Crime of Omission

Post written by LifeChoice Exec member Mackenzie

I’d like to think I was like every other first year student when I stepped foot on campus for the first time in 2013. My mind buzzing with the anticipation of all new things to come, arms full of more stuff than I could reasonably carry and entirely lost trying to navigate my way to my dorm. On the car ride, I had daydreamed about what my university experience would be like: All the clubs I was going to join, the friends I was going to make, the parties I was going to go to, and most of all, I promised myself I would work hard to keep up my previously exceptional GPA. And for the most part, the first few months of university life were exactly what I thought they would be. Well… except for the overwhelming exhaustion I couldn’t seem to kick, despite taking the sleeping medication my doctor had promised me would fix the problem. “It’s just the heavy school schedule” I told myself. Little did I know I was quickly losing hold of the dream I had envisioned for myself during that morning drive in September.

It was the morning after a wild party, held in our room the night before when everything started to come tumbling down. I awoke, groggy and head spinning, my boyfriend laying in bed next to me. A sickly feeling was rushing over my whole body. I ran to the bathroom and threw up like I had never thrown up before in my life. Then I nearly passed out on the bathroom floor. Once I mustered up the energy to drag myself back to bed, I laid there in silence, staring at the ceiling. Something was very wrong. I have been drinking and attending house parties since I was 14 years old. Never once have I thrown up from consuming alcohol.

Fast forward to a few days later. Early evening, my boyfriend and I were at my parents house getting ready to attend a family event. I was about to hop in the shower, but first, I had to use the pregnancy test we had picked up from the store earlier that day, just as a precaution.

This is a good time to mention that, to me, there was no possible way I could be pregnant. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) at the beginning of August, and had only gotten my period 3 times in the prior year. My doctor told me it was unlikely that I ever ovulated at all, and if I did, it would be be just a few weeks before my period. Since I had a period the first week of school in September, I figured I had some months to go until my next one. The way I saw it, I was practically infertile. Pregnancy was impossible.

So I stood in the bathroom with my boyfriend watching the little wash of red ink flood across the test screen. What a sight it would have been for a bystander to see the utter look of shock on my face when two red lines appeared almost instantly in the results window. And I wasn’t just surprised, I practically went into shock. Without saying a word or looking at my boyfriend, I went and got into the shower. I sat, curled up on the floor of the tub, motionless and not making a sound, letting the hot water pound the top of my head for what felt like an eternity. And then I cried, silent hot tears that would have been virtually indistinguishable from the water running down my face. I stayed like that for a long time. I remember that moment so vividly. I remember being so numb, feeling nothing at all while simultaneously being utterly terrified. I wanted to stay in that shower forever.

It was probably 3 weeks before we told anyone. We wanted to decide for ourselves what was right before being subjected to our parents. We were pretty sure my boyfriends parents were going to lose their minds. I knew my parents were going to be disappointed, but I had grown up in a very accepting home. I always had a sense that if I wound up in this situation, my family would be very supportive of my decision. Why wouldn’t they? I have always been a responsible and mature young woman, practically taking care of myself from the time I was 13. I had been completely independent from them, living on my own since graduating from high school a year before entering university.

In those three weeks my boyfriend and I talked a lot about our future. He was the love of my life; I’d loved him since the day I met him when I was 14 years old, and he loved me. This was by no means a deal breaker. We decided I was going to move out of residence, he would move home from his school in another city and we would get a place together. We didn’t know how, but we planned to get jobs and continue school and we were determined to have the baby that we already loved so dearly. I was “pro-choice”, and had thought about abortion, but I was sure that it wasn’t for me. The fear quickly passed, and those 3 secret weeks became a time of great joy and excitement for what was to come. I still look back to some nights during that time, when I would lay in bed on my back, and he would lay between my legs, kissing my belly and whispering inaudible sweet nothings to the small baby that lay within. I fell more and more in love with both of them with every passing day.

But we were still very young, and despite finding the bravery to love each other and find happiness under those circumstances, we needed guidance and we needed help. There were a lot of questions still floating around about exactly how we were going to make this work, and there were a lot of fears that somehow we were missing a vital piece of aged knowledge that held the key to success under our circumstances. We started looking around for resources and information.

And this is where the story goes sour.

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Let’s start with the obvious problem: our society pushes a pessimistic view that “children are a burden,” not a gift, and “If you have kids without a big house, a fancy car and high powered careers, you are going to ruin your life.” I searched the internet for information about how to manage having a baby at this stage in life. All I found were comments condemning young women for underestimating the responsibility and assurances from up on some high horse that it is extremely hard. According to them, I was going to have to put my dreams on the back burner. Ok. I am lucky enough to have the backbone to understand that some people just want to suck the beauty out of everything in life, so I was able to look past such close-minded thoughts. But a little chunk of my confidence was chipped away.

