What can I expect after an abortion?
March 31, 2010 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Someone close to me will be undergoing an abortion in about a week. My role will be to support her during and afterward. We don't know yet whether it will be the medical (plan B pill) or surgical procedure. What kind of physical and emotional side effects can we expect to deal with? Can anyone who has gone through this offer advice or wisdom? The patient is 18 years old, athletic, and otherwise in good health.
posted by leafeater to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Plan B is not an abortion. Perhaps you meant mifepristone aka RU-486.
You are a good friend for supporting your friend through a tough day. Also
posted by coolsara at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

be there to listen, to distract, and to nurture. think along the lines of a super bad period - chocolate, comfort foods, lots of water, shitty movies (that don't involve kids or emotional stuff), soft lights - stuff like that.
posted by nadawi at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2010

Best answer: She might feel sad. She might feel relieved. She might feel embarrassed or defensive. She might feel happy. She might feel angry. She might not feel much of anything, emotionally. She might feel any or all of these ways right afterwards and/or in the coming weeks or months or years. There's really no one (or even two) way that women who have abortions handle it emotionally.

Physically, there will be some cramping and some bleeding. Stock up on movies and comfort food.

By the way, if it's not scheduled until next week, I think you mean RU486, and not Plan B.
posted by rtha at 1:48 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: RU486 is what i meant, thank you. Terminology confused :-)
posted by leafeater at 1:54 PM on March 31, 2010

People differ a lot on how they react to it. Immediately afterwards, your friend might be exhausted (if it's the surgical kind they usually start really early) and in some pain, in which case she'll probably just want to be in bed with ibuprofen and tea. Or she may be totally fine, in which case don't keep hovering around offering blankies. Let her call the shots. Based on my experience, she might well come home, go to sleep for the rest of the day and wake up starving, so be prepared to get her food - ideally, whatever kind of food she wants. RU 486 can drag on a bit and have longer lasting cramping effects, so be prepared for that to be a whole weekend.

Emotional side effects? Some women cry a little, some rage, some really are fine. If she's fine, don't assume that she's just not sharing and get all in her face about how miserable she must be. If she wants to talk about it, let her. If she doesn't, don't push it. Honestly, for many women it's really not that big a deal. No, really, it's not. It's a small surgical procedure that is horribly unpleasant while you're making the decision and waiting for it to happen, painful while it's going on and when it's over, it's over.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:56 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two things that might effect her emotional state:
- There may be protesters outside the building.
- There may be a sonogram first. During that, they may ask her if she wants to know if they are twins. (I don't know the purpose of asking this question.)

I'm not sure you should mention this to her beforehand or not, but they are hard things that she might ponder on afterwards.
posted by Houstonian at 2:04 PM on March 31, 2010

I've had a couple of D&C's (with pre-cancerous cruft, not with a fetus, so i didn't get any hormonal side-effects), so if that's the sort of procedure, the physical after-effects are not big. Plan to take it easy and expect mild cramping like PMS. If they're doing any kind of general anaesthesia where she gets intubated, otter-pops (freezy pops? frozen slush in a plastic tube) are good for a scratchy throat caused by intubation.

The pain was managable with ibuprofin, and I was otherwise fine. Make sure she's got some heavy duty menstrual pads in case there's heavy spotting afterwards.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:06 PM on March 31, 2010

Best answer: http://www.4exhale.org/ is a pro-woman post-abortion hotline she can call if she wants to talk with someone. If she has a medical abortion, buy some extra-heavy pads for her. She'll probably get a prescription for extra-strength pain killers. Every woman experiences different pain levels, but they normally range from heavy period cramps, to slightly more intense cramping. If she has a surgical procedure, the abortion itself does not take long, but afterward her body will be sore.

Rent some silly movies, get a good range of snack foods, offer her a fuzzy blanket, and sit on the couch and just chill. She might want to lie down, be alone, or both.

I couldn't say it any better than rtha -- she might feel all kinds of things, or nothing. It's up to her how she feels and what she wants to do.
posted by missmary6 at 2:10 PM on March 31, 2010

I meant extra-strength ibuprofin. sorry.
posted by missmary6 at 2:12 PM on March 31, 2010

Response by poster: One thing that affects my personal reaction to the situation is that I'm her older sister (I'm 26). I don't want to get in her face or pass judgment, and I want her to feel comfortable coming to me with this stuff, but at the same time I see her making irresponsible choices and I feel like she could use some mentoring. Our parents are not aware of this situation, and I agree with her decision not to tell them. I definitely don't want to get all self-righteous on her while she's in the midst of dealing with this, but how much time should I let go by before I have a talk with her? Or should I assume she's learned from this and let it go?
posted by leafeater at 2:15 PM on March 31, 2010

"but how much time should I let go by before I have a talk with her?"

I would say all of it. Let this be the learning experience.
posted by turtlefu at 2:18 PM on March 31, 2010

Best answer: Or should I assume she's learned from this and let it go?

