A friend wrote me the other day to thank me for posting brave things on this blog. We had a lengthy discussion about abortion afterward. We both agreed that we were ‘pro-life personally and pro-choice politically’.
There’s a lot of debate going on about abortion these days, as some American states are trying to strip those rights from women’s bodies and women all over social media are fired up about it. I LOVE when women get fired up.
But I am not a politician. I have zero desire to start a political debate with this post.But I do have a huge, burning desire to get women talking about their own experiences with abortion.
Same as anything human rights related, I believe the more we talk about our personal experiences, the more we can affect positive change. If we keep hiding these realities that women go through, we increase the stigma around them- and even worse, we continue to suffer in silence, believing we are alone. I don’t want that for any woman.
So here’s my story.
I had my abortion September 1, 2005 at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary at the age of 19. The fetus was 7 weeks, 4 days.
I had the abortion because I was in second year of university; the baby was unplanned, I still lived in my Dad’s basement, and in order for a baby to work, I would have needed to feel 100% confident that my family would stand by me and help support me in my new life as a young mother still living in her parental home.
I did not have that support.
While acting as if the choice was mine to make, my family hinted fairly obviously that abortion was the only logical choice (“You’re going to ‘take care of it’, aren’t you?”). And my boyfriend at the time, while incredibly sweet and caring, said “I’ll stand by you, whatever you decide.”
To give a 19-year-old girl who just found out she was pregnant all the decision-making responsibility is too much. A girl in that situation needs options laid out for her. A professional. A therapist. Many different females’ points of view and advice. I didn’t have those things then.
So, at 19- on a family summer vacation, surrounded by male family members and no mother figures, and immersed in many sound bytes such as ‘surely she’ll ‘take care of it’ and ‘our family doesn’t ‘do’ teenage pregnancies’ … I made the decision to terminate.
I had my abortion September 1, 2005 at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary at the age of 19. The fetus was 7 weeks, 4 days. The ultrasound tech did my ultrasound pre-dilation and curettage (D&C), which is common practice, (gotta make sure there’s still a fetus in there before you start the procedure), and I asked her if I could see the image of my baby before I was wheeled into the operating room.
I know in my bones and my soul and my heart and my everywhere that even at 19, scared shitless, already in a hospital gown about to wheeled into the operating room, that I 100% would have made the decision to keep the baby if she had have just let me look at it.
I asked her if I could see the screen.
She said no.
I asked her again, a little more forcefully this time.
I was 19.
I didn’t know how to advocate for myself very well yet at 19.
I’m a force to be reckoned with now, but at 19, I didn’t know how to Demand that this older woman show me MY OWN fetus that she was looking at, on her screen.
I was laying down on the bed.
Her computer screen faced away from me. I couldn’t see it from that angle.
My baby’s image was on it.
The image that would have shown me its beating heart- she had it in front of her- I just needed her to swivel her screen so that I could see it.
She said no.
I still Hate that woman, to this day, for denying me the right to look at my OWN fetus before she turned off her computer and went to tell the doctors that I was ready.
When I asked her the third time in a now very sad and shaky little voice if I could please see it, she said: “There’s nothing there to see. If anything, it just looks like a gummy bear.”
(Side-note- by the grace of God, my first ultrasound for this little baby Sadie that lays sleeping beside me right now, was coincidentally, at Exactly 7 weeks and 4 days.
My abortion ultrasound was on September 1, 2005.
My Sadie’s ultrasound was on August 28, 2018.
13 years later, I FINALLY got to see what my baby looked like at EXACTLY 7 weeks and 4 days-
And I BAWLED tears of joy when the ultrasound tech in Canmore said:
“Would you like to see its heartbeat?”
A 7-week, 4-day old fetus HAS a heartbeat, looks NOTHING like a gummy bear, and was and is just about the most magical, coolest damn thing Ryan and I have Ever seen.)
Back to September 1, 2005.
That stupid woman wouldn’t let me look.
So she told the doctors I was ready.
They knocked me out.
They removed the fetus.
I woke up.
I was in pain.
I put on a giant maxi pad.
My boyfriend at the time carefully and lovingly walked me to his vehicle.
We drove home in near silence.
I was in pain.
