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I had a miscarriage when I was 18, and abortion at 19. I was young, socially isolated, very fertile, living with my boyfriend at the time and working a minimum wage job with no health benefits, I had very little access to birth control. I easily got pregnant. We had so little money, we used to steal condoms from CVS. $7 a pack was a lot of money for us. We even stole food. We lived in Baltimore, and I didn't know how to access what little free reproductive healthcare was available.
Then we moved to Detroit, which was in a similar economic state, maybe even worse. That's where I had the abortion at 19. Luckily, because I had defended the clinic from Anti-Abortion thugs, the clinic gave me a free abortion. It was totally unpleasant. The doctor was rushed because he had to serve several clinics that morning. It was 1993 and abortion providers were afraid for their lives so there weren't many to go around. I was frightened. I remember talking to another patient who had had more than one and already had a child. She was planning to go straight to work afterward.
The abortion was a quick, painful experience and I remember being angry to see that my boyfriend had left the waiting room to go to McDonald's while I was having the abortion. It was raining that day and we drove to a house of a friend and I chilled out for the day. I felt angry at my boyfriend for not having to suffer. I felt sad but not exactly because of the loss of pregnancy. In retrospect, the fact that the experience was unprepared for, unprocessed, and unsupported made it so much harder than it needed to be. The culture of support didn't really exist yet. It was all about getting it over with.
After I moved back to Baltimore with the same guy (who I'm SO glad I don't have any ties to today) I went to a Planned Parenthood and they told me about Norplant. It was an experimental new birth control device implanted in your arm. I could see what was going on: they wanted to test it out on the poor. I'd also heard that they were offering it to teenage mothers in the city, most of whom were black. There was a lot of controversy. I felt desperate and not empowered exactly in my choice but I did not want to get pregnant again, and I knew there was a significant chance of that if I didn't used a hormonal birth control. So I went for it. I stopped getting my period after a couple months and I kept it in for the duration. Five years later, I got another one, this time for free from NY State Planned Parenthood.
I was almost 30 when I had that one removed and for my 30s I managed to use condoms and withdrawal method, having developed some awareness around my fertility. I didn't want to use hormonal birth control; I wanted to be connected with my natural cycle. During this decade, I actually wanted a child at times and was in a few long term relationships with pretty great men, but I was still suffering emotional anxiety from unhealed trauma. I wanted a baby but I was emotionally unstable, a shitty partner, and all my relationships failed miserably.
I became a doula in my late 30s, then an abortion doula. I went through EMDR therapy and attended births. I believe that birth healed some of the deep trauma housed in my body. I started to feel more grounded for the first time and less emotionally stressed and reactive.
When I turned 40, I met my current partner. We connected in art and sex and politics. I felt passionately obsessed. In two weeks, I was pregnant. Having a coterie of abortion doula friends, I was open about the pregnancy and that I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I took over a month to feel into it, and eventually I realized that I didn't feel connected to it at all. I wanted to enjoy my new relationship and let it grow. I had a supported abortion for free via Med-i-Cal (state insurance) at the SF General Hospital Clinic. The staff was all women and my friend (who worked at the clinic) was the counselor. The drug cocktail was amazing and afterwards I went home and ate soup and watched Twin Peaks for hours. It was an amazing experience because I never felt shame or that I couldn't talk about it. I knew I'd explored the options and come to decide what more or less made sense at the time.
The next year, at 41, I got pregnant again. My partner and I had been sloppy. I honestly wasn't as excited about the process this time and just wanted to get it over with. I wanted to go a different route, to learn about herbal and medication abortion. So, as the pregnancy was only 4 weeks, I started with parsley, then cotton root tincture and black cohosh. I was working nights as a postpartum doula; at 3AM, I was taking my tinctures in the kitchen, then feeding the baby. That's how it goes. The tinctures tasted terrible, and I wasn’t sure if they were doing anything. So, after a few days, I acquired some Misoprostol. I completed the abortion a few days later at my home. It wasn't the best scenario as I was living in a warehouse with lots of people and waited for the quiet night to start the process.
I am 45 now and if I get pregnant again, I'll probably return to the clinic. As someone who has been sexually active since 1991, having many pregnancies is not odd. How could it be? The difference between me and so many others is that I don’t want children. If I hadn't had Norplant through my 20s, I am sure I would have had a few more. Birth control access is a problem this country has not yet solved. I can tell you first hand that people who work minimum wage jobs very do not have access. We need to be way more in touch with our bodies and sexuality and boundaries. And I can tell you that I understood none of these concepts, truly, until I was much older. There needs to be easy, free access to birth control, like from Walgreens without a prescription. Free Condoms. Free abortion so people don’t have to wait while they gather up the money.
~ Vanessa Norton