My biggest concern was being able to finish my degree, so I said forget the internet haters and naturally turned to the next source I could think of, which was my university. At first I looked online at the university website for some information on student parent support, but I found nothing other than a vague statement saying “you have options and support!” Real helpful. Then I saw a personal counselling service offered for free by the school. While the counsellor was very empathetic and shared with me that he was faced with the same situation while in school with everything turning out fine, he failed to address my main concerns. Instead he called up a program counselor and told her my situation. This discouraged me quite a bit but I saw her immediately afterward. She, if anything, seemed a little taken by surprise with my distressed state, and showed very little sympathy, which made me quite embarrassed. She told me the basic information about exam extensions and altered writing arrangements. That was it.

What I had really been looking for in all this was a place I could turn to for information about financial support for young parents, how student parents manage to carry on with school, what the first year would be like and what resources I could utilize to help me get through it all. And I was also looking for student support, such as a student parent group or crisis pregnancy group that would allow me to make friends in my situation so I wouldn’t feel so alone on campus. I knew on a campus of over 22,000 students I couldn’t be the only one going through this, but I had no idea where to look and no one I asked was pointing me in the right direction.

After a few days of looking for resources I was in a very discouraged state. My composure was seriously shaken. To make matters worse, the time that we had to tell our parents was shorter than we had originally anticipated. I had seen my doctor just a few days prior, and had experienced the most profound moment of my life as I saw the small fluttering heartbeat come into view on the ultrasound screen. But the baby was bigger than we thought it would be. I had taken a few pregnancy tests in September and October because of how exhausted I was feeling, and they were all negative, so I assumed I was only a few weeks along. My doctor wanted to do an ultrasound anyway because I hadn’t had a period since early September, but told me it was probably going to be too soon to see anything. We found out we had in fact conceived in the third week of September. At this point I was almost 3 months pregnant.

As I said previously, we were both set on keeping the baby. By then we had told all our friends and they were very happy for us. But at this point in my life I wasn’t opposed to abortion, and because my time was limited and I wanted to hear what my parents had to say, I let my doctor schedule an appointment for me to have an abortion in case I changed my mind last minute. Interestingly enough, and take this as you will, I didn’t ask for that appointment. My doctor had mentioned abortion many times during our visits and told me It was best that I made the appointment just in case. I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to. At this point all I knew about abortion was that it was a procedure that ended a pregnancy, it was mildly painful, yet apparently most women felt relief afterwards and it was strongly advocated for which gave it a good reputation.

To our major surprise my boyfriend’s parents were extremely calm and supportive. They told us they would support us no matter what we chose. This gave us a lot of hope. Even more to our surprise, though, was the lack of support we received from my parents, not to mention the downright cruelty. Just a few days before the appointment I told my Mom. She was understanding and quite heartbroken for me. She asked me what I wanted to do, and I told her I wanted to keep it. I asked her to tell my Dad.

When she had told him, they invited me over to talk alone without my boyfriend, and since the tone was pretty good thus far, I was totally blindsided by what I walked into. My Father was furious. I endured an hour of being told that my life was over, I was going to be poor for the rest of my life, I would never finish school or get a good job, my boyfriend would leave me as soon as the baby was born and I would never get a guy again because “no one wants a girl who has a baby.” These were all my fears. These were all the things I had read and heard over the weeks. I had been relying on my parents, my most trusted support network, to shield me from these things. But in the moment of my greatest weakness, they tore me down that much more. When asked how I would afford to live on my own, I turned to my mom with desperation in my eyes and expressed that I had hoped to live at home just until I saved enough money to get my own place. To my utter disgust, the woman who had sympathized with me so deeply the day before totally turned her back on me, telling me, “Oh come on, I work full time, how am I going to sleep with a baby crying at all hours of the night.” I was speechless. At that moment I felt more alone than I ever had. My Father proceeded to tell me that an abortion was, “just a small quick procedure” and that the pregnancy was, “just a cluster of cells,” making it explicitly clear that he expected me to to go through with it.

I went to my room that night and cried myself to sleep, loud heartbreaking sobs that echoed through the whole house all night long. I thought if I cried long enough and loud enough my parents would come to my side and comfort me, and perhaps be moved by my profound sadness into reconsidering. They never came. I had found no support from my school or my parents, the two most important things in my life at that point. Although I had the undivided support of my boyfriend and his family, I was assured by my Dad, the man I looked up to most in this world, that he was going to leave me faster than I knew what hit me. I was numb, more numb than the day I read that positive test in the bathroom, more numb than I’d ever been in my life. And I stayed that way, almost as if I’d gone into autopilot.

