A Simple Question: “Number of Pregnancies”
by Sydna A. Masse
One thing I never expected during my teenage pregnancy and subsequent abortion was how difficult it would be to be honest about this procedure on a routine doctor’s intake form. I felt deep fear each time I encountered one of the most difficult questions for a post-abortive woman: number of pregnancies.
My abortion in 1981 was a closely held secret for many years. I was hesitant to share it with anyone, especially a physician. Fear of condemnation and my own shame never over-ruled my own conscience and I was normally truthful. As each new doctor reviewed my form, and sometimes clarified the fact that I had an abortion, my heart would break. Rarely did I allow my emotions to surface yet regardless of how the question was asked, I always felt the physician’s judgment.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute of Reproductive Health, states that “At current rates, 43% of all women will experience abortion at least once by the time they are 45 years of age.” If abortion is such a common experience, why do you rarely hear women share about their own abortion experience?
Most of us chose abortion to erase a mistake. Many felt it was our only choice. Like Feminist Frederica Matthews-Green once stated, “a woman doesn’t want an abortion like an ice-cream cone or a Porsche, but like an animal caught in a trap who gnaws off its own leg.”
Years after an abortion many women come to regret this choice. In order to hide our pain and grief, we isolate this memory and five great physical energy to the task of forgetting it ever happened. We avoid triggers of the memory in order to keep our skeleton hung firmly in closets of our minds. Yet life is full of reminders — a child that is the same age as our aborted baby, a gynecological exam, a dentist drill that reminds us of the sounds of the abortion [center], subsequent pregnancies, and that simple question.
I remember struggling with infertility in 1987. I was terrified that my abortion could be connected to my closed womb. When my doctor confirmed these fears by saying that uterine scarring and blocked tubes could result from a less than perfect abortion procedure, I was instantly terrified. He must have understood the fear in my eyes because he wasn’t judgmental. A test was recommended: a hysterosalpingogram — to determine his suspicions.
I didn’t expect the procedure to feel physically like the abortion. Intense uterine cramping quickly sent me back to the abortionist’s table where I had endured an abortion without benefit of anesthesia. The teenage memory I worked to contain flashed instantly to the surface of my mind. Afterwards my abortion experience was so close that it seemed only a day had passed instead of six years. The humiliation, physical pain and intense fear were right in my throat again and I found myself crying through most of the night. Later the doctor would explain that the dye had cleared my tubes and ten days later I became pregnant with my beloved son.
This same caring doctor helped me through a difficult maternity period when I suddenly hemorrhaged at sixteen weeks. He was gentle and understanding of my unspoken fear that my abortion could be causing this present problem. He suspected that my uterine lining could have been weakened by the past abortion. He thought I was experiencing a condition called “placenta previa”. My child’s placenta could have torn away from the uterine lining. After he wheeled me into the ultrasound area, his diagnosis was confirmed. Seeing a fully formed baby on the screen was another shock. It ruined my closely held belief that I had only aborted a blob of tissue. If this baby was so formed at 16 weeks, how developed had my aborted child been?
Several months later this physician smiled and patted me as he placed my firstborn son into my arms for the first time. While he said little, his eyes spoke volumes. I had never expected to feel the depth of love towards such a small person. It was at that point that I realized how much I would have loved my aborted baby too. Again, he was at my side during this realization. He never shared his personal feelings about abortion and I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter.
The next time you are going over a routine intake form with a woman, understand that the post-abortive need your compassion and care. If they are honest on number of pregnancies and seem to be uncomfortable, let them know that you are not judgmental. Keep in mind that you may be the only person with whom she has shared this truth. If you find that she is highly emotional, realize that the abortion could be a painful memory. Please don’t try to minimize these feelings by encouraging her to forget about the pain, that she had made the best decision at the time. These comments are not helpful in times of pain. It’s best that she deal with the memories and try to find peace. Local pregnancy care centers offer post-abortion ministry services that can help them deal with these memories in a positive way. To find your local center, contact 1-888-4-OPTIONS, or visit www.pregnancycenters.org.
My honesty now is due to my ability to finally grieve this experience in my life, and recognize my lost child as part of my heart. With God’s help, and the gentle compassion of a caring doctor and many others, my life is now restored. I have dedicated my life to helping others find the peace I so gratefully have today.
Sydna A. Masse is the author of the book Her Choiceto Heal: Finding Spiritual and Emotional Peace After Abortion. published by Chariot/Victory Publishing. She is the President and Founder of Ramah International, a post-abortion outreach ministry that seeks to help wounded, post-abortive individuals. Website: www.ramahinternational.org. Sydna lives in FL with her husband and three sons.
Published by AAPLOG: Statement Regarding Sensitivity in Dealing with the Post-Abortive Woman
AAPLOG stands for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists