The bus ride from Vancouver, BC to Tacoma, WA takes about four hours. That offered a long time to think about what I was about to do. Which is why I didn’t; I curled up on two seats on the nearly empty bus and went to sleep, already exhausted by thoughts of the three-day journey ahead of me and how I’d gotten here. Twenty years old, far from home, alone, and more than five months pregnant with a child I did not want.
I’d suspected I might be pregnant for some time but had only found out two weeks earlier just how far along I was. Part of it was denial. Most of it was disbelief. And sheer terror. The rest was an immature, self-defeating, maybe-it-will-go-away-if-I-ignore-it approach.
When I finally went in for an ultrasound, I was devastated to learn that I was 22 weeks pregnant—and that no Vancouver-based doctor could perform an abortion so late in the game. If I wanted one, I had to go to an abortion clinic in the US, ironically enough, where a late-term termination, or partial birth as they called it, could be performed.
I cried for days as the would-be father, my boyfriend of four years, cruelly taunted me. He chattered—pointedly—about buying a stroller and a crib, as I further retreated into myself.
He knew I didn’t want to be pregnant. And he took great pleasure in tormenting me about it. He suddenly found religion and extolled his Catholic faith, according to which abortion was unconscionable. As a Jew, I had no idea (at the time) what Judaism thought of abortion, and I really didn’t care. I did not want to have a baby with this man. Or any man, really, at that stage in my life. But especially not this man.
He was violent, cruel, vengeful, unfaithful, pathologically dishonest, and chillingly exacting when doling out punishment. I was trying to get out of the relationship, but I hadn’t quite worked out how. The adults in my life were not adulting very well at the time and any friends I had left were all back home in Montreal. I had no one. So I stayed.
The only person who knew the truth about my situation was a woman I did not know and had yet to meet—the manager of the abortion clinic in the US.
She had gotten involved because I was traveling from Canada and needed logistical help, and because of the cost, which I couldn’t cover. I don’t remember exactly how much it was, but it might as well have been a million dollars at the time. My boyfriend controlled all the finances and he insisted we couldn’t afford it—so we should have the baby.
I begged, I pleaded. The more I did so, the more uncooperative he became and soon the brief moments where he showed some tenderness and tried to comfort me stopped altogether.
It became clear that he was going to do everything possible to stop me.
Planning this thing was the first time I openly defied him. And I was scared, but determined to do it, convinced that I could not let him take this away from me. My life, my future, a small chance of one day being anywhere but with him—this was all at stake.
So I stopped talking about it. And started preparing.
The manager of the abortion clinic in Tacoma made some calls and, through a Canadian social worker, arranged for the procedure to be paid for by the Canadian government.
The request was quickly processed and a date for the abortion was set. All I had to do was put together the money for transportation to and from Tacoma, my stay at a cheap hotel next to the clinic, and food.
I borrowed $300 (CAD) from a work acquaintance, who must have sensed my desperation. On instinct, I didn’t put the money in my purse. I hid it in the cushions of the couch—white with ugly floral print—in the tiny, depressing, revolting apartment we lived in.
I put in a request for four days off from work. Also granted, miraculously.
I now had to wait.
My bus left early on a Wednesday morning. I woke up before 5 a.m. And he, having sensed something was up, got up as well. I stopped trying to hide where I was going. We had a huge fight. He shoved me around a little bit before taking my passport. I had left it in my bag (my one oversight). What he didn’t realize was, back then, in 2001 pre-9/11, all that was needed to cross the border was a driver’s license, which I thankfully had on me. I grabbed my backpack and left, the money I needed tucked into my sneakers where I had stashed it the night before.
I got to the bus terminal, mindful of my whereabouts and constantly looking out in case he had followed me. I had even brought a change of clothes with me in the hopes that if he were there, he wouldn’t spot me, at least from afar.
But he hadn’t followed.
In Tacoma, after I filled out some forms, signed papers, and had an ultrasound (I was now 24 weeks), the manager of the clinic asked to speak to me in her office. I had been looking forward to meeting her to express my gratitude for her help, but before I could say anything, she looked at me with kindness—or pity, or both—and said, “We have a serious problem.”
