Catherine, 22

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Why I chose to take an Internship with an Abortion Provider.

From a young age, I was aware of the importance of access to safe and legal abortions. I struggled with understanding why some people were against women having control over their own bodies. Once I became aware that the majority of anti-abortion arguments came from a place of religiosity, I realized that it was very difficult to reason with someone who used their religion as a justification to regulate the actions of other people. Although both my parents are liberal in their views, I grew up listening to more conservative family members bashing a woman’s right to choose. I could tell it made people uncomfortable when I chimed in on a conversation about a woman’s right to choose, particularly when it was coming from a 15-year-old. Growing up, I saw anti-abortion protests with disturbing images. I knew that at some point I had to do something.

When I started at Oakland University, I joined a sorority and was going through the motions of being an undergraduate student. I was a psychology major who wanted to act against injustices; however, my major did not provide me with the passion I was searching for in my quest to improve women’s lives and dismantle the patriarchal structure I was raised in.

In my first year at Oakland there was an anti-abortion protest, I was taken aback by what a thought was a welcoming campus. Thankfully, there was a counter-protest taking place as well. This further solidified my awareness of the need for advocates for choice.

As I was vocal with my feminist views, many of my friends urged me to take a Women and Gender studies class. So I did. I fell in love with it and soon added it as a second major. This major has allowed me to further research TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws in other places of the United States, such as the restrictive laws in Texas.

In an introductory class, the founder of Northland Family Planning, Renee Chelian, came to speak to the class during our discussion of reproductive justice. She spoke about the difficulty of adhering to TRAP laws in Michigan and how it was even worse in other states. I knew from the moment she spoke about the struggle that I could not count on someone else to take all the action. As a graduation requirement, Women and Gender studies majors participate in an internship of your choosing. During my senior year when I was looking over the list of places to intern, Northland Family Planning stood out. I wanted to intern somewhere that was actively making a difference in women’s lives.

This work is crucial in securing women’s right to their decision making. Without people to do the work that is being done here, it is likely that anti-choice groups would try to pass even more restrictive legislature, limiting access even more. With the current political climate fueling anti-abortion groups it is so important to get involved any way we can.

This semester I will be interning with an abortion provider, immersed in an organization that is taking a stand against anti-abortion rhetoric.

Anonymous, 26

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I had an abortion when I was 26. I was working and attending college. I had a boyfriend who was a supportive and a decent person. Yet, I wasn't interested in him becoming the father of my future children, nor was I ready to become a mother. While I was aware of the profound responsibility of this pregnancy, the idea of becoming a mother and raising the child, at this time was inconceivable.

He came with me to the clinic, I was counseled on my option and the abortion was done safely. My recovery was normal. I had a friend who had gone to a less reputable doctor years earlier, had had severe complications and was subsequently unable to have children. In addition, my grandmother had suffered and nearly died after a botched abortion, resulting in my mother having to witness and suffer the after affects of poorly executed medical procedures on women who must make very difficult choices and live with the results of their decisions, either choice they make.

These events have generational as well as lifelong impact. While I was as fortunate as one could be, I was and continue to remain avidly pro- choice and will fight for safe conditions for abortions for women.

Jessica, 19

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I’m Not Your Mother, You Were Not My Child:  My Story, My Voice.

Jessica Gird

Age: 40

Age at Abortion: 19

Silence.  A yellow, out of date, tiled bathroom, gilded with green and gold wallpaper, tortoise shell sink, and fluffy yellow rugs, all original to the 1960’s.

This however, was 1997, in the bathroom of my grandparents’ house.  I held the small white, plastic stick between my legs, kind of quietly repeating this mantra in my head of, “I’m just not adding right.  I’m fine, I’m not pregnant”.  I placed the urine-saturated stick on the edge of the bathtub and waited… 5 minutes. The time sauntered by at a pace, the slowest turtle could lap, and I simply sat there stone terrified.  Terrified, of the possibility of being stuck in something I wasn’t able to talk my way out of, being stopped in my tracks with no place to feel safe, and a consequence that I couldn’t numb out with heroin or Percocet or any of the other number of substances, I’d fallen in love with.

