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Navigating Sex(uality) After An Abortion

My Abortion Altered The Way I Viewed My Body

I was sixteen when I found out I was pregnant. The doctor who broke the news reminded me of my dad. Stern but gentle, and straight to the point. When he told me, he looked at me the same way my dad would when I did something that disappointed him.

“You’ll need to take these,” he said, handing me a prescription for pregnancy vitamins.

“What about another option?” I asked quietly.

It took a moment for him to realize that I wasn’t talking about alternative vitamins, but rather, not going through with it at all.

“There’s a hospital in the south end of the city you can contact,” he said, collecting his notepad. The condemnation in his voice made it clear he didn’t want any part of this conversation. I knew he disapproved.

Thinking back now, I wonder if his disapproval had less to do with his own principles, and more to do with foreboding the mental and emotional repercussions I might face down the road; the things I didn’t know that would follow.

There are things I’ve been internally accumulating over the past fourteen years that I’ve projected into the last five we’ve been together.

Kailey Buchanan

 

“Do you want to get married?” our therapist asks. My boyfriend and I have been in couple’s therapy for a few months, trying to reconcile the issues in our relationship. There are things I’ve been internally accumulating over the past fourteen years that I’ve projected into the last five we’ve been together.

We’ve spent the past few sessions trying to dig up our fears, in hopes to get to the root of our problems.

“Yes, I do. We do,” I say.

“What’s in your way, then?” she asks. “Are there things that are standing in your way, from feeling connected – on the same page?”

My boyfriend is sitting silently beside me. His body language tells me he wants me to be the one to answer the question.

Truthfully, the thought of marriage wasn’t something I had given much thought to until I turned thirty earlier this year. I suddenly became aware of where I wanted to be at this point in my life, and what I wanted. Marriage was one of the things I realized I wanted – and with him.

But the reality was that we weren’t close to marriage. We had to mend our relationship first by acknowledging some of the roadblocks in our way.

For the past year we’ve been struggling through a lot of issues, a lack of intimacy and lack of connection being at the forefront.

For most of my young adult life, I recoiled at the thought and act of sex. I attributed this to my low self-esteem and having a low libido (my hormones being so messed up from taking the pill for so long).  

But there were deeper reasons.

“I had an abortion when I was sixteen, and I didn’t deal with it after it happened.”

The words feel so heavy still, even after carrying their weight all these years. The shame still settling in the pit of my stomach.

“Why not?” she asks simply.

I think back to the day it happened. My mom came with me for support. The wing in the hospital, where the clinic and operating room was located, was tucked away in an unmarked isolated hallway. As if in secrecy.

We sat in the waiting room with three other young girls, looking to be around my age. There were posters about planned pregnancy on the walls.

Before I was admitted into surgery, I had to meet with a nurse for decision aid support. She asked me if I wanted to go through with the operation, and if I understood the operation would terminate my pregnancy. She asked if I’d considered all possible options, hinting at adoption.

She pulled out a laminated illustration showing a tool that looked like a small vacuum. It was pointed inside a cervix, puncturing the amniotic sac. She explained the risks, and asked me to fill out a form acknowledging that the hospital wouldn’t be at fault if anything went wrong.  

I stared down at my belly. I was seven weeks, in my first trimester, and I didn’t feel or look any different. It didn’t feel real, that there was a baby growing inside me. I thought I’d look bigger. I thought I’d feel something. But I didn’t know anything about pregnancy and motherhood; I was only sixteen. The only thing I knew was that I wasn’t ready yet.    

“What precautions are you going to take afterwards?” the nurse asked. “Do you plan to practice safe sex? Will you use birth control?”

I felt my cheeks turn pink. I was using a form of birth control when I got pregnant; the condom broke. That was out of my control, but how I wanted to fix the aftermath was within my control. It was my choice and I felt like I was being condemned for making it.  

“I will,” I agreed, gulping the mass that was building in my throat.

I don’t remember the surgery; only the next few days recovering in bed, bleeding heavily, lying still in pain.

My mom and dad sat on the edge of my bed one night, checking on me.

“Do you want to talk about it?” they asked.

“No. I’m fine,” I lied. “I’ll be okay.”

“Okay,” they said. “This will stay between the three of us.”

And that was it. We never talked about it again after that night. My body healed, I got out of bed, and I moved on with my life like it never happened.

I secretly spiraled downhill over the years that followed, in an internal battle with myself.

In my early twenties all of my friends seemed to be at their sexual peak, exploring and being more adventurous with their own bodies and with sex. Except for me. I recoiled at the thought of both.

Kailey Buchanan

 

In my early twenties all of my friends seemed to be at their sexual peak, exploring and being more adventurous with their own bodies and with sex. Except for me. I recoiled at the thought of both.

I remember feeling a mixture of unease and jealousy when one of my friends talked about exploring her own sexuality through masturbation and the wild weekend she’d spent discovering new sex positions with her boyfriend. I was dating someone at the time, but we hadn’t been intimate in months. I wanted to be – but I couldn’t. I felt embarrassed, afraid, and ashamed every time I tried to initiate sex; something which I could never admit out loud. So I lied to my friends whenever the topic came up, telling made up sex stories to feel included.  

I started wearing shapeless clothes that covered my body, thankful that baggy sweaters and mom jeans were in style. I felt embarrassed when attention was paid to myself or to my body. I felt awkward being feminine, as if having to play a part of sexy or beautiful.

Abortion had altered how I viewed my physical body.

These feelings became normal though, and eventually became part of me. They were feelings I never understood though until we started uncovering them in therapy.

“All of these years, I felt like I did something wrong,” I say, bringing myself back to the room, the present moment, with my therapist and my boyfriend. “I punished myself by suppressing the feelings I had about my own sexuality, because it made me feel dirty and ashamed.”

My therapist takes a breath, cupping her hands around her knees, leaning forward towards me.

“But exploring your sexuality is normal human behavior,” she says. “And you can’t let what happened to you get in the way of expressing yourself – and making a connection with yourself. You need to work through this trauma. Acknowledge what happened. Accept it and move on.”

“You need to reclaim your sexuality,” she continued to declare. “You need to learn to love yourself again.”

I punished myself by suppressing the feelings I had about my own sexuality, because it made me feel dirty and ashamed.

Kailey Buchanan

 

The past few months I’ve been navigating the trauma I’ve uncovered. Years of hurt and pain. Working through it, crying, yelling, screaming – and finally feeling. Finally talking openly about it, and apologizing to myself for not admitting that I wasn’t okay back then. But I will be. It’s a process, and I’m taking baby steps.

Navigating through my (literal) sexual healing has been a balancing act of tuning into my instincts and desires. Surrendering to them and exploring my body from the inside out. Embracing the little things like wearing my hair down and wearing with a low-cut dress. Loving the way I look by creating a new relationship with my body and my womanhood. Feeling turned on, and turning my boyfriend on. Feeling excitement, comfort, and trust in our physical connection. Halting fear, rather than giving into it.

I’m slowly creating space for a new narrative, where my past doesn’t define me or my future.

 

photography by Britney Gill 

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Kailey Buchanan
About the author

Kailey is a communications expert who lives in Vancouver, BC. She is an avid lover of writing, yoga and tacos.

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