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I think I might be pregnant, and might have to choose an abortion.

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MadsHatter asks:

My boyfriend and I have had unprotected sex and my last period was 2 months ago (in 10 more days). I've had a two week delay on my period before, and I'm pretty volatile and feeling cramps every now and then but still....no blood. I'm scared to death I may be pregnant but I absolutely CAN NOT tell my mom. I'd be disowned, without a doubt. So....please help me!! I'm getting desperate enough as to seriously consider an abortion because my body can barely support myself, never mind a baby. I heard Vitamin C helps induce a self-inflicted abortion, too. I'm saving up for a test at Planned Parenthood, but I'm still nervous and scared as all heck. Words of advice??

Heather Corinna replies:

First things first: you need to take a pregnancy test. ASAP.

You don't have to save up for that: pregnancy tests will be free for you at many public health, sexual health or abortion clinics or providers, including most Planned Parenthood branches. As well, home pregnancy tests you can purchase at pharmacies or supermarkets are also just as reliable as clinic tests when taken properly, and you can usually get one for around ten bucks. But if you don't have that money and need help finding somewhere you can be tested for free, drop us a line, and we're happy to help you find somewhere to get tested. You can also use our Find a Doc database, linked above and at the bottom of this page for you, to find a good provider near you.

But you really shouldn't wait any longer with a menstrual period this late. The longer you wait to find out, the more limited your choices can become about a pregnancy. And if you think you might choose to remain pregnant, prenatal care is really important, especially for teens, and in your case, it sounds like you have other big issues you'd need to figure out, like making sure you don't wind up homeless. In terms of abortion as an option, the longer a pregnancy goes on, the more costly abortion becomes, and at a certain point -- though you're not close to that yet -- the window closes on abortion as an option altogether.

I know it can be really, really, really freaking scary to actually take action to find out whether or not you're pregnant when you might be and don't want to be. All the more scary when being pregnant may involve things like massive family conflict or being kicked out. But the thing is that most of the time, a pregnancy isn't going to just go away if we avoid finding out about it. In the case we are pregnant, all that's usually going to happen by waiting longer and longer to find out is usually that the situation of being pregnant is going to become tougher and tougher to deal with.

So, it's time to just bite the bullet and find out. Find someone to support you in this, whether it's your boyfriend or a friend, go get or take a test with that support person, and find out what you do or don't have to deal with here. Suffice it to say, if you aren't pregnant, imagine how quickly you'll get to feel better instead of stringing out all this fear and anxiety.

You know, the choice to terminate a pregnancy doesn't have to be something someone does because they're desperate. Abortion is just as valid and sound a potential choice with a pregnancy as staying pregnant and choosing to arrange an adoption or parents. Abortion is usually something someone chooses because they do not want to or cannot remain pregnant or become a parent, both choices we should all have the right to make, and both sound things to choose if and when we do not want one or both of those things, can't handle one or both of those things, or know one or both of those things simply is not what would be good for us or a potential child. It's not just something people choose in dire circumstances, or because they are freaking out. It's also a choice that, in the United States alone, around four out of every ten people who become pregnant unintended make every year. At least half of American women experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45, and, at current rates, one in 10 women will have an abortion by age 20, one in four by age 30 and three in 10 by age 45. It's something that around 61% of people who already have children from a previous pregnancy choose, and that pregnant people of faith choose (37% of women obtaining abortions identify as Protestant, 28% as Catholic (1). It's not just a desperate choice made by a certain kind of person: it's a choice many, many people make, plenty because they have carefully considered their options, and know it's the best one for them or their families at a given time.

I understand how fearful and desperate you're feeling, but these can be really big choices, and choices that are hard to make well and feel good about if we're making them from a place of panic. We also know from study that when it comes to regretting any choice made with a pregnancy, when someone doesn't make a choice very mindfully, they're more likely to make a choice they don't feel good about, or feel crappy about even their own right choice.

You found at least one solid support here at Scarleteen, and I bet you might be able to find some more with a friend or two, maybe with your boyfriend or an extended family member. Let's all -- you included -- do our best to help get you to a calmer place, one you can ideally sustain, so you can do the things you need to do, consider and make your choices carefully, and get through this (whatever "this" turns out to be) making what choices you feel best about and can keep feeling good about over time.

If you are considering abortion, I'd strongly encourage you to only consider termination in the ways we know are very safe, effective and legal when those ways are available to you, which they are.