I was 19 years old; my uterus was swelling with the dividing cells of a pedophile 13 years older than myself.  A man who had repeatedly sexually assaulted me, raped me, and mentally abused me, but yet, due to the fractures of my past, I was perfectly okay with this.  As it turns out, I was rather gay, I’d come out of my lesbian closet a year later, and a whole bunch of interactions would make a lot of sense.  But that is what WILL be, and THIS is February of 1997.  His mental abuse I associated with his age, if I was going to be sleeping with an older man, I had to understand that his needs were going to differ from others my age.  Again, let me reiterate, I was 19. He was 32.  While technically this is not prosecutable, as I had indeed reached the age of consent, but just stop and think for a moment of the propriety or viability of a coercive, mentally and sexually abusive relationship between a 19-year-old female and a 32-year-old man.  Over the next 5 years, he would be incarcerated for criminal sexual conduct with a 13-year-old.  I don’t think I need to further describe him to conclude this man, was indeed, a predator.  I can say that with full confidence in 2017.  

The two pink lines began showing their faint appearance through the clear plastic window like the sunrise after coke binge.  Harsh, painful, a reminder of all of my dignity that I’d replaced with shame and embarrassment, fed to me spoonsful at a time, slowly poisoning my self-esteem, self-worth, and my ability to find pleasure in anything that I couldn’t snort, smoke or drink.  As the figurative sun peaked at high noon and reveled the affirmation of my worst possible fears, the air left my body, my blood ceased to circulate, and for a moment, my world froze.  Everything stopped, like some sort of universal pause button had been engaged, and in those moments or moment I’m still not sure, my body no longer felt like I had any authority over it.  In that moment, it was confirmed that I was probably an infant the last time my body was truly mine.  The clarity of everything that had been stolen from me, and what I’d been left with in return, became more real to me, than the past 19 years of my life.  Just as I did with my childhood abuser, my mind had turned my body into something that wasn’t for me, and that I was not allowed to make choices on.  The clarity of having learned about sexuality at the age of 5 from a grown man insisting on “tickling my pee pee”, again at 8 by being held down, my pants nearly ripped off and tortured by neighborhood boys, and now by this man.  My body was now, not only my greatest enemy, but had also created space for this man’s DNA to multiply inside me.

The information of the pending arrival of potentially a third child for him, was not met with one of those “happy dad” YouTube moments, but instead with this phrase “you know if you have this kid, you won’t be able to do anything you want to do”.  While this is definitely not the harshest delivery of “I’m not interested” it was still a pretty emotionally invalidating response, and while I’d already considered that possibility, and long decided this little product of manipulation, coercion, abuse, and addiction would not be staying for 9 months inside my body, sucking away at what was left of my soul; the cold, absent, narcissistic quality of the delivery was a bit of a gut punch.  If only that was all I needed to rid my womb of this albatross, but alas, we can shit in one hand, and wish in another and see which one fills up first.

So, there are multiple emotional stages folks can experience in the realization of an unwanted pregnancy.  My first stage was shock and fear and embarrassment.  Here’s what I desperately needed.  I needed someone to give me a hug, hold some space for me, and to reassure me no matter what happens, I have the capability to figure this out.  Because I was 19, and in the express lane to addiction-ville, and a multitude of other reasons, I did not have a great relationship with my mother, or a great relationship with well thought out decision making.  Talking to her?  NO!!  How about my best friend? Sure.  I called her, but really, I needed more information.  I needed to know what would happen, how things went, what to do, how it feels, etc.  And unfortunately, I had few folks that could answer this for me.  These were the days before Google and the “Abortion Pill” and anything that was really even affirming about abortion.  It was still something (still pretty present today) that held a stigma, that wasn’t really talked about, or if it was, it was whispered in shame and degradation.  I’d seen a place multiple times on Woodward.  A nice place, in a decent looking space, (this is now a martial arts studio,) thankfully.  Those magical and mysterious words “Crisis Pregnancy Counseling” caught my eye and bells rang like angel voices inside my ears.  Like trumpets from the heavens played by cherubs dressed in sheets who do part time work, shooting arrows at hopeful Valentine’s Day, lovers.  This is what I needed.  I needed to be counseled, just to be heard for a little bit and hopefully an appointment to get this out of me.  Surely, a “Crisis Pregnancy Center” will have tons of resources, amazing women to talk to, and medical professionals that can explain the facts about the “abortion procedure”.  

