Ambiguities abound in “I’m having an abortion, this is what it feels like”

By Dave Andrusko

In “telling my [abortion] story,” often times a woman is either trying to hide the magnitude of what she has done, pretend it’s a 100% “positive experience,” or admit that the loss of her child was (without using the word) traumatic but still conclude it was the “right” decision.

A piece that appeared in the British Marie Claire magazine seems to fit clearly in the latter category. (We read that these are “Words by Samantha Lewis,” leaving the impression an editor may have helped sculpt the essay.)

Compare these two sets of sentiments.

#1:

I’m pregnant, but I’m not going to have the baby. I’m having an abortion. It feels like a weight off my shoulders just to admit it.

and

I keep crying at work because I can’t stop thinking about it. One of the hardest things is that it is constantly on my mind. It doesn’t matter how straight-forward the decision might seem, it doesn’t make having an abortion any easier. I’m exhausted from keeping it a secret.

#2:

The abortion is in two days and it’s only just struck me how sad I feel about it. It feels strange that in two days’ time I’ll no longer be pregnant – my body will be mine again. No one wants to have an abortion, they just don’t want an unplanned pregnancy.

and

I go through multiple checkpoints with different nurses. I’m given white slippers and a surgical sheet to wrap around my lower body as I undress. I’m ushered in to the operating room, with five different people I’ve never met before. Nurses, anesthetists, the surgeon. I sit back on the bed as the anesthetist asks me questions, one nurse instructs me how to lie while another places heart monitors on my chest. I can’t concentrate – so many voices speak at once. Now I’m scared. My legs are hoisted into stirrups and I start to cry, asking for someone to hold my hand. I’m overwhelmed and scared.

It’s easy to point out the inconsistencies–she understands she is not carrying “tissue” or a “product of conception” but a baby–yet aborts anyway. But that doesn’t get us very far. We mourn the loss of her baby and we sense that at some level Lewis is violating her own code and over time may pay a great price for that.

To be sure, at one level she packages her story as a kind of testimony to the strangers who communicated with her online and wouldn’t it be great if all women about to abort would receive “this much support when going through the abortion process.”

Because she ends so cavalierly

I wake up the day afterwards feeling so relieved. I feel like my body is my own again. Two days after the abortion, I have my third counselling session. Recovery after having an abortion is an emotional time, and there is so much intimacy in experiencing this with your partner. I know now that he will be an amazing father one day, and how much I would like to have children with him in future. Just not yet.

It comes across as if an abortion is primarily a golden opportunity to bond with her partner. Thus we can easily miss how, in statement after statement, Lewis is telling us she is scared, apprehensive, fearful.

Part of that fear is a fear of knowing the truth. As Lewis confesses (which is not too strong a word)

An ultrasound is done, and I’m grateful that the screen is turned away with the sound off.

We can’t know from her account if she more or less instantly decided to abort. What we can surmise, I believe, is that there might have been a life-affirming conclusion had Lewis heard another voice.

A voice, that is, who gently reminded her of what she already knew. She is carrying a baby, who depends on her for protection, and (as Wisconsin Right to Life explains) “When you see your baby through ultrasound at week six, you’d be amazed by how much he or she has already developed.”

After the abortion, Lewis says

I’m quiet on the hour-long journey home. I start to bleed as I change into pyjamas, ready to spend the rest of the day in bed. I just want to sleep.

I wonder if she might add, “If only my conscience would sleep….”