(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Technically, I wasn’t alone when I had my abortion. There was a doctor at my feet. A nurse at my head. She offered to hold my hand, but I dug my fingernails into my palms instead — hoping one type of pain might distract from another. I wasn’t alone, but in so many ways, I was.

An hour later, I returned to the waiting room. My not-quite-boyfriend’s chin was folded against his chest. I poked his shoulder and motioned toward the door.

“Let’s go,” I said.

I tried to slip my arm through his as we walked through the parking lot on that frigid Chicago morning, but he was stiff and unresponsive. I pulled back and held my elbows tight instead.

I’ll never know what was going through his mind during those moments that are still so vivid for me: the morning I choked out the words “I’m pregnant” on the phone; the day I showed him a Post-it note where a nurse had scribbled a due date that I tried to forget; the night we drank too much wine because it didn’t matter if I drank — I wasn’t keeping it. (I still felt guilty and cried.)

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him, either. But his experience is his, and mine is mine, and they parted ways shortly after that walk through the cold parking lot.

Eighty-three percent of women who have abortions are unmarried. Which makes sense. For most single women, I imagine that having a child is more daunting than for married ones.

No matter a woman’s marital status, though, abortion can be a lonely experience. It may take two people to get pregnant, but only one will feel the physical effects. Only one can ultimately make the decision of how to handle what’s happening with her body. Thankfully, we still have that decision to make, despite those who try to take it away.

The stigma surrounding abortion further isolates those of us who’ve been through it. It’s not something we’re supposed to talk about. We grieve quietly. Or we don’t. But we don’t dare tell anyone that we didn’t feel grief. We’re expected to agonize over the decision, even though for many, it’s a no-brainer. And while I did feel anxious and sad going through mine, I know that that’s not true for everyone.

I didn’t tell many people about my abortion, and I told even fewer about the emotional turmoil I experienced around it.

The man who got me pregnant and I spent about eight months together. At the time, I thought he was passionate. Looking back, manipulative is a better word. There were insults and accusations that shouldn’t come from the mouth of someone who claims to love you. Through unfounded assumptions about me and random men, he’d often make me apologize for things that never happened. His jealous temper might have stemmed from his intimate awareness of how easy it is to lie. He’d had another girlfriend all along.

About a week after the cold walk through the parking lot, he left his phone at my apartment and the screen lit up with evidence as I scrolled through his texts: “I love you”; “I’ll be home soon, babe”; and “What should I make for dinner?” A seemingly happy relationship formed between work and meals and errands. I could see myself slotted in between an occasional “Where are you?” and “Come home.” But otherwise, their life together seemed shockingly whole.

I was ashamed for not seeing the truth sooner, for letting him control me through my insecurities for so long. And it was terrifying to suddenly lose the one person who had been there through the decision to end my pregnancy, to end our pregnancy. Part of me wanted to shut the phone and pretend I didn’t know.

When I confronted him and ended things, relief became the dominating emotion. I’d made the right decision. And I was freed from a future that scared me even more than being alone.

I began sharing my experience by journaling through tears and with shaky hands. And then I kept writing, through an increasing level of clarity and self-forgiveness. Writing became my therapy. Eventually, it struck me that other women probably needed to share their stories as badly as I did. I began to talk about my abortion with friends, and discovered more and more women who had stories to share, too. Those who didn’t were still open and supportive when hearing mine.

These stories were complicated to tell, but it’s not so complicated to listen. The #ShoutYourAbortion campaign has tapped into this desire to share our stories. Through the hashtag and downloadable posters, women are reclaiming the conversation by refusing to be silent about their decision to end their pregnancies.

These stories can be legally powerful, too. In the recent Supreme Court case that struck down Texas’s abortion restrictions, 200 women filed friend-of-the-court briefs, names attached, describing their abortion experiences.

Ultimately, I healed by myself, without the help of a partner. Hearing other women’s stories over the years helped me realize that I was strong enough to get through it without him. I hope this one will serve a similar purpose for someone else. I hope she knows that she’s strong enough on her own — and that she’s not alone.

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