A Young Woman’s Experience With Her Abortion
Written & Photographed by Misha Burke
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.”
– Ernest Hemingway, Farewell to Arms
It was the day before her regional softball tournament, and Mary Flora told her parents she was going to the mall with a friend. She lied. Sitting in the passenger seat of her best friend’s car, her hands shook. She popped her knuckles. Her cheeks were flushed red. As the car approached the abortion clinic, she took a deep breath.
Flora, whose real name we do not use to protect her privacy, is a 21-year-old student at Humboldt State. She got pregnant at 17, during her junior year of high school in Claremont, Calif.
She and her boyfriend had unprotected sex. Flora had never taken birth control before. One day, she went to Planned Parenthood in Pomona to get a prescription for the pill. As standard procedure, she gave a urine sample. The doctor then told Flora she was pregnant. “I was a little surprised, but a part of me knew already, and I had been denying it,” she said.
Flora’s first thought was that she could not have a baby. “I didn’t have the support that I would need to have a child at that age,” she said. “I knew that I could probably give it up for adoption, but I was pretty set on the fact that I couldn’t keep it, and my parents couldn’t know.”
Before she could get an abortion, she had to figure out how she was going to pay for the surgery. Flora could not rely on health insurance, because she could not tell her parents. “I had to apply for some kind of welfare or help. I do not remember exactly how it worked. I just know I had a chance to apply for this one-time help that covered the costs for me.”
Sitting inside the clinic examination room, the paper underneath her crackled. The nurse’s ice-cold hands grasped Flora’s arm as she poked her with an IV needle. The nurse lifted Flora’s shirt and poured a cold jelly-like substance on her stomach. The nurse grazed her belly back and forth with a heavy, plastic wand. “Would you like to see?” asked the nurse. Flora did not want to but she could not resist looking at the black-and-white ultrasound screen. “I was like, okay cool, now I get to see that for rest of my life,” she said.
A short time later, Flora entered the surgery room. The doctor gave her an option of being sedated or awake. She chose sedation. “That would be so traumatizing to be awake while they were doing that, whether I could feel it or not,” Flora said.
The next thing she remembers is waking up in a chair in the recovery room. “The first thing I thought was, I want to throw up,” Flora said.
When she looked at her phone after the surgery, she had missed calls and text messages from her parents. She ignored them. But she told her sister she got an abortion. “She said it was crazy and intense and that she loved me,” Flora said.
About an hour later, her boyfriend came to get her. Sitting in the backseat of his car, she got dizzy and vomited into a shoebox. She tried to hold the box still, but it was full of stomach fluid and now sagging in her hands. That afternoon, she would rush off to Lancaster, two hours away, for her softball game the next day.
As the years passed, Flora blocked out the memories. “I think that’s just my dealing. It’s not good,” she said. Coping became difficult. During her freshmen year at HSU, she started to drink too much to try to forget. But all of a sudden, the memories resurfaced. “There were some days that I would be thinking about it and then I would go out that night and get a little bit too drunk. It would just kind of slam me emotionally,” she said.
“I would feel like an awful mother, and I would be worried because I always wanted to have a son first, then a daughter. I was worried I’d lost my chance to have that,” Flora recalled.
Her new boyfriend lives in Santa Rosa. She told him about her abortion. “He feels a lot of sadness and sympathy for me. He’s constantly looking out for my stability,” she said. “He’s extremely understanding.”
And she gets help from others too. “It took a while, and support from a bunch of different friends, to realize that it doesn’t make me a bad person, but that I can look at myself as someone who is a bit stronger because of it,” Flora said.
She became friends with other women who had abortions. “The way we always describe it is that there is always a hole. Like in the stomach area,” Flora said. “The worst part when you know you’re pregnant is that your brain just kind of goes with it and you feel like you have some motherly instinct. That’s kind of where the missing piece feeling comes from. Sometimes you look at another kid and think, I could have been a mom right now.”
She eventually wants to marry and have kids. “I think I’m strong because of it. It definitely gives me the motivation I need to get somewhere in life, to find a career and to build a foundation to have a family.”
After the surgery, Flora took antibiotic pills that the clinic doctor prescribed her. From time to time, she would stare at the blue pills and hold the bag they came in. “I even kept the baggie for a bit,” Flora said. “I wish I would have kept the ultrasound picture in hindsight.”
Flora had to play in the softball tournament the day after the abortion, while no one knew her secret. Flora remembers feeling weak and nauseated. “I informed my coach I wasn’t feeling well,” Flora said. “He sat me out sometimes, but not very much because he was kind of a hard-ass.”
Flora played right-field during the two-hour game, with the sun beating down on her. The softball tournament lasted three days. “Definitely that first day, I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t need to win. I cried in the bathroom a little,” she said.
“The effort it took to play was difficult to summon,” Flora said. “There was some bleeding throughout the day. I had some cramps and took some Advil but nothing more than that. I didn’t play well at all that day and sat for most of the games. I ran occasionally and played right when I could. I had to go home from the last game because I wasn’t feeling very great.”
Today, Flora still plays softball. “It’s different for me now,” she said. “It’s what I’m good at and only rarely does it remind me of it.”
In October, her 18-year-old sister thought she might be pregnant and asked Flora to help her with the decision to have an abortion. “I’m losing my mind right now,” Flora said. “She’s so scared and I don’t think she’s strong enough to handle it. I barely got myself through it. I wish she, of all people, wasn’t someone I have to help go through this.”
Flora said that she did not want her sister to know what it is like to regret something so heavy. “It’s like a worst fear come true that she should have to feel the loss and crazy that I feel,” she said. “I really don’t know how she’ll deal with it years later when she realizes she lost a child — that is what I’m most afraid of. Not during now, but later.”
A few weeks later, she was relieved to find out her sister was not pregnant and would not have to get an abortion — but the scare still brought up fresh memories for Flora. “I know that it broke me and I still feel broken,” she said.