I Had an Abortion, and I Make No Apologies For It
I think I knew, before my HGH level was even elevated.
I had been late before but this felt different. Still and despite my queasiness, I was not entirely prepared when the line on the test strip turned blue. I did two more and each time, positive. I knew how it happened, I just couldn't believe it had happened. The positives strips were a negative for me. I was not ready for it. Ultimately? Did. Not. Want. It.
And so I aborted my first pregnancy. Even though I thought I could not get pregnant. Even though I had once seriously considered adoption. It was my choice. I do not regret it. This is my story.
I thought I couldn't have kids.
My first husband and I were married for 13 years. Eventually after a concerted effort — all those things you do to try and get pregnant — it did not work for us. We resigned ourselves to a life without kids. Just like our best friends, J&A.
Ardent and devoted Deadheads, they lived on a farm, their home filled with music. They did not want children; their lives were complete. It was inspiring, and comforting to someone who couldn't get pregnant.
I had seen children being raised in families where they were not wanted. I had been a kid whose mother, while in the grip of angry alcoholism, told me: I wish I had an abortion. But then I started working with children, as a Head Start Family Educator, and realized: I would probably be a really good mom. I would probably be the kind of mom who, when their kiddo grew up would say, "I'm so glad she was my mom." So I decided to look in to adoption.
There were many obstacles to domestic adoption, especially the cost, which was out of reach for us. So I turned to international adoption. In the early '90s, it was the "affordable" alternative to US adoption. I narrowed the area to China, which, at the time, had the most liberal international adoption policies. I started to become excited at the thought of being a mother to a little girl.
And then my ex changed his mind. He said to me — and it was the moment I realized I had to divorce him — that he could not have a child that was so obviously was not his. So I left. I took, after 13 years, $9,000, a very used Subaru, books, pictures, and my cat. Footloose and fancy free, I headed north, to my kind of people.
My first days in the new newsroom were spent getting to know other reporters and the whims of my editor. I didn't know the guy I was seated next to would be the man I would marry: I didn't even like him at first. Good looking, but kind of a jerk, was my initial thought, after he blew me off one of those first mornings when I was unable to send my story by deadline.
Eventually, D., myself, and two other co-workers would gather outside for a post first-edition deadline smoke. The four of us bonded tightly, hanging out after work, sharing pitchers of cheap beer, playing darts. Then D. and I began spending more time together, after I moved into an apartment around the corner from his. I started to like him. A lot.
One night D. and I went to see a friend's band and decided to have a slow dance. He kissed me for the first time later that night and it began.
Our history of friendship combined with our physical closeness, the love of our shared profession, blues music, and dysfunctional backgrounds combined for a perfect storm of a deep love that developed quickly. When my brother Scott died a month after we started dating, D. was there for me.
Shortly after Scott's death, I had to move out of my apartment when my roommate decided to return home, and D. offered to rent me the apartment in the basement of his house.
When my mother, just 59 years old, was diagnosed with fatal cancer seven weeks after Scott's death, D. was there, waiting for me when I returned, broken and in disbelief, to the quiet comfort of my tiny apartment.
He was the anchor in my rapidly untethering life; a place that in two short months was forever altered by the death and dying of the two most important people in my life.
A life that, in less than a year, also included a divorce, moves from West Virginia to Pennsylvania to New England for two job changes; a job layoff, and three more moves within state. Every single major life event that causes extreme anxiety and can trigger depression? Happened in a 15-month period. I was alone, and losing everyone, it seemed. Except for D. He was there. Patient and kind and supportive.
One afternoon, I came home from work and he was in my apartment. I needed him; physically needed him to be part of me. After, we lay in bed sharing a cigarette, and I remember thinking, Jesus. If I could get pregnant, I probably just did. As it turned out, I was right.
I was pregnant.
A few weeks later, in between working and going to Rhode Island on the weekends to spend time with Mommy, trying to absorb every square inch of her: the feel of her hand in mine, her laugh, her grey eyes dimming in face of her mortality, I realized that I hadn't gotten my period. I knew I hadn't, I was just ignoring the absence of cramps and chin zits because I refused to even contemplate the possibility of pregnancy at that point.
