I am witness to my patients’ stories.
“She was a princess,” she whispers as she wakens from her medicated sleep. A foreign prince is the father and he refuses to marry her. So she chooses her life over the princess’s because, in her culture, having a baby out of wedlock is punishable by death.
She is an engineer and was given 24 hours off work. With the new abortion law in her state, nearby clinics rejected her. So, she drives eight hours through the night to us. Her procedure is a longer one and she must leave us by 1 a.m. to get to work on time.
She travels far even though there are services close to where she lives because some of her family members often protest there and she can’t take the chance of them seeing her. They would crucify her. She doesn’t have a soul to tell ― not even her sister. She used to be against abortion, just like them, until it happened to her. Her single-mom salary barely covers the bills for the child she already has: the day care, the food, the rent. Family and friends offer lots of parenting advice but no help.
She travels from another state because she was told she needed her husband’s permission to have her tubes tied. She simply can’t survive having another baby. But he wants more. She drives hours in the early morning to us and drives hours back so he won’t suspect a thing.
The beatings ― too many beatings. She can’t leave him, but at least she can choose to not have his baby.
She was raped ― by a police officer.
She is an addict getting clean, working with a rehab clinic. Another’s mouth gapes open as she sleeps off the anesthesia and I see the rotten teeth of a meth addict. This is just not the right time for these women, for these babies.
She wants to be a nurse.
She wants to be a doctor.
She wants to be a writer.
She wants to be an actress.
She wants to be a pilot.
She wants to be a teenager.
She just started a business and it’s taking off. Her youngest child just started full-time school and now this woman can finally tend to her dreams. She chooses her dreams.
She didn’t want the pregnancy to be this far along. Now her procedure will take longer, be more expensive and more complicated, and it carries increased risk. But she couldn’t get away until now ― her eye still slightly swollen with the marks of a healing bruise.
She is a prisoner escorted by her prison guard. Another patient joins the three of us in the recovery room, her wartime post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by the anesthesia and maybe something else. She fears she is back in Iraq. The prison guard, also a military veteran, comes over and guides her through PTSD breathing exercises she learned from her counselor at Veterans Affairs. There is calm. I have learned a new skill. But then a new fear arises: She has to report this PTSD episode to her counselor, a man who makes her feel anything but safe. Who constantly compliments her blue eyes. The prison guard offers her the name of her own counselor, a woman. A circle of healing just happened before my eyes.
The tests came back with chromosomal abnormalities. It would be her fourth child and she knows in her heart she can’t handle it. She was offered the testing but not a solution. She has nowhere else to go but to us.
She is told by her doctor that her baby could survive but probably wouldn’t make it past a year. She desperately wants to give the baby a chance but her husband does not. The decision is made and the fetus enters the world, into our toilet, because both procedure rooms are occupied when she swiftly goes into induced labor. She is a trauma psychologist and has just been traumatized.
She is a physician and he’s been fooling around.
She can’t eat and hasn’t for months. The nausea, the vomiting, she can’t go to work like this but she needs to support her kids. She has already lost 20 pounds.
She has three kids and is the primary caretaker of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. How can she add a newborn to this? Something has to give. She makes the impossible choice.
How do I know all of this? Because I am a woman. I am a mother. And in one city of one state in the U.S., I am an abortion nurse.
These are just a handful of the stories I’ve heard from my patients. I could tell you a thousand more.
They tell me these things as if to ask: Do you see me? Can you see what my choices were? Am I still “good”?
The truth is women are not seen ― not as adults capable of making decisions about their bodies and their lives ― and people refuse to see what many of their choices actually are. Instead these people who know nothing about these women’s circumstances choose to be ignorant and not to see. They do not see that these women are still good. How did they value her life as a fetus but refuse to value it now?
The stripping of women’s rights will not stop abortion, it will merely transmute her choice.
She will instead choose a back alley, a home, or a TikTok tutorial. She may choose suicide.
And when her choice is made, who will be her witness?
Sherilyn Anne Kay is a pseudonym used by the nurse who wrote this essay to protect her safety. Specific details in this piece have been changed to protect the privacy of the women mentioned.