The next morning my boyfriend and I woke up at 6:30 am. We got dressed in our sweatpants and hoodies and crawled into the car. I drove to the clinic as my boyfriend didn’t have his license. The experience felt something close to walking yourself to the hangman’s noose. I cried the whole way there. When we arrived we stopped on the road for what felt like an hour. We just sat in silence in the car. We discussed turning around and telling my parents we went through with it and letting them discover the lie in their own time. Every day of my life since then I wished I had done just that. But I was too numb to muster the strength for any act of rebellion that day. Sometimes I wish there had been pro-life picketers outside the clinic that morning. It may have given me the final push I needed to snap out of the trance.

In the clinic we were taken into a room and seen by a nurse. In hindsight, I know now they were supposed to give us emotional counselling and ensure the decision was really what we wanted, but at the time I did not know that. This is an example where

regulations towards abortion that are deemed “good practice” and which are meant to “make it safe” fall short. The nurse quickly asked if I was sure it’s what I wanted, I said yes, she checked a box on her sheet, and with that the topic was left alone. I think with a proper interview and a bit of prying I would have explained what was really going on and I could have been turned away like I should have been. It would have taken someone especially distracted to not notice how solemn and emotionless we both were, which should have been a red flag.

They made my boyfriend stay in the waiting room and put me in a room with other girls awaiting the procedure. There were women from all walks of life there, but the most heartbreaking to me was seeing a young girl no older than 15 sitting in a chair in the corner looking scared to death. I started to feel sick, then dizzy. I got up and left the room. Walking down the empty hallway towards the entrance, I yelled for help as I felt myself getting more dizzy, but no one was around. Finally I turned a corner into an office with nurses sitting at desks and was caught just seconds before I lost consciousness. When I came to, I threw up for a few minutes and then was sent back to the room to wait.

Eventually a nurse came to take me to get an ultrasound. In the room, the screen was turned away from me so I couldn’t see the baby. I asked to see the screen, and the nurse simply told me the monitor did not pivot. End of discussion.

The procedure itself was fine, and I have only the drugs to thank for that. My boyfriend came in the room and held my hand. There was a trolley beside the bed with various instruments and a thick long tube attached to a clear glass jar. I was terrified. I cried out in shock when the doctor put her fingers in me, to which she responded “We know you can fit a penis in there, so this shouldn’t be that bad.” I was offended by her lack of respect. I was still frantically panicking when one nurse asked if I wanted anti-anxiety medication through my IV, which I reluctantly agreed to. Never having any such medication other than that one time, I don’t know what is typical to expect, but what I was administered was very strong. My head started to spin and the world went soft, as though I was standing in a cloud. They started the procedure immediately without really giving me warning or time to prepare, and although I felt some pain it was like I could not react to it in my feather-light state. And then it was over as fast as it began, and I was sent home shortly after.

My boyfriend had a bedside view for the whole thing and to this day he refuses to tell me exactly what he saw for fear of upsetting me, but on occasion he has mentioned that using a clear glass jar seemed a bit of an archaic practice.

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I arrived home from the abortion, and we stood quietly in the kitchen. My Dad walked in and said, “Did you guys go already?” and we said yes. He looked straight at me and said “See, what did I say, it wasn’t that bad after all.” That moment was the cherry on top of a ruined relationship.

We stayed at my parents house for two months after the abortion. They pretended like nothing had happened and never spoke to me of it again, but I refuse to believe they didn’t see the the steady downward spiral I got sucked into.

No matter how hard I try, I can never put into words the profound pain I have experienced after having an abortion I did not want. I cried every night for months, again the same loud heart-wrenching sobs of someone who’s just lost the deepest love of her life. It’s impossible to explain if you haven’t been there, except to say that I would get hit with a wave of sadness that literally flushed over my entire body, and my heart at that moment would actually hurt, like sharp pains, in a way I imagine a heart attack would feel. I always thought “heartbreak” was a figurative term, but I learned after having an abortion that it is very possible to feel like your heart is literally breaking in two. It’s a sickening feeling that almost can’t be controlled.

