My Story with Early Pregnancy: On Safe and Legal Abortion
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This story is a tough one to tell since my brain wiped out a good number of memories from these foggy months. But as so many struggle silently or are still grieving from this distressing experience, and as the world keeps challenging women’s power over their own fates, I think my story is worth being shared. I want to emphasize that this experience is my own, and therefore does not necessarily reflect others’ journeys. I hope, with this piece, to bring comfort to those who once found themselves quivering in the bathroom, facing two lines after urinating on a plastic stick, confronted to the undeniable presence of the thing, to those who try to forget and often dismiss the legitimate trauma that is still buried deep within us. I do not glorify abortion, nor wish to invalidate those who choose to keep the fetus. I simply want to put out the unfiltered, raw account of the early stages of my pregnancy, and the process that followed the agonizing decision.
It was the end of March 2023, everything felt gray and dull, and I was drowning in schoolwork. I had gotten a notification from my period-tracking app, announcing the monthlies should start imminently. Three days passed, still not a single drop of blood. I closely monitored my calendar, used a condom when I was ovulating, and took Plan B the few times I had flown too close to the sun. It seemed to me that pregnancy was a mythical entity, an urban legend, something that only happened to others, like getting cancer at 19 or hitting a deer while driving. After more than a year of being lucky, I thought myself immune to the threat. I had had pregnancy scares before, yet this time, I had the gut feeling that it was for real. Five days later, I was dragging myself to Jean Coutu to get my hands on a pregnancy test.
Although I expected my intuition to be right, nothing compares to those two seconds of utmost incredulity, eyes wide open as I stared in disbelief at the tiny cross indicating that a fetus was growing inside of me by the second. I did a second test; positive again. Beaten and overwhelmed, I laughed in disbelief then started to sob. From that point on, everything happened absurdly quickly. The first symptoms I noticed were a barely visible, tiny bump on my lower abdomen, and highly sensitive, swollen breasts. By the fourth week, about a week after finding out, the moodiness kicked in. Every emotion was magnified tenfold, small issues became tragedies and my eyes morphed into broken, leaky faucets.
By the end of the fifth week, morning sickness became intrinsic to my daily life. Breakfast was a relentless battle. I chose fasting over throwing up, yet still found myself running to the bathroom, bent over, shuddering from waves of nausea. I felt isolated, neglected, and constantly exhausted, a fatigue that would worsen. I stopped drinking coffee, alcohol, and smoking cigarettes or weed. Eating any form of junk food was out of the question. The sight of coffee disgusted me, and cigarette smoke made me sick to my stomach. These were no deliberate, health-centred inclinations, but unconscious manifestations of a very complex machinery at work.
At this point, my mind was set on getting rid of the fetus, not only out of urgency, but because it had become physically unbearable considering my lifestyle. Oddly, another symptom appeared: the genuine yearning to keep the baby. I felt a powerfully instinctive urge to protect the thing. Already, my brain chemistry had been altered, repurposed to love and nurture the growing fetus. The human mind truly is wonderful.
By the sixth week of the pregnancy, my lower abdomen and breasts were visibly inflated. I had intermittent daily nausea, could not stand near the kitchen when food was cooked, and had thrown up several times both at school and at home. I took afternoon naps whenever I could. I had become a groggy, nauseous blob. My body felt like a heavy flesh bag that needed to be dragged around. Performing basic tasks, not even mentioning school, was exhausting. I had turned into a different person.
I aborted at exactly six and a half weeks. Two weeks prior, I had faced the daunting task of scheduling an appointment. I had tried the Santé Montréal number, a resource promising abortion services in less than two weeks, which proved useless. The people I had spoken to were rude, dismissive, did not take me seriously, and made me feel even more powerless and anxious. As they could not offer an appointment on the spot, I waited neurotically to be called back. My advice is to not waste your time with governmental services or the different CIUSSSs. Contact free clinics directly. After trying a few, I finally found one that would offer me an abortion 10 days later, l’Alternative. Securing an appointment brought me inexpressible relief. After weeks of anguish, I could take a breather.