We went down to my basement bedroom at my father’s house.
The rest of the family was still on vacation.
It was just us.
In the basement, in the dark.
Crying and sleeping.
I told him I thought it would take a week for me to heal.
(Haha. 19-year-old me. What a girl. It’s been 14 years and I’m still healing.)
University started September 8th that year.
So I gave myself 7 days to grieve.
We stayed in the dark. We cuddled. We napped. We watched movies. We didn’t go out. We didn’t tell our friends. We didn’t really talk about what we were doing or feeling. We grieved to the best of our young abilities.
Then university started back up, so I told my grief to stop.
Grief doesn’t work that way.
It’s not ‘convenient’. It doesn’t stop or start when you tell it to.
It just hides and comes back in other forms.
I went back to university.
I stopped talking to all my other friends.
I found it hard to give a single shit about so and so’s make-out sesh with Timmy that weekend, or how so and so’s manager at Chili’s was a real cow and wouldn’t let her have Saturday off for Kate’s party.
It’s not that their concerns didn’t ‘matter’- they very much did- it’s just that those were not the concerns I had rolling around in my head.
My concerns were: ‘what is the meaning of life?’ ‘Is there a God?’ ‘If there is- why do shitty things happen?’ ‘Am I bad person?’ ‘Did my baby have a soul yet? If it did, where did it go?’…
And when those are the questions in your head at 19, you find it hard to relate to your other girlfriends.
So I found religion.
Religion was talking about those bigger questions.
Life. Death. Souls. God.
It was then that I began my life’s chapter as an overzealous, newfound, born-again Christian. That phase lasted about a year and a half and there were some really good points to it, but I am no longer an overzealous born-again Christian. I am an Emily, who loves and believes in God as she always has, but no longer needs to love God and other people in a militant and accusatory way.
At the end of May 2005, 9 months after the abortion, I suddenly broke up with my amazing boyfriend who loved me very much because ‘Jesus told me to’; I told all my family members they were ‘going to Hell because they hadn’t accepted Jesus into their hearts’, and I stopped talking to all my closest friends except for one because ‘they were all sinners. That was the beginning of my first bipolar episode, but that’s a story for another time.
In that same year, post-abortion, I went back to university like I promised my family I would, and I went from a solid B student to a consistent 4.0 GPA. One of the Biggest reasons I terminated my pregnancy was because “Kreibergs don’t have teenage pregnancies” (My uncle’s words) and “Kreibergs go to postsecondary and become academics. We Kreibergs are a family of high-achieving academics” (My father’s words).
So in that post-abortion year, I held a 4.0 GPA with a full six-course per semester load, worked three jobs before, during and after school, broke up with my boyfriend and became an evangelical Christian. I moved out of the apartment that my wonderful boyfriend and I had recently moved into, and onto the couch of a dear friend of mine who had recently just become a born-again Christian as well. While she brought her questions about Jesus and faith to her Christian friends and family, I delved into books. I spoke to no one. I left the house never. I lost 20 pounds in 2 weeks.
I spent all three months of that summer in a basement suite on a pullout couch that was now my bed, devouring every single book I could find on all the major religions of the world. I wanted to know about sin (when I killed my baby, had I committed one?), forgiveness (if there was a loving god, could even baby killers be forgiven?), faith (how to get it), love (what was it? Did I even know anymore?), and the afterlife (where had my baby’s soul gone and when could I get to meet him/her?).
To put it very bluntly- I went off the complete deep end.
Years later, in therapy, a therapist asked me if I thought I had Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS). According to Psychology Today, PASS is the “name that has been given to the psychological aftereffects of abortion, based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
There is much disagreement in the psychology community as to whether PASS actually exists-
To say that it does means that abortion is jarring enough to some women that it gets it own corresponding psychological term and treatment-
And to say that it doesn’t get its own psychological term and treatment is to negate the many traumatizing experiences of women like mine wherein which having an abortion was an incredibly damaging psychological experience.
Here’s what I have to say that is personal and not political about abortion trauma:
If anything that I have written about my abortion experience triggered a response in you, and you want to check out the signs and symptoms of PASS, the following is a link to a quiz on a really supportive online community where other women can go to safely discuss their post-abortion experiences.