by Katy at 17 and Katy at 56
I found myself in shock tonight, after watching the abortion topic show with Dr Drew. I wasn’t not in shock because of the topic, or the stance that was taken. I would expect nothing less of Dr Drew. He is making very brave changes for young women in the USA. Therefore, the topic of abortion did not surprise me…or at least, his choice to approach it openly, did not surprise me. I think more young women need to speak, and to be forgiven…by speaking. But, I realized tonight, that in order to speak..many of us need permission.
I was in shock to find myself, at the age of 56, sitting on my bed…with tears dripping down my face faster than I could wipe them. I don’t know if I ever cried about my abortion before this moment. I don’t think anyone gave me permission to feel what I really needed to feel…my truth, and not anyone elses. I was raised in a Southern Baptist family, in a very small Texas town. I acted out all of the craziness in my family, all of the pink elephants in the living room. I tried my best to spare my Mother of any heartache. I was so full of compassion as a teenager, but was very afraid to show my gentle side. I was too shut down. But, no one knew. I faked my feelings well. When I became pregnant at 17, I tried everything possible to ignore what was happening. Later, I tried beating on my stomach, and vinegar douches. None of my approaches worked. I couldn’t tell my Mother. I thought of death. It seemed easier. There was NO PLACE, NO PHONE NUMBER to turn to. I was so alone.
Mother’s seem to know what they know, in a mysterious way. She asked me if I was pregnant, and I did tell her the truth, mostly from shock that she was aware. She was a good women, but a tired woman. She didn’t want to be the wife of an alcoholic, have an overweight son, her firstborn daughter be a lesbian, and now her youngest pregnant at the age of 17. She ignored what hurt her. I couldn’t bare the thought of being ignored even more. . We were all just normal children…good, bright, loving, creative children. We loved one another very much, but we were not the children that she envisioned having. We were not perfect. We were wonderfully individual. I didn’t want to be a “bad child”. So, I cried for her…not me. “I’m sorry Mother…” I most have said a thousand times. I don’t recall being comforted throughout this experience…ever.
She gave me choices, appropriately. “I will support whatever decision you make. If you want to keep the child…we will help you. It will be very difficult, but if that is what you want, we will support you.’ I knew that meant “No.” Her voice seemed lighter when she suggested an abortion. I knew I could not give a child up to adoption, it was a forever choice in the early 1970′s. I picked abortion. In fact, I knew I wanted an abortion from the moment I realized I was pregnant. I just didn’t want to be hated for my choice. I didn’t want anyone to think I was an awful person to even consider this option. So, I waited to make sure that this was my Mother’s first choice, too. It was the popular vote. I lived in Texas at the time, and abortions were only legal in New York and California. What became of girls like me, girls that were normal, girls that were frightened, girls with a tired Mother, girls that lived in Texas? What did we do? I had just moved away from the abusive father of the pregnancy. I would never ask him for help. I knew that what was in front of me, was something that I would never forget. I knew I would be afraid. I knew I would be stoic. I knew I would be strong for everyone. I knew I would carry this for life.
I had never been on a plane before. I had never been to California. I had never stayed in a hotel alone. Now, I was going to do all of this in 24 hrs. I have a vague memory of purchasing my flight and abortion expense from a room at the Holiday Inn. It was $650. I recall telling my Mother that I would “pay her back”. I never did. I could never talk about it. There were times I had the money to give her, but I could not bring up the topic. I could not.
We were silent as we drove to the airport. She kept saying, “I don’t know how I will ever tell your Father”. I kept wondering why she had to. Why couldn’t she just protect me? As I boarded the plane, I saw about 75 other girls around my age. We all had a carry-on luggage, as that was what we instructed to do. We all had the same look on our faces. We all were empty. Once the plane landed, a man shouted, “I need all of the young women that flew here for care, to line up here please”. We did. I knew we were being stared at, but I couldn’t look. We all were taken to a hotel in a large van. No one spoke. No one. I had a roommate, but could not tell you one thing about her. I don’t recall much of the time in CA. I think my mind was protecting me from the fear I had. We were instructed to douche with Betadine. Someone brought all of the necessary items to our room. I had never douched before. Even this was difficult, frightening. I remember feeling as though I might faint, as I made my way from the shower, to bed.
