alone in the waiting room.
[TW: discusses the medical abortion process]
Dimmed fluorescent lights cast a gray hue on the dark carpet. It was a Tuesday morning on a warm spring day, yet every chair was occupied. Despite the crowded room and the sun’s first emergence after months of overcast skies, the air was quiet and heavy. Many were accompanied, others alone and softly whispering over the phone. Everyone shared the same tired and exasperated expressions, presumably from a string of sleepless nights leading up to today. My gaze fixated downwards, watching my thumbs twirl as I wrestled with the pangs of shame welling in my chest. I waited alone, on a Tuesday morning, on the first warm spring day, for six hours until the nurse called my name.
There are experiences so rife with emotion, the memory remains vividly clear. Some are overflowing with a new jovial excitement and warmth where even recalling a glimpse of the memory subconsciously tugs at a corner of your mouth. Others fill you with the deepest sadness that leaves you bursting at the seams or wanting to shrink away until you disappear.
This was the latter.
It was mid-March 2019. Work was finally reaching a comfortable state after months of stress and overtime. My relationship with my then partner was healthily stable. And spring finally arrived. I was 24 and feeling invincible.
I remember meticulously following a routine: gym, shower, breakfast, commute to work, at noon my phone would alert me to take my birth control, continue working, then return home for dinner.
I remember my body feeling foreign over the course of a week.
I remember calmly telling my partner when he came home late from work and prefacing the news with a profuse apology. Maybe I didn’t take a pill at the exact hour, this must have been my fault.
I remember he made a joke to lighten the mood; I broke into tears.
Difficult emotions used to take me days to process, but talking to and seeking advice from my closest friends, family, and mentors would help organize the chaos rattling my mind.1 And yet, these overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt stopped me. I wanted to reach out to someone, anyone, for comfort and guidance. But how do you begin to navigate these conversations when abortions are a such a deeply personal and private experience? I wear my heart on my sleeve in every form and as much as I wanted to de-stigmatize this discourse, I simply couldn’t.2 This private and personal experience would remain between my partner and myself to share alone.
The next day, I went to work as if nothing happened.
the appointments, pt. i
The weeks leading up to my abortion were some of the loneliest experiences I’ve ever had.
My partner was a consultant and traveled frequently for work, but he was also in the midst of applying to medical schools. I assured him that I could do the research to find a clinic, schedule the appointment, and take a day or two off work; the conversation was sterile in an attempt to write this off as a simple inconvenience. Inside, I was screaming.
Here I was, at 24, googling “abortion options” on incognito mode for hours trying to make sense of
our my options. After scouring medical journals, Planned Parenthood pages and Reddit, I learned women have two abortion options: “medical” or “in-clinic”. The former is via an abortion pill, allowed up to 10 weeks after your last period and the latter is surgical, allowed between 10 to 26 weeks (even less for other states).3
I settled on an abortion clinic that had more openings available. Google reviewers said weekends fill up quickly and wait times are long, but weekdays are better -- with an appointment, you only wait for 4-6 hours. But you should plan to be there all day. They suggested not coming on Tuesdays to avoid the protestors that berate the entrance. Upon arrival, the security guard will ask for an ID and check if your name is on the appointment list. She’ll escort you up the elevators to the clinic and will also offer to walk you out. Don’t worry, she knew all of the pro-life protestors by name.
On a Wednesday morning, I arrived at the clinic alone and quickly shuffled inside lest anyone recognize me. True to what the Google reviews said, there were no protestors and the security guard kindly escorted me up the elevators. I anxiously twiddled my thumbs in the waiting room for five hours until a nurse called my name.
As the doctor pressed the probe into my stomach, I felt tears prickle at the corners of my eyes. I never imagined my first ultrasound to be under these circumstances —unplanned, unguided, and alone. After a few quiet minutes passed, the doctor let out a sigh. To be qualified for the abortion pill, the fetus has to be visible on the ultrasound — usually between the 6-10th week.4 Despite my positive test, it was too early and I had to come back again in two weeks.
