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Published March 09, 2013, 11:40 PM

My abortion story: 10 area women share varied experiences

FARGO - Behind every abortion statistic is a woman facing a decision. But because of the stigma associated with abortion, we don’t often hear from them.

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO - Behind every abortion statistic is a woman facing a decision. But because of the stigma associated with abortion, we don’t often hear from them.

Ten women from the area agreed to share their personal stories with The Forum. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject and the potential for repercussions, they asked that their real names not be used.

Though there are some common threads, the women’s feelings about their abortions are as different as the women themselves.

For some, the after-effects were traumatic. For others, it reinforced their belief in a woman’s right to choose.

No matter their opinions, each wanted to encourage anyone facing such a decision to talk to someone, seek support and reach out for services.

Paula, 25, Fargo

Paula got pregnant while she and her first boyfriend – and the first person she had sex with – were seniors at a Catholic high school.

“We were both terrified. We were 18 and scared out of our minds,” she says.

Paula didn’t feel strongly about abortion one way or another beforehand, but she had no misgivings about her decision.

“I knew instantly, ‘I don’t want to be pregnant, I don’t want to be a parent, I don’t want to go through having a baby and then giving it up for adoption and never seeing it again,’ ” she says.

Like many girls and women, Paula didn’t think it would happen to her, despite the fact that she and her boyfriend weren’t using any sort of birth control.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted that it had actually happened,” she says.

It was clinic staff who first introduced Paula to her birth control options.

“I was curious, ‘Why did nobody tell us about this?’ ” she says. “I think things would’ve been different if I had learned about it in the first place.”

Erika, 49, West Fargo

Erika says her abortion 30 years ago was the single worst decision she’s made.

“The emotional and spiritual fallout from it really were pretty devastating for a very long time,” she says.

She says she felt like “the scum of the earth” as soon as she walked out of the clinic.

“That child had done nothing wrong. I had participated in his creation, and yet by the fact that it was an inconvenient time and a threat to my reputation, I chose to actively allow that death,” she says.

For years, she feared judgment – from God and anyone who might find out.

“I felt like everybody knew, but at the same time, I felt like I was the only one who ever did this,” she says.

She tried to not think about it, and mentions of abortion in the media pained her.

“I couldn’t say the word abortion out loud, or above a whisper, for many years,” she says.

By her late 20s, Erika started to recover from the trauma of the experience.

Slowly but surely, she started to see God “for who he is and how loving he is and how gracious he is.”

Now she’s at peace, and she wants other women to know they can be, too.

Tina, 45, Fargo

After a drunken one-night stand between her junior and senior years in college, Tina, a single mom with a 1-year-old, found out she was pregnant.

“My first reaction to the pregnancy test was, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’ ” she says.

Tina grew up believing abortion was wrong, but although she didn’t want to do it, she didn’t know what else to do.

“I thought it was my only option because you either have a baby or you don’t, and I didn’t want to go through the humiliation and shame of telling my parents I was pregnant again,” she says.

At the clinic, she told the doctor, “I can’t do this, I’m a Catholic.” His response? “It’s OK, I’m a Catholic, too.”

She turned her guilt inward with self-destructive behaviors like promiscuity, heavy drinking and purging.

“I know what I did for many years was very unhealthy grieving – I know that now; I didn’t know that then – but I think people need to know that it’s OK to grieve,” she says.

Julia, 79, Fargo

Julia, the wife of a clergyman and mother of four, had an abortion six months before it became legal in the U.S.

She hemorrhaged severely with each birth, and her doctor told her not to have any more children.

After Julia found out she’d had congestive heart failure with her youngest, she had an IUD put in but conceived again.

“I was nervous; my hands were wet all the time, I had this awful heaviness in my chest,” she says.

Her case went before the local hospital board of the community in which she was living. All agreed she shouldn’t have her fifth child.

“The doctor warned me that I probably couldn’t survive that fifth delivery, and I would leave four children and a husband, and maybe a baby, if the baby survived,” she says.

Julia and her husband planned a “vacation” to visit a doctor who’d been in and out of jail for performing abortions.

“When Roe v. Wade came out, if I could have gone out and led a parade, I would have done it,” she says.

Julia and her husband didn’t come to the decision easily or without prayer, but ultimately they did it to save her life and prevent their children from becoming motherless.

“I believe very strongly that nobody else should be involved in a decision like this except the person and who she wants to be involved,” she says.