There were other effects too, almost too many to list. My relationship with my parents was totally destroyed; I no longer trusted them, and in many ways I blamed them for failing me so severely. My goals and dreams all faded, my motivation disappeared, I started failing classes, not showing up for exams, not studying at all. I always loved school, but in this state, a lot of days I skipped school because getting out of bed was too much effort. I suffered with depression for at least a year after the procedure. I went through periods of self-loathing, numbness, uncontrollable crying, sadness and self isolation. At my deepest moments, my emotions would all disappear except for a pit in my stomach, and my wrists would ache as if asking me to just cut them and get it over with. I know what you are thinking, these are scary words. Trust me when I say they were even scarier feelings, ones that were all too often out of my control. From the stress I developed a horrible gastrointestinal disorder that left me crippled over with stomach pains for months on end. The doctors could not cure me because I could not verbalize or recognize what I was going through. I tried to talk to my best friend about it, but she did not understand. I tried to tell my boyfriend, but he had a hard time being there for me as he was facing his own demons from our choice. I told my Dad on many occasions that I was scared and needed to get help, but he never stepped up and got me there. For a long time I thought it was never going to end.

Though the most severe of the symptoms have faded from my life, there are still days where I relapse back into that deep, painfully heartbreaking sadness, especially on “anniversary dates.” And there are long term effects of being under that much stress and depression for so long. My memory is only a fraction of what it used to be; I hardly remember names, and it takes me twice as long to learn because I have to read information multiple times in order to absorb it. My personality is different too. I used to be an outgoing, energetic person, very positive and carefree right up until the last week before the abortion. Now I identify as being very quiet and introverted, I can hold a conversation but I get tired of social interaction quickly and crave to be alone. I find I have to remind myself to be positive on a daily basis. I no longer enjoy going out to parties and usually feel I don’t have the energy or patience for them. Before getting pregnant I enjoyed the same carefree lifestyle of most young adults, but now I feel as though I’m living a responsibility free life on “borrowed time”, time that I bartered for with my baby’s life. That feeling takes all the enjoyment out of a “child free existence.”

Looking into the future, it scares me to know that I simply don’t know how this is going to affect me moving forward. This is a demon that moves and changes over time. I don’t know how I will feel when I have my first child, or how I will feel if I never again have a chance to have a child, or if it is difficult to conceive later in life. I recently read a statistic that showed a majority of women on average took more than 7.5 years to atone or come to terms with their decision, and it scares me that it will take that long, because it negatively affects my life every single day.

Recently two of our friends got married, and have been sharing with us their plans to conceive soon. I began having dreams where they were pregnant and I would become very upset, almost angry, that they did it sooner than they had planned to. At first I simply thought, “what a strange dream”. But then I began to consider for the first time how I really would feel about seeing my friends go through that process. It’s one thing to see pregnant women or babies on the street, which at one time made me uncomfortable, but this will be my first experience with a friend going through pregnancy who will most certainly want to share every aspect of it with me. I fear the first time she asks me if I want to feel the baby kicking I am going to seriously relapse, and I think my dream is showing me this is happening faster than I’m ready to face it. But other people’s lives carry on, and I can’t quite explain to my friend why I can’t be around her while she’s pregnant. This will be one of many times in my life I’m going to have to learn to cope with the consequences of my choice.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am a different person than I was before the abortion, and I am not better off now than I was before. I wish every day that I could take it all back, choose to keep my baby and go on living the life I was meant to live. Every day since that moment has felt like I’m living a life that is not mine to live. The reality is I made a choice I can never take back.

These are the adverse effects of abortion that women often fail to consider before the procedure.

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I consider myself lucky to have now found healing enough to speak about my experience without bringing up painful feelings. That healing came from a strange place. It started with me in a very low place knowing I needed to do something to just share my feelings, to be understood by people who understood the issue, and I knew I needed to face those feelings head on.

Somehow I found myself sitting in a pro-life club meeting, our Life Choice club here at the university. At first I thought, “Are you crazy? What are you doing here? You’re going to be eaten alive.” Like many people, I had a stigmatized view of the Pro-Life Movement brought on from years of propaganda spread by people of opposing views. But I stayed and I listened. At first a few things were hard to listen to, not because they were offensive or attacking someone of my circumstance, but because they triggered all those hard feelings I was trying to snuff out. But I knew I had to face those feelings and I figured going all in was the best way to do that. Over time though, it got easier to listen to, and I started to view myself not as a victim of a crime of omission, but as a person with some real valuable evidence to bring to the cause. Suddenly I realized I could do more than silently wallow in my own heartbreak: I could redirect my feelings to reflect my aversion to a system that is hurting thousands of women a year, a system that hurt me. For the first time in my life, I thought “Hey, there is something really messed up happening in this country” and I realized it was not my fault I got burned by the system.

