The woman who held my hand

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Last month, we officially released our “Latinas and the “A” word” infographics and fact sheets detailing the attitudes of Latin@s about abortion, the barriers in accessing abortion, and the dangers crisis pregnancy centers pose for our communities. In reflecting about how all of these issues impact our lives, we wanted the statistics to be more than just numbers on a page.  Latinas navigate many stereotypes – particularly around our reproductive and sexual health decisions, therefore CLRJ understands the importance of continuing to uplift the multi-faceted realities of our communities.  In order to do this, we turned to our Latin@ friends and familia and respectfully asked them to contribute their words to our abortion series.  CLRJ will be debuting an interactive Tumblr page in early 2014 that will focus on the reproductive justice stories, including  abortion, of the people who are around us, in our families, in our communities, and in our lives. Our Tumblr page will be officially launched next year and we would like to extend a huge “thank you” to all of those who have volunteered their time and words to this new project.  In the meantime, please take a look at one of the first submissions below. We invite you and look forward to your participation in this exciting project! 

the woman who held my hand

by Cinthya Jeannette Muñoz Ramos

I had an abortion when I was 17 years old. I remember her eyes, her warm hand as she held mine firm, her supportive and soft voice reminding me of my strength and that all would be okay. That I would be okay. That it was okay. It was many years later in conversations with an incredible group of reproductive justice warriors I realized who she was. The love and power that she represented, the movement she was a part of to empower every woman to make the decisions that are right for them and support them in that process.

Past her face I could see the light coming in through the window surrounding her head-glowing. The light shining at the end of a dark road, she was it for me that day. The woman who held my right hand and kept telling me how strong I was, assuring me that it would all be okay, as my mother held my left hand in her hands crying. My mother was there and needed as much support as I did at that moment.

my abortion

I had an abortion when I was 17. And it was the right choice. My choice, mine alone. I am an immigrant and came here at the age of 13. I thought the US was many things, most of them are false. Except for the first street I moved to with rows of trees that would lose their leaves in fall and look as beautiful as the streets I would see in TV about the US. Except not rich-or all white. When we moved to the US, I was 13, left dear friends and most of my family behind, I wasn’t sure if we’d come back I don’t think I ever thought about it.

My mother’s mother died when she was 8 and being a mother is something she learned at 16 – pregnant and feeling forced to marry my dad. She had no choice. She stayed married to my dad for 15 years and when they divorced, I decided to live with him – more out of concern for my father’s ability to be alone than anything else.

when I found out I was pregnant

The Planned Parenthood doctor informed me of my options, and because it was early enough I decided to take the pills to abort. My boyfriend and my best friend accompanied me the day I would take them at the Womens Health Specialist clinic.  Their support and trust in my knowing what was best for me in that stressful and chaotic period was so critical and important. As the oldest daughter and oldest grandchild in my whole family, there were a lot of hopes and expectations for my future. I was to go to college, get a career and “be someone” in life. This becoming someone in life presented a couple of extra challenges as being an undocumented immigrant without access to financial aid and having a child would make that near impossible – I thought at the time.

my boyfriend and the oldest child syndrome

My boyfriend was also a senior in high school, with a promising future in football and as smart as one can be. We were both in our senior year in high school, getting ready to apply to colleges, working jobs that didn’t pay enough to be on our own let alone raise a child. Thinking about him now makes me feel compassion that I don’t think at the time I had. He was scared, I was terrified-but the oldest child syndrome in me sucked it up and just moved through decisions. Scheduled appointments, pulled the money together, took the first set of pills and decided this was the best choice. It was – to this day it is. Though my pregnancy was early when I ended it, the pills didn’t work. I bled and bled but nothing.

the pills didn’t work and…

The  pills didn’t work, and my care provider scheduled me for a procedure as soon as one was available. Despite the supportive friends I had, because of the right wing’s efforts to continue to have control over our bodies and all their propaganda surrounding me I was feeling extremely sad and guilty. I decided I couldn’t tell my Dad because he wouldn’t understand and would be disappointed, but I had to tell my mother. She would have to understand.

guilt and a mothers love-and the first words that come our of her mouth   

I started to feel guilty for having an abortion and, not being able to tell my dad, I locked myself in his room, screamed into a pillow and called my mom. I told her I was pregnant and was having an abortion, I couldn’t hold it for myself, I needed her support. The first words that came out of her mouth were, “ay mija me lo haigas dado a mi” as though it was a pair of shoes you could just transfer, as if I wanted to have a child only to turn her/him over to my mother – she would have raised them great but still, really mom? So I yelled “mami por favor no me diga eso, please don’t tell me that – no me escuchó? ya empezó todo.”   “ Ay sí mija lo siento perdón mi amor” were her words. I wanted her to come and she was there within hours, to this day my dad thinks I was in a car accident or something. He knew something was wrong with me but didn’t know what it was and was glad my mom came to be with me. Since it didn’t work, I’d have to go in for a suction. My mother came with me that day, I don’t remember much except for the awkward silence and my mother’s pain, and nervous laugh and not-so-funny comments.

the procedure began…    

When the procedure began, and as I was laying down when they first went in she held my left hand between her hands and her forehead and started crying as the vacuum was turned on. The doctor throughout the process continued to inform me what was happening, the woman to my side continued to hold my hand, continued to remind me how strong I was. I started to cry, my body started to shake and I tried to look away from my mother and hide into this womans hand, I remember her getting close to me and telling me I would be okay and wiped my tears. I wanted to support my mother but I needed support. My mother’s presence was all she could provide, this woman provided the support and strength I needed emotionally.

After the  procedure was done, my mother drove me home and took care of me for the weeks to come. I recovered well and quickly physically but the guilt transformed into a depression, the relationship with my boyfriend wasn’t mature enough to stand such a hard period, and so it ended. My friendship with my best friend, my mother’s support and love, and Planned Parenthood and Women’s Health Specialists care held me through.

womens’ choice, womens’ clinics matter

Planned Parenthood and Womens Health Specialists care made my decision to have an abortion not only a safe one but an empowering one without shame. My relationship to my mother grew stronger and years later my commitment to everyone’s right to choose if an abortion is right for them stands.

committed to advancing reproductive justice

I had an abortion when I was 17 years old. I am grateful for the access to a safe abortion and the support I had then. Now as the mother of 3 year old girl, I am as committed as ever to making sure every woman irrespective of age, background and immigration status has safe access to an abortion and quality reproductive health care. I am committed to reproductive justice.

I wish I could go back to my 17 year old self and tell her to trust herself, that her decisions about her life, about her body are always right, that there are millions of women in the world today and millions who came before her fighting for and supporting her ability to make make the choice that is best for her. That we got her back.

The conversation I had with these reproductive justice warriors a couple of years ago inspired me to think about my abortion again and put me in touch with the support I want to provide to others, the support I had. I have decided to begin the path of becoming a Doula and hope through my learning and training provide support to transfolks, immigrant women and women of color, incarcerated or in detention during birth and when having an abortion. That path is just beginning for me.

So much more work is ahead and I know that it is through sisterhood, telling our stories, organizing, and joining the fight for reproductive justice that we will make sure everyone has a right to choose. I did. And I got your back.