It certainly seemed I was spot on.  I was met by women with very large hair, big smiles, and wide eyes.  Their concern was so genuine, so motherly, so loving.  When I cried, there was an arm around my shoulder, and an “ohh sweetie, we can help you”.  At 19, I was naïve as hell, I trusted women, I felt safe with them, so the idea that this kind, big haired, Holston smelling woman might have an ulterior motive or agenda, didn’t really register for me, not at that point anyway.  She sat me down and a wooden chair with a brown woven fabric seat that represented every shrink’s office I’ve ever been in, and sat across from me at a large wooden desk.  I told her, I wanted to make an appointment for an abortion.  Her reply was quick, “well let’s talk about adoption” first.  This response caused an immediate reaction of full and total terror inside me, I began to cry, desperately cry and exclaimed, “I can’t do that!  There’s no way I can do that” I couldn’t feel this thing in me come to life, to move, to grow, to remind me on a momentary basis of all the shit I’d landed in thus far, of how it got there, and all the things I couldn’t make go away.  There was NO WAY.  I responded nearly hysterical, “I know I am going to have an abortion, I just wanted to talk to someone about it, to understand what happens”.  Calmly and coolly, the big haired lady asked “would you like to see a video on the procedure?  We do have videos”.  Again, oblivious, I agreed.  I was shown to another room, with posters on the walls of pregnant women and pictures of fetal development through the stages, a TV stand with the latest VHS machine attached, more of the brown, wooden, shrink chairs, and a small square side table dressed with pamphlets about pregnancy, nutrition, assistance, free ultrasounds, etc. and amongst all of those, a small black box, with tiny little babies’ kind of like those Russian doll things.  They were all shaped like a full-term baby, just at different sizes and with tiny little details that represented each inter-utero milestones.  She inserted a tape into the machine and pressed play.  She told me we would do my ultrasound after the movie was over.  I sat back into the chair as I watched an attractive woman walk onto the screen in a fresh white Dr.’s coat.  Everything seemed legit thus far.  She went on never using terms like embryo or fetus, or fetal tissue, but always referring to “your baby”.  I was about ten minutes in and fully confused as she talked about how much pain is not only experience by the patient but also, the baby’s ability to feel pain during the abortion.  This made zero sense in my head. And as I became distracted by my own analytical, science based nature, my heart stopped.  I looked around me, not a single piece of literature regarding abortion services.  There were documents about increases in breast cancer post abortion, infertility, post abortion, mental health issues post abortion, and in the corner of a pink pamphlet advertising something, on the back, down in the corner in small print, I saw the words “pro-life”.  My body reacted as if I’d seen a spider.  I threw the paper, jumped up, ran out the door, screaming “What the fuck?” got into my car and proceeded to have a full meltdown.  

Okay, at this point, I GIVE UP!  I need someone to care for me, to just give me a hug, to help me.  I speed home and I find my mother.  Lucky for me, I was raised in a pro-woman, pro-choice household.  She did not shy away from the subject or possibility of abortion and neither did I.  I finally felt like maybe there was some light in this situation.

These were the days of phone books.  The yellow pages, all thin and newspaper-y with quarter page illustrations containing words like “pregnancy help” and “Women’s Center” and “Crisis Pregnancy?” all containing some form of female imagery.  I settled on the one that looked like the 1980’s.  It was this double silhouette of a woman’s profile, and it listed “Abortion Services”, something the other lacked.  Honestly, I can’t recall the name or location, but I know I ended up in their parking lot, in my beige Lincoln Grand Marquis that I’d been given by my grandparents after totaling my first car.  There were protestors, it was snowing and we sat in the warmth of the car him, angry at the world for “having to be up this early” and me FUCKING TERRIFIED.  I took a deep breath, grabbed the door handle and exited the car.  Immediately, I heard the rhetoric that has changed very little in 20 years.  The same ideas, the same anti-agendas, and all I could do through my cracking voice was say, “fuck you”.  Tears streamed down my face, as I pulled the door open and made my way up the flight of stairs.  I remember the waiting room being full of people, and it seemed like everyone smelled.  The whole space was just thick with winter sweat and body smell.  I signed in, they took my blood, and I sat and waited.  The predator was restless.  He didn’t want to sit there.  He didn’t want to wait for me.  He wanted to go home directly after because he “didn’t want to sit with my mom all evening”.  I was starving.  My stomach was growling, I was terrified because no one was really telling me anything other than pricing.  All the other women around me where laughing and joking.  It was like the volume got turned up to 12 in life, the room began to swallow me whole, the voices and noises and ringing of the phones became amplified to a point where I swore I could see sound, it was then the predator advised, he was going to find something to eat, he grabbed my keys, exited the room despite my pleading with him to stay, and left me there.  Sitting, crying, lost, abused, alone.  Whenever he took my car, he was rarely quick and rarely honest about what he was doing with it.  All of this information, all of this emotion, all of this desperation is what kept me company.  I simply couldn’t go through with the procedure.  I asked to use a phone to call my mom to come and help me, asked for my money back, and waited.  It wasn’t that I was having second thoughts, it wasn’t the protestors, it was a total shut down of all rational thought and decision-making ability.  The trauma not only of my childhood, but the entire trauma that this garbage human had infected me with, had come to the surface and literally paralyzed me in my seat.  My mother arrived, we waited for the return of my vehicle, including the predator, I returned him to somewhere, honestly, I have no idea where, and I went home.