Not then. Not when I was trying to grieve the loss of my brother/best friend. Not when I was literally watching my mother die a slow and painful death from lung cancer. Not when I was living paycheck to paycheck, trying to pay rent and bills and buy gasoline for the many trips home each week to my mother. Not when I could not begin to even think about the life-change that would come with being a parent when I would be a motherless mother, a sister without her brother, alone in many ways.
Still. I had to be an adult. D. had asked me, Have you gotten your period lately? I brushed it off as a consequence of stress.
D. was at our neighborhood bar playing darts when I took the first of three EPTs. Each yielded a positive result, the bright blue line mocking me. The nausea I had been experiencing, along with some tightening in my breasts and abdomen suddenly were clearly in focus: I was pregnant. Me, who thought she would never be pregnant, who once prayed (to a god that she now doesn't believe in) to get pregnant but couldn't, was single and knocked up at the age of 34, far beyond the "acceptable" age of knowing better and using birth control.
I was terrifiedhappyafraidangryembarrassedscaredtodeathsadF*CK.
Pregnant. Me. Now? Why? WHAT THE F*CK had I done to have to contemplate THIS right now, I asked my god. I mean, I know what I DID: I had amazing sex with a man I love and didn't use birth control. But still. I wasn't expecting that.
Yeah, well, tough sh*t, tootsie. You're going to have a baby, the universe said.
Not so fast, I said back.
I walked over to the bar to give D. the news. I truly didn't know what he would think. We had only been a couple for two or three months and while we loved each other, a BABY? He seemed happy and surprised to see me when I walked in.
Let's sit down, I said, I need to talk to you. Well, I began. Uhm. I. Uhm. GuesswhatI'mpregnant!!
Words tumbled out faster than I wanted, but watching his face intently. And he smiled. D. smiled and said: What? I thought you couldn't get pregnant? Still smiling. And me: Yeah, well I guess you uh. Yeah. You. Super-sperm, he said. And he hugged me. We're having a baby!
Except we weren't going to have a baby.
Days passed and I didn't know what to think, never mind what to do. D. was outwardly happy and if he had any doubt? He didn't share it. He felt sure in our love, surer in our future than I.
I just watched my brotherbestfriend die. And my mother. F*ck. My mother was very actively dying and I was watching it happen in real time. All I could think of was: By the time this baby is born, she too, will be dead. I will have no one. I was terrified.
Nothing. Is. Forever. Nothing lasts. Everyone leaves. Everyone goes away.
D. and I weren't married; I would be stuck raising a child on my own, with no support, financially or otherwise. Me and a child and nothing. I could not. Would not. And ultimately? Did not.
All the death and dying: it enveloped me, along with the depression that I'd battled since I was a teenager. I could not afford, literally or figuratively, to allow my mind to break. So I forged through, fought against the black hole that tried swallowing me millimeter by centimeter by inch.
I made a decision: I will tell Mommy she is going to be a grandmother and therefore she will fight to stay alive!
As if she wasn't, already. My mother, my beautiful, complicated mother, was in a losing battle for her life. She knew it and accepted it, far before any of us who loved her could.
My mother, who had a pink mani/pedi just hours before she collapsed and who buried her oldest child with grace and love a few weeks before that; who lost her own mother when she was 13, and survived an abusive husband: she didn't have it in her to be the caretaker for others anymore. She was going to die, and it would be soon. And she needed us to accept that, and be there to help her life end.
I told her I was pregnant. She was going to be a grandmother.
Broken. That is how I describe her reaction to the pregnancy. I told her I needed her to be there. She did not say anything at first. But she looked at me; as if, Heather. I'm dying. This won't change anything. This just makes it harder. Because I know I won't be here to meet my grandchild, even if you don't know that. But she smiled. And said: Good. You need life, in all this death.
I wish I never told her; it was selfish.
D. is one of those people who sees many sides to everything. He is not religious, though he identifies as a Jewish man. He is agnostic: he does not believe nor disbelieve in a god. His feelings about abortion are something I don't necessarily understand, except he had told me he was "pro-life." So when I made up my mind to end the pregnancy, I was scared to tell him. I loved him; I needed him to see that I wasn't choosing abortion as a rejection of him and us, but as an affirmation of me. Of my life. Of my possibilities. Of acknowledgement of my ambivalence and fear and choice. I was not ready to be a motherless mother. Not ready to bring a child into a world that was hateful and cruel and terribly arbitrary.
