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What Happened When I Needed an Abortion During the Pandemic

I am a 30-year-old woman and mother of three kids living in Tennessee. My oldest is just over two years old. My two girls are nine-month-old twins. Because the twins were born prematurely, they have significant medical needs. I have no family living nearby, and very little caregiving support. I tried to get my son into daycare earlier this year, but the childcare facility — anticipating that they might have to shut down temporarily because of COVID-19 — declined to accept new enrollments.

After my girls were born, I knew I could not handle another child; I am already stretched almost to the breaking point physically, emotionally, and financially. To be absolutely sure I would not face an unintended pregnancy, I decided to get a tubal ligation last year. I was told that it went perfectly; when my doctor assured me that my days of pregnancy were behind me, it was a huge relief. Still, I continued to use condoms for extra protection.

But in late March, I started feeling extreme fatigue and other familiar symptoms. I decided to take a pregnancy test, even though I believed I could not possibly be pregnant. After the test came up positive, I took five more.   It is difficult to explain how devastating this pregnancy news was for me. It was finally starting to feel like I was regaining control of my life after the extreme challenges of raising a toddler and two premature twins mostly on my own. But there is no way I could afford another child. Before I had the twins, I saved as much as I could but had to stop working when they were born prematurely. Although I receive monthly support from my kids’ father, food stamps, and can sometimes borrow money from family, it is still a real struggle to make ends meet.

I also have epilepsy, and although I have managed my seizures for the past several years with medications, some symptoms of pregnancy like fatigue and dehydration are potential triggers. Since learning about my pregnancy, I have been terrified that something will happen to me that will prevent me from caring for my children. What would happen to my babies if, while I’m alone with them — as I usually am — I had a seizure?   The thought of having a fourth child is gut-wrenching. All of my plans to get back to work, my hopes for my kids’ lives — all of it would go down the drain. I am a strong woman who has overcome a lot of adversity in my life, but this would break me.

When I went into my local abortion clinic on April 16 for my counseling appointment, I was nearly 14 weeks pregnant. The clinic provides abortion services only up to 15 weeks, so if I couldn’t get my abortion in the next week, I wouldn’t be able to get care anywhere within three hours of my house.   Then I learned that the Governor of Tennessee had issued an Executive Order that blocked all abortion procedures in the state until April 30.   When I was told that I would not be able to get an abortion anywhere in Tennessee until April 30 at the earliest because of the executive order, I panicked. There is simply no way I could drive six hours round-trip to Atlanta — where the closest out-of-state clinic is located — by myself, with a toddler and two babies. Even if that were possible, who would watch them during the procedure? My babies’ medical needs make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to leave them with someone else while I am gone in Atlanta for a whole day or longer. 

I understood that my only other “option” would be to remain pregnant until April 30, hope that I could then quickly get an appointment at a clinic across the state before reaching that clinic’s limit of 19 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy — and then either travel four to six hours round-trip with my kids, or try to leave my kids at home in someone else’s care all day, even though that would be unsafe for my babies.

All of this travel would have to happen in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding another layer of safety concerns. If I had to leave my children at someone else’s home or a daycare center, how I could be sure it was properly sanitized? If l had to stop along the way with a toddler and two babies to change diapers, how could we possibly avoid touching contaminated surfaces?

Caring for a toddler and twin babies, alone, while exhausted from and deeply anxious about an unwanted pregnancy, all amidst a pandemic, is just too much. It has been an extremely difficult two weeks, made all the more stressful and dangerous for me and my family by the state’s actions to ban abortion.   When I heard that the court had granted an order that would allow me to get my abortion locally, I felt incredible relief. Then, when I heard two days later that the state was trying to put the court’s order on hold, I was terrified again.

The abortion clinic in my community has already been a blessing in my life: When I faced an unintended pregnancy as a 19-year-old freshman in college, I knew I was not ready to have a child. I needed to finish my education, and save money — to meet my own goals, and to give my future kids the lives they deserve. I am grateful that the clinic was there for me all those years ago, and that I was able to wait until I was ready to have my beautiful children.

I know that ending this pregnancy is the right decision — indeed, the only decision — for me and my kids. I pray that all patients will be able to get the abortion care they urgently need during this incredibly difficult time.