Updated: Oct 26, 2019
It’ll be 10 years this August. It was the summer going into my senior year of high school. I was 17. My boyfriend at the time was a year older than me and was preparing to leave for college. We had dated since sophomore year and like most young men, a relationship with one person wasn’t ideal for him. Our relationship became volatile, cheating, mean words, etc. Just two very young kids unaware of how to treat one another- both parties guilty.
He left for college and I stayed in my hometown hanging with my friends. One weekend a small group of us decided to spend a short weekend at the beach. I remember this feeling of warm liquid leaving my body and I thought, ‘I’m supposed to get my period on Monday, it must be here early.’ But when I used the bathroom, it was just typical discharge. I shrugged it off and went on with my day.
I got home on Sunday evening and when I opened my big yellow bag, I found one single pregnancy test in there. No box, no pair. Just one pregnancy test wrapped in its plastic packaging. I still to this day have no idea how it got there. Maybe someone had mistaken my bag for theirs and dropped in the final pregnancy test- who knows?
I decided to pee on it for the hell of it. There’s no way I could be pregnant, though there was one time my boyfriend and I had been unsafe before he left for school about a week or so prior. But I just couldn’t be, so I decided to see what would happen if I peed on it. Instantaneously, two pink lines appeared. The key next to it translated the two lines: pregnant. My heart sunk in my chest. This can’t be. I haven’t even missed my period yet.
I went back to my bedroom and sat at the edge of my bed staring at the results. I called my sister into my room. She had just graduated college, moved back into my parent’s home and had recently been hired as the high school biology teacher. She was smart, straight edged, and the less rebellious of the two of us. Without words, I showed her the test. She wept tears of sorrow for her baby sister. It woke me from my state of shock and tears streamed down my face for the first time as we held each other.
She asked me what I wanted to do. As supportive and loving as my parents were, I was terrified to tell them. ‘What shame would I bring to the family?’ Is what my 17 year old mind played over and over again. ‘What would they think of me?’ ‘How disappointed would the be?’ It would break their hearts. I decided to leave them out of the picture and take care of this on my own with the help of my sister.
I called my boyfriend to tell him the news. At the time his response seemed so selfish and cold. “Get rid of it. You’re going to ruin my life.” In hindsight, he was just a naive boy, starting his college career. It would have only held him back. And in my heart of hearts, I knew I was incapable of being a mother so young. I knew it would destroy me and hold me back, too. I was already so fragile, dealing with tragic loss in my family and mental health concerns of my own. I had to do what was right for myself.
In Newburgh, there were two Planned Parenthood locations. One in New Windsor, not too far from where some of my friends lived and one in the city near the hospital. For fear of being seen at the one near my friends, I had my sister bring me to the latter. I could only imagine the stress it caused my sister. All I can do is thank her for her bravery and support. She stood by my side and I can’t remember fully, but I think she even picked up some of the expenses, even though I used government funding.
I handed my birth certificate and social security card to the lady at the front desk. This is the only way they would be able to cover my expenses. I filled out a very long questionnaire. I couldn’t even tell you what was on it. But after a long wait, I was called into the back as my sister waited for me in the lobby.
I was handed a cup to pee in and was told to wait in a seat for the nurse practitioner to come. She sat down at the desk and confirmed that I was pregnant. I’m still embarrassed by this response but I cradled my head in my hands and cried, “But I’m in Honors Society and I’m in all AP classes.” As if I was immune to teen pregnancy.
She hugged me as I cried on her shoulder. I’ll never forget that tender support she offered me. She was so kind and for that I am eternally grateful. All women deserve that kind of love and affection in such a troubling time as such. She said, “You have three options. Keep it. Adoption. Abortion.” Without even a moment to think, it was as if something spoke through me and decided the fate of this matter. “Abortion.” I responded, no hesitation. She told me I could take the abortion pill which sometimes came with complications or incomplete termination, or I could have the vacuum aspiration procedure which had a more effective outcome. I opted for the outpatient procedure. I couldn’t risk it not working.
She then informed me that the closest Planned Parenthood that carries out the abortion procedure was in Goshen, a very rural place about a half hour from Newburgh. They only performed abortions on Thursdays. It was a Tuesday, so I would have to wait two more days with this embryo continuing to grow inside me.
Before we left, they had to take my blood. I never had bloodwork done before. It was my first time and I was terrified. I was queasy at the thought of it. I remember this feeling of strength and bravery wash over me. I had to get the bloodwork in order to move forward with the procedure. I’ll never forget that experience. I’m reminded of it every time I give blood.
