It’s likely the most difficult decision that a woman has to make, regardless of age, though the younger she is I imagine the decision has to be even harder. As a man, I can’t think of anything comparable. Which makes the story below all the more courageous.
The story was a first-hand account of a young woman’s abortion procedure. Something she had kept hidden from most of the people in her life— until yesterday, when she tweeted it.
After reading it, I asked (now that it was public) if I could write something about her. She agreed that I could but only if I used her name — I wanted to keep her anonymous. She insisted. So I obliged.
She’s Amber Sereno. She’s 23. And she’s extremely brave. Below are her words, edited only for space constraints.
Every day we make choices. From the minute we wake up to the minute we go to bed, there are countless decisions to ponder. From insignificant to potentially life-altering decisions, our lives are essentially a sum of the choices we’ve made.
So how do you know when you’ve made the right choice? Is there even a right choice?
I’m writing about choices because this past December I was faced with a great one. Nothing in my life had prepared me for what was weighing on my shoulders. I’m sharing something with you that I haven’t shared with but a handful of friends.
This past December I had an abortion.
I still remember the day I found out I was pregnant. I stopped at the pharmacy around the corner from my house on my way home from work and made the dreaded walk down the women’s aisle. I scanned over the shelves, confused to which pregnancy test was the right one - I remember thinking how ridiculous the packaging for each box was, why were there so many options? Why did it matter which one would tell you sooner?
As a chronic worrier I figured I was overreacting, but I was a week and a half late and for someone on birth control, that wasn’t ordinary. So I grabbed a few different boxes and a bunch of other miscellaneous items, in hopes that the cashier at the register wouldn’t notice the tests and make an awkward comment.
Nothing prepares a person for that exact moment you look down at a flimsy, insignificant stick that shows two little pink lines. I ran to find the box, thinking I must be reading the test wrong. Nope. Two lines meant there was something inside of me. I took three more tests at home, all showing pregnant. One with a plus sign, one with a little baby face, one that simply read “pregnant”.
All of that in one night. A Tuesday in December. Normal in every single other way. From that moment, everything I’d known about life was different. My mind raced with thoughts of having a child. I could barely sustain a cat, let alone a baby, how was I going to do this?
I fell to the floor at that moment. Lost within every imaginable emotion a person could ever experience. I went from shock to crying to fear to guilt to laughing to crying again, all within minutes. I laid there for an hour consumed in my thoughts of motherhood, life...every dream I’d ever had for myself, all changed in that very moment.
And then I thought of my childhood. My mother was only 17 when she found out she was pregnant with me. I’ve heard stories of everyone telling her that I should have been an abortion, that her life was forever ruined because of having a child so young. I never knew my birth father, he was an abusive man who would beat my mother regularly. My mother left him when I was just shy of two. I only have one memory of him from that time: kicking my mother down the stairs while she was pregnant with my little brother.
I thought of all the change and instability I went through growing up because of her being a young mother. She did the best she could raising me, but the fact was she was still a child herself. I still have emotional hang ups and trust issues. I told myself when I was 17 that if I ever became pregnant before I was ready to give my child a life of stability, that I wouldn’t continue the pregnancy.
I believe it’s a woman’s choice to choose when life begins and she should have the opportunity to choose an abortion, within the state legislated time frame.
I came to the decision that this wasn’t the right time for me. For the life of the child to be, I knew I wasn’t ready. There were many things weighing on my decision. Firstly, finances. I’m only 23, just starting out in my career, making just enough money to support myself. I live paycheck to paycheck, with minimal savings. I don’t have family to support me, everything I have in my life comes from the money I work for. Finding room within my budget for a child was not only out of the question, but absolutely absurd.
Secondly, I know I’m not ready for motherhood. I have no doubt that I will be an amazing mother, when I’m ready. I’ve always been great with kids, I was a second mother to my seven younger siblings and spent most of my high school and college years working in a daycare. I studied psychology with an emphasis on child development and taking care of children always came easy to me.
Though, I still have so many things I want to do before I devote my entire life to raising a child. Find stability within my life. Travel the world. Get married to the person I see as my life partner. Be young. Make more mistakes. Learn. These are things I know I want before I’m a mother. For the sake of my children. I want to give them a life of consistency, the life I didn’t have growing up.
And then I thought about my boyfriend. We were only a new couple, just into the first few weeks of our relationship. Still learning the pieces of who each other are, I thought, how do I tell him? I rehearsed several different scenarios in my mind. I didn’t have any idea how he would react. Would he be angry with me? Would he want to break up? Would he want to keep it?
