• Ayu Sutriasa

How My Abortion Led Me to Radical Self-Love

In October of 2018, I had an abortion.

Now, let me be clear: I believe every individual has the right to choose what they do with their body, and that uteruses should never be a playground for pious and corrupt politicians. However, I did not feel empowered after mine. Grateful for the right to choose? Absolutely.* But despite my SJW heart, I didn’t want to shout my abortion. I wanted to shut out the world.

Because our reproductive rights are under attack, people with uteruses have no choice but to act strong and be angry, because we’re fighting for our freedom. Abortion is basic health care, but since we’re somehow still vacillating on its legality (baffling, truly), we aren’t afforded any space to be sad, or to grieve—we’re just trying to survive with dignity. There is no room in the mainstream narrative for support for those of us who actually live what these white men decision makers never will. And this lack of support and representation is dangerous.

After I found out I was pregnant, I fell to the floor, sobbing, and my partner picked me up and brought me to the bed. He held me, telling me that he was by my side no matter what. Even in these early moments, my decision was clear. I was 24, living in a tiny apartment with barely enough money to sustain my lifestyle. Not to mention I had only been with this dude for 3 months. Oh and I love my freedom. At this point in my life, I had no desire to be beholden to a little person’s whims and mood swings (still don’t, tbh.) From every angle, I just wasn’t ready to be a mom.

But while I felt all those things, and genuinely knew that having a baby was simply not a viable option for me, there was a strong part of me that felt really shitty about my decision. I felt like I was a bad, irresponsible person for getting pregnant in the first place. I felt selfish for not wanting to keep it when so many others would do anything to be pregnant.

I carried all of this judgment and shame with me for months after the procedure. I thought there was something wrong with me: why was it taking so long for me to get over this? In fact, here I am writing this a year later, and I still haven’t fully moved through the shame and judgement and grief.

Me and my boyfriend walking the street in Portland.
Me and my boo last year, walking the streets of Portland. I was 5 weeks pregnant.

What have I learned a year later?

A lot. But first: me feeling like a bad person had everything to do with internalized misogyny, and nothing to do with who I really am. Notice how I did not place any blame or judgement onto my partner, who was equally involved and responsible. Nope. I was supposed to be responsible, I should have known better, because I’m supposed to be perfect. Whew.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from going through all of this is what it truly means to put myself first. And I don’t mean enabling my self-destructive behavior and doing whatever the fuck I want without internal consequence. I mean being radically honest with myself, even when it’s terrifying.

For most of my life, I put other people’s needs before my own (cc: sexism)—my parents, my romantic interests, my bosses, my friends… even hair dressers (you know when they butcher your hair but you smile and tip them anyway? Ugh.) This set me up to have a very bad habit: turning away from my needs to make sure that everyone else’s are taken care of first. And here’s a secret: sometimes, I do this to distract myself when my internal world is too messy (exposed!)

After the abortion, I dismissed my trauma because it was easier to ignore it than to look it in its sad, weeping face. This avoidance worked for a little bit (not really). But then my eating disorder came back into my life, with a force, as if it had never gone into remission. Its familiar and duplicitous grip was a wake up call.

Eating disorders are often (if not always?) a trauma response, so it makes sense that my binge eating disorder inserted itself back into my life. And it was... bad. There were times I was afraid to eat because I just didn’t know if I would be able to control myself. At this point, I could no longer ignore the sea of unchecked suffering that was swelling inside me.

Confronting all of this was not easy (layers and layers of internalized shame and judgment!) My first step was allowing myself to fully feel what I had been avoiding, to completely immerse myself in the turbulent waves, even though I was afraid they would drown me. That day was the hardest. I remember laying in bed, doing nothing but feeling the pain that had festered for months, barely keeping my head above the water.

After that, I decided I needed to see a therapist. It took me an hour to push the send button on that email—because asking for help is so fucking hard (why is it so hard?) But it ended up being one of the best decisions I could have made for myself.

This year, and all of its ups and downs, has shown me the transformational healing that is possible when you intentionally choose yourself. Every day, we are given opportunities to make our needs our priority. And that will look different for everyone. For me, it looked like saying no to social events because I needed time alone. It looked like the courage to open up to my pain, saying “I am not okay” and actually sitting with how uncomfortable that is. It looked like giving myself permission to cry whenever I felt like it, and treating my body with profound respect and gratitude.

I know it’s not easy—choosing yourself is really fucking hard sometimes. But I feel incredibly empowered knowing that in every moment, even when I don’t feel strong, I am still my greatest ally, my strongest advocate, and my most thoughtful caretaker. Now, there is so much space in my life for healing, from this and beyond.

Some people have abortions and feel empowered, and relieved, or neutral, even grateful that they don’t have to plan for a life-long commitment they aren’t ready for. Some people feel sadness, guilt, grief, and even regret. Some people feel all of these things and more. And it’s all OK. If we can begin to normalize the multi-faceted, emotionally-diverse reality of abortion, hopefully more of us will find healing.

*I just want to call out my privilege here: I have insurance, I was able to afford this procedure, I live in an area where I wasn’t publicly shamed for going into a clinic, abortions are very easy to obtain in my state, I have a loving and supportive partner, and I have the time and means to make my healing a priority by affording therapy and a comfortable lifestyle.