Navigating my body image following an abortion

My unwanted pregnancy has taken a toll on my body

Photo: 
This piece mentions abortion and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.  
 
For a while now, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect pair of white, straight leg jeans.
 
I’ve visualized the pants in my head—they’ll hug my hips and waist snugly, following the length of my legs straight down to just below my ankle, so I’ll still have a little bit of room to roll them up. I’ll pair them with my collection of band tees, vintage button downs, and beat up sneakers. 
 
I’ve scrolled through my favourite shops online for hours, looking for contenders. Each time I stumble across a pair that seems like it’ll meet all of my criteria, I freeze up when I’m prompted by the website to choose a size.
 
After experiencing several changes in my body over the last year that largely resulted in some weight gain, every time I’m forced to ascribe a numeric value to my waistline, I have to stop scrolling and close out of the browser.
 
For most of my adolescent and early adult life, I’ve been lucky enough to never experience any debilitating anxieties over my body image. In the last year, however, my usual indifference regarding my weight and healthy body image has been overcome by insecurities in the aftermath of a medical crisis.
 
***
 
I had an abortion in early March of last year after experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. From the day I found out I was pregnant until the morning of the procedure, my body went through a torrent of hardship. Over the course of one month, I struggled as I experienced extreme fatigue, crazy mood swings, bizarre food cravings, and worst of all, the most intense and incessant nausea I’ve ever experienced. 
 
On the day of my procedure, I felt as if an immense weight was lifted from my shoulders, and my body was finally relieved of its hardship. 
 
I’d like to make it clear that, although the choice for an individual to get an abortion is often depicted as being one of the most difficult and traumatic decisions a person can make, the decision I made to terminate my pregnancy was not that. As a university student who was 21 years old at the time of my pregnancy, the decision to schedule an appointment at the Kingston General Hospital (KGH) Women’s Clinic was a simple choice. I had no money, no space, no patience, and, most simply, no desire to become a parent. 
 
Instead of the abortion being traumatic, a narrative projected onto the procedure thanks to media and societal depictions of abortion, my abortion was very similar to any other doctor’s appointment I’ve had. A set of nurses and a doctor explained the procedure thoroughly to me. They informed me of the side effects of the pain killers I would later be administered, and answered every question I asked them, no matter how inconsequential the question seemed to me. 
 
By contrast, the pregnancy itself was traumatic. The weeks I spent confined to my bedroom—subsisting on a diet exclusively of Goldfish crackers because they were the only things I could keep down, napping every four hours, and becoming unreasonably irritated with every person I had to interact with—plagued me in ways I hope I never have to relive. 
 
The abortion lifted a weight off my shoulders that is indescribable to anyone who hasn’t experienced an unwanted pregnancy. I will forever be grateful for the doctors and nurses at KGH who so graciously supported me that day. 
 
***
 
Although my life and routines returned to being somewhat normal in the weeks and months following the procedure—barring finding myself restricted to staying inside my dad’s apartment thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic—I felt anxious that my body would never return to its pre-pregnancy state. Although the nausea subsided, my appetite returned, and my period resumed, my body felt haunted. 
 
Naturally, during the pregnancy I gained weight. When one of my nurses informed me of my body mass, I felt slightly surprised at how high the number had jumped from my normal body weight, which I’d maintained for most of my young adult life. Although that figure presented a bit of a shock to me at the time, it wasn’t until a few months later when I realized the changes in my body were likely permanent. 
 
I would lie awake in bed at night and feel hyper-aware of the space I was occupying. I’d look in the mirror after getting dressed in the morning and fixate on the details of my body—how my jeans made my hips look, or whether a piece of clothing hugged certain areas a little too tight. One night, after finally admitting I was experiencing unwanted growth in my body, I intentionally set out to reassure myself that I could still be comfortable in my own skin. 
 
Instead, I found myself scrolling back far into my Instagram feed, examining photos where my thigh gap was visible, and feeling a terrifying mix of anger and anxiety when I looked in the mirror only to see the gap filled out by flesh. 
 
It felt as if, even though my abortion experience was positive overall, some aspect of it was destined to follow me for a long time afterwards. 
 
*** 
 
About a week ago, I marked the one-year anniversary of my procedure. One year later, I can still feel the changes my body has endured throughout my pregnancy and the early aftermath of my abortion. Though I remain forever grateful for being able to reclaim my body from my unwanted pregnancy, I know the road I’m taking toward feeling comfortable once again will be long and challenging.
 
I’ll likely continue to reflect on my changing body and the anxiety it’s caused me. As time progresses, I’ve gotten better at reassuring myself that a changing body is normal. Despite the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy, I’ve been able to carry myself through one hell of a personal challenge with as much grace as I can possibly muster. 
 
While my body doesn’t look the same as it did prior to my pregnancy, it’s still strong, worthy of my appreciation, and able to carry me through future hardships. I still get anxious when I notice changes in my body, and though I feel silly every time I get upset about it, I’m also cutting myself a bit of slack every time I want to mourn my thigh gap. 
 
I’m still grappling with the ways in which my body has changed, but there’s one kind of weight I’ve gained that in reality doesn’t feel like more to carry: the weight of a thicker skin. 
 

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