My first thoughts were logistical — I took tomorrow off as a recovery day, but I guess I’ll go in. In two weeks, I have a big deliverable and a new client is starting. I suppose I can take off Tuesday, but I’ll need to come into work on Wednesday. How should I navigate this conversation with my managers? Should I need to? I’ll check Reddit.
And after mentally jumping through the logistical hoops, the dread of carrying this looming anxiety for two weeks began to set in.
The next day, I went to work as if nothing happened.
the appointments, pt. ii
Those two weeks consisted of only stomaching soup for every meal, feeling my body become increasingly more unfamiliar, throwing up between meetings, and reassuring my managers that these slew of doctors appointments were nothing to be concerned about.
I returned on a Tuesday, alone. True to what the Google reviews said, protestors lined the front holding signs larger than them, beckoning me that it wasn’t too late, I could turn around and save a life. Their stares were sharp needles piercing my back; the security guard, as the Google reviews promised, assured me they were harmless. She knew every protestor’s name. I sat in the same waiting room, with the same heavy and deafeningly quiet air, with the same crowded and occupied seats, all sharing the same exasperated look, for six hours.
But this time, the fetus was visible. The doctor printed the ultrasound to show me where it was and asked if I wanted to keep the print. I declined.
I still remember the size of the print and the shadow of collected cells.
After the ultrasound gel was cleaned from my stomach, the hospital gown replaced with my clothes and the print thrown in the trash, the doctor brought me into a private room. She asked a series of questions, I responded robotically. She laid out the entire process and presented the two pills: Mifepristone to block the progesterone and Misoprostol, taken 24-48hr after, to begin The Process.
When all of the waivers were signed, the first pill was taken, the (second) appointment’s bill paid, the
second third follow-up appointment scheduled, I was hoping for a sense of relief that never came. Maybe, in 24 hours, relief will finally come.
The next day, I went to work as if nothing happened.
When my partner came home that Wednesday evening, for a moment it felt like any other night because to him these past few weeks were like most. After finishing dinner and another episode of Chef’s Table, it was the 30th hour and time to take the second pill. I felt sick. The doctors and Reddit said to take an ibuprofen 30min prior, wear a heavy pad, and drink tea to ease the cramps.
I remember the painful cramping and feeling the first heavy blood clot pass.
I remember locking myself in the bathroom and hearing the echoes of the tv playing in the background.
I remember feeling clots of blood passing, for hours.
I remember seeing the familiar collection of cells on the pad and sobbing.
I remember immediately wrapping the bathroom trash and asking my partner to throw it out. I couldn’t stomach having any reminder of this in the apartment.
I remember wanting to feel so detached from this experience because I believed that if I were truly pro-choice then I should approach this entire experience without emotional attachment.
After it was all over, the feeling of relief never came.
And the next day, I went to work as if nothing happened.
the burden of responsibilities: party of one
I navigated the entire abortion process alone. There were two people involved, but one is given an option. The other is not. I had to assume the responsibilities of doing the research, taking time off from work, paying for every financial obligation,5 and carrying the physical and emotional trauma of the experience. To be clear, I told my then partner that he did not need to attend any of the appointments and I was happy to pay for it. After all, we filed this as a casual inconvenience that I felt responsible for.6 But my point is that, for him, engaging at any point in the abortion process was an option. I did not have that luxury.
As women, we are asked to bear the responsibility of taking birth control.
As women, we have to take an entire day off of work for an appointment because abortion clinics are too few, often overbooked, and understaffed.7
As women, we will be punished for choosing an abortion while the person who played an equal role in the pregnancy will not.8
Men are never asked to take a form of birth control nor do they have to take-off work for the string of doctor appointments that follow because contraceptives are often trial and error over the course of months or years. They can opt out of the hours of anxiously researching on incognito mode, the mine field of scheduling the appointments to accommodate work while conjuring some series of excuses to their managers and evading the protestors’ schedules — whose jobs seem to be rubbing salt on your open emotional wounds— and the awful feeling of sitting alone in the waiting room at an abortion clinic (for an entire day) only to return two weeks later and another week later to confirm the collection of cells in your uterus are actually gone. They will never experience the sudden onslaught of heavy cramps and hours of blood clots, then feeling too ashamed to talk to anyone about it for years.