There are two ways to abort legally in Canada. The first is the medical abortion, which uses two different compounds to expel the pregnancy, and can only be performed until weeks 9 to 11. The second option is surgical, accessible until week 24. At the time, surgery seemed extremely invasive, and frightening. I chose to abort medically.
The procedure goes as follows: you get tested for STDs, then ingest the first medication, mifepristone, which detaches the fetus from the uterus’s walls. This initial medication has little to no side effects. The second medication, four tablets of misoprostol, has to be taken 24 to 48 hours following the first pill, and kept pressed on your gums for 30 minutes – the time for it to dissolve into the bloodstream. The fetus should then be expelled within the following five hours.
At the clinic, nurses thoroughly explained what each option involved, ethically and physically, ensuring I was making an enlightened decision. They also walked me through different contraceptive methods to consider so I would not find myself undergoing this distressing process again. The clinic’s staff was professional, gentle, and considerate. I was then set free, misoprostol in hand, after scheduling a follow-up appointment about a week later.
I stayed at a friend’s house on the given night. Having heard multiple medical abortions’ horror stories, I was stressed out of my mind. At this stage, I strongly recommend being somewhere you feel safe, with someone you trust to intervene if needed. As the tablets were dissolving in my mouth, I was lying on the couch in sweatpants, over layers of towels. The nausea, headache, and cramps were surreal. I was prescribed hydromorphone, morphine’s synthetic, much stronger little sister, in order to cope with the pain. While drugged out, huge, dark blood clots I didn't even know my uterus could foster were being expelled. My stomach growled and ached. I had to run to the bathroom frequently to remove the piling up clots. Three hours later, the worst was behind me. Unable to sleep for the rest of the night, I stared at the ceiling while the apartment cat watched royally over me.
The relief was instantaneous. Even after a sleepless night, I felt the most energized I had in weeks. I was reborn. But the nightmare wasn’t over yet. Upon my check-up appointment, the nurse detected major debris in my uterus, which would lead to further complications if not dislodged. I was offered to have the clots surgically removed or to repeat the medical process, risking it would fail again. I chose the latter. After another consultation, the diagnosis stood: the debris had not moved. Desperate to move on, I reverted to surgery.
About a week later, I was back at the clinic. I was intravenously administered fentanyl, and drifted on pure opioid bliss throughout the entire surgery. Looking back, I never should have accepted the drug. I was monitored for about 15 minutes and asked if I felt nauseous before being allowed to leave. A friend had come to pick me up, a requirement of the procedure. Before getting on the bus to school, the nausea started. I spilled my insides on the sidewalk of Sherbrooke Street. And once more when I exited the bus. Then again in the café I had gone to study before an exam. I ended up feeling so terribly unwell I had to rest nonstop for two days, unable to attend school. Only then did I start believing I would soon return to normalcy.
There are a few last things I want to recall from this experience. Primarily, always use thorough, adequate protection. The odds of becoming pregnant may seem low, but pregnancy does not discriminate. Following this experience, the fear of being subjected to another unexpected pregnancy compelled me to get a hormonal IUD. Although the threat of harmful side effects, ranging from weight gain to depression, remained significant, nothing could ever compete with the mental and physical distress I endured for two months.
In many ways, receiving a safe medical abortion saved my life. The decision to abort a fetus is nonetheless excruciating. It crushes you. Throughout my pregnancy, I often reminisced on how our society’s frameworks are deeply hostile to younger parents who wish to have a child and properly sustain it. As a student without steady income, raising a child is simply not viable. The knowledge that I ultimately had no real choice remains bittersweet to this day.
I hope my testimony rendered some justice to the reality of early pregnancy and abortion, and managed to echo the battles of those who share a similar story. If you are struggling with pregnancy, I encourage you to speak up, and surround yourself with people you love and trust. I know how alienating it feels to suffer silently, and to pretend to be able to function while your mental and physical health are drastically plummeting. The trauma lingers and never quite fades. I know the sweat and exhaustion under which hides a shared, muffled longing to feel seen. Together, we must cherish our right to choose. We are incredibly brave. We are not alone.