Here's the scoop on Vitamin C. Most of what real study we can reference about it and termination or miscarriage comes from the 60s and 70s, which isn't surprising, since at that time, access to safe, legal and effective surgical abortion wasn't available like it is now. And a lot of that information came from the feminist community of the 70s, acutely aware of the lack of access to legal abortion, and also often focused on the time, for political reasons, on alternatives to standard western medicine. That doesn't make any of that information suspect, mind, these were both sound motivations, but it's important, I think, to understand that the situation that was sought out for then is very different than the place we're in now. Where you are in 2012, not in 1970 or Pakistan (or Wisconsin), you can access an effective, safe, and legal abortion. Looking at where you've posted from, the good news is that not only are you in a state without parental notification laws (where, as a minor, you can obtain an abortion without permission from a parent or a parent being notified), you're in one of the very few states where abortion, including for minors, as well as financial help obtaining an abortion, are both available and very accessible.

What Vitamin C is understood to do when it comes to hormones is to sometimes slightly alter progesterone or estrogen levels. When a person is pregnant, for a healthy pregnancy to continue, those hormones in your body need to be at certain levels, and some kinds of Vitamin C at high levels may interfere with that. What study we do have (like from the International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition, 1976;46(3): Vitamins C and E in spontaneous abortion; E.P. Samborskaia, The Mechanism of Artificial Abortion by Use of Ascorbic Acid, Biulleten Eksperimental'noi Biologii i Meditsiny, Vol 62, 1966) shows that Vitamin C levels were indeed elevated with some miscarriages, but not others. In other words, this might work, but it also might not. (It might help to know our bodies are usually pretty equipped to deal with hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, so changes something like Vitamin C might cause are changes a lot of bodies could manage, without having any impact on a pregnancy at all.) Even sources strongly supportive of attempting alternative methods of abortion, like using Vitamin C, tend to estimate their effectiveness at around 50% at best, and probably more like 30-40% in reality. A method like this also poses health risks to you a legal, safe medical or surgical abortion does not, and unlike those methods, some of those risks are a wild card: in other words, there may be risks we don't even know about, which makes making an informed decision about doing that awfully difficult.

So, it may create a miscarriage sometimes, though it also may not, and it may even result in a pregnancy that continues, but where a fetus may then have serious health or development issues or you may have health problems because of it. This website does a good job talking about the risks of using herbs or vitamins to try and terminate a pregnancy.

Surgical abortion terminates pregnancy nearly 100% of the time. Medical abortion (termination done by taking two different kinds of medications administered and prescribed by a physician, rather than via a surgical procedure) terminates pregnancy effectively 95 - 98% of the time. Both of those methods of abortion, when done or supervised by trained providers, in safe places, are also known, through an awful lot of study, to pose very few health risks and to be very safe.

As well, both of those types of abortion are supervised by healthcare professionals and include a follow-up visit to assure that a) the pregnancy was in fact terminated and b) the person who terminated is still in good health. That's important, because a miscarriage that doesn't complete can result in infections or other problematic health outcomes that require treatment or evaluation. And after any kind of miscarriage, in the best interest of our health, we really should follow up with a medical exam, something you probably wouldn't be inclined to do if your intent with trying a DIY method was to avoid telling anyone or keep your parent from being notified.

If and when someone truly does not want to become pregnant, taking chances with methods which may or may not work, which may potentially put their health at great risk, and which may even result in a pregnancy continuing but where a fetus may now have been done harm and be born with health or developmental problems just is not at all smart in my book, especially when a person has other options which don't pose those risks or pose them as greatly.

I'm personally all about various kinds of alternative healthcare, but you know, even my acupuncturist, who is obviously all about it too, is clear with people that there are times when alternative healthcare isn't sound, and that certainly includes when it is likely or known to be ineffective or less safe than more standard, western, surgical or medical care. And abortion is absolutely, positively, one of those.

You do have other, sounder options. So, see if for right now you can't dial your feelings of desperation down a notch and think about all of this more soundly. Breathe. Now do it again, a big one. This is the kind of thing I meant when I said that even if we feel desperate and afraid, we want to do our best to manage that so we aren't making choices around a pregnancy in that headspace.