But they benefit from it. And it shows.
Ask any sexually active woman and most will share common experiences where men will either insist on not using a condom or blatantly try without permission. Maybe they’ll ask if you’re on birth control or if you’ve been tested, but these flagrant acts of entitlement towards your body without understanding nor acknowledging the consequences— which, for you, will not be a choice —is an indicator of the two separate lives men and women experience.
an unequal game of obstacles
The overturning of Roe v. Wade is deeply personal.
Legislation is more than politics; it sets how we, as a society, culturally categorize what is right and wrong.9 There is meaning and consequence behind the laws we choose to accept and follow. They tells us which conversations should be said in secret and ostracizes the population who break it. So when we politicize these deeply personal choices and experiences, we form stigmas that prevent us from discussing this topic openly.
I benefited from and lived through a period where a woman’s right to her own body, and future, were federally protected. But even during a period where abortions were “only” contentious topics, the lack of normalized discussions and common knowledge of available resources meant turning to the internet to navigate the entire process alone. In this new world where abortions are policed and criminalized, it introduces a new set of impossible obstacles for women. If your search history can be tracked and your residential community is incentivized to work against you, where and who do you turn to?
When the majority of legislators can never and will never fully empathize with the experiences of the population they’re choosing to police, they overlook the obstacles and hoops the policed population must construct their lives around. Legislators are able to create rules where they will never face the consequence of punishment. As a woman, I cannot fathom why we are forced to become pawns in this game of politics where the rules, created by players who have the privileged default or choice to opt out, continue to stack against us.
Despite my rage, grief, and frustrations, I have no call to action nor remedy to give. I can only express my genuine, heartfelt sadness to the girls and women that this affects. Our bodies and lives continue to be at the will of a governing force that will never truly understand the gravity of their decision and the waterfall of consequences that have already begun.
I am, after all, the youngest of 6. My entire life, I’ve had the privilege to stand on the shoulders of my siblings and mentors as they guided me through every decision, every heartbreak, and trauma. But this was different.
At the time, I didn’t personally know anyone else who had gone through the abortion process. But also I didn’t want to bring this up to anyone out of personal shame and fear of resurfacing someone else’s trauma. To this day, I’m still processing this experience. Don’t worry, my therapist and I are working it.
It’s absolutely fucked that birthing people are never taught the medical definitions and the terms + conditions that govern our bodies.
The day you miss your period means you’re four weeks into your pregnancy and you have less than 6 weeks to realize you missed your period. While this seems like a generous timeline: 1.) Many women do not track their periods or they’re often irregular and 2.) For many with IUDs, they no longer have their period after its insertion. So, women have to balance having a career, taking their birth control at the exact hour (or annually tracking that our IUD hasn’t rotated at some point or the implant hasn’t moved elsewhere in your body) while being ridiculed for even mentioning their menstrual cycle, AND tracking our periods OR knowing our bodies (despite media instilling us to self-loathe our bodies instead of cherishing it as a beautiful natural wonder. IMO women’s bodies should be among the natural wonders of the world) enough to recognize when we’re pregnant.
I was lucky to have great insurance at the time, but think of the birthing people who have hourly wages where they’re often using government insurance via the Affordable Care Act. So not only do they need to take unpaid time-off, they also need to pay for the appointments, prescriptions, and possibly a surgical procedure.
It was only after I slowly started sharing my story to close friends that I realized this process should not have been my responsibility to share alone. But during the years I kept this hidden, I assumed it was my burden to carry.
I benefited by having an abortion clinic only 15min away, but even in a city as liberal as Philadelphia, there were only two main abortion clinics that served the entire city.
The legalization of marijuana, for example. Before it was legalized, it was a form of secretive bonding. Now, it’s a casual topic of discussion that’s shared in media, at work, and even with your parents. Imagine if we could do the same with abortions?