Wearing the Scarlet ‘A’ for Abortion

Before writing this, I did a search through my site for other pieces I may have wrote that addressed abortion. To my surprise, there were no results. I guess I never felt comfortable sharing my thoughts on the subject. But given the current state of affairs, I realize that now is a good time to muster up some courage.


When I was in high school, The Scarlet Letter was a required reading. I remember going into it having low expectations (in high school, I was very much into pop fiction written by authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice). I was proven wrong though in that the novel very much recognized Puritan double standards and the plight of single, vulnerable women. Heck, it is hard being a single mother now. It must have been 1000 times more difficult 400 years ago!

The novel was written in 1850; long before the political debate on abortion. But there are a lot of common themes. Abortion is often seen as a woman’s issue; women bear the shame of abortion. Men on the other hand are exempt — except for sitting back and creating laws that regulate the access that women have to abortions.

The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her, —so much power to do, and power to sympathize, —that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.Nathaniel Hawthorne - 'The Scarlet Letter'

So, let’s go ahead and repurpose the letter ‘A’ again, and make it stand for ‘Abortion’.

Act 1

About 1 in 4 women have had at least 1 abortion. I have had 4. No that was not a typo. I was the bookish girl in HS who never had a boyfriend. In fact, I think I had only kissed a boy 2 times prior to age 18. In spite of this, I had been on the birth control pill since age 14 or so due to painful menses. However, I lost my prescription health coverage and stopped taking the pill when I went to college (terrible timing for such a thing).

Triphasil-21

Triphasil – this drug was of major importance to me as a teen

Like many young adults, I had a lot of sexual naiveté. My first serious boyfriend was close to his 30s and told me confidently that he was unable to have children. For some stupid reason, I thought that this had to be true since he had no children at that time. Well, that was the first pregnancy. At that point in my life, I was very determined to make something of myself. I had no capacity to take care of a child. I arranged for an abortion in downtown Pittsburgh pretty quickly. I remember having to walk through a small crowd of protestors who were gathered on the street by the entrance. One of them said softly to me “Your baby still loves you.” I just shook my head if she truly believed that a 1″ long embryo is a baby that is capable of love.

There is a reason why there are different terms for each stage of the development of an unborn child.

My second pregnancy was later in my 20s. I still didn’t have health care. I was more knowledgable about sex though. This time, it wasn’t ignorance, but carelessness that resulted in pregnancy. I had a male friend (not even a boyfriend) where we would hang out and get wasted on the weekend. We would fool around, no strings attached. Actually, full-fledged intercourse only happened a few times. But once is all it takes. I had tempted fate and lost.

 

anti-abortion protestors

Anti-abortion protestors

This time around, I felt a lot more shame and guilt. Now, I was really the woman that the anti-abortion crowd loves to hate: women who use abortion as a form a birth control. At that time though, I lived in FL and for whatever reason, there were no protestors surrounding the entrance. Which was good – because I didn’t need them to add on top of my already thick self-loathing.

Act II

Fast forward several years. My life headed in a different direction. I became quite religious……but then stepped away from that. Even so, I entered into a long-term relationship where we planned for a child (yep, just one). I was finally ready! I hadn’t been on birth control in years, so I figured that it would happen right when I wanted it to. And it didn’t. Two months turned into 6 months and then an entire year went by. No pregnancy. I was completely blindsided! I went from getting pregnant twice in my 20s due to slip ups. And here I was, charting, temping and counting. And no pregnancy to found.

The standard medical advice is to seek medical intervention if you can’t conceive naturally on your own after a year (and you are under the age of 35). I think I just came to a reckoning and started to research what to do when in about 14 or 15 months, I finally did conceive. I was quite the happy camper. I started to share the news and make all sorts of plans. I did have terrible food aversions; but the excitement and going to the doctor and talking about birth plans and all of that made the morning sickness seem like the most minor of inconveniences.

Then at 15 weeks (when I was well out of the dreaded 1st trimester, when most miscarriages happen), it all took a terrible turn for the worst.

I woke up in the middle of the night with something that felt like a charley horse in my uterus. It was the strangest feeling. It wasn’t like a contraction, because there was no coming and going. It was like a clenched fist. I remember making and drinking some hot tea. It seemed to do nothing. I was concerned…..but I checked myself in the restroom. Clean undies. So maybe it was Braxton Hicks? I had never been that far along in a pregnancy before so I really had no idea. After quite some time, the cramp let up, and I went back to sleep.

