Having an abortion is, for most people, a taboo subject. Because people usually don’t openly discuss their abortions, there is a lot of mystery and confusion surrounding the experience, and therefore when someone finds themselves with a pregnancy they aren’t prepared for, figuring out how to navigate the next steps can be difficult and scary. If you find yourself in need of an abortion, here is a brief guideline of what to do and what to expect. (This is going to vary by state and health center, of course, but this post is meant to be general 1st trimester abortion information.)
First, it’s going to be useful to know how far along you may be. Knowing the first day of your most recent menstrual period is helpful, but if you have irregular periods or are just unsure of when you got pregnant, it may be a good idea to have a dating ultrasound done. You have up to 8 weeks and 6 days to have a medication abortion done, and longer to have an in-health center procedure (also called the surgical procedure), although the price and the technique of the procedure may change the longer you wait. Many health centers that do 1st trimester abortions stop at 13 weeks and 6 days of your pregnancy.
Take time if you need it. If you are within your first trimester, there is no difference in the safety or efficacy of the procedure whether you’re in your 5th week or 11th week (beyond the time restrictions of the abortion pill), so please take time if you need it to think, talk to your family, your partner, your doctor, your best friend–whatever will help you feel comfortable and sure in your decision.
When you’re ready to make your appointment, find a trusted health center. You may have a friend with experience you can ask, or you can look at reviews of health centers online, or just go to My Planned Parenthood and find the clinic nearest you. Be careful of crisis pregnancy centers that will give you false information by unqualified staff or try to intimidate you into keeping your pregnancy. Also, some health centers have funding to help with the cost, so be sure to ask.
Once you’ve arrived at the health center you’re probably going to have an ultrasound first. Usually, this is an over-the-belly scan, but you may have a transvaginal ultrasound if your pregnancy is difficult to see (for example, if you’re very early). Unless you live in a state that has legal requirements stating otherwise, you don’t have to see the ultrasound or hear a description. Of course if you are interested, you may look, obtain information about the development of the pregnancy, or even take a picture home.
You’ll also need your vital signs taken. Usually this is nothing too invasive, just blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. You probably will have your finger pricked to make sure you’re not anemic and to see if you are RH negative. You might also receive a mild pain-killer like an NSAID (such as ibuprofen; nothing that would alter mental status) if you are going to do the in-health center procedure, so that it’s in your system by the time you see the doctor.
Additionally, you should have an education session. This part may be short and sweet, or longer depending on your state of mind and how many questions you have. You may be asked about the circumstances surrounding your pregnancy and your decision to terminate, because it’s important to make sure you are firm and clear about your decision. You’ll be asked about your birth control history, and what options you might want to consider after your visit. At some offices you may receive a free or discounted month’s supply of birth control. At this point, it’s time to decide, if you haven’t already, whether you are having the in-health center or the medication abortion.* The educator will go over what to expect during and after your visit, which medications you will need to take, all the risks, side-effects, and warning signs of any complications. After this step, the consent forms are signed and you are ready to see the doctor. If you’ve had the in-health center abortion done, you’ll relax for about 30 minutes afterwards to have your vitals and bleeding monitored, and then go home. If you’ve chosen the medication abortion, you’ll go home after taking your first pill with the doctor. After going home, you’ll start preventative antibiotic therapy, start your birth control, and also probably experience normal bleeding that may be mild to heavy, usually depending on which abortion method you chose.
Questions to ask before your visit: These are the questions I find are often forgotten until the day of the visit, and knowing the answers beforehand can help you plan and make your day a little less stressful.
- How long will I be at the health center?
- Who can I bring with me, and when can they be with me?
- Do I need someone to drive me home?
- Do I need ID?
- What forms of payment do you take?
- What kind of sedation will I be given?
- Should I expect protesters?
Hopefully, this has demystified the process a little. Remember, if you have an unwanted pregnancy, Planned Parenthood will always give you all your options and answer your questions. You don’t have to go through it alone.
**The differences between in-health center and medication abortions is too lengthy to include, so that will be its own post soon!