My heart sank.
“It seems your boyfriend left a message on our machine threatening to blow up the clinic if you go through with this abortion.”
I sat there. Speechless. Horrified. Furious. I was not actually scared that he would “blow up the clinic.” He was violent with me, but kind of a coward everywhere else in his life.
“We’ll still perform the abortion if you want it; I just wanted you to know what was happening and to know we’ve increased security around the clinic.”
As an added bonus to the shitshow that was my life, she also informed me that I had to speak to the FBI about this alleged bomb threat. The FBI. The freaking FBI. If only the teachers at the private Jewish school I attended could see me now, I remember thinking.
Dazed, all I could do was agree.
I was told I would come back the next day to get an injection into my belly which was intended to stop the heart of the fetus.The next day, I would come back for the doctor to remove the fetus.
I started sobbing.
“Did you not know that this was part of the procedure?” she asked.
No, I did not.
“Do you still want to do it?
I couldn’t consider backing out.
Back in my little hotel room, I cried, slept, cried, took a shower, watched TV, cried, and slept some more.
The next morning, I took another short cab to the clinic. It’s hard to describe the state of mind I was in. Dream-like, maybe. Numb, very.
The needle that pierced through my abdomen and into the amniotic sac did not hurt, though it stung a bit. I was told the fetus’ heart would stop sometime in the next few hours. Off I went back to my room for this waiting game from hell.
They say memory can be tricky, sometimes deceptive. I don’t know if this actually happened or if I dreamt it, but at some point in the evening, I was laying on my back, hands on my stomach, all cried out, when my stomach suddenly heaved three times. Then nothing.
I held on, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” over and over again.
I promised myself that one day I would make it right. I had no idea what I meant.
The next day, I was off to the clinic again for the final procedure, plus my date with the federal agent.
I was given a painkiller through an IV and the doctor broke my water and delivered the dead fetus. It could have taken just a few minutes or an hour. I could not tell time.
I was given some pads, some pills, and told to expect some bleeding. I was then given some time to recover before being asked to join the FBI agent in a private part of the clinic.
The agent played the recording of the threatening message left on the answering machine. I felt ashamed and afraid. The agent reassured me that I was not in any trouble myself.
He asked how we met, how long we’d been together, how I had come to live in Vancouver, did I think he was capable of blowing up a building. I don’t know what he knew of the domestic abuse, but I don’t remember him asking. He gave me his card once he determined, I guess, that we were just two idiots, each for our reasons. And that was that.
Still feeling the effects of the drugs, I went back to the hotel room to get my things, check out, and take a bus back to Vancouver that afternoon.
My boyfriend was in the lobby. How he had found me, I have no idea to this day.
I froze, staring at him but not wanting to make a scene. He seemed calm, like he accepted what had happened.
I let him follow me to the room, not caring anymore.
He asked how I was doing. Fine. The pregnancy? Finished. How was I getting home? Bus.
I was still so groggy and just exhausted.
“Let me drive you,” he said.
I let him. I slept almost the entire way, waking briefly to cross the border back into Canada.
Every speed bump or pothole caused a stabbing pain in my abdomen. And it seemed he was intent on hitting each one.
We were a few minutes from our apartment in Vancouver when I felt a huge rush of blood. It barely registered as I just stared out the window.
In November that year, I finally got the impetus to leave him, stealthily planning a flight back to Montreal while he thought I was at work. It failed. It took me another six months to finally be rid of him.
I don’t think of my abortion often, but it has inevitably come up over the years. I have since given birth to two wonderful children, and when each pregnancy hit the 24-week mark, I remembered. And my heart hurt.
It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do, but I don’t regret it. How can I? Having that baby would have condemned me to an existence that included unwanted parenthood, instability, certain poverty, violence, and despair.
I didn’t have to get my late-term abortion because of medical reasons, but I did have to get it to save my life. I’m so thankful I had the choice.