That next morning, I got ready for work and drove to my office like I always did. I pulled into my parking spot, turned the car off, opened the door and stood up to get out. Right then I had a new strange feeling. It felt like a water balloon popped right in between my legs! I mean I felt the ‘pop’ and seconds later, my entire crotch of my clothes was saturated. I knew that this wasn’t normal. I ran inside to say that I had to go to the hospital. I called my doctors office. The nurse looked at my chart and assured me that it was most likely not my water that broke. I was too early along for that. I probably just peed myself. I knew that she was wrong. My ex also thought it was no big deal. I wasn’t bleeding or cramping. But deep down, I knew differently.

After hours in the hospital, tests were run and it was determined that I indeed suffered a PPROM, which stands for ‘Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes’. This is particularly a devastating diagnosis before the 24th week of pregnancy because the fetus needs amniotic fluid for proper lung development before that time. It was explained to me that I would need to be admitted and kept until I was 24 weeks along. Then, if the baby were still alive, I could deliver (a very premature baby). They also explained that since the amniotic sac had ruptured, the uterine environment is no longer sterile and I could get an infection. The option was also given to abort the pregnancy. Given what I was facing and the chance of a favorable outcome, I opted to abort.


With my next pregnancy, I was pretty clued in to the fact that I most likely had an incompetent cervix. The approach of my OB/GYN was to place a vaginal cerclage at 16 weeks. This made me very nervous because my previous loss had the problem manifesting at 15 weeks. But hey, I’m not a doctor. While I did make it to 16 weeks, when they went to place the cerclage, the doctor said I had hardly any cervical length remaining. He said that my amniotic sac had prolapsed, but he was able to push it back in and place the stitch.

I only made it 3 more weeks. One day while at work I starting to feel contractions. They would come in waves every 10 minutes. In spite of the stitch (or maybe because of it) infection had set in. So not only was I in labor, but I quickly started becoming sick as well. What came next was similar to the previous case. I signed off on paperwork to terminate the pregnancy. I also had to be hooked up to IV antibiotics and had a terrible fever. None of this was easy or something that I wanted.

I should also mention that these abortions where not instances where someone stuck a vacuum hose up my hoo-ha and starting suctioning out the contents of my uterus (actually I think the hospital calls them ‘products of conception’). Rather I just took a series of drugs that induced labor (even though for the second, I was already contracting, the contractions were not productive so the drugs just hastened the process). Since I was pre-term, these were also considered abortions, and the same paperwork applies. But mind you, I had these procedures done prior to 2017, when Pennsylvania instituted a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. I honestly have no idea how this effects situation where abortion the medically prudent choice to take.

Epilogue

The issue of abortion really hits close to home for me. In part, because I had 4 of them. But also, I was supposed to be aborted myself. My mother was only 14 when I was conceived and I think that a good share of parents would consider abortion if their 14 year old daughter turned up pregnant. My grandmother however, is very much against abortion. So here I am today. In spite of this, I am still staunchly pro-choice. And it could very well be a faith-based difference.

In a nutshell, Judaism allows for abortion. Even the religiously conservative Orthodox Union released a statement that legalized abortion should remain as an option for women to pursue.

Procreation and babies are held in high esteem by the Jewish community. Even so, the health and well-being of the mother is more important than that of the fetus that she is carrying.

So why so much vitriol and hate towards those that support abortion? I weighed in a bit on a premise posed by a (Jewish) pro-life supporter earlier:

As you can pick up on, many in the pro-life camp promote this narrative of careless pregnant women murdering their innocent babies. The reality is on a small percentage of abortions occur after 21 weeks. Also, the last time I checked, it takes to humans to conceive a child. So why is this a women’s issue? Remember how I mentioned early that my ex and I only wanted 1 child? Well when I fell pregnant with the twins, he told me that I should get an abortion. My retort back to him was I would if he would pay for it. Hence why I have 3 children today.

It is high time that women stop shouldering the lion’s share of blame and judgement when it comes to abortion. There is nothing shameful about abortion to begin with. What is shameful is the barbaric act of passing judgement on others — forcing our own personal beliefs above their own.