Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Stories from the NB abortion clinic

At DAMMIT JANET! we have posted much about choice and abortion rights.  FH and I started off at _Birth Pangs_ over 7 years ago, writing about the erosion of women's reproductive choices and our human right to control every aspect of our sexualities and procreation potential.

Since founding DJ! we have expanded our feminist scrutiny to other current concerns, while offering our criticism, our support and our activism. 

But like salmon swimming against the current we are compelled to return to violence against women and reproductive choices; wife battering (as we called it then), rape, contraception and abortion were the hot-button issues in the 1970s and it would seem Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose...

There are two pieces that I posted that are fundamental to understanding - at the very least - abortion access as harm reduction.

Why a coat-hanger as a pro-choice meme?

No-choice Vulture Culture: Let women die or go to prison.

The one that I have yet to write would be a recollection of miscarriage, pregnancy and abortion.  Inspired by the courage of the New Brunswick woman who generously shared with DJ! the account below, I might do that soon.


"I found out that I was pregnant the day after Boxing Day. I was 5 days late for my period. I was NEVER late. I was also in the throes of parenting a 3-­year-­old boy. This coupled with the fact that I had been suffering from a terrible bout of depression and anxiety—a mental challenge that resulted from juggling my intensive role as a full-­time stay-­at-­home mom, while working remotely for a feminist maternal academic organization and publishing. It seems that not only had the bitter loneliness of being a stay-­at-­home mom and remote worker had gotten to me, but I had also started to ignore the strategies and activities that I had previously used to combat stress, such as running, weight lifting and yoga, started drinking more, and literally succumbed to the very notion of intensive mothering practices—the practices that I had been critiquing through graduate school and beyond.

When I peed on that stick, I instantly knew that I would have an abortion. Although I loved my son, the post-­partum period was less than ideal. You know that old saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? Well, I was still searching for that village. The experience of motherhood had felt less like a village and more like a stranded island—where I had no hope of being of rescued from. I often felt very alone and had very little support (if any at all) from my family and my husband’s family lived too far away. My husband and I had decided very early on that we only wanted one child. We could deal with one. Anything above that might send me over the edge. 

I can clearly recall the sound that I made when I saw that plus sign. It was the sound of complete disappointment and sadness. My son was in the bathroom at that time. I remember my husband quickly scurrying him away as I wept on the toilet for what seemed like hours. How could I let this happen? We weren’t using birth control at the time. We were not being safe for a really long time. 

When I called the clinic, I was 6 weeks pregnant. The woman on the other end of the phone scheduled my appointment for the following Tuesday. She told me that the procedure would cost about $800. Ouch! Knowing what I knew about the public system (I spent my final year of my undergraduate degree studying public and private abortion systems in NB), I could not go through the hoops that were required for a publicly[-­funded] abortion. I was not in the mood to be possibly judged by my family doctor and being forced to endure horrendously long wait times while I continued to experience excruciating morning sickness. 

I was extremely lucky that one of my closest friends worked as a nurse at the abortion clinic. On the morning of my appointment, she picked me up in her car. I distinctly recall bursting into tears as soon as I closed the car door. I was utterly terrified. Although I knew that I needed to do this for my own mental health, I did not do well with medical situations in general. For years, I avoided medical professionals because of a debilitating case of White Coat Syndrome. I delivered my son with the assistance of midwives, so I had not seen a doctor in over 4 years! 

When we entered the clinic, I was very nervous. As I filled out the forms, I remember feeling slightly giddy and recall joking quite frequently about some of the questions on the form—perhaps a stage of denial? This stage ended promptly though, as one woman sitting across from me stood up and ran to the bathroom to vomit loudly. I had not eaten anything that morning and that was the last thing I wanted to hear as I covered my ears and hummed to myself. Sorry woman. I remember hearing an office staff member ask her if she had made arrangements for a bus ride home with Maritime Bus Service. This was not the city bus, but rather an inter-­provincial bus system. That did not sound like fun at all. I was thankful that my house was a mere 3-­minute drive away. 

