Having an abortion doesn't need to be a horrific experience

How KGH Women's Clinic made my procedure easier

Someone waiting at the Women's Clinic.
Illustration by Ashley Rhamey

This story talks about abortion. It may be triggering for some readers. 

I’m a girl from a Catholic family who went to church every Sunday. I attended Catholic school my whole young adult life. Consequently, I — like many other Queen’s students — grew up surrounded by people who believe abortion is murder.

I disagreed, but never had to face that discrepancy until I was 19 years old. I was standing next to the guy I had been sleeping with — who I had yet to even call my boyfriend — staring at a positive home pregnancy test.

Despite my upbringing, and despite the gravity of the situation I was facing, I never questioned what my next steps were. Though I never thought this could happen to me, I had always known what I’d do if my worst-case scenario came true. So, as soon as I had calmed down and wiped away my tears, I was on the phone with the Kingston General Hospital (KGH) Women’s Clinic. 

I was terrified. I had grown up hearing horror stories of botched abortions, and of successful ones that haunt you everyday regardless. Moreover, I had no idea what an abortion entailed or how to get one. Accessing abortion services certainly wasn’t integrated into the curriculum at my Catholic schools.

What I did know came from two pieces in The Journal featuring women who had received abortions from the KGH Women’s Clinic — and neither of them had anything good to say.

The feature piece pointed out how one woman had to wait five and a half weeks to have her procedure after contacting the clinic. She noted that being pregnant was the “absolute worst thing” that ever happened to her in her life.

In an editorial, one student wrote that the Women’s Clinic was “absolutely terrifying” and no one at the clinic offered her any advice on what to expect when she arrived for her procedure. She too lamented the long wait times for appointments.

This was the only student-oriented material I had to consult before beginning my own abortion process. Today, I write this to change the information available to The Journal’s readers and offer a very different opinion: in what was the darkest time of my life, the KGH Women’s Clinic was an absolute blessing. 

People are always talking about societal barriers to getting an abortion. There are many, including the fact that clinics are few and far between, making access difficult, especially for women living in remote areas. However, one barrier people seem to dwell on is the negative social stigma that discourages conversations about abortion.

What I don’t think people realize is that a severe lack of positive stories being told about abortion contributes heavily to that negative stigma.

Let me be clear — there’s nothing positive about being unexpectedly pregnant at 19. There’s nothing liberating about running water in the sink and bathtub so your housemates don’t hear you vomiting every morning. There’s nothing easy about avoiding your friends, family, schoolwork and hobbies for fear of anyone discovering your secret. Being pregnant was incredibly isolating and difficult for me, but I’ll forever be thankful for the support I received at the KGH Women’s Clinic.

My first interaction with the clinic was that phone call I made directly after taking an at-home test. I stared at those two pink lines as the woman on the line explained to me the next steps: I’d need to get a urine test at a walk-in clinic to confirm my results, then they’d set me up for an ultrasound.

I learned that oftentimes, the reason you have to wait many weeks for an appointment is because you need to be seven weeks along to receive a surgical abortion at the KGH. As such, they book your ultrasound for around the seven-week mark to confirm you’re ready for the procedure. This process has very little to do with administrative backup and everything to do with proper medical practice.

However, since I had my surgery, medical abortions have now become available at the KGH meaning women can have abortions earlier than the seven-week mark through the prescription of abortion pills.

I was nervous when I heard I had to wait about five more weeks to get an ultrasound before I could even confirm my appointment, but I certainly understood that my mistake wasn’t the kind that could be resolved with a snap of my fingers. I was simply grateful to know I was being taken care of eventually, to know that I was one of the lucky women who lived within walking distance of an abortion clinic.

Like I said, the weeks that followed that at-home pregnancy test were some of the darkest of my life. I internalized the negative stigma so prevalent in society and in my Catholic community. I struggled mentally and spiritually, but also physically as I experienced early pregnancy symptoms of morning sickness, cramping, fatigue, dizziness, soreness and more.

After completing my ultrasound, I was called later that same day to book my abortion for only five days later. As much as I wanted the procedure to be over so I could put this incident behind me, I dreaded the surgery.

When I arrived at the Women’s Clinic on the morning of my procedure, I was surprised to see it wasn’t as terrifying as I expected. I mean, no clinic in a hospital is exactly warm and welcoming, but it wasn’t bad. I then sat down with a social worker who explained to me the procedure step-by-step. 

She explained to me why abortions in the past had often been dangerous and how medicine had advanced to ensure they weren’t anymore. She told me my family doctor wouldn’t be notified about this and the procedure was free under OHIP. She explained possible side effects and how to treat them. She asked me how I was feeling, how these past few weeks had been for me and actually listened. She offered her advice and kindness and even managed to make me laugh. 

When she asked me about birth control, I explained I had been avoiding hormonal contraceptives as they gave me mood swings and sometimes made me depressed. She set me up with a prescription for a pill that had a lower and unique dose of hormones made just for women like me.

I was then given a cocktail of drugs for the procedure — each time a nurse or doctor administered them, I was told exactly what each drug was and what it would do to me. While I was waiting for them to take effect, the nurses let the father climb into my tiny hospital bed to hold me. 

The procedure itself was quick and blurry. The father was allowed to come in with me and hold my hand the entire time. Immediately following, all I experienced was a few minutes of cramping and cold sweats, which the nurses treated.

And then it was over. I would bleed for about a week afterwards — a completely painless and normal side effect I was warned about. While since then I’ve occasionally shed tears about the child I gave up, never once have I regretted the decision — that’s a personal conclusion, though. 

What I’d say to any woman seeking an abortion at the KGH Women’s Clinic is they take the scariest day of your life and make it a little bit easier and safer — and that’s about all you can ask for. Having a clinic next to campus where you can have an abortion for free under the health coverage offered in this province makes Queen’s students overwhelmingly fortunate. 

I refuse to focus on the dark parts of my abortion because there’s already so much darkness surrounding this issue. 

If we really want to break the stigma, we need to hear positive stories too.

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