Not a Post about Abortion–It’s About Me
Did you ever yell at someone when you were mad at someone else? Or write about something or someone and realized after the words rang out with indignation and frustration that you weren’t really writing about that someone or something? That’s what happened last night. I spent the day reading about legislation since withdrawn in Virginia that requires a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound (“TVU”), which is the latest attempt by the party I consider myself a part of to restrict a woman’s access to abortion. See Virginia Legislation. The bill was softened and now requires a transabdominal ultrasound. I oppose this bill as well but it does not raise my hackles as much as a TVU.
But this blog will not include a nuanced and scholarly argument regarding the constitutional ramifications of the Casey decision. I wrote plenty of those essays in law school and as a Constitutional History undergraduate, and they drain me. And I won’t change anyone’s mind. For the record, in my opinion, requiring any sort of ultrasound seems to impose an undue burden on a woman and under Casey, such requirements will not survive court scrutiny. That said, let the lawyers and judges figure it out.
I want to explain why I got so angry. Before I hit publish on last night’s blog, a dear friend reviewed what I had written and called me on the phone. She asked me a series of questions and challenged a few of my assertions and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was holding a massive powder keg of rage inside. OK, why am I so angry? So I was raped. It was more than 20 years ago. So I was molested but now I am married and we have three children together. The walls that hold our love for one another are strong and have weathered many storms. Why am I so full of rage?
The inward match lit when I read this blog by an anonymous doctor who characterized TVUs administered to women requesting abortions as “rape.” I have had two of these procedures and the first one did not bother me, I suppose because a woman inserted the plastic probe inside me. The second one occurred in September 2005. I had just gotten pregnant with my third child, who I nicknamed “Hat Trick” until we determined that he was a Ben, not a Cassandra. My husband drove with me to the ultrasound appointment. The nurse told me to lie down on the metal examining table. She tucked a sheet into my khaki shorts, which I rolled down beneath my belly button and she rubbed cold, blue-green all over my belly. Then she rolled the rectangular block over my belly and all three of us watched the screen. Nothing. Nada. She left the room.
My husband rubbed my forehead to reassure me and I grinned at him and talked really fast to calm him down. An eternity later, an old male doctor walked into the room and without further ado, he ordered me to spread my legs and shoved a hard probe into my vagina. He spent the next several minutes talking to my husband as he rotated his wrist in all directions, and each rotation sent a jab of pain into my private parts. My eyes welled up with tears but neither my husband nor the doctor noticed. It hurt and I felt trapped and I wanted to scream and cry and I wanted my husband to punch this stranger in the face and at some point I left my body and observed the doctor chat, as casually as if he were at a roadside bar, as he moved the probe in all directions inside my vagina.
I didn’t really see what they saw on the TV-like monitor. A baby, my baby, appeared on the screen but I was no longer an adult, a mother of two, soon to be three children. I was a little girl and a man shoved something foreign inside me and there was NOTHING I could do about it. And I failed, again, at the hard job of protecting myself. That sounds crazy doesn’t it? It was a medical procedure but it felt like rape. It felt like the first time a man touched me without my consent and just like the first time, I blamed myself and felt deep, dark shame.
Even crazier, I felt betrayed, not so much by the doctor—by my husband. We got out to the car, and he said to me, with a happy smile, “I liked that doctor. He seemed nice.” I glared at my man and called the doctor a bad name and refused to talk the rest of the long drive home. And in my mind I replayed the rape. Which rape? I didn’t know which rape. At that point, it was all the same. The first time, my birth mom called me a “slut,” and that word played like a bad pop song again and again and so did all the horrible things that my folks had ever said to me. I raged in silence. And the rage hurt almost as much as the TVU.
Seven years have passed since that post-traumatic day in the sonogram room and I have been through extensive therapy. I’ve done the work, my friends, and have bid my birth family farewell. I am doing well. Most days. Every once in awhile, however, something hits me hard and stirs up some old feelings. Some hurts are strong and lasting and permanent and there is not much I can do about it except to weather the pain and know that I am safe now. I am safe now.
El, I’m so sorry. I just had a sleepless night because of this very topic and a blogger who essentially believes that a forced transvaginal ultrasound is no big deal if it convinces a woman to not have an abortion. I have endured a similar situation and honestly don’t have the words to describe it even within the privacy of my own mind. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your experience. And when you’re reminding yourself that you are safe, please remember that you’re not alone. (Virtual hug) 🙂
Thank you so much TotallyTawn. Gah–a blogger said that?! I first read about this yesterday at Whatever (a blog) and there were about 600 comments pro and con. I could not write about it objectively (the first blog I wrote was too long and too angry) until I slept (sort of–I hear you) on it. I am so sorry you endured a similar situation my friend. Thank you so much for your kind and reassuring words, and hugs right back at you.
Hey, Nietzsche said ‘whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,’ right? I guess we’ll reach Hercules level one of these days. You rock, girl!
I was always say that too! But I I’m claiming that I should be the next Super-woman, lol.
But your right, a few of us could be of Herculean strength very soon.
Oh Hun, that is crazy and I am sorry you’ve been through such hurt.
You are doing an amazing job, well just living. You are an amazing woman El. And I am proud to know you.
Thank you so very, very much Katie!! xo.
xoxo Katie. Gosh, thank you so much TotallyTawn! xo.
El, I have no words. But if I were there right now I would give you a hug and not let go.
Lisha, thank you sweet friend. Your kind words made my eyes well up with tears. And thank you–I needed that hug.
so, you were a woman who wasn’t seeking an abortion, who wasn’t raped (recently), but who felt all of those feelings of violation and rage well up uncontrollably. and some states think this is an okay thing to do to a woman who may have been recently raped who wants to terminate their pregnancy? i’m sure those idiot states think “not all abortions are due to rape,” but, dammit, some are! and damn them for thinking that ANY woman ANYwhere makes the decision to have an abortion lightly.
I agree they shouldn’t be forced. But yes some women DO face abortion lightly. Some even use it as a form of birth control. I had a woman stand in my house and brag about her abortions. Sad but true.
I hear you Katie, but I am not sure . . . I hear about women who take abortions lightly, but I have never spoken to one. So sorry if you know them!
You said it sister-I don’t think I can say it any better. I cannot stand, tolerate etc. any states who make it hard for rape victims to obtain abortions. Here is my state (VA) they require a woman to file a police report if they were raped or molested. My husband said that is reasonable and I explained to him that the legal system abuses rape survivors and incest victims have near-zero ability to file police reports. These recent laws suck.
I’m really, really glad you have the strength to write about this, because I think it’s so important for your voice to be heard. When I first learned of TVU legislation from my husband, I was outraged. We both were appalled that it could even be considered. I can absolutely relate to an experience like that churning up painful memories, and it is a violation. To force something like that on a woman and still call ourselves a free country?
Thank you so very much for your remarks Jules. And I could not agree with you more. xo.
Wow. I would have crossed my legs and punched that doctor right in his freaking face! Your hubby prolly didn’t understand what a dick the doctor was. I hope he does now.
Thank you so much Off the Wall . . . my man reads all of my blogs (poor guy) so I think he will at least understand how upset I was!! xo.
I keep wanting to comment on this, then feel like I don’t have the right words.
Regardless on where someone stands on the abortion issue, the idea that any medical procedure could be forced on a woman based on someone else’s religious/moral stand should give them pause.
Hugs to you, and thank you for sharing something so personal.
Aw thank you so much Amber. I so appreciate your remarks above. And I agree completely: “Regardless on where someone stands on the abortion issue, the idea that any medical procedure could be forced on a woman based on someone else’s religious/moral stand should give them pause.” Thank you for hearing me, and for sharing my words. And for caring. xo.
Wow, I really cannot make any response other than that I am amazed by your strength. You had me in tears . . . hugs.
Aw, thank you so much Twisting Kaleidoscope!! Big hugs back at you!!
The gentle rage speaks with power. We women can stand together on this no matter where we stand politically. Control of our bodies is NOT up for debate. Thank you for writing this piece. It is easy for all of us, as I know you know, to let our outrage take center stage. I think our outrage is being dismissed. Our pain can’t be ignored if there is any real compassion in this debate. Again, thank you.
May I share this post on my blog? I can link back only or repost with links. Your choice. Let me know.
Thank you so, so much Kelly–and yes, you may share in whatever way you wish. If I have to walk across the aisle and join another party because of this issue, I will. Our outrage is being dismissed, and that makes the rape and abuse that much more palpable, if you know what I mean. I, for one, will not back down. xo.
One of my daughters was raped. We took her to the hospital so a rape kit could be done, and the the tomfoolery began. The police in the jurisdiction had connections to the rapist, files and notes were lost, along with the rape kit, and the prosecutor dropped the ball completely. By the time someone picked it up, our daughter just wanted to move on. Thankfully she was on the pill, so she did not have that worry to face.
I, on the other hand, had an abortion. It was my 2nd pregnancy, I was married, and – if I had it to do over again, I would not do it. It was a decision made in ignorance and fear. I had suffered an awful Post-Partum Depression, with my first. I just felt that I could not go thru with a planned C-section – which is how previously sectioned women in my HMO were routinely treated. My husband said he couldn’t stand to be around me, pregnant and post-partum. I had to undergo the procedure )which was performed by an 8 months’ pregnant and quite callous doctor) alone.
My children do not know about this, to this day. They have been taught that abortion is murder, and they have no compassion on anyone who has had one.
I have also been raped more than once, and was molested as a child (under age 6, I think). Now I weigh 300lbs. and am unhappily married.
My dear Simplytrece: I am so sorry for the pain you’ve been in and the hell you’ve been through. Your daughter’s experience is, sadly enough, not an aberration. Our justice system is anything but just where women and rape are involved. And my heart goes out to your daughter. As far as the abortion you had, I understand why you felt like you had to have it, and I for one would never–will never–judge someone in your shoes. It is so hard to bring a baby into this world when we are healthy and happy . . . when depressed, it is even that much harder. My pregnancies and postpartum times were often filled with trouble and angst and major depression, which is my way of saying that I feel compassion for the woman you were and are. And I hold your hand from afar re the rape and molestation. None of us should have had to endure that. Not one us. Much love to you hun.
El, like everyone here I want to give you a big hug and say rage, feel upset, feel violated and acknowledge that the TVU experience you had was so closely tied to the unthinkable experience 20 years ago. To feel what the words of the experience actually mean. I have similar feelings when I think about non-penetrative sexual abuse as well as about prematurity and special needs. When people talk about these experiences, I feel them myself again and in some ways experience my own emotions again while channeling those of others. But, like you and your last paragraph states you come back to present day where you are safe. Where the time has passed. Where you are no longer a victim of that but a survivor and you can breathe a little easier. So many folks benefit from you and your voice. Keep talking, keep writing, keep advocating and keep being wonderful wonderful you. <3 Shannon
Thank you so much my dear friend. And I hear what you are saying above as it relates to prematurity and special needs. I know that you have not, do not, always walk an easy path. One thing I take (or should I say receive) from you is the gift of looking for bright spots on a foggy day. For example, as upset as this entire controversy has made me, many good women, from both sides of the political aisle, have reached out to me and shared their stories and extended a helping hand. And that makes this day mynewfavoriteday. Much love,
What I don’t understand is why the male doctor is was so rough? Is it because he’s a man and doesn’t have our parts and feels that we’re just numb down there?
I’m sorry that you had to endure that pain and the memories that were triggered because of it…
Mala: objectively, I don’t think the doctor had any idea he was being that rough. I think that because he is a man he simply did not grasp how we feel. That doesn’t lessen my outrage mind you! Thank you so much for your compassionate response. xo.
Your blog takes my breath away.I’m glad that you are able to focus your rage, even though it is very painful. Mine still lurks inside, sneaking out in sarcasm or over-reacting to little things. As I sit here now, I can feel that absolute helplessness of the little girl inside me. I know in my head that I’m no longer little, no longer helpless, and no longer a victim…but that’s not enough, is it? You are so brave.
Thank you so very much Cindy. I hope that you are able to focus your rage. It takes so much energy to focus mine and I do not always get it right. Last night, one of my friends asked me a few times, “What are you really mad at?” And I asked myself that over and over again until I figured it out.
As to your question, is that enough–it is once we believe it is. And when it isn’t, we just gotta hold on and wait it out until that is enough.
Much love to you.
That’s awful El. Feeling violated is something we as women should ever have to qualify. Ever.
Thank you so much Katy. And no, no we should not ever have to qualify it. Amen.
Thank you for writing something so personal and profound. I know your willingness to share your experiences has given women strength and comfort in knowing that they’re not alone. I’m so glad you’re in a safe place now. I hope that safety will be the anchor to steady you through those powerful emotions that won’t subside completely.
I’m sorry for your hurt. Sometimes my hairdresser has the water too hot when she washes my hair. She can’t tell – it feels ok to her. Sometimes I tell her it’s too hot, and sometimes I grit my teeth and figure she’ll be done soon. My first response to your story with your doctor was “why didn’t she just tell him to take it easy – he can’t tell how it feels to her?” Then I think of my hesitation to speak up with something as trivial as getting my hair washed – this without your traumatic history – and it makes more sense.
I’m so glad you have had therapy and support to bring you to a happier place.
I have no idea how I stumbled upon this post — actually, I was looking at your Facebook page and thinking, “Holy cow, this woman has 3K some likes on Facebook? How does that happen? 😉
Anyway, I saw this posted near the top of your Facebook page. And, wow, what bravery. I was against the legislation whole-heartedly from the get-go but I will admit that the issue of rape never even entered my mind. Thanks for sharing this experience. Definitely opened my mind.
I terminated a very much wanted pregnancy six years ago due to fatal fetal anomalies. The baby had a condition that is incompatible with life and was not expected to survive through the rest of my second trimester. The anniversary of that ill-fated ultrasound is actually tomorrow, on unlucky day 13. Thus, the weird coincidence of my falling upon this post. I had my own issues with that ultrasound and how it was carried out so impersonally. I have worse feelings about the ultrasound than about the moment I learned the diagnosis. I think you and I need to lobby someone in charge of ultrasound training — rape victim or not, I don’t want any man shoving a piece of equipment into my body like that.
In conclusion, you rock.
Aw Angie: thank you. To address the first paragraph: I worked really hard to grow the likes (groaning–should be finished my novel instead LOL).
And thank you oh so very much for what you said re my experience. I am so, so sorry for your loss, and all the more sorry now that it is the 13th. Big electronic hugs to you darling. (((Angie))).
Sigh. And a loud amen to the issues you raised with the ultrasound and with the legislation. I tried to write a blog post about that and my piece just sounded too angry and even I hesitate to enter the political fray, you know.
Thinking of you today. xo.
Thanks a lot for the article post.Thanks Again. Will read on…