The Girl's Guide To Having An Abortion

One in three American women have had or will have an abortion, and if you're one of them, wading through the sea of hypercharged rhetoric and actually finding straightforward facts about the medical procedure that awaits can seem daunting.

I'm not going to patronize readers of this website by insisting that the decision is always a "gut-wrenching" or "horrible" or "life destroying" decision or whatthefuckever anti-choice groups insist abortion must be in all cases. In some cases, the emotional aftermath of an abortion is an overwhelming feeling of relief; in many readers' cases, terminating their pregnancies was simply a legal medical procedure that allowed their life to continue unabated after feeling briefly terrified, alone, and afraid. While none of those who contributed say that they regretted their decision, many readers mentioned that resources available to them to prepare them for their experience were either emotionally anecdotal and thus not applicable to them or startlingly sterile and medical-sounding. In compiling this collection of readers' experiences, I sought to walk the line between the personal and the medical, to lift the veil of mystery and shame that surrounds a procedure that millions of women undergo every year, that you may undergo, or that your best friend may undergo, or that your daughter may someday undergo, and, since the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is coming up this week, there's no time like the present.

A Girl's Guide To Unexpectedly Finding Out That You're Pregnant

First, you will likely find out you are pregnant, and if the pregnancy is unplanned and unwanted, this new found knowledge will be unpleasant. Readers' experiences finding out that they were surprise pregnant vary from complete shock and what-the-fuckitude to the culmination of weeks of suspecting something was wrong before finally peeing on that sinister little strip.

Pregnancy test buying tip: if you're nervous (you are) when purchasing an "uh oh" pregnancy test, banish judgmental purse-lipped looks from Walgreen's cashiers by acting super happy about it.

Finding out you're pregnant when you don't want to be is terrifying. Writes one reader:

The thing that struck me the most was that there was a momentum that my body now had, a process that I couldn't control.

As soon as you find out and you've decided that you wish to terminate your pregnancy, call an abortion provider and schedule an appointment, because the longer you wait, the more difficult and expensive the procedure can be. Many readers have utilized the services of Planned Parenthood, but others have been able to have their procedures performed by OB/GYN's in clinics that aren't specifically reserved for abortion. When scheduling an appointment, you may want to consider calling around and finding a pro-choice OB/GYN to recommend a doctor who can perform the procedure. And finally, if you're lucky enough to have it, check on your insurance. Many group insurance plans cover abortion costs as they would birth-related costs. Your boss will not know if you've had an abortion, and cannot ask questions about the specific nature of your absence if you have to take time off work. If your employer presses, have the facility that provided you with the procedure write you a note explaining that you are undergoing a medical procedure that takes a certain amount of time to recover from along with a list of the date it would be appropriate for you to return to work. In most cases, the healthcare provider will be glad to help you with this and will even give you input on an appropriate recovery time. If you feel like you need to take an extra day, let them know.

When you go to the doctor, they will make you pee on a stick again, possibly the same brand of pregnancy test you used at home. Once a positive result is received at the clinic, they may take blood for a blood test and they may rely on the urine test results. You're probably going to have to have an ultrasound that's administered vaginally, using a wand that is inserted into the vagina. Doctors do this so that they know how far along you are and what method of pregnancy termination will be appropriate for you; ideally, they'll perform the least-invasive procedure possible without putting you at risk for complications and they'll recommend one of several options for you.

A Girl's Guide To RU-486
RU-486 is a pill that chemically induces the body to miscarry. It can be used to terminate pregnancies that are 9 weeks along or fewer and is the most effective way to terminate a pregnancy that's fewer than seven weeks along. It's now known as mifepristone and is given to the patient in two doses, the first of which is administered at the clinic and stops the development of the fetus and the second of which is taken at home which induces the uterus to empty its contents. If you're in the UK, you have to take both doses at the clinic, but this may be changing in the near future.

Readers who utilized this method remarked that they experienced massive, massive menstrual cramp-like feelings in their abdomen combined with some nausea. Women utilizing this method of abortion should make plans to bleed quite a bit, because while the cramping can be relieved with over the counter pain medications, the bleeding cannot. The bleeding will go for anywhere from a week to a month after taking RU-486, but most people I spoke with mentioned it went on for around two weeks.

A Girl's Guide To A First Trimester Surgical Abortion
If you're more than 7 weeks pregnant, you may be better suited for a vacuum aspiration. You'll have to undergo the same pee test/general vital checkup/ultrasound routine as everyone else, and when it's time for your procedure, you'll put on a hospital gown, lay down on an exam table under mild sedation and have the contents of your uterus essentially vacuumed out of you. The procedure's done in a matter of minutes, but readers reported that the sound of the mechanism used to perform the procedure is "disturbing."

Afterward, you'll probably need over the counter pain relievers to help any residual cramping. You'll probably feel "out of it" and need someone to take you home and make sure you have some crappy movies and cheese fries or something. You'll have to go to a follow-up appointment after some time has passed to make sure that the procedure was successful. Bleeding may continue for several days to a few weeks after the procedure.

A Girl's Guide To A Late Term Abortion
This is tricky, because most places don't have doctors that will perform procedures on women who are beyond their first trimester and still wish to terminate their pregnancies. Second trimester abortions are massively more expensive, complicated, and traumatic than first trimester abortions, and thus it's important to stay on top of your own reproductive health and, if you're afraid you might be pregnant and you don't plan on carrying the pregnancy to term, take a pregnancy test if you're in the least bit scared.

If a pregnancy is too far along to be terminated via vacuum aspiration or medicinally, doctors will perform a D&C, which is a procedure in two steps. First, the patient has the cervix numbed and has several seaweed matchsticks inserted into the cervix. These sticks absorb moisture from the body and expand, dilating the cervix. This part of the procedure is extremely painful and should be met with all available anti-pain resources available- hot water bottles, the maximum dose of pain killers your doctor recommends, very limited physical activity. After the sticks are in the cervix for at least 12 hours, the patient will return to the hospital, where she'll have the option of being placed under general anesthesia or partial anesthesia, which means you'll be partially conscious for the procedure. The contents of the uterus are then removed via a sharp instrument and suctioned out.

Following a D&C, like with other abortion procedures, there will be blood, and you'll probably have to take at least a few days off of work. It's not recommended that you have sex or use tampons for at least a few weeks following a D&C, to prevent infection.

As with other procedures, you'll have a follow-up appointment at a date in the future you and your doctor determine where they'll check to make sure everything's fine.

In a perfect world, birth control would work 100% of the time as intended and we'd all be able to will ourselves pregnant using only the power of our intentions, but the fact of the matter is, we can't will our natural processes to line up with our goals and objectives. I'm not trying to advocate that all unintentionally pregnant women choose abortion, rather, I hope that this collection information gathered from reader experiences can serve as a guide for women who have decided that abortion is the best course of action for themselves.

It should be evident from this post that there's really no such thing as "just" having an abortion, that the cavalier attitude that sexually active women have toward life or toward motherhood is more convenient myth than anything else. From communicating with readers who have terminated a pregnancy, it's clear that no one wants to have an abortion, but sometimes it's the least-shitty of a bunch of shitty choices a woman can make when she becomes unintentionally pregnant, especially if she's not physically, financially, or emotionally ready to handle a pregnancy. Adoption is a wonderful alternative for people women who don't wish to be mothers, but abortion is the only alternative for pregnant women who don't want to be pregnant.

More resources/information:
Guttmacher Institute
Planned Parenthod
I'm Not Sorry

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