It was the right thing to do.
I did not want D., who was sad about my decision, to have to come with me to the clinic so I asked my old roommate to take me and she agreed. D. would be at work, I would call in sick, and I would see him at the end of the day.
Except the ex-roomie didn't show. I had an appointment time, and was waiting for her to come get me. The policy was: someone else has to drive you home, because you will be under anesthesia. And you can NOT be late. I drove myself, got out of car and walked by myself past awfulterriblehateful people with gigantic signs that told me I was a murderer for having an abortion. And I looked right at them, straight in the eyes, and said F*CK YOU. F*CK YOU AND YOUR STUPID F*CKING GOD. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. SO F*CK. OFF.
Once inside I called D. and said he would have to come get me. Should I come? he asked. And me, not wanting to bother him, said No. I'm fine. I wasn't, and I was. I was at peace with my decision.
The exam room was clinical and the tech did the required ultrasound. I did not have to hear the developing zygote's heartbeat, nor see its Lima bean shape. It was not a person; no brain to feel pain, no soul, no life: it really was just a mass of cells. After, I waited in the pre-op area with other women. I was by far the oldest and whitest. But we were all sisters. All sisters in that moment. None of us was there easily. This was a profoundly personal decision. One made individually for our lives: they mattered.
The doctor and nurse were lovely; they asked me how I came about being there. The doc told me I needed to use birth control if I hoped to avoid pregnancy in the future. The procedure was over within, what, 20 minutes? I don't know. I was under anesthesia and after it was over I was wheeled into recovery where I was given orange juice and time alone. D. arrived and I was free to go. I got up from my chair bed and put my street clothes back on. He held my hand as he guided me, loopy and wobbly, to his car, passed the protesters. It was done. I was no longer pregnant.
I cannot lie: I cried. I cried for hours upon hours for what might have been. But I got up the next day and went to work. Hormones raging, I pushed it all down and back and told my one good friend that I had a miscarriage. Because at that time, I felt ashamed.
For days I berated myself: Why did I do that? I might never get the chance again to carry a person inside me; for my body to do what it needed to do to bring to fruition a human being. But then my hormone levels normalized and I was comfortable that I had made the right decision, for me, my life, my future. And so I went on. I told Mommy I had a miscarriage. In retrospect I know that she knew I had an abortion, and that she was okay with that. She'd been there, done that.
Do I have regrets or guilt?
No. Not a one. Not a single one.
My choice was right for me, as it is for every other woman who has an abortion. Our reasons are as varied as our lives, our experiences, our hopes and dreams and true selves. It is not for you, dear reader, to judge. Oh, I know you will. But I don't care.
What I care about is maintaining my daughter's right to choose the best health decision for her. For her ability to access health care as she sees fit. For her to maintain autonomy over HER body. HER life. HER future. HERS. That is what matters, and that ability is increasingly at risk for being taken away by zealously religious people. By people who can not get pregnant. By people who think they know what is best for other people's physical or mental health, or economic situation, or relationship. By women — and this especially galls me — who fight against reproductive choice because THEY regret THEIR abortion: Sorry, sis, but you don't get a f*cking do-over at someone else's expense. Keep your guilt, and your godd*mned religiosity, out of my ovaries.
Six weeks after my abortion, my mother was in her final days. I was ovulating, and I chose to return to my apartment to make love and, possibly, a baby, with D. After, I headed back to Rhode Island; I opened the moonroof in my car. Pleaded with my dead brother: Scotty, if you have any pull in the plain you're now in? Please. Help me make a baby. I need life. Life in all this death. I am ready to love a child; to carry a pregnancy to term; to bring life and love into this sadness. Please. If you can. Do this.
I buried our mother sixteen days later. Exactly one week after, I bought a test. When the blue lines appeared, I wept with joy. I had no regret, no uncertainty, and no doubt. Only joy.
She is named for my mother.