How My Abortion Inspired Me

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.

By Heather Buchheim

My co-workers sent me flowers the day of my abortion. The bouquet came with a reminder to take care of myself — that was all. No judgment, no sympathy, no battle cry. Just unconditional love and support.

Most people probably wouldn’t so readily share their abortion with co-workers. Much less their mother-in-law. But secrets have never been my strong suit. And I don’t work in your average office.
I got pregnant a month into my new job at Exhale. The thought that I could face my own unintended pregnancy, while doing work to support others who have had abortions, did cross my mind — and then, it happened.

Watching Jenny Slate’s character Donna realize she was pregnant in the film Obvious Child, I was struck with the realization that I was pregnant, too. I spent most of the movie silently sucking back tears and clutching my concerned fiancé’s arm. We had merged bank accounts earlier that day, and now, I was sure, my period only two days late, we’d merged DNA.
It was Father’s Day when we told my future mother- and sister-in-law I was going to have an abortion. The thought that we could get away with keeping it secret — or that we should — didn’t occur to me. I’ve lived in a transparent, open-minded community my whole life. My parents and I have always been unusually frank with one another. Honest communication is what I know and who I am.

Even though my fiancé and I expected support, anticipating our families’ response was nerve-racking. A week earlier, before I knew I was pregnant, we had told my parents we were going to wait five years to have kids. I was afraid they were going to be disappointed that we weren't considering this a happy accident, one that would make them grandparents.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.

Our families responded positively, trusting in my decision. Monday at work, I told my co-worker — a trained talk-line counselor — face-to-face. She offered me a hug and her ear when I choked on the words "I'm pregnant." It turns out I had a lot more to get off my chest than I’d let on with my steely resolve. I felt I'd lost control by getting pregnant. I was shocked and scared. I also felt unexpected relief, having questioned my fertility and being given intel on it in this unexpected way. I was secure in the knowledge of what I’d do next, which was to have an abortion.
I made a few calls. I scheduled my appointment. Then, I went home.

In the days before my abortion, I told everyone close to me. I felt fortunate to have a network of listeners — my partner, my friends, my family and co-workers. We each have our own ways of understanding our experiences, and we’re all experts on what works for ourselves. Sharing my experiences with the people around me and writing about them is part of my process. It goes back to that openness with my family — and it's this kind of support that I want to be available to anyone who wants it.
My mom accompanied my partner and myself to the clinic. She then opened up and told me about the secret second abortion she’d had, the one only my father knew about. Although she didn't regret her decision, she felt some guilt and wondered what could have been. I felt closer to her than ever before, and I was grateful that we could be there for each other during this time.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.

I shared a long and silent hour in a small dimly-lit pre-op room with a half-dozen other women swaddled in blankets, waiting my turn to see the doctor. The intermittent hum of the machine in the surgical room was barely muffled by the noise-cancelling pod and the TV, which was showing My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I didn't make eye contact with any of the other women. Each of us was in our own little world. One woman had fallen asleep. Another was in tears: Her credit card was declined, so her girlfriend had stepped forward to pay for the abortion. An older woman giggled to herself as she stayed glued to the screen. Another sat unblinking — her partner had tried to comfort her in the waiting room before. Looking back, I wondered if I would have felt less anxious if we had chosen to interact with one another. Maybe if we had talked aloud about how we were feeling, what we were going through inside that room, it would have made it easier to speak of our experiences outside of it, too.

I didn’t feel alone, but I know that’s not how everyone who’s had an abortion feels. My hope is that a supported experience — one that's respected and free of judgment — will become the new normal, not an exception. That note from my co-workers? It’s still stuck to my fridge. It’s a daily reminder of my gratitude for the strong community that surrounds me, the healing power of listening, and the connections that become possible when we feel the freedom to express ourselves and share with one another.

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