From one who has experienced abortion: "nobody needs to feel this way"

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   (Editor's note: The name of the individual interviewed for this story has been changed to protect her privacy).
   A date means different things. July 28 is surely a birthday for many, or a wedding anniversary for others.
   For Amber, she learned it was the due date for her unborn baby shortly after learning she was pregnant over six years ago.
   "Every year that day comes by, I'm so depressed," says Amber, whose depression comes from remembering the baby she never delivered. Amber was 17-years-old when she learned she was pregnant and became terrified of her future.
   Family members found out, and, at the behest of her mother, she had an abortion.
   She describes watching a videotape of other young women talking about how they couldn't wait to have an abortion because they weren't ready to have kids and how the decision to have an abortion saved them from an unwanted lifestyle.
   The doctor explained the procedure, told Amber she would experience mild "cramping", and placed her on the table. The whole procedure took 10 minutes.
   "I remember laying in the chair and screaming at the top of my lungs," she says. She sat in the doctor's waiting room dozing off from a massive dose of painkillers and depressants she received after the procedure.
   The ramifications, she says, will last for the rest of her life. "I was never told about the emotional side effects," Amber said. "This is something I'm going to have to deal with the rest of my life."
   Today, the willowy, dark-eyed 23-year-old sighs when talking about the experience six years ago and says that she has learned to cope with her decision. "Nobody needs to feel this way," she says. "Nobody should ever have to feel this way."
   The issue of abortion has become a rallying point for both conservative Christians who oppose the practice and civil libertarians who champion the right to privacy protected by the U.S. Constitution. The battle has played out at abortion clinics and in the national media in the "Pro-Life v. Pro-Choice" debate since the late 1970s.
   In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the historic Roe v. Wade decision that granted a woman the right to have a legal abortion and divided pregnancy into three trimesters. The Court also ruled that in the third and final trimester, the state has the right, although not an obligation, to restrict abortions to only those cases in which the mother's health is jeopardized.
   The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to ban partial-birth abortion. If enacted, this will be the first federal abortion ban in U.S. history. The Center for Reproductive Rights has vowed to challenge the law as soon as President Bush signs it.
   The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law passed in Nebraska with a similar ban on partial-birth abortion in 2000.
   A handful of anti-abortion protestors picketed last week near the office of an Elizabethton physician who performs abortions and the real estate company that manages the property he leases.
   In the years following the abortion, Amber continues working full-time while pursuing her education. Beyond the physical trauma, the emotional and psychological trauma didn't have a tremendous effect on her day-to-day life until many years later when the seemingly innocuous encounter of seeing a newborn infant sparked something in her memory.
   "I was at Wal-Mart one day, and I saw someone holding this small, small baby," she recalls. "I don't know why it hit me then."
   She says after realizing the weight of her decision to abort the fetus, the emotional fallout was devastating. Thoughts of the past and what would have happened had she carried the child to term bombarded her. "It's really hard to describe," she says. "You feel empty. You never got to hold your child; you never got to see your child; you just feel numb."
   "I think, whether it was a boy or a girl, how my life would be different now."
   While taking courses at a local community college, she volunteered to work at the Abortion Alternatives & Pregnancy Crisis Center in Elizabethton. The experience allowed her to open up to counselors and begin dealing with the pain she felt.
   "They've helped me mentally and physically, but it is still something I am always going to think about," she said. "It's not done and over with in an hour; it is a lifetime thing. It may take a couple of years for the emotions to hit you."
   Her parents warned their teenage daughter strongly against the dangers of alcohol and drugs. However, when it came to honest talk about sex, Amber says she learned through friends and a smattering of sexual education courses in high school. Like the procedure, the biological terms and teenage slang may explain the clinical terms of sexuality, but they give no indication about the emotional and psychological consequences of a sexual relationship.
   "Nobody ever sat me down and said, 'let's talk about the birds and the bees', she said. "I had to learn on my own, from my friends and school." She and her boyfriend who impregnated her remained together long after her abortion until splitting up only few months ago.
   Now ready for a fresh start, Amber says the thoughts of her child never stray far from her mind. When the emotional fallout of having an abortion hit her, she felt isolated and abandoned by her family. She says that through her emotional recovery of the past months, forgiving herself, and her family, has healed many deep psychological wounds.
   Amber said her most immediate goal is to finish college, and she would like to work in the medical field, possibly as an X-ray technician. She still longs for a family - and the opportunity to be a mother. She worries about the health risks associated with her abortion, namely the possibility she could have trouble conceiving again.
   "I wonder what if I can't have kids. I feel like that could have been my chance and I won't ever be able to have children," she sighs.
   She's no longer naïve about the opportunities available for young women such as the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program and housing opportunities available to pregnant women who feel abandoned and desperate. She expects to leave the region soon and start life anew where the past isn't so vivid. Meanwhile, she says she continues to cope day by day.
   She remains troubled that her mother and other family members pushed her into having the abortion, but has overcome malice towards them. Instead, she says, she counts on her faith to guide her decisions.
   "I've learned I have to forgive myself and the family members that made me do it," she said, "and that God has given me the faith and courage and that he has forgave me."