is that?
I get it. I know you’re angry, U. I’m pissed off too. Finally … we agree on something.
Yours in Solidarity,
Natalie is a former second-grade teacher and National State Teacher of the Year who retired from teaching as a second career at fifty-nine. A radical re-inventor, permission-giver, and storyteller, she encourages midlife women to give themselves permission to change the life they’re living so they can live a life they love.
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