My mother knew a private physician that provided abortion services in Troy.  Much of this I do not have any recall of, but according to conversation with my mom, I was completely disconnected, very cold, very matter of fact, and completely devoid of any emotion.  Terror.  Just terror.  I remember the paper dress that didn’t fit me, my naked ass ripping away at what shred of dignity I kept with me.  I remember sobbing on the table and the IV inserted into my vein, and the male doctors voice saying “you need to calm down or the medicine won’t work” which honestly only made me more upset, then there was blackness.  Nothing, quiet, stillness. Peace.  And then, there was a navy-blue recliner, with a hospital pad on the seat, a blood pressure cuff on my arm slowly inflating, while a nurse sporting hair with much less height than our “lifer” friend, asking me how I felt, while stroking my arm.  I felt my lip start to quiver, and emotion swell in my throat, then the sting of salt running down my cheeks.  I asked her “is it over?” she said “yes, you’re in the recovery area now, I just want you to sit here for a bit and take some deep breaths, and rest.”  

The tears began to come at a much greater rate, with much more emotion behind them.  The stained my cheeks and my paper gown, and anything that had any sort of absorption skills within my personal radius.  In that moment, while I cried, I was not experiencing grief, or loss, or pain, or sadness, or regret.  I was crying because I was relieved, because I could walk away from this now, because this choice, gave ME a choice to live, to heal, to understand my own trauma and name it so it no longer had power over me and my decisions.   It’s been 20 years since that day.  And it hasn’t been easy, but that day gave me the strength to understand what I am capable of enduring, surviving, and healing from.

Today, I spend my Saturdays as a clinic escort.   Most other days, I am somewhere on the front line in the war against reproductive rights.  I am a voice for our patients when they need one, I am a hug if they want one, and always an ear that reassures them they are being heard.  My partner and I brainstorm together on how we can create a safe space for patients to sit with their emotions, to laugh, to feel accepted, to grieve, if they need to. Whatever experience, and they are ALL unique to the individual, we make space for and respect.  We provide pro-women, pro-voice coloring books for wait times, we’ve created “family packs” for families left without childcare options, giving the children onsite some fun things to do, create and distract from the anti-choice images and hate speech that are horrifying for a child.  We play music that represents female strength, and challenge the structure of our political climate, and we drown out the poisons directed her way.  And, for every patient that leaves our clinic, I meet them with an affirming smile, and this statement “be kind to yourself, you are amazing”, because no matter what the circumstance that brings us together, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that we all are deserving of self-love, we all are deserving of kindness, we are all capable of healing, and we are all in charge of our own bodies despite what we’ve been taught.  AND, we all need to be reminded how truly fucking amazing we are.

Farah, 19

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I realized I was pregnant in the middle of August in 2012. I was 19, in my second year of undergrad, and living in a filthy, disgusting house with my heroin addicted boyfriend, and I never thought this would be my life. I had no friends, no money, and zero support from my family, which left my feeling stuck in my terrible relationship. His substance abuse seemed to be triggering some sort of psychosis, and I was desperate for him to get better. When I told him I was pregnant, he promised to stop using, get a job, and that he would take care of us. I told him I would keep the baby if he could live up to those promises, because I could not in good conscience deliver a child into a life of poverty and drug addiction, or one in which they would bounce around foster homes, making them vulnerable to all kinds of abuse. I was overwhelmed and felt paralyzed. 

A few weeks went by and there were no changes. The pregnancy was making my muscles sore and I was having food cravings, but he couldn’t even help me with my most basic needs and wants because he was buying drugs and becoming more and more mentally ill. I realized how delusional I was to think things would get better. 

I called my local planned parenthood to make an appointment after finally talking to my parents after months of no contact. I was kindly guided through the steps I should take by the woman on the phone. The women at the clinic were great, too. Everyone was very gentle with me and frequently asked to make sure I was ok.

I am so grateful that I was able to access abortion safely and easily. To this day, I still think, "thank god for my abortion," every time something good happens to me, because I know I would still be living in poverty if I carried that child to term. My life is now full of positive relationships and I am on a better path. I feel good knowing I didn't add one more suffering, sad, hungry child to the world.

