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A U of O graduate pulls herself through the emotional aftermath of a teenage abortion

A teen romance
MY FIRST DATE with Josh* was essentially a blind one; he caught my eye while I was shopping with a mutual friend and he and I both asked to be set up. Our first date was on Valentine’s Day and I was instantly smitten. While we walked around the city, we learned all we could about each other, and though we tried to find commonalities, we ended up laughing at our longer list of differences.

Josh and I had very different styles, interests, and circles of friends. He came from a traditional African family with a very negative opinion of their son dating an “alternative” white girl like me. Even so, Josh assured me that his older sister had been secretly seeing her boyfriend for years, so we could make it work too.

Though Josh wasn’t my first boyfriend—I’d had a couple of teen crushes already—our relationship felt different. I thought I was in love and wanted to experience the deepest level of intimacy I could with him. I was 15 when we had sex for the first time.

As our relationship progressed, little things about Josh slowly started to bother me. I would never be introduced to his parents, I couldn’t bond with his younger sister, and we never got to hang out at his place. It also bothered my mom how much time he spent at our house. Josh would come over, eat her food, monopolize my time, and then go home on the last bus of the night.

It bothered her more that he started to have opinions on what I wore; nothing too tight, no shirts that showed too much skin, no skirts that came up too high. But during our relationship I never saw any of this as overbearing or controlling. I was his girl and he just wanted me all to himself. I was naive to think it was sweet.

Josh also made me feel guilty about wanting to use condoms. I was young, and even though I knew about birth control and how everything worked physically, he didn’t like them, so we often didn’t use one. Both of us were at fault when we didn’t use protection; Josh for pressuring me to do something I felt wasn’t right, and me for not standing up for myself.

Eventually it all started to wear on me. I missed my friends and family—no one wanted to hang out with us together—and we fought constantly. I finally realized that I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of our relationship, so I ended things with Josh.

Dealing with the consequences
The first day I missed my period, my mind immediately landed on the possibility that I could be pregnant. We hadn’t been using condoms consistently, and given my mom’s feelings towards the relationship, I didn’t think she would be supportive if I asked to start taking birth control pills.

I confided in my best friend but Josh came with me to the sexual health clinic for emotional support. He told me that even though we weren’t a couple, we were still in it together. I couldn’t help but sob when the nurse validated what I already knew.

Sometimes we’re faced with choices that aren’t easy to make, especially when the media and our loved ones believe they know what’s best for us. It feels isolating and impossible to determine what’s right for you when so many people are trying to make up your mind. I was faced with the challenge of making a tough choice at a young age, when I had to decide whether or not I was ready to be a mother.

There wasn’t much of a conversation with Josh about what to do. Our minds landed on the same option with almost no discussion. We both felt it was the right choice, I think mainly because of our young age. No matter how in love we thought we were, it didn’t make sense to either of us—in the middle of high school with plans for university—to have a baby.

I was referred to the Morgentaler Clinic in Ottawa and made an appointment for an abortion.

I dreaded the day marked in my agenda, not knowing how to feel or what to expect from any of the process. I skipped school that day and met Josh in front of the clinic. We checked in and filled out some paperwork. They told Josh how long he was expected to wait, and they took me in to get prepared.

After putting on a hospital gown I was led into a private room. The nurse walked me through the steps of the abortion, how I should expect to feel after, and how long I would have to wait before I could leave.

The procedure began with an ultrasound to confirm the length of my pregnancy, and immediately after I was brought to the operating room. A nurse sat beside me the whole time to keep me informed on what was happening and to comfort me as the operation occurred.

According to Planned Parenthood, most in-clinic abortions use the aspiration abortion method. During an aspiration abortion, a suction device empties the inside of the uterus. The pain is similar to period cramping and nurses warn that there can be up to two weeks of post-procedural bleeding. I only felt slight cramping and discomfort by the end of the process, but it varies depending on how far along the pregnancy is during the operation.