Anne, 60, Moorhead

Before her abortion, Anne was a strongly pro-choice first-wave feminist.

She didn’t think she’d have one herself but felt it should be a safe, legal option for women.

That changed when Anne, then a 27-year-old full-time student and divorced mother of two, discovered she was pregnant by a married man she’d been sleeping with.

“The day of the abortion, I was such a wreck. I didn’t even think I was going to be able to physically get there,” she says.

Anne entered a downward spiral, drinking heavily and engaging in risky behaviors, like driving intoxicated with her kids in the car.

“I really think on some level I hoped that we’d all die,” she says.

She even made a plan to kill herself by driving off an abutment, but a friend stopped her.

For Anne, forgiveness has been essential to her healing process.

She says Jesus gave her the heart to forgive and pray for those involved – the father of the baby, the friends and colleagues who encouraged her to have the abortion, the doctor who did it.

“Each woman has her own list of people she needs to forgive,” she says.

Joyce, 26, Moorhead

Joyce knew from a young age that she didn’t want children. Nor did her husband.

So when she learned she was pregnant shortly after the young couple got married, they didn’t have to have a big discussion about what to do.

“Even if we had wanted children, there was no way we would have been able to afford one,” she says.

When she cried making the appointment, it was out of fear of the unknown, not guilt, shame or embarrassment.

Though her day at the clinic wasn’t easy, Joyce says she felt for the other girls and women there who weren’t sure of their decision.

She remembers thinking, “For as difficult a time as I’m having, I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”

Brooke, 70, Fargo

In order to get an abortion pre-Roe, Brooke had to tell a psychiatrist she was going to kill herself.

“It was the only way I could get an abortion in a hospital setting,” she says.

About six months after her second child was born, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and told she shouldn’t have any more children.

“My primary-care physician says, ‘You can’t possibly have this child,’ ” she says.

The procedure didn’t come cheap, either. Luckily, Brooke’s father-in-law offered the couple the money.

“He told me that he already had two grandchildren and it was important that I be their mom,” she says.

She didn’t get the same support from her previous doctor, who shamed her when he found out.

He told her, “How could you have done this? What were you thinking? If you had been here, we would have put you in the hospital for nine months.”

However, Brooke never questioned her decision.

“My health and the health of the then fetus were in jeopardy,” she says.

Helen, 27, Jamestown, N.D.

When Helen got pregnant last year shortly after she moved and started a new job, she immediately knew she wanted to have an abortion.

“The day I got the positive pregnancy test, I called the clinic,” she says.

Helen had been involved in pro-choice causes for years and already was a single mother with a 5-year-old son.

“I kind of knew how the first route goes – being single and being pregnant and struggling financially – and I wasn’t willing to do that again at that point,” she says.

Though she had to travel 90 miles and half of her first paycheck went to the clinic, Helen says she was determined that was what she wanted.

“When you have an unplanned pregnancy, it’s like something growing inside you that you don’t want there. It’s a really desperate situation,” she says.

Mildred, 44, Fargo

Mildred doesn’t remember much about her abortion. She blocked out the details in order to deal with it.

“I just remember someone telling me that no one would ever have to know,” she says.

That secret, however, burned deep within for 20 years. It affected her self-worth, her interactions with others, and her ability to form close relationships.

“I couldn’t trust anyone. I felt like I didn’t deserve to have a husband and kids,” she says.

Mildred’s friends and family noticed the change but didn’t know the reason or how to approach her.

When she finally opened up, “They all said, ‘I knew something had happened to you, but I didn’t know what,’ ” she says.

Debbie, 63, West Fargo

When Debbie told her on-again-off-again boyfriend she was pregnant, the first words out of his mouth were, “You’re going to have an abortion.”

He made the appointment, he took her to the clinic, and he paid the bill.

“I was really hoping the father of the baby would be like, ‘Let’s get out of here and I’ll take care of you,’ but that didn’t happen,” she says.

Debbie says her vulnerable state made her easily manipulated.

“You don’t make decisions based on what’s right or wrong, you make decisions based on fear and insecurity,” she says.

She recalls weeping on the abortion table knowing she was taking the life of her child.

“What men don’t realize is it’s women who undergo the physical trauma of the abortion,” she says.

The trauma continued afterward with exhaustion, depression and nightmares.

She calls it a “forbidden grief.” Her boyfriend may have pressured her, but it was her decision.

“There is nothing you can do to undo it. You can never get that life back, you can never get that child back,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590