Note: The following is an excerpt from the book Giving Sorrow Words: Women’s Stories of Grief After Abortion.
I idolized my boyfriend, whom I met when I was 17. I was 23 when I first became pregnant by him. We had been together on and off for several years. Despite his treatment of me, which at times could be very cruel, and his vicious temper, I truly loved him. I just had to try harder, or be better, or take more care to avoid upsetting him. I dreaded his temper and would put up with just about anything to avoid a scene.
I think that he became aware of this gradually, because over the years his dominion over me increased to a point where he became a tyrant. I had to wear what he said, do my hair the way he wanted, never have friends of my own over unless he was out of town. I really never stopped to analyze any of this. I guess I was too young and besotted with him to realize that ours was not a normal relationship. I believed that if only I could please him more, everything would be all right.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was thrilled. It had not been planned, but I was truly happy. I spent most of the day working out the baby’s due date, who it would look like, and thoughts of that nature, but when my boyfriend arrived home and I broke the news, he flew into a terrifying rage. I wept, begged and cajoled, but to no avail. He was adamant that I have an abortion.
A week later I was in the abortion clinic with him, supposedly to receive “counseling” from a clinic staff member. She was aged around 40, and wore glasses and a white coat. She seemed so motherly and sympathetic at first; she even told us that she had four children of her own. I was crying my eyes out, saying over and over that I did not want the abortion. I was desperate; I knew it was impossible for me to stand up to my boyfriend on my own, but I thought that this “counselor” could support me and perhaps help him see reason.
Instead, she sided with him. I now had two people haranguing me. I was saying over and over that I wanted to have the baby, but the two of them just bulldozed over me completely. I felt cornered. I was sitting down, and they were both standing over me. I had once received training in how to close a sale, and I felt that this “counselor” must have been to the same sales training seminars.
There was a momentary lull in the bulldozing, when I almost blurted out, “What sort of commission do you get?” but of course I didn’t. I just sat there and wept. I was never asked how I felt, or what I wanted. Nor was I offered any advice as to what resources were available to single mothers. The option of adoption was also never mentioned. I was simply told, over and over, that I could not possibly survive on my own with a baby, that sooner or later I would fall in a heap, that my boyfriend would never see me again, that my parents would never forgive me—and so it went on.
One memory which stands out very strongly from this episode is the false information given to me by both the “counselor” and the doctor who was to perform the abortion. This was, that at that stage of my pregnancy the baby was not in any way human; it was merely a “collection of cells, no bigger than a match-head.”
I have since learned, of course, that by eight weeks my baby’s heart had already been beating, and that many other organs had begun forming. The baby had already grown far bigger than I was led to believe.
While I was still crying my eyes out, an appointment was made for my abortion to be carried out the following week. I will never forget that abortion, or the week leading up to it. I have tried very hard to bury the memories and go on as if life were normal, but how can it ever be normal again when I have to live with the knowledge that my baby was killed and dismembered inside my own body? It is a fact too horrible and repulsive to cope with.
After the abortion, my boyfriend’s treatment of me grew worse. He seemed to enjoy being cruel to me, and would either laugh or storm out in a rage when I cried, which I did often. He had always had affairs before, but now he didn’t seem to care if I knew about them.
I put up with it all. It must seem incredibly stupid, but I suppose my reasoning was that after what I had done for him, there was no way I could let our relationship fail now—otherwise my baby’s death would have been for nothing. I had done it to keep him; I couldn’t give up on him after that.
And so it went on, he becoming more and more sadistic and me taking more and more without complaining. By the time I became pregnant a second time, there was no question as to what would be done. By now I was so conditioned to being under his control that I booked myself into the clinic and had the abortion, after seeing the same “counselor” and being perfunctorily reassured that, of course, I was doing the right thing.
As with the previous abortion, I felt that I had nowhere and no one to turn to, so it was easier to go along with everyone. Besides, so much of me had died with my first baby, there just wasn’t any fight left.
Unbelievably, I became pregnant a third time. This time I knew I couldn’t go through with another abortion. I would have a nervous breakdown or commit suicide. My work took me out of town for two months at this time, so I waited until I was safely in another city before I rang him and told him of the pregnancy. His reaction was, as before, absolute fury. He must have called me nearly every night I was away—but never to say he loved me or missed me, just to yell into the phone that the first thing I’d be doing when I got home would be to have an abortion.
I had a lot of free time while I was away, and I spent most of it resting and daydreaming about the baby. I felt certain it was a boy, and I talked to him, saying how precious and loved he was. I felt strong enough, when I returned home three months pregnant, to break away from the relationship and raise my child alone. Two days later, however, this treasured baby was aborted too, at the same clinic, amid tears and indescribable anguish. My boyfriend and the counselor shared a coffee nearby.
A few weeks later he had to literally drag me by the wrists to visit his sister and her newborn baby boy. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. My heart and my spirit were utterly broken. I was so grief-stricken that I thought I could never go on living.
Eventually I did manage to stand up to him. I had a family — his children — and despite not being married to him when our first child was born, my parents were loving and supportive. We divorced when our third child was born, as he had again tried very hard to persuade me to have her aborted and I refused.
My children are wonderful and I am truly happy. I love them more than I ever thought possible. The children who were taken from me, however, will always live in my heart. There is no way of conveying the enormity of my pain, or of saying how desperately I still yearn for them. What keeps me sane are my children; what keeps me going is the thought that we will all be reunited one day.
Excerpted from the book Giving Sorrow Words: Women’s Stories of Grief After Abortion, by Melinda Tankard Reist. Copyright 2000, 2007 Melinda Tankard Reist. Reprinted with permission.