This story from Anna Holmes is part of a longer article titled The Abortions We Don’t Talk About and appears in Slate.
I’m the editorial director of the digital magazine Topic.com and a contributor to the Slate podcast the Waves. I had an abortion when I was 18. I had another one when I was about 22, maybe 23, and I had a third when I was 26 or 27.
I got pregnant the summer after my first year of college. I went to NYU. I had a college boyfriend. Maybe this is normal for 18-year-olds who’ve just started having sex regularly, but we had a lot of sex. A lot. He’d actually come out to spend a month with me in California, where I was from. That’s where I was going that summer. That’s where I got pregnant. I knew I was pregnant pretty much immediately, within a couple of days. He had left at this point. I just felt different. So I was totally unsurprised when I did the peeing-on-the-stick thing and found out that I was.
I was upset. I contacted him. He had gone all the way back to Europe, where he was from. That’s where he was going to spend the summer. So he got on a plane and came all the way back to California, which meant a lot that he came back to be with me. There was about, as I said, a week-and-a-half delay between the confirmation of the pregnancy and when the abortion was scheduled. That’s when he came back. But I had to keep this a secret from my mother, whom I was staying with that summer. Which meant that he couldn’t come stay with me because she’d be like, “Why is he coming all the way back from Austria? He was just here.” I’m not going to use his name. Let’s just call him Andrew.
Andrew came back to my hometown and stayed with a friend of mine. The day of the abortion, the three of us drove to the nearest city, which was Sacramento, so I could have the procedure. I just recall riding in my friend’s convertible VW Bug and the top was down. Us in the car with our hair flying everywhere, which felt like a romantic young moment of freedom and abandon, but we’re going to go get one of us an abortion.
What I remember about the abortion is that I waited in the waiting room with my boyfriend and my friend. They called me in. I probably got a gown. They probably did a last exam just to talk to me about what it was going to feel like. I had researched the procedure so that I would know what was going to happen, and I also asked questions before they began the procedure, because maybe that’s how I deal with nervousness. I’m also just genuinely curious about medical stuff. I remember that one of the women in the room—one of the nurses—held my hand. I don’t think I cried. I just think I felt frozen in the moment and stiff and calcified in pain, and then it was over.
After they were done, I was given underwear with a big pad and was brought to a recovery room where there were, I would say, four to five other mostly young women who had also just had abortions. I probably was somber and I was definitely very, very, very relieved. I just recall getting back in the VW Bug with the top down and driving back to my hometown about 15 miles away, with the hair flying everywhere, all of us. My boyfriend had very long hair.
That experience was not traumatic in the sense that I felt alone. Of course, it’s a very alone thing to do. You’re very alone in that moment. But I had people around me. My boyfriend was supportive and was there. There was never a discussion about, “Well, what are you going to do?”
I did feel a certain amount of pride in the fact that I was living my principles. I’d grown up pro-choice, I had gone to pro-choice rallies with my mother when I was a kid in San Francisco. But being pro-choice in theory and being pro-choice in action—I’m not really trying to make a meaningful distinction between those two things. I just felt like I lived my stated principles, that my body was mine to control, that women’s bodies are theirs to control. I never felt guilty about it.
The second and third abortions I had took place in hospitals in New York City in a surgical room, and I was given anesthesia. So I don’t remember them. I remember feeling sick from anesthesia when I woke up, but I remember nothing about the procedure at all. It was very much invisible. My memory of having an abortion is very much rooted in that first one, where I was wide awake [and] there was not anesthesia. It was also the first time. The other two were relatively easy compared to that first one. Maybe that’s another reason why the first one has made more of an impression.
If I’ve had trouble talking about having an abortion, it’s been in the context of having multiple abortions. Because one is just a mistake. Two is, I don’t know, bad luck and a mistake. And more than that, in my mind—even today to a certain degree, although less so now—is being just purely irresponsible. I’ve had three. I think that’s been the harder thing to talk about: the number of abortions, not the fact that I had one.