So, let's start by you finding out if you're pregnant in the first place, pronto, and if you are, let's explore all your options first before even looking at what you might do without those options. Like helping you find free or low-cost pregnancy tests, this is something we're always happy to help users through, step-by-step, including any options counseling you might want, education you need about any part of pregnancy, termination or your other options, help locating and obtaining abortion funds, the works. If you prefer, any of the several sound, excellent abortion clinics and providers in your state can do all of that for and with you, too. You can even make an appointment at one of them for a pregnancy test, where they are nearly always free, and take it from there, arranging options counseling or an educational consult or a termination there and then. Those providers, just like us, can even connect you with resources about adoption or parenting -- and things like federal or state assistance, including with housing -- if it turns out you'd prefer not to choose to terminate.

In the case that it turns out you're not pregnant, I think you still have some important things to do.

It's clear that you do not want to become pregnant any time soon, and that you feel doing so would result in some pretty awful consequences. So, continuing to take high risks of pregnancy isn't something you're going to want to do either, and you can change your habits in this regard. I'd strongly advise that you do, as I think it will radically improve your life and make a huge difference in preventing outcomes you don't want.

I'd first check in with yourself and figure out why you've been having sex and taking big risks of pregnancy and STIs if you don't want those things to happen to you. If and when we are taking risks we really don't want to, changing our behavior usually has to start with sussing out why we've been making the choices we have in the first place.

For instance, perhaps you just really don't feel ready to manage sex with a partner yet. Maybe you need to work more on your own assertiveness and sexual decision-making skills before it's a wise time for you be sexual, a time when you can engage in sex with a partner without taking giant risks you don't really want to or don't feel able to handle. Maybe it's about sex with this particular partner: for example, if he's not cooperating when it comes to condom use or helping with other forms of contraception, if he isn't making sex something that truly is a choice for you, or if he doesn't seem to care about the big risks it's mostly you taking, the issue may be that sex with a different partner might be more sound for you, but sex with this partner is big-time bad news. Maybe you're engaging in sex as a kind of self-harm, risking doing harm to yourself or your life via sex. You certainly wouldn't be the first person who did. Or, maybe none of that is going on, but you both simply need to find a way to go and access condoms (for at least STI protection, but they also can greatly reduce your risk of becoming pregnant) and other methods of contraception and don't know how or where to do that, or do, but for whatever reason, just haven't.

My very best advice for people who feel that their world would literally come to an end if they became pregnant -- like being kicked out or abused, like having big negative health impacts, like messing up giant life goals or dreams -- is that unless you know you can get and always, without fail, properly use either one of the most effective forms of contraception in both typical and perfect use (like an IUD, implant or injection), or two very effective methods (like say, condoms and the pill or condoms and a cervical barrier) -- you're probably better off simply not having the kinds of sex which present any risk of pregnancy until your situation changes where a pregnancy really wouldn't be the end of the world, no matter what you chose to do about it if and when it happened.

That would mean avoiding genital intercourse or any kind of direct genital-to-genital contact where at least a condom isn't used properly. And not having those kinds of sex doesn't mean you can't have any kind of sex. For instance, oral sex and manual sex don't pose pregnancy risks, neither does being dressed and rubbing your bodies together or making out. Plus, really, as scared as you sound here, I have a feeling that the intercourse you have been having probably hasn't been a whole lot of fun for you: it's mighty hard to enjoy ourselves when Doomsday is in our heads before, during or after sex.

But if you want very much to have the kinds of sex which pose risks of pregnancy, and feel generally able to deal with all they involve, know that just like you're in a great state when it comes to abortion access, you're also in an excellent one when it comes to contraception and sexual healthcare. There's really no reason you have to keep going without contraception and sexual safety here: it's all very accessible, even to young people.

We have a program here in Washington called Take Charge which provides people without insurance, or minors who are insured, but don't want to use parents' insurance, no-cost access to any birth control method they want (including combinations, like say, a hormonal method and condoms and also including emergency contraception you could always have on hand in advance), as well as basic sexual healthcare each year, like a pap smear and some STI screenings (which you'll also need to protect your health, especially since by having unprotected sex, you've been taking big risks in that department, too). For more information on that program, you can look here or ask any sexual health or public clinic about it, where you can enroll for the program.

I'm including a couple of links for you, but by all means, if you want help with any of these steps, send me an email or come to our message boards, where we can give you that help without delay, and any emotional support you might need, whether you're pregnant or not, choosing to terminate a pregnancy or not. We can have your back and also help you learn to have your own a lot better.

written 17 May 2012 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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