The next morning, we all were taken to the clinic in the same big van. Some of the girls were crying. I was numb. I just stared out the window and remember thinking…”What will I tell people if they ask me if I have ever been to California?” Once we arrived, we were all given a number. That is how we were addressed…by A NUMBER. Everyone wore white. No one patted me on the shoulder. No one smiled. No one told me I would be fine in time. I thought I might die. I wondered how my family would find me if I did. How would they even know where to begin? After all, I was a big secret. Don’t we keep people a secret because we are ashamed of them?
I remember lying on the procedure table and my genital area being painted with Betadine. I wondered why they did not wait and do this after I was anesthetized. It seemed cruel, for some reason that I can’t explain. Then, an IV was inserted into my hand. The next memory I had was fighting to regain consciousness, in recovery. There were about 10 girls in one recovery room. Some were screaming, and some were crying. I was silent. As soon as we were able to drink orange juice and walk, we were loaded back into the same big van. I was fading in and out from the anesthesia. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to go home and face my Mother. I wish this plane could take me somewhere else…anywhere else”.
I don’t recall the drive home from the airport, or the days to follow. I do remember that my Father had no eye contact with me. My Mother was silent..even more silent than before. I felt so ugly and dirty. I wanted someone to hug me. I wanted to be held. But, we all lived in silence for a very long time, instead. I never told this story to my Mother. She died not knowing how my heart felt. I know she wished she knew a way to begin the conversation. I don’t blame her. We were both lost.
Dr Drew broke that silence for me tonight. Almost 40 years later, this soft spoken man, gave me permission to feel what I never felt before. Tears flowed for hours, as I kept wondering if I could speak to him on the phone. I had such an unbelievable desire to tell this man that he had reached even ME. I watched him tell the other women that they were OK…that they had a right to make this decision for themselves….that for many women, this is the best answer. I related best to the young woman that was in college at the time. I knew I wanted to go to college, and I did, and a baby might have prevented me from having the future that I dreamed of. I wanted to be a nurse. I am now a retired nurse. What these young women said, touched me in a way that I can’t even put into words. I was them…many years ago. I could feel their struggles, their determination, their need to be understood, their sadness, and as tears flowed…maybe even some shame that women seem to naturally assign to themselves. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was a 17 year old, trying to make a good decision, for me and my family. I carried the burden for all of us. I thought I had made peace with this decision. I didn’t realize I had buried it so deep within myself. Dr Drew gave me permission to speak to…to speak to myself. Tonight, I told myself that I was a good girl. I would be just fine in time. I was loved. I was worthy of having a choice. I made a good choice. I was brave. I didn’t have to hide any longer…I wasn’t a secret.
Hours later my tears stopped. I walked to my computer to find Dr Drew. I wanted to tell him, “Thank you for setting me free”. He is a very brave man, and his bravery makes the journey of many young women so much kinder. His soft awareness of what the human spirit needs, reached me, even through the television. For the first time in 40 years, I was not afraid of this topic. I didn’t run. I didn’t turn the TV off. I listened. He is to be respected for his compassion and hard work. He is to be marveled for his insight.
I would like to close by saying, “NONE OF US LIKE THE IDEA OF ABORTION”. It isn’t as though we are heartless people that decide that an abortion will fix everything. It also does not mean that we are not Christians. I am and always have been. We don’t go into this decision lightly. We struggle until the decision is made. I remember being faced with about 4 lousy choices. I simply chose the least lousy of them all. I am so grateful that it is less frightening for the women of today. I am grateful that they are only a secret if they make the choice to be.
Thank you all…. Katy