Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Feminist Tells of Her Traumatic RU-486 Abortion

A while back I published excerpts from an anthology of essays challenging clich├ęd pro-abort ideology. The book is called Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice.

In this blogpost, I’d like to publish passages about a feminist’s traumatic experience with RU-486, from an essay entitled “Nasaan Ka Anak Ko? A Queer Filipina American Feminist’s Tale of Abortion and Self-Recovery”. (Nasaan Ka Anak Ko means “Where are you, my daughter?)

Patricia Justine Tumang is a bisexual Filipina who developed a relationship with a man in Kenya and got pregnant while she was studying abroad in that country. When she returned to the United States, she was already almost two months pregnant. Although she says she felt a connection with the child’s spirit (whom she named Jamila May), and her desire was to keep the baby, she experienced a great deal of pressure to abort, for two interconnected reasons.

First, she wanted to finish her degree in Cultural Studies (“with a path in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonialism”) and establish a successful career. She could not see herself abandoning a middle class lifestyle to have a baby, live the life of a single mom and get her degree. Her immigrant parents had worked very hard to attain that socio-economic level, and her superficially Catholic mother did not want her throwing it all away. Which brings me to the second—and most important—reason why she felt pressure. Her mother wanted her to have the abortion. In effect, her mother wanted her to pursue the American Dream, and Patricia’s immigrant background weighed heavily on her—because that’s why people come to America, right? Her mother threatened to cut off all financial support if she had the baby.

There is a lot of other commentary in this essay about how America’s predominant racism also influenced her decision, and how the pro-choice movement is racist, etc, but I will leave that aside.

Here are some excerpts about her RU-486 abortion:

For the next couple of weeks, I endured a living nightmare. The first dosage of Mifeprex, a medication that blocks a hormone needed for a pregnancy to continue, was given to me in pill form at the clinic. When I got home, I inserted four tablets of Misoprostol vaginally. These two medications combined to terminate the pregnancy nonsurgically. Heavy bleeding for up to two weeks was expected.

I didn’t realize the horrible truth of that statement until I lay awake at night in fits of unbearable pain, bleeding through sanitary napkins by the hour. When I was in the bathroom one night, clumps of bloody tissue and embryonic remains fell into the toilet. I was overcome with tremors, my body shaking with a burst of heat resembling fever. My cheeks flushed as sweat bled into my hairline. Dragging my feet on the cold alabaster floor, I went back to bed and hid under the covers. Eyes open and bloodshot, knees to my chest, I felt tears sting my swollen cheeks. After hours of pure exhaustion, I finally fell asleep.

Returning to the clinic several days later for a scheduled follow-up, I learned that the gestational sac was still intact. I was given another dose of Mifeprex and Misoprostol. That night, I stared in horror as a clump of tissue the size of a baseball escaped from my body. I held this bloody mass in my hand, feeling the watery red liquid drip from my fingers. The tissue was soft and pliable. Poking at the flesh, I imagined the life that it embodied. The sac looked like a bleeding pig’s heart. For several months after, I was unable to look at blood without vomiting. (p.46)


If I had known how traumatic my experience with RU-486 would be, I would have opted for the surgical method. Not that it would have been less traumatic, but anything would have been better than the three weeks of horrendous bleeding I endured. My friends’ support helped me through the difficult moments, but those who had urged me to take the pill had known nothing about it. Those who had had surgical abortions just thought the pill would be easier by comparison. The doctor who had prescribed it to me told me that although she had never taken it, she had heard that the procedure was only slightly uncomfortable. I had no adequate aftercare or education about the side effects, except what was written in small print on the pamphlets I was given. My doctor had informed me that all the information I needed to know was right there. I felt so terrifyingly alone in the process. (p. 49-50).


Even for those who can afford to get an abortion, in my experience there has been a serious lack of education about procedures and proper emotional and physical aftercare. While some women have had positive experiences with RU-486, mine was not one of them. Almost a year after the abortion, the pain still visited me from time to time. For so long, I tried to deny that I had undergone a traumatic experience, and I entered a period of self-punishment. I pretended to be recovered, but the pain pushed itself outward. Regret and guilt caused severe anxiety attacks that left me breathless, convulsing, and faint. (p.51).

Eventually, she did enter therapy and spoke to a woman of colour (which is what she wanted) and opened up about her abortion. She reconciled with her mother, and continues to remember her daughter in “visions”.

Bibliographical notice:

Tumang, Patricia Justine.
“Nasaan Ka Anak Ko? A Queer Filipina American Feminist’s Tale of Abortion and Self-Recovery”
Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice
Krista Jacob, Ed.
Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006