I remember, on one of these occasions, our club member Alex giving a talk on how women need, above all other things, love and support when they are faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and how women need support when they have had to face abortion too. I was so deeply moved by the concern that everyone was expressing for women in like circumstances to mine that I decided to share my story with the group. Now not everyone may agree with my choices in the past, but not at all to my surprise, everyone was respectful about my situation and sympathetic as well as supportive. I knew from then on I was in the right place. I only wish I met this lovely group of men and women prior to making my decision about abortion. But I’m happy I’m here now.

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Prior to my abortion I was undecidedly “pro-choice”. I would identify as somewhere right in the middle. I am not religious, I had no good reason to be against abortion, even though I knew it wasn’t for me, and was never really the type to get involved in someone else’s choices. I still am not. But now I identify more with being “pro-life” as I feel that there is a lot not being talked about on the issue. I feel women like me all too often lack guidance and end up asking the wrong questions, ultimately leading to a life altering mistake. Most of all, I feel that a majority of the time abortion is a disservice to women, giving them a sugar-coated promise of an “easy way out” without fully disclosing the fine print of what happens to you after you have made that choice.

Prior to having the abortion, I asked questions like “how is a baby going to change my life?”, and most of the responses were negative. They scared me into thinking I couldn’t do it. I lacked resources to support me. It’s a scary world we live in where a mother and father who love each other dearly and desperately desire to have their baby feel they have no choice but to brutally terminate their pregnancy because of the negative, often twisted messages they are being sent about parenthood and success. The messages we failed to receive were those of the sheer poetic beauty of parenthood, the inner strength that comes from having a beloved child dependant on you, and the overwhelmingly positive effect which such responsibility can have on your life and on your success.

The one question I didn’t think to ask was “How is having an abortion going to change my life?”. I think abortion is viewed as a quick fix, a fast procedure that allows you to carry on as though nothing happened at all. So I think often times people don’t consider what life looks like after an abortion. I wasn’t prepared for that answer. I think many women aren’t prepared. I believe if more women asked this question and were educated on the facts of post-abortion reactions they would find the strength to say “abortion isn’t for me”, or at least they would be prepared for the worst.

Many say abortion is a milestone for “women’s rights” and “empowering women.” I no longer agree with that view. From where I’m sitting, it looks like there is a crime being committed against women in this country: a crime of omission. Women are not receiving aid when they are in need. They are not receiving full disclosure of the risks involved with the procedure they are considering. Our society is failing to act and provide women with the resources and support they need. Once backed into a corner, women are being handed a “cure all solution” with a promise to make it all go away. But what no one is saying is that once you become pregnant, your life changes forever, regardless of whether or not you have the baby, and nothing in this world can “make it all go away.”

If a woman truly does not want kids and/or is dead set in her decision, I feel it is not my place to tell her otherwise. You simply can’t win every battle. But nowadays abortions are handed out all too freely. There should be much stricter regulations that require women to see qualified counsellors and undergo a set number of sessions over a few weeks prior to being allowed to have an abortion for nonmedical reasons. There should be policies in place to protect and support women who want their babies but feel backed into a corner. An unplanned pregnancy is a scary and stressful time. Your mind can go in a different direction every day. It’s just too big of a decision to leave to someone without proper counselling and consideration.

I’m not saying women’s choices need to be pried at, or that they should be treated like they are unable to make a decision. I think if more questions were asked we would find more often that it is an issue of feeling inadequate or unsupported, not an issue of women simply not wanting their babies. But those questions aren’t being asked by the medical professionals writing up referrals for abortions . If we ask more questions, we can find the root of the problem and we can create support which helps eliminate the problem all together. If we can do this, one day we might live in a world where unplanned pregnancies are not perceived as life destroying situations. A world where women faced with unplanned pregnancy think, “I can do this” instead of, “Should I have an abortion?” A world where abortion is no longer a common or even necessary thing.

The sad part is, those who are bold enough to stand up and speak the unpalatable truth are condemned and labeled as “religious extremists”  or “women haters.” In today’s culture, we think we have a right to be shielded from views that oppose our own. It’s much easier to stay with the flock and write off statements we don’t like as “crazy talk” than it is to accept that maybe we’ve got it wrong. The problem with this way of thinking in regards to abortion is that it’s enabling the ignorant self destruction of thousands of women each year. I think it’s time to bite the bullet and accept that maybe abortion isn’t the empowering social movement we would all like to think it is.

 

If you’re pregnant or struggling after an abortion and unsure of the resources and support that’s available for you in Guelph, email us at uoglifechoice@gmail.com or visit the following sites:

 http://www.beginningsguelph.ca/ http://www.silentnomoreawareness.org/ 

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