In need of a friend

Finding a friend in a nightmare

People always remember events that changed their lives. It’s inevitable that we remember them, the good ones and the bad ones. Some events take place on one day, some major life changing events take place over several days, sometimes even months. At the moment we may not realize how much of an impact the events have on the future of our lives. That’s how it was with me. I knew that the events were changing my life but I didn’t realize at the moment how much of an impact they were having on me. It was years later that I would understand how much these events would shape my life and change the way I look at things and how I feel about things.

Let me take you walk you through the events of my life that have shaped me into the person I am today. I had just turned eighteen, just graduated high school and every night was a party at someone’s house.  The drinking age was eighteen so most of us were entering a new world were we could legally drink, legally go to bars, legally do anything we wanted. We weren’t under our parents rules anymore. Yes, most of us still lived with our parents but we didn’t care, we were grown ups. True, most of us had been drinking for a year or so thanks to older friends, but drinking legally was new. At that age, what we didn’t understand was limits, our own and others.

One night my two closest friends and I were going from party to party and ended up at an unfamiliar house.  My friends, Marci and Sherry heard about the party from a friend of a friend.  Even thought the party was in the Garden District, there were no printed invites and it seemed like all you needed to gain entrance was a pretty smile.  The party was in full swing. The music was loud, the drinks were flowing, the dancing was hot and steaming.  We made our way to the bar, got drinks and took a tour. It seemed like every where we looked there was a girl looking dazed being kissed by at least one guy.  Maybe if I had been older and wiser I would have seen the the warning signs, but I didn’t.

Before the end of the first drink, Sherry was paired up with a handsome large male. Before the second drink arrived they were involved in a serious lip lock that left me wondering if they had even had time to exchange names before exchanging bodily fluids. Marci was picked off next by a handsome guy with a drink. That left me wandering around by myself. The house was huge and I found myself out by the pool when someone whispered in my ear that they could get me a suit or I could jump in without one if I wanted. I turned around and discovered a handsome young man who introduced himself as Dante and the party host. He handed me a drink.

Two drinks later I was naked and in a hot tub. Two more drinks later and I almost remember being carried naked through the party upstairs into a bedroom. My vision was blurred, I could barely move, I was being kissed and sexually fondled and I didn’t want to be. I kept saying no but I don’t know if I was being heard. When Dante finished, he dressed and left the room. My ordeal was not over though. Before it was over, three more males would use my body like it was nothing more than a blowup sex doll. When I could finally move my arms and legs I got up and wrapped the sheet around me. I went looking for my friends. I opened several other doors and finally found them. They were luckier, their clothes were in the same rooms. They got dressed and we got out of the house. They weren’t in much better shape than I was but I knew that we had to get out of that house.

We managed to get to the car and get to Charity Hospital. We were ushered into three different rooms, our clothes were taken from us, in my case, my sheet. Blood was drawn, tests were run, our legs were put in stirrups, large swaps were placed in our vaginas for samples of fluids. pictures were taken. And then the cops were brought in. I don’t know how Marci and Sherry were treated but I felt like I had done something wrong. And maybe I did, maybe I shouldn’t have shown up at a party at a strangers house and maybe I shouldn’t have accepted a drink from a stranger. But the times were different in the late 70’s, we were more trusting, I was asked questions like “Did I lead him on? Did I indicate that I would be open for a sexual encounter? Did I say no? Did I ask for the drink? Did I want to have sex?” By the time I was done all I wanted to do was shower and hide. I no longer felt like I was a rape victim, I felt like they were accusing me of lying.

The hospital called our parents.  And we were released to our parents. This was back before the days of the abortion pill, the morning after pill or any other emergency contraceptive. All three of us had to wait to see if we were pregnant. Marci was on birth control so she felt safe. Sherry and I were not on birth control. Sherry felt safe because she had just finished her monthly. I, on the other hand, was terrified. I had done the math, I knew the chances were very high that I was pregnant. And when I missed my period, it was confirmed. Out of the three of us, I was the only one pregnant.

Talk about the stars lining up against me. Here I was 18, pregnant and the kicker, I was lucky enough to have Catholic parents. Of course, I had Catholic parents, I was born and raised in New Orleans. This was not something I wanted, not something I planned, not something I was going to keep. I did not want to be pregnant. I also knew that my family would not stand for me getting an abortion.

Now came the hard part, I had to grow up and grow up fast. Morning sickness was horrible. Every time I flushed the toilet after throwing up I felt like I was flushing away my future. I couldn’t start college pregnant or with a child. No one was going to be looking down their nose at me but it wasn’t something I personally could do. It was not something I wanted to do, it was simply not my choice. So I went to the pregnancy clinic and I started asking questions.

The good news is they could help me. I wasn’t too far along. The nurse was kind, but she kept asking if I had considered adoption instead. She has me several times if I knew how many young couples out there would love to have a infant to raise. I told her I had no interest in being pregnant and I swear it sounded like she grunted. Finally I was done and was making an appointment to see a doctor. As she was looking at the appointment book, she told me that the soonest she could get me scheduled was two months. I asked her if that would be too late to have an abortion and she said that’s the chance you will have to take because that’s the soonest she could get me in. I let her make the appointment, I took the card and left feeling defeated.

