Quick Hit: An abortion clinic counselor writes about her own pregnancy

I really love this piece by an abortion clinic counselor about her experiences working at the clinic while she was pregnant with a very wanted–and ultimately failed–pregnancy of her own.

One of my biggest pet peeves is anti-choicers who claim that pro-choice advocates refuse to acknowledge the emotional complexity–and physical reality–of abortion. Patricia O’Connor shows how it’s possible to do that–and honestly face the limits to one’s ability to empathize–while fully supporting other people’s right to decide what’s best for their own lives.

I had only a minute while I waited for the doctor to meet my patient. I grabbed a plastic cup and a pregnancy test from the lab and slipped into the bathroom. This is one of the perks of working at an abortion clinic – all the pregnancy tests you can take. My husband Jeff and I had been trying to get pregnant with our second child. But every month when I placed those two drops of urine into the reservoir, the results had been the same. One stripe. Negative. I steeled myself for the same.

I stood at the bathroom sink, watching. The two minutes it takes for the sample to travel from reservoir to top of the test seemed like hours. Finally, faintly, a second stripe shadowed the first. A thrill shot through me.

I did not shout. I did not run into the hallway to announce to my coworkers my news. I wanted to race to the phone to call Jeff, but I knew I wouldn’t have time before the next surgery, and besides, I wanted to tell him in person. Mostly, I wanted to let the idea sink in. I pressed my hand against my lower belly, as if to give my little zygote a welcoming hug. Still, as happy as I was, I was also afraid.

I was forty. I would be forty-one by the time the baby was born. I’d worked at the abortion clinic on and off for twelve years by that point and I knew the stats. For a woman my age, the risk of having a pregnancy with Down’s syndrome is 1 in 119. Compare my risk to that of the fifteen-year-old girl I’d counseled earlier that day: 1 in 1,663. For the twenty-year-old waiting for me in the surgery room the risk for Down’s is 1 in 1,627.  If Jeff and I had waited even a year longer to get pregnant, the risks would be 1 in 91. Factor in that Jeff was also forty, and the risks increase by 50 percent.

I’d met the women my age, some younger, who had learned via amniocentesis or ultrasound that their fetus was malformed or had an anomaly that is “incompatible with life.” I’d been a counselor to these women, held their hands during their surgeries to remove their broken pregnancies, held them while they cried. I’d seen too many cases like this to be anything but cautious.

Read the rest here. It’s long but worth it. H/T Michelle.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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