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June 27, 2007

I Was Betrayed by a Pill

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Nothing-not the drug literature, not the clinic doctor, not even my own gyno-had prepared me for the searing, gripping, squeezing pain that ripped through my belly 30 minutes later. I couldn't even form words when Stewart called to check on me. It was all I could do to gasp, "Come home! Now!" For 90 minutes, I was disoriented, nauseated, and, between crushing waves of contractions that I imagine were close to what labor feels like, racing from the bed to the bathroom with diarrhea. Then, just as quickly, it was over. The next night, I started bleeding. I bled for 14 days. A follow-up ultrasound confirmed I'd aborted. And that's when my problems really began.

I had been prepared for the possibility that the pill wouldn't work and I'd still need a sur-gical abortion-that happens in about 5 to 8 percent of cases. I also knew that I might bleed so heavily I'd need surgery to stop it-about 1 percent of women do. What blindsided me, apart from being battered by the misoprostol, were the huge cystic boils that soon covered my neck, shoulders, and back. I was also overcome by fatigue-an utter lack of ability to do anything more strenuous than sleep or lie on the couch. My brain felt so fuzzy, English seemed like a second language, and I couldn't work. On top of all that came depression: I sobbed constantly. I wouldn't leave the house. I stopped showering.

It was only after I described my symptoms to my gynecologist that I discovered my experience wasn't all that unusual. (The Mifeprex literature didn't even mention it.) "I think it's underreported, but probably one in three women have dramatic side effects," he told me. My body was in hormonal chaos-pregnancy hormones clashing with antipregnancy hormones clashing with stress hormones. "I've seen a lot of women go through-I don't want to call it postpartum, but postevent-melancholy that's more dramatic than people want to admit," he said. He prescribed antidepressants. "One day, you'll feel just like your old self." It took nine months.

I'm very reluctant to give antiabortion advocates any more tools for chipping away at our right to safe, legal, accessible abortions. And despite my experience, I'm not suggesting the abortion pill be banned. (Viagra carries a higher risk of death, and no one's calling for a ban on that.) But I am bitterly disappointed that it's not the panacea millions of women like me thought it would be.


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