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My Abortion Story

I am a seventy-year-old Jewish grandma and a retired women’s health nurse and educator. I’ve enjoyed many blessings.

And I had an abortion in 1974.

Three months ago, the constitutional right to abortion was reversed. Reflecting on that Supreme Court decision led me to share my own experience. I hope my story will help other women considering an abortion to know that they are not alone.

As a teenager, I probably first learned about pregnancy prevention from friends. In 1971, as a sexually active nineteen-year-old, knowing that only abstinence was failure-proof, I went to the local Planned Parenthood office for birth control. At the time, this meant oral contraceptive pills, which had been available by prescription since the early 1960s.

When Roe v. Wade was decided, on January 22, 1973, I was in my third year of nursing school. I don’t recall how I heard about it, but the news traveled fast on campus and was widely cheered.

A year later, while working at my (horrible) first job as a registered nurse, I embarked on a brief intimate relationship. I’d switched to an intrauterine device (IUD), because it had fewer health risks and no hormonal side effects. Unfortunately, the IUD had become dislodged.

When I went to Planned Parenthood to have it checked, their first step was to give me a urine pregnancy test.

“It’s positive. That means you’re pregnant,” the clinician told me gently.

Oh, shit, I thought, dismayed but not completely surprised (my period was a bit late). I felt pretty stupid not to have had the IUD checked sooner.

The clinician started to discuss my options, but I stopped her. I was already certain that I wished to end the pregnancy. I was single and just starting in nursing. I wanted to continue moving toward my goal of being financially independent in a meaningful career. My relationship with the man had ended; I didn’t need or want him involved in my choice.

Surgical abortion, recently legalized, was the only procedure available. It cost $450. Luckily, I had earned that much and more by waitressing and by selling my homemade bread and granola at the local farmer’s market.

I didn’t want to worry or upset my parents, so I never told them. In fact, I don’t recall telling anyone. University friends had dispersed, and my nursing job’s frequently changing shifts left me too exhausted to do much to make new friends.

An understanding clerk at Planned Parenthood helped me to schedule the necessary appointments for the following week. Then I settled in and waited.

It felt like a very long week.

Pre-abortion appointments were made on Wednesdays. At that appointment, the attending nurse told me what to expect: “You’ll have a pelvic exam, then feel some pain, like bad menstrual cramps.”

Dr. Evans was an older gentleman who treated me with dignity and respect. His manner reassured me that I was getting safe, professional medical care. Examining me gently, he confirmed that I was about six weeks pregnant. In preparation for the procedure, scheduled for the next day, he placed a two-inch stick-like device in my cervix to help it soften and dilate.

Thursday, I went back to the clinic and waited nervously until my name was called. Again, a female nurse was present to assist Dr. Evans and provide me with emotional support. Together, they explained what would happen next.

“You’ll hear the loud whirring of the suction machine. Then you’ll feel a lot of cramping, and significant pain. It will take about three minutes.”

I remember the sound of the vacuum that dislodged the tiny embryo, not yet a fetus, from my uterus. After a few long, painful minutes, there was silence.

“It’s all done now, you can relax,” I was told. “You’ll stay in the recovery area for an hour, so we can check on how you’re doing.”

During that hour, I cried a lot, overwhelmed by being so alone in this experience, and exhausted from my stressful job. The recovery nurse checked my blood pressure, pulse and temperature every fifteen minutes. Then Dr. Evans came and sat down beside me.

“Crying’s a normal reaction,” he said kindly. “Everything went well. You may go home when you feel ready. Take it easy tomorrow and through the weekend, if you can. We’ll see you back here in two weeks.”

“I’m okay,” I responded. “Thanks for your help. I was sorry to be in this situation, but I’m relieved to have it over with.”

Before discharging me, the recovery nurse gave me these instructions:

“Check your temperature daily. Contact us at this phone number if you have a fever, chills, increased pain or more bleeding. We’ll see you back here in two weeks. Then we’ll discuss your future plans for avoiding another unintended pregnancy. For now, to help your body recover, and until we can get you back on a birth-control method, do not have sexual intercourse.”

I followed these instructions exactly and took Friday and the weekend off before returning to work. With this expert care, I didn’t have any complications.

The 1973 enactment of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, affected me both personally and professionally. It contributed to my decision to become a women’s healthcare clinician, advocate and educator.

At the time of my abortion, I had no sense of my tiny place in the dramatic history of reproductive rights and family planning. I did know that before the Roe decision, many women had gone to untrained abortion providers—and that considerable numbers had died from complications like infections or hemorrhage.

In my four decades in nursing, I taught many clients and students about all of their family-planning options—and I heard abortion stories from women of all ages. Many survivors of illegal pre-Roe abortions had uterine scars that made it impossible to conceive later on, when they felt their circumstances were more favorable for raising children. Women with this scarring were also more likely to suffer life-threatening ectopic pregnancies.

Often, the patients seeking abortions were married mothers who just couldn’t afford—financially or emotionally—to raise one more child. Hearing their stories, I came to understand more fully how restricting abortion rights also restricts women’s independence and economic opportunities.

I never felt any regret, guilt or embarrassment about my own decision to have an abortion, and I had no other unintended pregnancies. I was able to continue my nursing career and pursue another lifelong passion, making art.

