I had no delusions about doing some prospective kid a magic life favor by dragging it into my dysfunction.
I grew up in Seattle in the 80s when cans collecting change for Planned Parenthood were by the cashier at the grocery store checkout. I can remember my aunt putting money in every time I went to the store with her, saying “This is for you someday.”
Abortion was always something I grew up regarding as normal and acceptable. Part of the authority every woman had over her own body; a right we could count on. I was nine years old, the eldest of three siblings, when my depressed and deeply struggling mom discovered she had become pregnant a fourth time, unintentionally. I vividly remember standing next to her in the kitchen when she told me the news through her tears, and begging her to “just get rid of it”….because I knew that was an option. (And while a fourth child did nearly put her over the edge, I am delighted that she stayed pregnant and my youngest sister came to exist in the world.)
I drove my aunt to have an abortion when I was 17, her second or third. She made it seem like no big deal, and I can remember thinking it seemed like it felt more emotional for me than it did for her, although I tried hard to emulate her and act like it didn’t affect me either.
My own safer sex practices began deteriorating in college while I had a long-term boyfriend, and somehow I managed to convince myself that after increasing carelessness using birth control, I probably couldn’t get pregnant…or surely I would have by that point. I had never really wanted to have my own kids. Maybe adopting or fostering kids some day is what I identified with from a young age.
I was 24 and had been under the spell of a passionate love/lust affair for just under two months when I got pregnant using no protection on Friday of Memorial Day weekend. I woke up on Saturday and had tickets to Sasquatch and was supposed to drive out to the Gorge, and I just felt so strange and…different. It was hot out, and I felt too delicate to deal with heat and crowds, and I felt overwhelmingly compelled to stay near my boyfriend. I blew off my tickets and stayed in town with him.
I found out that I was pregnant on Friday of Father’s Day weekend. My boyfriend was a struggling photographer who regularly had to borrow money to pay his rent, and I was far more committed to drinking and recreational drug use and going to shows and kicking it than to engaging a lifetime of responsibility. I also had extremely strong feelings about what kids deserved from parents and mothers especially- stability, and resources, and being whole-heartedly wanted. I refused to burden an innocent, unborn child with my resentment. I had no delusions about doing some prospective kid a magic life favor by dragging it into my dysfunction.
Abortion was the only way forward that I ever saw, and I quickly went into a dissociative state as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I felt like I was watching myself go through motions of life from far away. My boobs felt like they were going to rip off and my gums were super swollen. I drank a LOT of wine and vodka. It never once crossed my mind that growing and birthing a baby was a good idea. I told a few friends and my boss that I was pregnant, and they all encouraged me to consider having it (as did my boyfriend, who seemed half-relieved but also half-offended that I didn’t even consider his “we could make it work” offer). I called Planned Parenthood and got an appointment at their U-District location above the movie theatre for a week or ten days later. I drank and smoked my way through that waiting period, desperate not to experience any feelings at all; determined to have no second thoughts. I remember thinking that terminating the pregnancy was the best possible mothering decision I could make. I didn’t know what I wanted for my life and could barely take care of myself.
The procedure itself is a blur. I know I took sedatives that either were provided or I had procured on my own, or possibly both. My strongest memory of that day is that my boyfriend took money out of my purse to buy our lattes on the way to the appointment, while I was in the bathroom at the coffee shop trying not to be sick. I remember feeling horrified and relieved, like thank god I didn’t delude myself into thinking I could attempt to raise a child with a guy who can’t even buy our coffee on the way to an abortion. I recall that everyone at the clinic was really good to me, and feeling safe and so grateful that they never questioned my decision about a surgical abortion being the right choice for me. I can remember wishing that I had anyone else there with me besides my boyfriend. My medical insurance covered the procedure and I was responsible for 20% of the cost. My boyfriend split that cost with me and (later, when he was no longer my boyfriend) sent me a Spider Man check made out to Planned Parenthood for his half of what was owed. I still have a photocopy of that check somewhere.
I rested for a few days afterward at my aunt’s house with a heating pad on my womb, and then immediately went with my family on a two week trip to the Northeast U.S. states. I remember telling my brother when we were in Boston that I had just been pregnant and had an abortion. No one else on the trip knew.
When I got home in mid-July, I fell apart. I didn’t see it coming. No one ever put any guilt or negativity or judgment on me. I don’t know if it was the hormones or family predisposition or the drugs and drinking or what, but I became hopelessly depressed. I questioned if I had betrayed capital-G God somehow with what I had done, and maybe the horrific, brutalizing depression was somehow my punishment for that. I broke up with my boyfriend, telling him that if he was demented enough to love me when I couldn’t bear to even be me, then I couldn’t trust his judgment enough to be his girlfriend anymore. I drank and used drugs and escaped more, and on one particularly memorable occasion a few months later when I was at an Against Me! show, I drank until I puked and then kept drinking and sent him a vile text about being my “vacuum baby’s daddy”. I was so toxic and broken. I felt embarrassed and guilty about what a disaster I was, like my feminist pro-choice honor badge was going to be revoked for my severe over-reaction to something I had been taught was no big deal. I sought free counseling available to me at Planned Parenthood, but I only went one time, feeling like I was very much beyond their help.
My depression eventually turned to hypomania, and my behavior became impulsive and erratic as I did pretty much whatever I wanted, because I COULD, “because I‘m not a mom!” I partied my ass off, and then I got it in my head that I needed to find a husband and get a graduate degree, so I would be more prepared if I ever got pregnant a second time. Because I couldn’t imagine taking the roller coaster ride I was on ever again. I studied for the LSAT for a few months and took the test and then plummeted hard off the deep end, and rang up twenty grand in credit card debt in a summer, falling in love with a (wholly inappropriate) husband prospect, still telling myself that I was celebrating my freedom from the responsibility of motherhood, all the while in a painful and agitated mixed state of depression and hypomania. I eventually left my job and used even harder drugs and was reported missing to the police by my family and lost my apartment and moved back in with my parents a few days before my 26th birthday…
This is probably all sounding like a twisted anti-choice commercial, but I swear it isn’t. I got better. I was mentally and emotionally and biochemically fucked for just under two years, but I got better. I don’t blame the abortion for screwing me up so much as I blame the hormones and family history of depression and increasingly harder drugs and heavier drinking. And despite how much I struggled those couple years, I did not ever wish that I had a child instead. I had no delusion that raising a kid would be any easier.
What I did instead of commit to raising a child is develop the courage to face myself. At first I wanted to puke all over what I saw. Pregnancy and abortion brought me into the reality-on-reality’s-terms of my own personhood in a way I had somehow always managed to avoid before that. The traumatic way I experienced the process of choice and free will helped me come to terms with life and spirituality and who I was and what I wanted in a way that I might have otherwise found a way to keep avoiding forever. In the end, my abortion handed me the choice of embracing my whole self and the conscious life I have today.
I think about the microscopically small number of women over the course of ages, and around the world even now, who have been rarely blessed with the choice that I had, the gift of true self-determination, and I don’t know how I ever got so lucky. I know that the best choices aren’t usually the easy choices. My life has been getting better for more than ten years now, and I am immeasurably grateful I don’t have a kid that’s about to turn 11 next month. I know that my abortion was a turning point in my life, and I am unbelievably thankful that I could have one safely and legally. It handed me my life and said, “Take this, it’s YOURS.”