A lot of work has been done to destigmatize talking about abortion, from 2015’s #Shout Your Abortion hashtag started by writers Amelia Bonow and Lindy West to the countless celebrities, such as Busy Philips, Keke Palmer, Niki Minaj and Stevie Nicks, who have spoken publicly about their abortion experiences.
But when I recently miscarried at 8.5 weeks and began sharing my own experience with the resulting abortion, I found out that we have a lot further to go.
In December, I miscarried after a seemingly successful round of IVF, which occurred after three unsuccessful rounds of IUI, several months of taking hormones that made me irritable, over a dozen shots into the stomach, countless numbers of blood draws, and a gnarly egg retrieval procedure.
The initial grief of the miscarriage shocked me. As an almost 35-year-old with a working knowledge of fertility success rates, I had known this was a possibility. At eight and a half weeks, I’d been referring to my growing embryo as a fetus with a heartbeat, not a baby. Nevertheless, I was mourning the loss of possibility, distraught at the idea of starting over, and I was sad for my body, which after almost six months of fertility procedures, would now be put through the further physical trauma of an abortion.
Due to the archaic proverb that states you should wait to tell people about a pregnancy until you’ve reached 12 weeks and your statistical likelihood of miscarriage goes down, I hadn’t told all my friends and family that I had been expecting. But now that something had gone wrong, I needed more support. I began reaching out to friends and family, even the ones who didn’t know I had been pregnant, to tell them what I was going through, and I was immediately stunned at their responses.
Within a 24-hour period, to my total surprise, I discovered that four of the six people I reached out to had also had abortions, all of them within the previous 12 months, and each for a different reason.
Maybe I’d seen too many “Someone You Love Has Had an Abortion” T-shirts, but at the age of 34, I assumed I knew which of my close friends and family had experienced an abortion. It turned out, I had no knowledge regarding the abortions of those close to me. Despite the attempts at normalizing all of these experiences, these women still chose to stay silent.
Some of these folks have communicated to me explicit details regarding their sex lives, porn preferences and the inner workings of their relationships. But when it came to this medical procedure, many were still carrying a heavy shame.
“The celebrity tell-alls and normalization campaigns have not yet been a match for the cultural shame even my pro-choice friends continued to feel.”
Initially, I was upset to learn that my friends hadn’t reached out to me for support during their own abortions. I asked some of them why they had kept quiet. Their answers ranged from shame about terminating an unwanted pregnancy while in a loving relationship to shame around infertility to just not feeling like it was a thing you were supposed to talk about.
One of my friends even said it was the 12-week rule that stopped her from reaching out by ingraining the idea that you wait in case of miscarriage, which implies you should not tell people about your miscarriage, to which I full-throatedly say #ShoutYourMiscarriage.
Clearly, the celebrity tell-alls and normalization campaigns have not yet been a match for the cultural shame even my pro-choice friends continued to feel.
But once the conversations started, it was clear many of my friends felt relieved to talk about their experiences. Furthermore, they could give me a heads-up on what I could expect. Since I was having a D&C procedure, a type of surgical abortion performed earlier in pregnancy, one friend advised me to consider being put under general anesthesia because she’d found the procedure unnecessarily physically and mentally painful without it.
In fact, the most useful knowledge I received in regard to my pre- and post-abortion care came from friends, not a doctor or a nurse. While my doctor told me I could likely resume normal activities within 24 hours, many of my friends told me that the cramping they experienced lasted for weeks and interfered with their day-to-day life. It ended up taking me about a week to get back to my regular physical routines.
It was my friends, not medical professionals, who told me to be on the lookout for a drop in hormones that could lead to depression and rage, and that I might experience confusing moments of elation and relief. Having all this information made my experience smoother to manage.
Gloria Steinem said, “The most effective means we have is to talk to each other in groups… speak their truths and their experiences and find they’re not alone in them, that other women have them too — so it’s a systemic problem. It makes such a huge difference.”
I’m so glad I chose to tell my friends and family about my abortion, because it allowed me to feel less alone, supported and closer to the people in my life. I understand more how not everyone feels as open, but I hope conversations like this will become more commonplace so we can further destigmatize the topic and allow people to support one another.
Further, keeping abortions shrouded in mystery promotes the idea that they are somehow shameful or unethical, rather than a routine medical procedure. The more we can share and normalize our experiences with abortion, the more difficult it will be for radical anti-choice groups to paint people who have abortions as outliers. This matters ― because everyone should have access to safe abortions, whenever needed, for whatever reason.