I married in my twenties and raised two wonderful children. They’ve grown to be fine, responsible, happily married adults, with children of their own.

Looking back on my circumstances and life decisions, I feel very fortunate that I had the right to choose.

Abbey Pachter retired several years ago after forty years as a healthcare professional. After graduating with a PhD in nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, she enjoyed many years in academia and as a clinician in all aspects of women’s health, including ten years as a certified nurse-midwife and ten years as a project manager in healthcare informatics during the dawn of electronic medical records. She started and ran the nursing program at South University’s Virginia Beach campus and wrote graduate and doctoral-level courses. This is her second story to appear in Pulse. “In the past few years I thought I’d reinvented myself as a writer before realizing that I’ve always enjoyed writing; it’s just taking new forms.”

Comments

14 thoughts on “My Abortion Story”

  1. Thank you. I got an abortion in 1968, my freshman year in college. I traveled to Mexico, to DeValis Hospital and Clinic. I was so thankful for Roe vs Wade, hoping no other woman would have to leave the country for an abortion. Now women will have to travel to another state if it is financially possible and legal. We will again have “back alley” and home abortions.

    1. Andie,
      Thank-you for sharing your story. I hope we won’t get to where women need to leave the USA to get an abortion like you did.

  2. Thank you for sharing, i had my abortion a year after you did, though I was older. Similar circumstances, though. My career, the man not involved, not wanting a child at that time. My story is in this group, too, and I especially appreciate yours because I can relate to it so well. The big difference was our doctors. The counselor at the clinic went in with me after I was in the stirrups and sheeted and held my hand. I had no warning the pain would be that intense. The doctor came in hidden by the sheets and never spoke to me then or after the procedure. I think he was hiding his identity as much as possible even though legal. The rest of the staff was wonderful. I only told the father. Never anyone else until recent years.

    1. Greetings, Pris,
      I read your “Then and Now” piece. I appreciate that you “stepped up” to share the rest of your personal abortion story. That’s exactly what I hoped would happen when I submitted mine. Thank-you. Thank-you. Our voices matter.

  3. Gabriele Jiannas

    Abbey,
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    Grateful you had a kind and compassionate physician. It took courage to tell this, and, maybe, it will open some eyes what could/ can happen, if there is no safe access to this procedure.

    1. Thank-you, my friend. I was sorry that Pulse requested that I not use the physician’s real name and I understand that. I’ll never forget him and the nurse, who went on to work for WHO in Geneva. Very committed people. Two of the special angels in my life.

  4. Abbey, beautifully written story about a scary procedure, what happened, and how it shaped your life. I am so glad the nurses and doctor were kind to you, especially since you were totally by yourself.

    1. Thank-you, Marilyn,
      My sister called yesterday to tell me she was sad she hadn’t known, hadn’t been with me then. I didn’t live near any of my family. I guess I was in a stage of life where I was still struggling to define my individuality. I was raised to be independent. I’ve come to find it highly overrated! It took me many years to recognize that interdependence is a much more successful strategy to cope with life’s many challenges…and blessings!

  5. Thank you for sharing this important story at this important time. My story has remarkable parallels to yours: I was a 19 yr old third-year nursing student at a small, Catholic women’s college in 1971 when I became pregnant. I was ignorant of the facts of sex and birth control due to a very restrictive upbringing and was shocked to find myself in this position. I had financed my own education and had accumulated school loan debts. Despite being in a committed relationship, I did not want to get married and did not have the means to support a child. My boyfriend was still in college as well. After agonizing, lonely consideration, I decided to continue with the pregnancy and surrender my baby for adoption. Abortion was available to me but I made my decision based on what I thought of as “emotional insurance”: I thought that I could bear the consequences of my choice to continue the pregnancy better than the possible future emotional consequences of terminating it. I don’t know even now, 50 years later, if that is the case. I went on to have a deeply satisfying nursing career, a family of 3 more children with the same man who was my boyfriend, and after meeting my first daughter when she was 28 yrs old, have a warm and loving relationship with her, after some hard emotional work on both our parts. I write this only to present the story of a different path taken but leading to a similar place of a meaningful personal and professional life after facing a potentially devastating, uniquely female, human experience. I feel that the ultimate success of each decision lay in the ability to choose the path.

    1. Greetings, Irene,
      Thank-you for adding your story. I’m glad you could make a choice that worked for you. Like you write, it’s about the freedom to choose what we do with our body.
      My brother was adopted into out family at birth. As a women’s health nurse, I’d spoken with many women who made the choice you did. From those experiences, I was able to tell my bro what a courageous act of love it is for a woman to do this.

  6. Thank you for this frank essay. I am a 68 y/o retired physician who had an abortion in 1972 (pre Roe). At that time in South Carolina you could get an abortion by having 3 doctors declare that your “mental or physical health” would be harmed by having a pregnancy. I was a 17 y/o with her life ahead of her as you describe. I am so very grateful for the 2 unknown doctors who signed my paperwork without an interview, trusting their colleague and believing that this was a right.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. There must with be so many others with similar experiences whose lives have been beneficially affected by having this choice. Here in New Zealand we are heartbroken at the recent retrogressive turn of events in the USA.

    1. Laurice,
      I imagine I speak for many Americans who would thanking you for your support as we face legal and political challenges to our independence. I admire the strong women leaders of your very beautiful country. I have great memories of a visit there years ago.

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