Speaking out against abortion's stigma

by Reilly Loynd / Beacon Correspondent • February 2, 2017

I slumped to the floor with my back pressed against the tiled wall in the bathroom of a cafe in  Concord, Massachusetts where I attended a pretentious boarding high school. I overheard latte orders being shouted at bustling employees by shrill white women in Lululemon yoga attire as I held my head with one hand and outstretched the other, dangling the recently peed upon pregnancy test for my best friend Noa to read.

Dropping the stick, I buried my face into the crook of my arm to muffle the sobs that broke out. I remember wondering how this could have happened to me, knowing that I had been on birth control for close to three years.

I struggled to articulate this while watching Noa’s lips move rapidly as she faced me head on, holding my shoulders in her hands as calmly and confidently as she could. Her lips kept moving but I couldn’t make out her words no matter how hard I tried.

She closed the toilet seat and straddled it while scrolling aggressively through pages of Google searches about abortion, and where it would be accessible to me as a 16-year-old without parental consent. And that was it. That was my “decision,” to get an abortion, it happened right there in the bougie bathroom only minutes after finding out that I was pregnant.

I am so grateful for the presidential administration and resources that were in place when I found out I was pregnant. They enabled me to make a snap decision with ease. But with each executive order out of Washington, I become more afraid for those in similar situations today.

Even before that moment on the bathroom floor, I somehow already knew what was up without the pregnancy test to tell me. I had felt off for two weeks, bloated and nauseous with unending cramps. My period was two weeks late. The walk back to campus felt palpably different as I convinced myself that I must already be showing, and everyone must know.

No one found outa tremendous feat for an intensely intimate, prying community. I told a small circle of friends who provided emotional and financial support and drove me out of state, against school rules, to a Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, where I could have the procedure without parental consent.

My then boyfriend took the news hardest; he held my sobbing and shaking body. He said we would consider all our options; I looked up at him wide-eyed. I remember thinking, “What options?” There was only one thing that "we" could do. He was supportive of my decision, and helped organize the funds and means, for which I was grateful.

I half-heartedly attended classes, and listened to my peers’ problems that I used to call my own, but now paled in comparison to mine—cracked iPhone screens, train delays, the food served for dinner. I thought they had no idea what it meant to have a problem, but for all I knew they could’ve thought the same about me.

Many of us were likely struggling in our own ways but not addressing it because our school did not provide a space to do so. My short-lived pregnancy gave me some much needed perspective. I realized, sitting in the Planned Parenthood waiting room, that I had much more progress to make.

I lied to the house parent on duty and said I was going to an all-day ballet class in Boston. A friend drove me to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic where I was met by angry protesters as I made my way into the building. You couldn't make an appointment, so I put my name on a list, handed the woman an envelope with$800 in cash and sat down for six hours. I couldn't help but eye the other women, wondering what they were going through. I felt myself passing judgment, guessing how they "wound up" pregnant.

My pediatrician had previously determined that an antibiotic that my at-school doctor prescribed had interacted negatively with my birth control, making it ineffective. I sat in the waiting room reassured in the knowledge that this was not my fault, I had not done anything wrong; this had been a fluke.

Even though my pregnancy was an accident, I had a hard time acknowledging that the same could be true for the other women. I had internalized our society's perception of pregnancy as solely the fault of women, because it is assumed in almost all media, that it is the woman who has inevitably done something 'wrong' to end up in the position she is in—pregnant.

I realize now that those other women may have been there for the same reason as me. Maybe a worse one. What if some of these women were raped? I expected to see more young women like myself, but instead many of the patients were significantly older. I was the odd one out.

Deciding to abort might have been a much harder decision for those women. In theory, they could potentially support a child, while I was too physically, financially, and emotionally immature to do so. They were making a selfless decision. I have even more admiration and respect for those women now than before, especially in this age of anti-abortion legislation.

Sharing my story feels more important than ever. My narrative is similar to many young women. Statistics suggest that youth pregnancy is staggeringly common, but it is kept quiet due to intense and pervasive stigma.

Silence is dangerous because it perpetuates the shame and discomfort associated with abortion, when in reality it was an abortion that enabled me to be here at Emerson today. And an abortion that will allow me to hold a job and eventually raise a happy, healthy baby.

Women need access to the same resources that were made available to me at Planned Parenthood that day. The president has threatened access to reproductive rights, and we cannot let him. I hope that my personal narrative will help normalize abortion and encourage more people to speak out about its importance in allowing women to control their reproductive rights. My abortion doesn't have to define me, but I want it to.