Sugar

By Jessica Erro / El Inde

I woke up to the sound of my phone alarm. I really hate that sound. It was time for my daily dose of thyroid medication, I couldn’t eat anything for 30 minutes, just as I have been doing for months now. You can tell a lot about a person by their prescriptions. Mine all have the same thing in common, they originated from the same event that would change me forever. I take birth control, thyroid medication and I have been on various anxiety and depression medications stemming from my PTSD. 

I was eighteen years old when it happened. I had never experienced trauma and it’s true what they say: ignorance is bliss. I had no clue what the world had in store for me. I found myself pregnant at the end of my freshman year with my beautiful boyfriend, Matt. I met him my first week of college and never let go since. With the pregnancy test in my hands, I quickly searched “Do relationships last after an abortion?” Short Google answer: no. Eighty percent of couples will not last. 

When I shared the news with him, we decided to tell no one and would be making an appointment for an abortion. I think that was the agreement we had come upon mainly because we were young and broke. We would have had support from our parents and the people around us but it just wasn’t the time to have a child. I was truly scared because I had the power to change everyone’s lives around me and I didn’t know what I was potentially taking away from myself and others. I didn’t want to be selfish. 

“My first thought when I found out you were pregnant was that abortion was the only answer. Looking back with how young we were and how traumatizing it can be for someone, I should have expressed my emotions in a nicer and better way. It did cause arguments and resentment,” Matt tells me today. 

I didn’t know how far along I was. It was a guessing game until an ultrasound which came a few days later. I gained a little weight but could still fit into my size 24 jeans. It seemed impossible to me that I was pregnant by the looks of my body. I was in shape and even filled out a little more than usual but nowhere near big bellied. It’s weird to think the first signs of my pregnancy were actually in my dreams. I had a dream I was breastfeeding a little girl with bright blue eyes. I woke up confused and shrugged it off. My body tried to tell me in different ways, but I didn’t listen. 

Nineteen weeks and six days. That is what the ultrasound tech told me at Family Planning Associates Medical Group in Phoenix. The cutoff in Arizona is twenty-four weeks to legally receive an abortion by law. Twenty-four weeks is when the baby can breathe on its own. They never confirmed the gender but I knew it was a girl. The nurse asked if I felt movements or anything prior to that moment but I never did. That night, I did feel kicks.

The group of nurses there told me it would be a two day procedure. I returned the next day. The appointments are close together so people can’t change their minds once they’ve started the process. Before the following appointments, I had to sit with a doctor and confirm this was my decision, and she walked me through each step of the procedures. It was a process that could be hard on the body, afterwards you could experience blood clots. I would need to be on bed rest. She had a good bedside manner, which I wouldn’t fully appreciate until I got older. I needed people who were calm and nice so I could keep it together. I finished this first interaction by also signing my life away, agreeing I could potentially die because of the operation even though it was rare.

It cost $300 for me and my boyfriend even though I knew others in the same position were paying more than us. I overheard a few of the other couples say they paid $900 or even $1400. I wondered why or how the nurse helped us that much, maybe she saw we needed it. I asked my mom for money. Matt and I didn’t even have $300 to spare. She gave it to us, with her exact text saying, “I knew all along.” That was my first time telling her. The doctors also prescribed me a new birth control pill to take after.

The following day I came in with Matt, who stood by me every step of the way. I truly don’t know what I would have done without him. We were given another clipboard for one final signature. We had to fill out a death certificate, which is a law in Arizona for late-term abortions. I wrote our names as the parents. We never named the baby but it did have the last name, “Sugar.” At the bottom, we had to agree that the remains would be cremated. Afterwards, he unfortunately couldn’t go back to the medical room with me.

I was taken to a room with a table to lie down on and a huge needle laying on a tray. The needle was going in my stomach. Doctor Eleanor Powell Stanley and a nursing student inserted seaweed sticks into the cervix to soften it. You keep these in for the night. This was the worst pain of all. I could no longer feel kicks.

Operation day came the following day. I was given some pills and soon enough my water broke. I was back in the same room as the day before. I got an IV with local anesthesia. There were a lot of girls in the same place. One after the other going into cookie-cutter style office rooms to have their procedures done. Soon it was my turn. It was fast and painless. All I remember was talking a lot even though I don’t remember a word I said. I left with a sundress on and my stomach looking flat. But no one prepared me or made me sign documents for what was to come. 

The days that followed were hard. I felt as if my world had turned gray. My birthday would be in eight days, but that wasn’t exciting to me. I felt immense sadness and anywhere I went I could only think of the life that could have been. I thought I had wronged God. I started living in intense fear that I was going to die. It was the start of my relationship with death anxiety and for the first time in my life I knew what it was like to want to kill yourself. I relied on Matt heavily because he was the only other person to know what I went through first-hand.

For months, my anxiety was paired with outbursts of crying and hallucinations of colors on the wall. I developed agoraphobia, a fear of leaving my room, and had intense fear of shootings. I had a dream I was walking to class and a sniper shot me from the top of a building. It was almost too much to bear. 

“I felt sad and helpless and wanted to help in any way possible but I couldn’t connect with (or understand) your state of mind. That frustrated me. Professional help was the only thing to do and hopefully help. I was scared and sad for your well being,” my mom told me recently.

I ended up seeing a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD, anxiety and depression. According to health researchers at the National Library of Medicine, women whose first pregnancies ended in abortion are 65% more likely to score in the “high-risk” range for clinical depression than women whose first pregnancies resulted in birth. More statistics from health researchers show that two in three women who have a late term abortions (after 12 weeks of pregnancy) suffer from the clinical definition of PTSD. I was prescribed a range of pills before I was settled on Klonopin and Celexa. They changed my life. I felt as though my mind had cleared of this overhanging fog. It was a huge step for me to be able to walk down the street or to class fearless. I lived in fight or flight mode for too long. I was a whole new person. 

It wasn’t all fixed though. I still had my times of worry and regret but time really does heal everything. Three years later and Levothyroxine has been added to my pill list to treat hypothyroidism. This was caused by the pregnancy as thyroid levels can shift when putting that stress on your body and immune system. Hypothyroidism can also contribute to anxiety and fuzzy memory. Today I am off all pills except for the thyroid one. 

I’ve learned a lot from the experience. I learned that when it rains, it rains, but I also think the rain and trauma is necessary to go through, because I grew into a better, stronger person. That’s maybe not what I wanted but it is what I needed. People always ask me if I regret it. There will always be ‘what-if’s’ there for me but too much light has come out of the darkness. 

“Still, to this day I believe that it was the right decision for both of us. It was not the way that we were meant to live at that moment,” Matt says.

And yes, me and Matt are still that twenty percent who have continued to stick together.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Erro.

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