Guest Post: The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins? by Gypsy Thornton
July 12, 2022
The following is a powerful guest post from Gypsy Thornton of Once Upon a Blog
Nobody wants an abortion. Nobody.
But that doesn’t make the right to choose it unnecessary.
When beginning this piece, two days had passed since Roe vs Wade had been overturned by the Supreme Court. For too many pregnant people the days since that judgment have been very long; their choices taken, their lives and futures suddenly under threat. Days like these are true torture. I remember.
I don’t wish to misrepresent myself to you though. My story is small and where I was, Choice was protected. There are other bigger stories you should be hearing about right now. Stories that affect many lives, that set precedents, that illustrate just how far the consequences of Roe vs Wade being overturned reach, but that doesn’t mean smaller stories aren’t important. My story is not dramatic. It won’t ever feature in a documentary or be part of a movie to “inspire generations to action”. Almost no one knows this story to date because it’s personal and didn’t affect many others. It was life-changing for me though. I may not have been here to write, had my story not involved choice, and that seems important enough to share.
Choices can really suck. Let’s be clear about that. When Little Red has to “choose the path of needles or choose the path of pins” it never felt like much of a choice in the tale to me. Both seem sharp and full of hard work without any guarantee of, well, anything, but there is power in choice; even sucky choices. Despite my lifelong fairy tale obsession I never really related to Red. Sure I saw “the woods” everywhere, and wolves of all kinds appeared at every turn, but I didn’t feel like I was truly wearing that little red hood until what I’m about to tell you happened.
It was the early 2000s and, after a lot of work and risking a move across the world I was finally working at the company of my dreams. They say “be careful what you wish for” and, now especially, I couldn’t agree more. I’d forgotten that the land of dreams can also be the realm of nightmares.
Amid my struggle to navigate a new city, new job, and the confusing sub-culture of the company, I was shocked into suddenly being eligible for membership in the #MeToo Club. To say it was distressing was an understatement. As an introvert in a new country, with no family or friends and, newly single, I had already been quite strung out to the point where my periods were often absent for months at a time. Combine that with a #MeToo situation and I was as close to true panic as I had ever been. I couldn’t understand how I had ended up in this situation. I was independent, strong, and I had tried very hard to make smart choices. Yet here I was. I couldn’t trust anyone at work, I only had $30 a week for groceries and had just used up my sick days. Pregnancy tests were not 100% accurate (still aren’t, by the way) but this was especially true at the time for the first few weeks. It was the era in which “if you get a positive it’s pretty safe to assume you’re pregnant, but if you get a negative, you should test again. And again. And again…” My budget didn’t stretch to “again'”. I’d heard rumors about certain discreet places I could “find help” but they weren’t for people with no money. In the middle of the night, I researched other options, “home options” and came away terrified. But I was equally terrified of being forever linked to someone who had treated me this way. If I hadn’t had my dog and cat, I might have stopped researching and taken desperate action at that point, but I couldn’t risk my fur kids being left to fend for themselves. Planned Parenthood turned up in one of my post-midnight web searches and I called because a call was free. It was still hours before sunrise but they answered. They were calm, supportive, factual, and helpful. I told work I had an appointment and planned to take half a day without pay, hoping no one figured out where I was going that morning. A qualified doctor did a proper test and I was told that I was NOT pregnant. My symptoms were likely from extreme stress. They didn’t tell me I wasted their time, instead, they told me they were there for everyone, no matter the situation, and that my trauma was just as real and deserving of care as if I had ended up pregnant. I could have cried right then in relief. They gave me literature, and some vitamin supplements and told me they were there if I had any questions afterward. Or at any time in the future, for any reason. It was the first time I had felt safe and truly cared for since I had moved there. It was the first time I’d felt I’d had a choice.
I still shudder to think what might have happened if I’d taken some “internet advice” or go to one of those “discreet places”. Talk about needles and pins. I’d been lucky to find the right network of people to help me choose either path and survive. I found out later someone else I’d worked with hadn’t been so lucky. The discreet place had “taken care of her”, even though it had turned out she, also, had not been pregnant. It took more than a day for her to recover from their “help”. Much more.