After a few hours of going over everything of what could be, I finally found the courage to call him. It was now a quarter past midnight, Wednesday morning. I knew he was sleeping, but I also knew I wouldn’t sleep until I told him. There was a moment where I thought about not telling him at all, because I was already at the point where I knew an abortion was what I wanted, I didn’t think he even needed to know. Why give him that stress? Then I decided that wasn’t fair to him. He deserved to know.
After three rings, he picked up and with a muffled, sleepy voice he asked me if everything was all right. At first I couldn’t even get the words out, I ramble on and on when I’m nervous and I just started word vomiting all over him with everything but the reason why I called him at almost one in the morning. Finally, I just stopped and said “I’m pregnant.” There was a moment of silence before he replied in a deep, calm voice “Okay, does this change anything?”
What? I thought. That’s it?! Maybe he was in shock himself, or maybe he just handles stress much better than I do, but he was nothing but supportive of whatever decision I came to and calm through the entire conversation. He, obviously, didn’t think we were ready to be parents, but said he would be there for me through whatever choice I made.
His support reaffirmed my decision. Together we decided not to tell anyone and started to look for women’s centers that offered abortion services.
Like I said earlier, I’ve always been pro-choice. And living in a state where abortion is available to women, I didn’t think it would be so hard to find the right doctor to perform the procedure. There is a time frame for the two types of abortions a woman can receive. The first is a pill a woman can take if she is four weeks or under from the time of conception. Most centers are only open weekdays during normal business hours, so working during those hours, I had to find a center open on a Saturday.
I was five weeks pregnant by the time I was able to schedule an appointment. That left me to the second option available, a surgical abortion, which is available to women pregnant up to 24 weeks. Before a woman can receive any type of abortion, in the state of Michigan, she must read and agree to an informed consent. I read every piece of information available to me before I went in for the procedure. All of the risks, both physical and mental. The possibility of having protestors outside the clinic when I go. What to do and not to do before and after the procedure.
I wanted to know everything, I wanted to be prepared. Then the day came and everything I read couldn’t have prepared me for the experience. Judgmental looks from each nurse within the office. Inappropriate remarks from the doctor about getting myself into a “bad situation” and “having to fix the mistake.”
And then the pain. Even though my boyfriend came with me, he wasn’t allowed to be in the room. I was given two Vicodin for pain and swelling, then they stick long, thick needles in through your vagina to your uterus with even more pain killers. Imagine being stung by a bee with a 4 inch long stinger, in the most sensitive part of your body. That was the easy part.
Then it was time. I was laying down, so I couldn’t see the machine they used to perform the procedure, though I will describe it as a vacuum. A hose like instrument inserted into your body through your vagina and then it begins to, literally, suck the fertilized egg out of you. Tearing the lining of my uterus and sucking out all that made me a pregnant woman. It took about five minutes to get everything out. The pain was unbearable, and as I fought back tears, my whole body went numb.
I felt violated. I felt broken.
After that, the nurse gives you a little cup of water and tells you to put your pants back on. The doctor and nurse leave the room and you’re left lying there all alone. I asked them to turn the light off, lights were too bright. I couldn’t move my body, pain rushed through every piece of me. There was music playing over an intercom system, the song “Let Her Go” by Passenger came on. Immediately I started bawling. I hardly ever cry, though in that moment I felt like nothing I could do could stop the tears.
I spent the next few weeks in a weird funk of emotions. The change in your hormones from being pregnant to suddenly not being pregnant made me so imbalanced, irrational and hysteric at times. I thought I’d never return to normal. And for a few months, I felt like I could never feel new again. I was a sheet of a paper someone crumpled up and then tried to smooth back out again, but the wrinkles were still there.
I’ve decided to share my story because it changed who I am as a person. Before that day, I didn’t believe in who I was. I didn’t know my own strength and I let things break me. Today, I stand stronger knowing that this is my life and the choices I make are my own. I know the choice I made then has given me the opportunity to push even harder to get the things I want out of life now.
I also wanted to share that it’s okay to not know the answers to everything or what the right choice is. Life will never be easy, and almost nothing is black and white. Going through this has taught me how to really listen to myself and do things for me, because only I know what’s best for myself. I’ve learned that if I could get through that, I could get through anything. I’m excited and ready for the road ahead.
Abortions, whether you oppose or support them, are nonselective. The need for one cares little about whether you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, an east coast elite, or a failure of the system in rural America.
No woman looks forward to an abortion. They don’t want it. They don’t crave it. Whether she is godless or devout, the decision is made out of absolute necessity. It’s gut wrenching. It’s painful. It’s awful. But the timing just isn’t right. And that’s why they go through with it. And that’s okay. Because when the time is right, the baby will be raised by a mother that at one time turned to the man (or woman) in her life and said, “You know what? I think the time is right.”
The author of the story has agreed to answer questions from commenters below. You can interact with her under the name “AmberSereno.”
Chris Peak is a freelance writer from Boston.