It’s 1969, abortion was illegal in Virginia. I don’t blame Virginia for my choices nor my lack of available choices. I just consider it the sign of the times.
In 1969, I was starry-eyed infatuated with love, life, and looking forward to my high school games and events. After all, I was a cheerleader, co-captain but destined to be captain my senior year. I had so much to look forward to until I was faced with a devastating event.
I became pregnant in the second semester of my junior year. I was young, I was naïve, and I believed what a boy would tell me more than an adult would tell me. I thought that if I took the risk of having sex, pregnancy wasn’t one of the things that would happen. My boyfriend at that time convinced me that I could not become pregnant the first time without protection. Nothing could happen the first time. But something did happen, I got pregnant.
When I told my mother, she asked me what I wanted to do. I saw my future through the eyes of the immature 17-year-old I was. My only goal in life at the time was to be varsity cheerleader captain. If a baby were to interrupt that, my answer is no. My mother had held the hands of relatives who had had abortions and didn’t want that life-threatening experience for me.
In my senior year, I became a mom. Birthing and caring for a baby replaced cheerleading practice. I never got to wear the uniform again. The father and I decided that we would get married. That would solve all my problems plus give me a chance to wash some of the shame from my name. We were in love, so I thought. We spent time together making plans for our future. I became pregnant again and realized that I was going to be by myself. He was just telling me what I needed to hear and not what he was really going to do. He left. I knew I could not tell my mother nor go through the shame and pain of having another child. I knew that I didn’t want to have another child. I was still a child myself. My mother was a mother, I was just a daughter.
In order to obtain an abortion, you had to know which doctors, midwives, or any other persons were willing to perform one. These procedures were usually done outside of a medical facility, usually in private undisclosed places. Sometimes the “doctor” would come to the girl’s home. I knew I couldn’t bring anyone into my home, nor did I have the means to pay for one unless I got help from my parents. I didn’t let anyone know about the pregnancy, not even the father. This time I decided I would handle things myself.
It was 1970 and women were beginning to speak up for their rights. I had read haunting magazine articles about how women were performing their own at-home abortions due to the lack of available medical care. Embarrassed, ashamed, and desperate, I got a coat hanger and sterilized it with alcohol. After inserting it as far as I could without screaming louder, I twisted and turned it hoping to remove any chance of a fetus growing there. This is the first time I have ever told anyone. I suffered the pain alone, worrying about infections as well as the possibility that it had not been successful. After bleeding for longer than a regular period, I concluded that I was no longer pregnant.
I got married a couple of years later, had two additional children, and was pregnant with my fourth child at the same time that my marriage was falling apart. I was employed part-time and with my husband leaving and he made it clear that he was not going to provide financial assistance. This meant I would have to get a full-time job. I decided to have an abortion. In 1975, the Supreme Court had ruled that Virginia’s bans on abortion clinics advertising their services were unconstitutional. I was fortunate that now there was a women’s clinic that performed abortions and an actual doctor was on the staff.
When I first decided to have the abortion, before the procedure was scheduled, I had to first undergo an evaluation and talk with a counselor. Unlike my first abortion, I now had someone to talk to and educate me on the ramifications of my choice. I was approved for the abortion and a few days later, I was scheduled to have the procedure. The year was 1977 and even though the Supreme Court had removed the ban, there was still great controversy.
I remember crying once I got home, not due to pain but because I was a mother, and I knew the joy a newborn can bring into your life subsequently I also realized how having another mouth to feed would be devastating. Having an abortion is a big decision and not an easy one.
About the Author
Lena Kendricks is a freelance writer, currently living in Virginia.
Supporting Reproductive Rights
This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.
- Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
- Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Afiya Center in Dallas, Texas for the work they are doing to fight for reproductive rights.