This. And even if she hasn't "learned from this", I don't know that it's really appropriate or would be welcomed for you to try and make her change. Mentoring is one thing, judging her choices as irresponsible is another. Thank you for being a good big sis to her, please don't fall into the trap that I, as another big sis, have fallen into from time to time, which is what will happen if you try to make sure she's learned her lesson.
posted by biscotti at 2:20 PM on March 31, 2010

Response by poster: please don't fall into the trap that I, as another big sis, have fallen into from time to time, which is what will happen if you try to make sure she's learned her lesson

That's always such a struggle for me, because of the age difference. I grew up taking care of her, so I have trouble transitioning into supporting her as an adult :-) But I think you're right. If she wanted parenting, she would talk to our parents.

(To clarify - I don't judge her choice to have an abortion as irresponsible. She didn't use much foresight leading up to the pregnancy, though, and that's what I feel shouldn't continue. Unprotected sex can lead to worse consequences than an unplanned pregnancy, after all.)
posted by leafeater at 2:25 PM on March 31, 2010

I'm... not even sure "learning" factors into the situation, honestly. Your sister faced an unintended pregnancy and chose to end it for her own reasons. Casting it in moral terms and talking about responsible vs. irresponsible decisions is likely to earn you some degree of estrangement in the relationship.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:26 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In addition to possible protesters, there may be a secure door where you have to "buzz through". It's kinda creepy, so you should be prepared to handle that for her. (At least there's one at the Planned Parenthood here--it's security against protesters.)

The most I would do about responsibility is pick up a big handful of condoms and hand them to her.

I'm Not Sorry has a huge number of stories, a lot of them detail their experience at the clinic and so on.
posted by anaelith at 2:32 PM on March 31, 2010

Response by poster: What a helpful link! Thanks!
posted by leafeater at 2:42 PM on March 31, 2010

You are a good sister!

At some point in the future, when you're both kind of talking about things anyway (like, maybe she's telling you about a guy she's met, or mentions a friend who's started dating a new guy, or something like that) try to find a way to say "Listen, I don't care about the abortion thing [even if you do], but I don't want you to get an awful disease that kills you or fucks up your chances to get pregnant when you want to get pregnant. Can we talk a little about safer sex practices? You're my sister and I love you and I don't want anything bad to happen to you." And if she doesn't want to talk about it because it's embarrassing, there's a lot of good information on the internet about safer sex and how to talk to your partner about it, and you can send her some links.
posted by rtha at 2:46 PM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

She'll be hurty in the tummy area for sure. Hot compresses and hot drinks are nice.
I would offer her light distractions - rent a few fluffy movies and sit with her. If she wants to watch them to get out of her head, watch them with her. If she wants to talk it out, hit pause and listen.
posted by Billegible at 2:59 PM on March 31, 2010

Keep an eye on her temperature, she might be a bit feverish until the next day. If it gets bad call the clinic immediately (I know you will anyway, just saying). It might be a few days before she's physically back to normal - it's not a gentle procedure and she'll have some internal bruising. Having said all that, she may be absolutely fine after it. Everyone's different. Best wishes to both of you and kudos to you for supporting your sister.
posted by meosl at 5:03 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please don't stone me for what I'm about to say.

One of my closest friends had an abortion when she was 19. She was smart, non-religious, libertarian, vehemently pro-choice. She seemed as certain as one could possibly be that having the abortion was what she wanted to do. She ended up having a second abortion the next year.

That was 6 years ago. A few days ago, I found out for the first time that she never wanted the abortions, but had talked herself into them as the only rational thing to do (at the time, she had a GED, no job, and wasn't in a stable relationship). That it was what rational non-religious, libertarian, vehemently pro-choice people did in this situation. Apparently during the whole period leading up to the abortion and even at the clinic, she was wishing her mom would tell her that if she didn't want to have the abortion, they would make it work. But felt the decision had been made, plans had been set, and things had already moved too far along for her to stop it.

Just one more thing to keep in mind.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:15 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't lecture her. The clinic staff will probably discuss her options for ongoing contraception as part of the consultation. Some abortion providers offer the option of having an IUD inserted immediately after the procedure. Your sister might want to consider this option, although if she does, she will need to use condoms religiously to prevent complications from STIs. Bottom line: be unconditionally supportive now, so that if you need to have Serious Talks about condoms in the future, she might actually listen.
posted by embrangled at 6:21 PM on March 31, 2010

don't want to get in her face or pass judgment, and I want her to feel comfortable coming to me with this stuff, but at the same time I see her making irresponsible choices and I feel like she could use some mentoring.

Just be nice to her and supportive. She knows what she'll do right next time. An abortion is not a picnic, and having the RU486 method (extremely painful) or a surgical abortion (also painful) will be enough without you being frustrated with her for being irresponsible about birth control. If she has a second abortion down the road because she wasn't using protection, then maybe articulate. But she won't benefit from you judging her or knowing that you're judging her.

You need to stop thinking of her as your responsibility or you'll just see and deal with her as if she's a stressor, and she isn't. She's 18. It's time for you to be a good friend to her and not a second mother. So you have to change how you view her and let go of old patterns or she is going to pick up on what you think of her by how you might make her feel. She's probably already feeling bad guessing what you must think of her, and she doesn't need to deal with that on top of this.
posted by anniecat at 6:24 PM on March 31, 2010

I can tell you a little bit about what it will be like the day of the appointment, from the point of view of an escort (more on that in a sec), not as someone who has had an abortion, nor as the confidant of anyone who has had one.