There are some possible side effects—including blood clots in the uterus, injury to the cervix or other organs, and very heavy bleeding—though complications are generally mild or non-existent. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2010 only 2.4 per cent of Canadian hospital abortion patients (excluding Quebec) experienced minor or major complications within 28 days after their induced abortions.

I was happy that the nurses were so comforting and helpful throughout the process. Not all clinics offer the same counselling services as Morgentaler, so it is important that patients do plenty of research before they decide which clinic or hospital to visit. Operations—no matter the type—are made easier by knowledgeable and empathetic staff. I truly felt cared for and less alone because of the nurses at the clinic.

Getting over it
Josh was present that day but otherwise absent and unsupportive. He’d been running errands while I was having the procedure and in recovery and only returned when I was ready to leave.

During recovery, the nurses discussed when I should book my followup appointment. After everything was said and done, I went home to rest and felt physically fine and more like myself in a matter of days.

Though the day after my abortion I was back at school—using a funeral as the excuse for my absence—I was preoccupied with thoughts about my decision. I felt guilty for knowing better than to have unprotected sex and foolish for doing it repeatedly.

None of my friends liked Josh, so I didn’t get any sympathy over the breakup, and my best friend was the only one who knew about the abortion at the time. She was supportive and tried to comfort me, but could only sympathize with what I was going through. I felt  like I was weathering everything alone.

It took months before I could go a full day without thinking about the operation. I listened to depressing songs on endless loops because I didn’t know how else to cope. I felt an immense sadness for weeks and cried myself to sleep for nights on end.

Every time I saw a baby, a young kid, or a happy couple, I thought about what I did and struggled to wrap my mind around the fact that I got pregnant and could have given birth, but chose to end the pregnancy. While I never doubted that an abortion was the right choice for me, my certainty didn’t make the process any easier. I experienced grief and loss that I had never faced before.

Slowly, I noticed that a couple days, then weeks, then months would pass between thoughts of the abortion. Now it’s only something I think of occasionally. For me, time really did heal the wounds.

Life after abortion
Though I’m happy to have shared my experience with some close friends after the fact, it will always anger me when friends say their partners didn’t use condoms because “he just doesn’t like how they feel.” I try to respectfully remind them of what I’ve endured. But ultimately, I have to remember that they’re irresponsibility isn’t a personal attack but mistakes that my friends have to make on their own.

My relationship with Josh taught me not to let a partner pressure me into something I know I’m not comfortable doing. Safe sex and proper communication between partners is a sign of respect, and anyone who leads you to think or believe otherwise probably doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

I only know my experience and my case, but for me an abortion was the obvious answer. While sitting in the emergency room with a friend a few months ago for an unrelated incident, we both reflected on how lucky we are to live where we do.

In Canada, abortion is safe, legal, and available upon request within the first trimester. The CIHI reports that, in 2011, approximately 28, 000 abortions were recorded in Ontario, and approximately 13, 000 were performed on women under 25.

At 16 years old, I certainly wasn’t ready to be a mother. I hope to have children in the not-so-distant future, so it’s reassuring to know that, according to the Morgantaler website, having an abortion in no way affects your ability to get pregnant or give birth in the future. There is little research to support that even having more than one abortion affects fertility.

I recently turned 25, and amidst the Facebook avalanche of birthday wishes, was a message from Josh. When I see or think about Josh it reminds me that if I hadn’t gone through with the abortion, I would have a nine-year-old right now, with parents that weren’t—and probably still aren’t—ready to be parents.

Having an abortion has certainly shaped who I am today, in the way my life has turned out and the way I now make choices. Making this decision gave me the chance to finish high school, obtain a bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa, and discover a career that excites and impassions me, and will better prepare me for my future children. I’m headed in the right direction, mindful of what I’ve been through, and thrilled for what lies ahead. 

*Name has been changed

For more on getting through an abortion click here