I was sitting in my car crying knowing that the doctors appointment would be too late for me to terminate and I would be stuck with this pregnancy. By then I would be showing, my mother would know and there was no way in her Catholic world that she would ever let me abort. The visit that gave me hope had destroyed all hope at the same time. Then there was a tap on my window. I rolled down my window and the woman on the other side apologized for interrupting and asked if I was okay. The flood gates open and the tears really started falling then. I started telling this total stranger everything that was going on and how they had just scheduled the doctors appointment too late for me to be able to get an abortion. She held my hand while we talked, she nodded and listened. And when I was done blubbering, she said “I can help.”

She said that the clinic I was at really wasn’t a crisis pregnancy clinic but it was run by a Pro Life Christian group. So the appointment was setup on purpose to be too late to get an abortion. They had no intention of helping me get one. But she said not to worry because she knew of a doctor that could help.  She gave me a card with a clinic’s name, address and phone number. It also had a doctors name. On the back she wrote her name and her phone number. Janet. She said to give her a call if I had any questions, needed any help. or if I just wanted to talk. I thanked her and she left.

That afternoon I called and made an appointment. I was lucky enough to get in the next day. The staff warned me that there would be protesters there and asked me if I had anyone coming with me. I couldn’t think of anyone. They said they had people that would walk me to the front door through the protesters. That night I called Janet and talked with her for a while. I was careful not to talk loudly or say anything that might catch my parents attention.  I found out that she was one of the clinic escorts and the clinic that she found me at was a new ploy by the Pro Life movement to stop abortion. They played on the emotions of  women getting them to  wait to long to have abortions and then either keeping the child or putting it up for adoption in their private adoption agency. It sounded strange to me. Personally my mind was made up.

Street preachers with bad hairdos, dimples and bullhorns screaming at women making their own health choices.
Street preachers with bad hairdos, dimples and bullhorns screaming at women making their own health choices.

Janet was there the next day and walked with me through the group of protesters. It was horrible. They went from being kind and asking to help to screaming at me that I was a murderer. They kept screaming that I was killing a baby. Janet held my arm and we kept walking.  It was awful. It was a walk of shame and it was as bad as if not worse than the rape.  If I thought that I had been judged before in the hospital, it was nothing compared to what these people who called themselves Christians were screaming at me. I thought I recognized a few of them from my parents church.  I hoped I was wrong. There was no escaping them until we got to the door and they followed us all the way there with their screaming.

They want to help

The appointment went well. A physical exam, a talk about options. Was I sure? There was no turning back once it started, I needed some one to drive me home and I needed to rest for a couple of days afterwards. If I could get things setup on my end, the abortion could be done as soon as the next day. I made the appointment, one way or the other I would make it happen. Money was another issue. The only thing that saved me there was I had been saving up money that my parents didn’t know about because I didn’t want to live in a dorm at college. I wanted an apartment. I would take the apartment money and use it for the abortion.

That night I called a friend from high school and begged for her help. I knew I could trust her, she wasn’t religious and she was one of those girls that did what she wanted all the time. She still lived at home so I couldn’t stay at her house. She suggested a cheap motel and she would stay with me. More expense. She said she could make food runs and it could be a two day slumber party. The plan was set, she would pick me up the next morning.

It wasn’t the first time I had lied to my parents but it was the most serious. I packed a bag told them I was going to a friends house for a couple of days. Angie picked me up and off to the clinic we went. I walked the walk of shame with Angie on one side and Janet on the other. Only this time I held my head high and looked straight ahead. I didn’t let their harsh words get to me. I would not cry or cringe when they called me “murderer” or “baby killer”, I would not flinch when they called me a “slut”. I knew better. I was taking my life back.

Sidewalk counseling

The next six hours are still a blur to me after all these years. I went from having a questionable future to having my future back. As long as I survived the abortion, I would go to college, get my degree and go on like nothing ever happened. I would have my life back.  When it was over, Angie and Janet helped me back through the gauntlet of shame.  The next two days we spent in a hotel room, eating, sleeping, watching tv, talking. She didn’t pass judgement on me when I told her everything that had happened to me. She confided me that she too, had an abortion.

Years later, years of therapy later, lots of reflection on my life and being disabled due to PTSD, I no longer wonder how my life would have turned out had I not gone to that one party. Even my doctors agree that the events of that night didn’t affect me as much as the walk of shame through the protesters did. Being raised Catholic and walking through a line of people calling me horrible names did a number on my mind. After the abortion I went to school and got my degree in nursing. It’s not what I wanted in the beginning. But it’s what I needed to do. I ended married, with three lovely kids. They all know about the abortion. They do not know about the walk of shame. That’s something I only talk about to my therapist. She understands that words can hurt as bad as a slap.

Signs along the walk

These are not pictures from my walk to the clinic to make my choice. These pictures are newer, this proves the battle is still going on. This proves we need to end the shame that the “sidewalk counselors” want to shove on women. We need to keep fighting for our sisters, so they don’t end up like me in their fifties taking a sleeping pill every night because my dreams are filled with people shouting at me that I’m a murderer. I do not regret my abortion. I do not regret my choice. I do not regret the walk that I took to get to the clinic for it is not a walk of shame, it is a walk of choice. It is a walk a freedom. It was my walk.

In the end, the doctors all agree, it wasn’t the rape that caused my PTSD, it wasn’t the actual abortion that caused it. The most traumatic thing I suffered during those weeks was facing the protesters screaming at me. The ones calling me a murderer, a slut, telling me to keep my legs closed and that I was killing my baby. I wasn’t killing my baby. I wasn’t killing anything. I was taking control of my life.

 

Giving every Alabama woman a voice for choice.