If your sister is going to a clinic, it will probably be a nondescript building with little visible signage. The one where I volunteered simply said "Women's Clinic for Health" or something like that. They don't advertise what they do to avoid attracting unwanted attention. (The organized groups know all about it anyway.) If you are driving her that day and you haven't been there before, take a ride past beforehand to get the lay of the land. Not sure about where you are, but in some localities there are laws about how close a protester can get to the clinic doors (and even despite laws, there are varying amounts of enforcement.) So figure out where the closest parking spot will be, and get there early to nab it.

Clinic escorts are volunteers who greet you as you get out of your car, and walk with you to the door of the clinic. Their job is to get between you and any protesters, who are often holding distasteful signs and shouting very mean and cruel things at the women going in. At our clinic, the escorts wore orange vests with the word "Escort" written on it. We tried to wave over a car entering the parking lot to directly in front of the door, so the woman having the abortion could exit the car with the shortest possible distance to get to the door. We would open the car door, greet the woman, sometimes offer to park the car for her if she was alone, and otherwise would just try to be a friendly face. If she had someone driving her, we suggested her companion park the car and follow her in. You do not have to do anything the escort tells you, obviously - they do not have any authority - but they are there to make things easier, and they may know the best way to approach things. Sadly, the majority of clinics do not have escorts, and it may be a moot point anyway if your sis' doc is inside a large professional building.

Everyone entering the clinic has to show id before they are buzzed in. So have your driver's licenses or other picture id ready, so you don't have to stand in the vestibule fumbling around.

You'll sign in, and sit in a waiting room. And here's something I was not prepared for - many women bring their whole families with them. So it's entirely possible there will be a large group of people in the waiting area, including husbands/boyfriends, small children, older people, and just anyone you might expect to see in a doctor's waiting room. It's possible it might not be a quiet serene place in which to collect one's thoughts. Or, it might. But don't necessarily expect to have any deep personal conversations, unless the clinic you go to is large enough to have more than one area in which to wait.

All procedures at my clinic where scheduled for early morning. Why? So that the protesters would have less time to show up. Pretty much all the women who had appointments that day would arrive within an hour or so of each other. One of the nurses once told me that they usually anticipate a certain number will not show up for their appointments for whatever reason, so they "overbook."

Most of the time, we escorts left after the last woman on the schedule had arrived. (The protesters leave as soon as the last woman goes in, escorts aren't needed on the way out.) So I can't speak to how long the day might last for you. But I would bring maybe some snacks (for you - not sure what your sister would be allowed to have) and maybe some water or a thermos.

Sorry this is so long. If you want more info, feel free to contact me. The only stuff I've really not touched on are specifics about protesters. Just don't be surprised by anything they say or do. Wear hoodies if you don't want your face visible in pictures that will no doubt be taken. Unfortunately, there's really no way to prevent them from taking pictures of your car or license plate. Technically, I suppose that's illegal, but ::shrug:: what can you do.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:48 PM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Mod note: comments removed - every thread about abortion does not need to have a "what is human" debate in it. seriously do not do that here, ever. metatalk is your option.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:53 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add my .02 to the protestors -- your profile doesn't say what state your in, but laws differ as to how far away protesters have to be. In my state (liberal MA) they have to be pretty damn far, so there were no escorts needed. There were a few protesters (no more than five) around the corner and down the street, but still placed so that cars driving to the clinic would see them. So, the hassle of dealing with protesters might not be an issue. SuperSquirrel, that is intense, and thank you for volunteering.
posted by missmary6 at 9:14 PM on March 31, 2010

At some point make sure she knows how to put a condom on correctly. Many men don't and that's why they break. You have to pinch the tip before rolling it on. The end result should have the tip be flat (ready to receive sperm) and not full of air (ready to pop).

I taught my younger sisters and some of my friends' kids (by friends' request) by demoing on a cucumber, then making the girls practice until they got it right.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:22 PM on March 31, 2010

You don't need to lecture her adn this will probably be a huge learning experience for her about the consequences of unprotected sex.

What you should do (and are off to a great start by helping her with this) is let her know that if she ever needs help scheduling appointments or getting to them , etc to get regular pap smears, sti tests, birth control rx, whatever, you are there to help. Make yourself easier to talk to than your parents. If i had an older sister, I'd much rather ask her opinion on if she thought I had a yeast infection or something more serious before going to the doctor than my mom (especially since my mom would say something like "but how would you get ghonnorea?" or the like.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:36 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is late for the OP, but for anyone else reading this thread seeking practical information about how to help someone going through a medical abortion:

lots of towels to sit and lay on, in addition to the recommended maxipads
ginger (tea, candy, ale, beer) to help with nausea
gatorade or like to help counteract dehydration
cleaning stuff--there will probably be messes
favorite movies, books and foods; reading aloud to your person can be nice
hugs and backrubs
hot water bottle or equivalent for pelvic area
posted by emkelley at 4:23 PM on July 17, 2010

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