Draw the Line

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Topics: Abortion, Access and Affordability
Area of Life Affected: Dignity, Other Children

Complex Emotions

I was 27 years old when I found out I was pregnant. It was a complete shock; I had been on the pill for more than three years without incident. I was also at the end of my first relationship, one that had lasted several years. Jared and I had been through a lot much together, had moved cross-country together before we settled in Madison, and it was an unlucky twist ending that we got pregnant when we did.

“The government presence in every moment of the most intimate of my personal decisions was absolutely shameful.”

I wish Jared had said, “I support whatever choice you make, and I take full responsibility for my part in creating this situation.” Instead, he told me I would ruin his life if I had the baby. That he would feel sorry for me if I were a single mother. And that he would resent the child for the rest of its life. It was at that point that I knew I was truly alone in making this decision.

In the strangest mix of irony, I got pregnant and had an abortion while making a movie about Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. I was spending my days interviewing women who had made that same decision; generations of women, some of whom had obtained abortions illegally, some of whom were shamed into silence, all of whom were defiant that this is an essential part of women’s health, women’s lives, and ultimately, a fact of life.

Had I not been making a documentary chronicling the 70-year history of PPWI, my understanding of abortion would have been limited to public opinion. I credit two years of research and interviews with helping me navigate my decision—a rare privilege. And I have to say that going through the process of obtaining an abortion in Madison was a humiliating and degrading experience. The volunteers and staff at the Madison clinic were wonderful, but the Government (with a capital G) presence in every moment of the most intimate of my personal decisions was absolutely shameful.

By law (Wisconsin Statutes 253.10) I was given a trans-vaginal ultrasound to determine fetal gestational age, and the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the 4-week-old fetus were described to me in detail. I was given a copy of my ultrasound picture with the fetus clearly labeled, along with a booklet about fetal development, birth, and abortion. I was given a fact sheet about first-trimester abortion options (surgical vs. medical). And that was considered my mandatory counseling session, which cost me $100. After that, the mandatory 24-hour waiting period began.

The earliest appointment was one week out, on February 28. I took the 1pm time slot. And for the next seven days I struggled. Outwardly, I was on the fence, but deep down, I did want the baby. I tried to talk to Jared, but every conversation turned into a fight where I begged for him to listen to me and he responded with hateful voicemails about how I was trying to ruin his life. He promised he would fight me for every dime I tried to get from him. By mid-week he changed his tactics and switched from bullying to downright benevolent. We sat across from each other at a coffee shop, and he listed out how hard it would be for me to juggle the needs of a newborn while working two jobs, and while doing it all alone. “I would feel so sorry for you if you were a single mother, Dawnee.”

I did have friends to turn to at that time, who made it a point to tell me that it was possible to have a baby and be a single mother. That I had the law behind me regarding child support. That I could do it, that I could take a baby on and succeed. One of my best childhood friends had a baby at 17 and managed to finish high school, get a nursing degree, and buy a house for herself and her daughter. She was thriving as a single mom, all without anything from the father (who disappeared from their lives long before the baby was born).

In the end, I kept that appointment. Jared accompanied me as I drove to the clinic. There were no protesters waiting to shout at us, or wave ugly signs. It was just an ordinary, cold and bright Tuesday afternoon. He paid the $395 cash fee. We sat together in the waiting room, and when I was called back we went together. I had chosen a surgical abortion, no sedation. I started crying before the procedure even began, and the nurse stopped and looked at me, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. We can stop right now.” That was the moment it all became real. “No. Go ahead, please.” I sobbed the entire time, as did Jared. He held my hand through all of it.

That was 10 years ago today. And although my immediate feeling post-abortion was one of relief, I also grappled with another emotion, one that has taken me years to recognize. I am sad about my abortion. Or maybe a better way to describe it is I have grief about my abortion. I am not regretting the abortion—I know it was the best decision for me at that time in my life. But even today—10 years, two children, and a husband later—I still feel an acute loss. There was the physical pain of a vacuum aspiration, and the following weeks of hormonal imbalance as my body adjusted to not being pregnant.

Then came the complex wave of emotions—about myself, about Jared, about the great irony that women who choose abortion are thinking about that potential child, and the question they’re faced with is: “What kind of mother can I be right now?” It hurt like hell to answer myself with the truth, which was: “I can’t be the mother I want to be right now, and this is not the life I want for a child of mine.” I am grateful that I was able to take that knowledge to heart and use it to become the kind of mother I am proud to be today.

I applaud every woman who has shared her story in an effort to de-stigmatize abortion and the conversation about abortion. I want to hear the entire range of women’s stories, and acknowledge that no one experiences abortion in the same way. Relief or grief, the only way to feel about your abortion is in your own way, in your own time.

In the political arena, abortion and access to abortion is endlessly debated as an economic and moral issue; it’s become a talking point designed to stir up voters’ emotions. The truth of the matter is women are getting lost in the shuffle. I happen to live during a time in U.S. history when abortion is legal, but I can imagine what our country would look like if the right to safe and legal abortion is taken away. In fact, we’ve already been there.

My only moral responsibility in having had an abortion is to speak up about it. And now that I have two daughters of my own, I hope that they will live in a country where their choices aren’t debated at every turn, but instead are wholly supported. I wish that for women everywhere.

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