When Thursday came around, my sister and I drove out to Goshen. Upon arriving to the premises, picketers and pro-lifers were crowding the lawn. Signs that read, “Your baby is a child of God,” “Pray to end abortion,” “Don’t kill your baby,” “Defend life,” “Planned Parenthood lies to you,” “I am a person not a choice.” You get the picture. And if you don’t, no need to worry, pro-lifers got you covered with pictures of Jesus, a baby’s fingers, etc. And even as we passed them as they aggressively shook their signs at us and I knew their beliefs were not aligned with mine, I still felt pressured. What if they were right? What if “murdering” my baby (which was only a fertilized egg at this stage) was my ticket to hell? Was I making the right choice? Was I a murderer?
We parked. I got out of the car and above me on a tree branch was a crow squawking at me. I ignored the shrill noise and went inside. I filled out more paperwork and was finally escorted to the back room. This tall and larger white woman with blonde hair entered the room. She was the tech who would perform the internal sonogram. She asked me if I wanted to see my baby and hear its heartbeat. Didn’t she know I was there for an abortion? Why would she even offer that option to me? I politely declined, though the screen was to my left as she stood on my right. I’m not sure if it’s a tactic she used to try to get me to change my mind but it haunted me for a while after. She went up my vaginal canal to see where the embryo had embedded itself. She was searching for a while. “Hmm,” she’d moan every couple of seconds. She then told me she’s having trouble finding it and called the doctor in. The doctor repeated the procedure and discovered nothing. She looked at me and said, “Since you haven’t bled, it’s likely you didn’t miscarry but it’s possible this is an ectopic pregnancy.” An ectopic pregnancy is when the embryo embeds itself in the lining of the Fallopian tube instead of the uterus. It’s extremely dangerous and could lead to death if not taken care of.
They sent me for more bloodwork to confirm if the pregnancy was still present or not. The elevated count of the human growth hormone in comparison to my first blood test, confirmed that I was still pregnant, just very early on. I was only about 2 weeks. Remember, I found out I was pregnant before my missed period.
The doctor advised me to return in a week for the procedure when the embryo would be big enough to see in a sonogram. And for a week I had to live with this embryo continuing to grow inside of me. I noticed how quickly my body was changing. My boobs tripled in size feeling tender and warm. My senses were keener, I was sensitive to smells. I became ravenous for meat and craved buffalo chicken wings. I even noticed that my face had changed, my nose appeared larger and wider. I had senior pictures that week. They’re framed on my parents’ living room wall. A photo of me in the yearbook to remember this brief pregnancy by, one that would end in abortion and affect me mentally for a long time to follow.
I had told a few friends. One told me, if I decided to keep the baby, she’d help me raise it. Another told me that I wasn’t killing a life but saving two. One had an opinion but didn’t voice it, and though she grew up in a very strict Catholic home, she would be the one to bring me to Goshen for the successful procedure.
It was Thursday, my sister’s first day at her new job, and the day I would have my abortion. My sister couldn’t take me. And since I didn’t know if I would be sedated or not, I needed someone to drive me. She felt guilty and bought me a necklace with a small dove pendant that I have worn everyday since. A reminder of her love, sacrifice and support.
I spent the night at my friend’s home and in the morning we left for Goshen. She spent her entire Thursday in the waiting room for me.
This time the tech found the embryo on the sonogram. She asked once more if I wanted to see it, and finally I gave in. It was just a white speck on a black and white screen. The same tech later took me to a room where I filled out a bunch of papers. Signing left and right and making decisions I was unsure if I truly understood. She asked if I wanted to be sedated because the procedure was painful and I declined. It was an extra cost, there was a risk of seizures and sometimes death, and I believed in that moment that I deserved to suffer the pain. I was punishing myself for my mistake. It’s sick and twisted to read that, but it’s what I did and how I felt.
In the procedure room was the table, a machine, the doctor and a nurse. I laid on my back with feet in the stirrups, knees spread.
“I’m going to numb the cervix and you will feel a few pinches from the needle.”
I kept a steady breath as I felt the twinging, burning pain deep inside. Tears rolled from the outer corners of my eyes. The nurse held my hand and rubbed my arm. Her support meant more to me than I can describe. Her nurturing and loving touch made me feel like I was being caressed by my mom, a fundamental need of support for a traumatic experience like this. And to think, not many women receive this kind of compassion.