Anonymous, 25

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I am not a perfect human. None of us are. There are a lot of choices that I’ve made in my life that I look back on today and cringe. Having an abortion is not one of those choices. Honestly, talking about it feels strange, because it was such a small blip on the timeline of my life.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant there was no question in my mind that I was not ready to raise a child. I had very little financial stability, my jobs took me all over the US and I was in a relationship that was rapidly crumbling. That is not a healthy space in which to bring a child into the world.

The two weeks between finding out I was pregnant and going into the clinic for my abortion were hard. I was physically tired and sick all the time. There were moments of guilt and sadness; of course, knowing you have the opportunity to bring life into the world is an indescribable feeling. However, the times that I laid there just wanting to get that parasite out of me as fast a possible were far greater.

After it was over, the only way I can describe how I felt is relief. Waves and waves of it. I am lucky that I got a second chance and a fresh start because I know many women do not. This is not a sob story. Nothing about my experience was extreme or horrible. I am a responsible, 25-year-old woman who made a series of choices regarding MY body and MY future. I do not lose sleep over it and I do not regret it and I wish the same for all women.

Jordan, 27

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I have worked for an abortion provider for the past 5 years, and I have never had an abortion. I see the true responsibility of parenthood and understand that women need abortions. Growing up in West Michigan, NO ONE discussed abortion. West Michigan is known for their conservative views. Our highways were littered with anti-abortion billboards and procedures were often discussed from the religious point of view. I did not know how to get one; I didn’t know what happened, and most of all I didn’t understand why it was so stigmatized.

In college, like many sheltered white girls from the suburbs, I found a group of women who were unapologetic, forward thinking and advocates against the shame, stigma and obstacles surrounding a woman’s right to choose. Post-college, I found my degree worthless without furthering my education and sought employment at a Metro-Detroit area abortion provider. As a liberal, recent college graduate/activist, I could not wait to work in something as “scandalous” as abortion care. I had only just found my voice and outside the clinics, I loved to watch friends, family and strangers cringe when I told them what I did. I loved shouting, “I WORK FOR AN ABORTION PROVIDER!” at the top of my lungs. My social media feed turned into my soapbox. I was reading more articles, sharing more knowledge, and fighting off anti-abortion trolls in a single bound. Within the clinics, I asked every patient, “So, how are you feeling about this decision and how did you come to it today?” and EVERY answer I heard was valid. Most women already had children they couldn’t care for; others had aspirations not suitable for motherhood at the time. Some experienced failed relationships and job loss while even more just weren’t ready to be mothers. The stories of these women inspired me, broke by heart and gave me a new perspective on the hardships and successes life had to offer. As providers, we save the lives of women coming in our doors everyday.

All this excitement came to a halt after about 6 months of direct care in the clinic. Without explanation, people I knew for years no longer reached out or returned my calls. Members of my family shied away from discussion about my work and eventually stop inquiring about any aspect of my life. I could not find a balance between the person I used to be and who I was becoming. I could no longer ignore the inaccuracies spread by anti-abortion organizations, propaganda and individuals. I knew the truth and I sought to share it without knowing how to do so effectively. Coinciding with issues in my personal life was the introduction of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws in Michigan. Before these laws, I was able to build connections with my patients. I heard their stories, held their hand during their procedures, wiped their tears, and laughed with them. After these laws passed, I was forced to channel my energy into comprehending legislation instead of providing holistic patient care. For the first time, I saw how the decisions made in Lansing affected my daily life and presented further obstacles to the individuals in my care. I was shocked that after 40 years, access to abortion was still in jeopardy. These laws were dripping in deception; disguised as making abortion safer for women, but I know the truth. ABORTION IS ALREADY SAFE! These regulations made providers work harder and women jump higher. My clinic was shelling out money to meet arbitrary licensing requirements when the funds could have been used to help women afford procedures. Staff members were exhausted trying to integrate holistic patient care with wonky restrictions. Patients were no longer getting the emotional support my clinic was known for.

And I was sick of it.

So, I took action in my longer-term fight for justice. With education, I reclaimed my power. I earned my Master’s in Social Work, specializing in policy and community development. I interned with an organization dedicated to teaching communities and politicians the realities of abortion care. So, here I am again, still a post-graduate Master of Social Work with a calling to social justice. I created this storytelling campaign so that we can hear from the 1 in 3 women who will have an abortion in their lifetime in this country. Where are the stories of these women? Where are the people who love and support the choices of these women? Where are the providers who care for these women? All of these stories must be shared so that we can stop restrictive legislation and start respecting the bodily autonomy of our women. Women need abortions, and they will have them regardless if they are legal or not. What do our women deserve?