When I went in for my ultrasound, the ‘vomit woman’ was getting counseled, but had to rush past us to vomit again. This is where I definitely lost it a bit. When I finally calmed down, my nurse friend continued with the ultrasound and told me that I had actually measured at 7 weeks, rather than 6. She was a little surprised that I wanted to see my fetus in the ultrasound. It was important though that I see him or her so that I knew that it was real and that my decision was real. I couldn’t think of it as just mere a mass of cells or tissue. There was a real live person growing inside of me. This could’ve been my son’s little brother or sister. This was my decision to end a life and I needed this for closure. 

After my ultrasound and counseling session (which included a dose of pain reliever and Ativan, an envelope of antibiotics, and the decision to have a copper IUD inserted immediately following the procedure), I sat and waited for the number 4 to be called, the number that was written down on a tiny yellow sticky note that was handed to me when I arrived at the clinic. As I waited, a woman with 2 children arrived and was quickly escorted to a quiet room downstairs. The fact that this woman did not have the childcare and support available during such a stressful time was profoundly sad to me. I will never ever forget the look of despair on her face. 

When my number was called, I was escorted inside to another waiting room where I was told to change into my pajamas and a robe brought from home. After I changed, I sat and waited with 2 other women—both of which were mothers themselves. One woman wasn’t ready for a second child and another woman had just suffered from a string of debilitating miscarriages and just couldn’t go through that awful experience again. We were all terrified. I recall continuously shaking my head, thinking how the heck did I get myself into this situation. I’m an educated woman. I was supposed to ‘know better’, right? 

When my time came to enter the operating room, my heart started beating a mile a minute. I remember being very light headed as I lay down on the table and placed my legs in the stirrups. When my doctor told me to scoot my bum down to the end of the table, I tried practicing my ‘yoga breathing’…breathe in through the nose, breathe out through the nose. This worked well considering I was having nitrous oxide (ahem, laughing gas) during my procedure. When I started to breathe the laughing gas in, I don’t really recall much physical discomfort or pain, I just remember the wave of emotions that I was experiencing. I don’t remember the sounds or the smells of the room, I just remember holding my friend’s hand as the tears poured down my face. I felt great despair and disappointment in myself. I felt extreme sadness for the vomiting woman who had to take the bus, for the woman with the 2 kids, and the other 2 mothers that I spoke to in the inside waiting room. But I also remember feeling extreme gratitude and love—not only for my friend who was able be there for me to hold my hand during the procedure, but for the doctor who was performing the procedure and the women that worked at the clinic. A life may have been ending on this table, but these women were saving MY life. The procedure seemed to take forever, although I know it only lasted about 5 or 10 minutes. Once completed, they performed an ultrasound to make sure that they had taken out all of the ‘tissue’ and then inserted my IUD. I remember asking if I could see that tissue, but it was already gone. 

Immediately following the procedure, I was escorted into a recovery room, where I was given juice and toast. Once the effects of the drugs wore off, I was able to go home. After picking up supplies on my way home, I arrived home to the comforting and loving faces of my husband and child. The rest of the day was spent sleeping and recovering. Although the literature given to me stated that some women often felt well enough to return to work immediately following this procedure, I did not. I needed the time to decompress and digest the experience. 

The days, weeks and months following the procedure were tremendously challenging for me. I felt that I went through a very serious and emotionally painful experience and that many people just didn’t understand. I was just supposed to ‘go back to my normal life’ and act like nothing happened. I was supposed to take care of my son and get back to work, but I found this particularly hard. The mere sound of my son crying often sent me over the edge and I often felt incompetent as a mother and scared to be alone with him. I found great comfort though in speaking with various women friends and having them confide in me that they went through the experience of abortion—many of them living in complete silence because they feared that they would be ostracized for their decision. My depression and anxiety peaked around month two, likely caused by an imbalance of hormones. I also began the initial stages of co-­editing a collection of stories on reproductive loss at this time. Reading through the research, I learned a great deal about the culture of silence that permeates society, not only with abortion, but with miscarriage and stillbirth as well. 

