I was sure all the men in suits in the lobby knew what I was doing. I hadn't expected it to be in an office building, or to have to choose from a list of what felt like a million names to find it. One of those men in suits followed me into the elevator. Still, I took a deep breath and pushed the button that would take me to the floor where I would have an abortion. Or so I thought.
I was twenty-one, and I figured I was about two or three weeks pregnant. I'd thought I might be pregnant before, because I was nauseous all the time, but a pregnancy test came out negative, and then I got my period. I got my period the next month too, but I decided to take another pregnancy test just in case. That one came out positive. My boyfriend of four months cried when I told him.
I'd always been pro-choice, but I'd also always said I'd never get an abortion myself. Still, once I was actually pregnant, I was pretty sure from the beginning what I would do. And I felt better knowing that I could take a couple of pills and stop being pregnant that way, because I believed I wasn't very far along. A friend who'd had an abortion two years earlier told me there'd be a sonogram, but it was just procedure and I'd barely even know it was happening. Looking back, that's the only reason I stayed, because if I had known what a Planned Parenthood looked like I wouldn't have stayed in the place where I ended up.
It looked less like a medical office than a children's playhouse. But I didn't know any better. I had never even been to a gynecologist — I moved out of my parents' home a virgin, and I suppose I thought I could just avoid it afterwards.
A young woman sitting at a desk didn't look up at me or, when I gave my name and said I had an appointment, acknowledge she didn't find my name on her clipboard. She just told me to go ahead and sit down.
"I'm here for a medical abortion," I told the tiny older woman who approached me in the waiting room.
"Why do you want to do that?" she replied.
"Do we have to talk about this here?" I whispered. The waiting room was empty — I later learned this was because it wasn't even open — but it still felt wrong, abrupt. "Can we go into your office?"
First she handed me some pamphlets. I opened one and it was a graphic illustration of an abortion, a cutaway of a fetus being pulled apart. I snapped it closed, saying to myself, that's not what I'm doing. A medication abortion, what I wanted to have, wouldn't look like that.
The bed she led me to looked very much like it was in a doctor's office. I knew to expect the sonogram machine. That's when she started asking the questions –- what religion my parents were, where they lived, what they did for a living, what my boyfriend and I did for a living. The other girl, the one from the front desk, began the sonogram.
"It looks like you're about three and a half months pregnant," the older woman announced cheerfully.
Then she turned the monitor to me. I have so many little brothers and sisters. I was with my mother the first time she heard my younger siblings heartbeat. There was a heartbeat now, too.
By that point, I was crying hysterically.
"I think you're going to be a really great mother," she continued. "Wouldn't your mother love to take care of this baby?"
The younger girl was nodding and pointing at the sonogram. "Look how cute!" she exclaimed.
I clutched my hand to my stomach and in the sonogram screen, an arm lifted. I took my arm away and the arm went back down. "Put your hand back up!" the older woman said. I did, and the tiny hand went up again. That's the moment that I can't get out of my head, to this day.
"Look, it sounds like your boyfriend needs to come back and talk to us. I think he'd be a great dad."
I didn't say much. I just nodded and cried. I believed her. Maybe I would be a good mother.
After a few minutes, she left the room and a girl about my age returned, an intern from Utah. For what felt like about an hour, she told me why I should have the baby, and how her sister had had an unplanned pregnancy and had the baby, and how much they all loved it. She was so young and so honest. I told her everything. I was still crying.
The older woman returned and printed out the sonogram. "I want you to keep this and take it with you everywhere," she instructed. She told me to make a follow up appointment with my boyfriend, but I just ran out. I must have known even then that I was going to have an abortion anyway.
I really thought this was the way things went.
Back at my boyfriend's apartment, I was crying too much to explain what happened, so I just showed him the sonogram. It didn't take long for him to realize that I'd been at a crisis pregnancy center and not Planned Parenthood at all. Of course, it was no accident that they were in the same building.
He was furious, but I found myself defending the women there. "They think they're helping me," I insisted.
He took the sonogram from me, and said he'd take care of it. I never saw it again, though a few months later I remember looking in one of his drawers and seeing something that looked like it could be it, upside down. But I didn't turn it over.
For me, the real anger didn't come until later when I actually went through with the abortion. I'm not saying it's ever easy for anyone, but all I could think about that day was the sonogram and that hand. There were tears streaming down my face when I was going under. I remember the anesthesiologist telling me, "Don't worry, it won't hurt," and I remember thinking, That's not what I'm crying about.
I don't know if you've ever been put under, but when you wake back up, you finish your last thought. I woke up sobbing.
For me, there was a difference between being sure what I wanted and being sure how I felt about it. I knew that I did not want to have a child right then. And I'm glad not to have been attached to that boyfriend, now my ex-boyfriend, who wasn't particularly supportive of me during that time. If you think you want an abortion, you probably shouldn't be having a kid anyway. And if you know you want an abortion, someone misrepresenting themselves shouldn't make it harder on you.
It's taken me the two years since then not to break down every time I think about it. Now, I read about states trying to force women to look at the sonogram and I want to talk about it. But first I want to go back to that building and put a sign that says, "Here's the right floor. Here's the wrong one."
Amy's ordeal was in New York City, which passed a law in March requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post signs indicating whether they have a licensed medical provider on staff and whether they provide or refer for emergency contraception or abortion. But in July, a judge temporarily barred its enforcement, saying it was unconstitutional.
As told to Irin Carmon.
Image via Tom Grundy/Shutterstock.com.