The doctor waited a few minutes for the numbness to begin and described to me what it would feel like. She explained it as period cramps but much worse. She told me I was lucky that I found out I was pregnant so early on because my uterus hadn’t grown much and there was less to take out. She failed to tell me that the contractions would be similar to ones a mother feels as she delivers her baby into the world, ones that come with deep rooted emotions. I was after all a pregnant young woman regardless if I would ever mother that child or not.
During the consistent contractions as she suctioned the embryo (which by the way, an embryo is what you call the cluster of cells for the first 8 weeks of pregnancy) along with the rest of my uterine lining, she asked me what my future plans were. I told her I planned on going to college but I wasn’t sure anymore. Then she asked, “Well what’s holding you back?” As she pulled the vacuum out and turned the machine off. I replied, “Nothing.”
I asked her if I could donate the embryo to science research and she informed me they don’t partake in that in Goshen. I figured if I was going to go through with this, maybe I could help others on a larger scale. But what I didn’t realize at that moment is that I was helping on a larger scale. I was giving myself the opportunity to finish high school and later get a college degree, to bring me exactly where I am today, helping women with their reproductive health. I was helping my ex boyfriend to live out his dreams with no ties to me or any responsibilities of any other life but his own. I was helping his entire family by letting them off the hook of having to lend a helping hand to us to support this potential baby. I was saving my parents from doing the same, having to emotionally and financially support me and my potential child. And most of all, I was helping this potential life from living an inadequate one. At 17, I didn’t even know how to do my own laundry, let alone care for another life. The “what if’s” certainly went through my mind but nothing I have today would be possible with what would now be a 9 year old child.
After the abortion, I was brought to a room with other women who were hooked up to IVs from the sedatives. They were so heavily sedated and saying things that didn’t make any sense. Some women were much older than me. Some women were there many times before. Some women seemed poor and some very wealthy. None of us spoke to each other. We just listened to the conversations the nurses would have with patients individually in this recovery room. And as I left, I felt woozy, weak, and empty.
I was instructed to wear pads and change them often. I was told to monitor my bleeding and to call if I had any problems. I can’t remember if I had a follow up appointment or not. That was not a memory I held onto. I was advised to stay off my feet and rest but I was afraid if I did, people would know what I did. Instead, I went to work the next day where I worked at a Chiropractor’s office filing records. The receptionist made a few comments about how I wasn’t myself and I brushed it off and continued my work.
I suffered from depression years to follow. I understand now that women who give birth sometimes suffer from postpartum depression, whether they deliver a healthy baby or not. Why was I any different? I was only pregnant for a brief period but did my body not change? Did my hormones not take over in preparation for supporting a new life? Did my breasts not grow? Or my blood volume not increase? Do I not carry traces of that life’s DNA in my blood? Of course I do. Like all women who’ve experienced pregnancy. Why would my postpartum care be any different? Because women who abort are forgotten or shamed. People think because the worst part is over than there isn’t a need for support. That couldn’t be more untrue.
I never took the time to process what had happened. I never went to meetings. I would bottle it up like I did other tragic events in my life until one day, I’d explode and almost end my life. Abortion is not something we do and get on with in our lives. It’s not only physical trauma but emotional trauma. I suffered from PTSD having to put my feet back into the stirrups that remind me of the event. I’m reminded of it everyday. I have no regrets, and I’m grateful for the strength I mustered to make that decision. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t had one. And there’s nothing more I want in this world than to be a mother, but when the time is right and with the right person. I’m one of the lucky ones. I had the resources I needed to go through with it. There are women out there who have to travel to different states to get it done, and some women don’t even have the resources for travel. Many women have died using unsterile equipment like metal hangers. It's gruesome and hard to read or hear but it’s the truth.
It’s never just an abortion. There’s so much that surrounds it. There’s so much healing to be done. I encourage you to be more mindful of women’s health and their mental state. Be an advocate for women, especially women of color who are much more likely to face challenges than white women. Speak up for those who can’t and listen to those crying out. I hope my story can give those who’ve never had an abortion an idea of what it’s like. If you have questions, I’m open. Please ask. I want to serve those who want to understand as best as I can.
I am Gina Benson. I had an abortion when I was 17. It does not define me. It does not make me a bad person. This is my body. What I do with it is my choice.
Much love to those who read this. Spread the love to all.