It has now been 6 months since my abortion. I would’ve been approximately 7 months pregnant right now. Although I don’t regret my decision, there will always be a ‘what if’ in the back of my head. Honestly though, I think that the ‘what if’ is less of me romanticizing the notion of having another child, and more of me imagining my life and emotions spiraling even further out of control. Following the peak of my anxiety and depression, I decided to begin antidepressants and talk therapy. This, coupled with the decision to put my son in full-­time childcare and to completely give up drinking, has allowed me to come to a point of recovery, acceptance and self-­forgiveness. No one will really know the complete and utter darkness that lived inside of me at that 2-­month mark or even in the years prior to that. And no one ever will. But one thing I can say for certain is that I am serious about the fact that the women at that clinic saved my life. And for that, I am eternally grateful. 

Since I started my journey of recovery, I started a daily yoga practice, which included participation in an energy exchange program where I volunteer my services in exchange for free yoga. I recently watched a documentary on yoga and one of the speakers talked about the whole notion of karma. They discussed how karma wasn’t merely just this traditional idea that you do good things and good things come back to you. But it was more of finding and working through your weaknesses and using those experiences to give back—it’s an action of selfless service. For example, if you are a drug addict, once you recover, you should use that experience of recovery to help others in the same situation. This really resonated with me. And this is why I have decided to tell this story. Not only do I want to tell my story because I feel that it is an important one to tell, but I want to be able to help other women that may be going through a similar experience. I want them to know that it is okay to grieve or not. It is okay to be disappointed in yourself or be depressed, just the same as it’s okay to think that it was merely a mistake and move on with life. Your experience is YOUR experience and it’s OKAY! 

What’s not okay? This culture of silence! I realize that a woman’s abortion experience is purely her own and it is her decision to share it as she wishes. But if she decides to share that experience and needs to do so, she should have the full support required and not feel judged for her decision. And she also needs full and free access to abortion services, both from the point of entry and beyond. 

The fact that the Morgentaler Clinic is closing next month is a tremendous shame for our province. It’s tremendously disgraceful that New Brunswick does not cover the cost of private abortions, while completely ignoring the basic human rights of its citizens. I fear that following the closure of our private clinic; we will not only see a rise in maternal mental health issues, but also rates of suicide. That is why it is important that we break the silence of abortion experience. Not only will this allow us to analyze and deconstruct traditional discourses of pregnancy loss, but it might help us to crush the barriers to access by normalizing the experience and informing the general public that, statistically speaking, the 1 in 3 women who require an abortion at some point in their lives might just be their sister, their neighbor, their mother, their friend, or their coworker. The woman might need that abortion because she didn’t use birth control or perhaps her birth control failed? She might be poor or rich. She might be a teenager or in their 30s (like me). She might experience mental or physical health issues, or she might be the happiest and healthiest person around. The fact though that she WANTS and NEEDS an abortion should be the ONLY reason she needs to justify having an abortion. Let’s normalize this reason. It is really the only way that we can ultimately move forward and push for much-­needed changes within our health-­care system. I’ll go first: my name is Angela Deveau and I HAVE HAD AN ABORTION! If you need to talk about it, please feel free to do so. I am available to listen—unabashedly and with loving and judgment-­free support! 

*Note: I am forever grateful for those friends and family in my life that provided the greatest support when I sought treatment for my depression last spring. I don’t need to name names, you know who you are! xoxox


FH has recently done much heavy lifting with regard to healthcare-provided reproductive choices for women in New Brunswick. Here are those blog posts:

Not-so-gentle news from the East.
Kansas? Louisiana? Nope. New Brunswick refers patients to religious counsellors

Feminism: This is how it's done now

Healthcare: Unequal Access is UnCanadian.

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