Fast forward a few years and this time, newly married, recently ill, I was certain my positive test was a real positive. But I had never wanted children. I had done everything to choose a path that didn’t include pregnancy and motherhood. To complicate things, it would be a high-risk pregnancy, for a baby, yes, but also for me. It was everything I didn’t want, and I was sick. Really, really sick now. This time I didn’t hesitate. Instead of finding a regular doctor for a pill as I could have, I went to Planned Parenthood and asked for help with my options. They were there for me, as steady as ever and, after confirming I was pregnant, they took a careful medical history and explained my choices. To my surprise, they strongly recommended against my taking the abortion pill due to my recent illness, which had included a stomach ulcer. I learned that the likelihood of my bleeding out internally was very high if I took the abortion pill with the ulcer and current medication I was on, so they scheduled me for a procedure to make sure I would be safe, making sure qualified staff would be on hand to care for me at every step. I would have to return a few days later but I left that day feeling like they had just saved my life. Again.
The days waiting for my appointment were long and full of internal conflict for me. Looking back now I think I knew that even feeling very ill I wouldn’t be able to go through with the procedure if I returned and heard a heartbeat in the pre-op checkup (as was likely, timeline-wise). What I knew for sure was that whatever choice I made, it would be supported by the staff there. In the days before I visited Planned Parenthood for the last time, I decided to let my husband know I was pregnant by giving him a nice pen box. Inside was my positive test symbolizing that things were still unwritten at that moment. True to his word he supported me all the way into the appointment and didn’t judge when I chose to leave before the procedure at the last minute and rewrite my life – and his – forever.
Needles and pins. My choice.
I know I was lucky to find the right network to give me safe options, and genuine support, in two very different situations. My story is small. I am one of the lucky ones. The legal right to choose gave me access to safe options. But what if I hadn’t been able to exercise that right? I am certain my story would now read very differently. My heart goes out to women finding themselves with unwanted pregnancies this week, no longer having those safe options.
Nobody wants an abortion. Nobody.
Abortion is the result, the outcome, the “what-happens-next” of the real problem: unwanted pregnancies of all kinds, as well as wanted pregnancies that go sadly wrong. It seems to be the most basic and obvious thing that isn’t being discussed right now. The solution to both sides of the debate is in preventing unwanted pregnancies and in caring for a person’s health should their desired pregnancy put them at risk. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need abortions. But this world is far from ideal. We NEED that choice; a safe choice that is a legal and protected right. And that choice needs to be backed up with everything else we can do to help people not end up in those situations, such as access to contraception, and proper sex education so that exercising the choice of abortion is rare. Taking away the choice and restricting the means to prevent pregnancies means unwanted ones will increase and abortions will not only not be safe, they won’t be rare either. Roe vs Wade isn’t just about abortion. At its heart, it’s about choice, equality, and freedom.
When one section of society has its rights restricted, it sets a precedent for being controlled by those who retain their choices. Ask Black people, people of color, LGBTQI, and disabled folks. Not only do they know all about this, it’s also their reality. Their struggle for equality, which has never ceased, just increased greatly once again because of this overturn. We all just took a half-century leap backward.
It has taken me a long time to write my story this week. It’s now been eight days since Roe vs Wade was overturned, longer than the time between when I found out it wasn’t safe for me to take an abortion pill and the availability of a qualified doctor to give me safe choices, and every day that goes by compromises more and more people’s lives and safety.
Refusing to stay silent right now, no matter how small your story, is important. Imagine what would happen if all the people who can become pregnant, and the people who love them and support them, stood up, spoke their stories, demanded their equality, their freedom, and their choice, and demanded action and legal protection. If you have the choice, choose to speak, because, today it is a privilege to have that choice – it is no longer a right. Others have no choice at all and more are losing that choice every day.
Yes, it’s hard to speak your truth but we’re already in the woods.
Choose your path, while you still can.
1) If you or someone you know needs access to legal abortion, please choose safe, WELL ESTABLISHED, legitimate networks, to help you. Do not take up offers of accommodation or transport from strangers on social media! This situation is ripe for exploitation and abuse.
2) If you are someone who would like to provide shelter to people needing abortions, do not do so! You are endangering yourself and the pregnant person. Donate time and/or money to these legitimate, established networks instead, and refer pregnant people to them.
3) Even if you live in a state where abortion is legal, please consider these safety points and use your judgment. Be aware that BIPOC people are more at risk right now.
Other reading and useful resources for discussion:
On Needles and Pins in Red Riding Hood by Yvonne Verdier (From “Grandmothers, if you knew…: Little Red Riding Hood in the oral tradition” published in Les Cahiers de la Littérature oral , IV (1978) French language)
Image is “None of Your Business (after DaVinci)” by Gypsy Thornton (2021)