by Rachel

November 10, 2020

Content Warning: reproductive coercion, abortion regret, mention of suicide, mention of abuse, general emotional intensity

When I think of abortion now, at 54 years old, I think it is a decision that must be left to each woman. When I think of my first abortion, at 16, my current feelings are affirmed. Abortion should not even have to be described as a “right”. It is the most personal thing that can happen to a women’s body. Everyone involved in the process of abortion has to ask themselves: are you removing cells or are you destroying the entire future of a human being?

Are you killing, or are you restoring?

I grew up with a physically and mentally abusive father, and a terminally passive mother. I became sexually active when I was 15 years old. At 16, I dropped out of high school. Shortly after, I entered into a brief sexual relationship with a local boy (19) from my small town.

That short paragraph sets the stage for the story of my first abortion, but it doesn’t explain the heartache behind it. I could also say that I grew up with two parents that I hung the sun and the moon over, two people I believed exemplified right decisions, and support and, most of all, love. In spite of that I, in my self-destructive, willful stubbornness, dropped out of high school and hooked up with a local hood known to treat girls badly.

Both paragraphs are true.

There is a history of mental illness in my family. My father’s sister committed suicide at 32. A great-great aunt committed suicide in middle age. My father was prone to bouts of hypomania, manic spending, and rage. My mother was clinically depressed, with very low self-esteem.

I was mostly left to my own devices.

I was trying to navigate the world from a very small, Texas town using Cosmopolitan magazine as a map. It didn’t work very well. When I began exhibiting symptoms of manic depression and clinical depression myself my parents simply negotiated my misery: I could skip school so long as I made sure my mother signed a permission, slip, for instance (which she always did – so much easier than trying to figure out why your kid is skipping school). My parents were artistic and loved me, but they were also absent and completely out of their depth where parenting was concerned. I was not allowed to talk about feelings that touched on mental illness, because mental illness did not exist.

I was on my own, even though I lived at home.

I became obsessed with Danny when it became clear that I was just a hook-up for him. I called him incessantly. I cased places I thought he might be. I drove by his house. Danny was well aware of this and seemed to take some pride in it, as he bragged about it around town. When he got horny, he’d agree to meet me and we’d have sex. That was pretty much the extent of our relationship.

The first time I got pregnant, I knew, technically, that I might. I knew it had been exactly 14 days since the start of my last period. I was impulsively fascinated by the idea of getting pregnant. I called Danny and he came over. We had sex. I got pregnant.

When I was late for my next period, I wasn’t sure what to do. I remember a racing heart, a feeling of “hey – I didn’t mean I actually wanted to get pregnant, God, this was really more of a ‘just wondering’ kind of thing.” I didn’t even know who to talk to about it.

So, weirdly, I talked to a boy from school whom I barely knew, and he drove me to Planned Parenthood in the nearest city in my mother’s car (because I was afraid to drive in traffic), which I had borrowed under some pretense. The pregnancy test was negative. I absurdly left said printed test results on the center console of the car and promptly stopped thinking about it.

Of course my mother saw the printed test results the next time she used the car. She waited until we were alone and then asked me about them. Since there was no rational lie I could tell her, I told her the truth. She took me back to Planned Parenthood, who administered another pregnancy test, and that one was positive.

The very same day, Mom took me to see my great aunt, who had taken one or two unwed mothers into her home to help them. Mom asked her to take me. The aunt declined.

A few days passed. We talked about it a little bit. Not much.

I called Danny and told him I was pregnant. He called me a slut and told me to leave him alone. My mother tried to console me and then became impatient. She didn’t understand why I was upset. In her words: “He screwed you. That’s all he did!”, and the comforting ceased. She was frustrated and terrified. I was just heart-broken because Danny called me a slut.

A few nights later I went to a house Danny had been hanging out at where one of his friends was house-sitting while hosting a month-long party. Danny showed up. When he saw me at the front door he pushed me down the entry steps. I stood up and walked back in. He was both drunk and high. We had sex, and he fell asleep. It was the first time I had ever been in an actual bed with a man.

The next morning his friend woke us both up to tell me I had a phone call. It was my mother, who had somehow figured out not only where I was, but the phone number to the house. She warned me that she had told my Dad and my brother that I was pregnant, and they were threatening to find Danny and shoot him with my Dad’s shotgun. My brother was out looking for him at that moment. She asked me to come home.

I had Mom’s car, and I did leave, right away. I drove to the Pizza place I worked at and picked up my check, and then I headed the car down the highway out of town, trying to run away. It took about 40 miles for me to accept the fact that I had nowhere to run, so I turned around and drove home to face the situation.

Dad … was enraged. He was enraged that I was pregnant. He laid down the law and told me I would be getting an abortion. I said no. He said it didn’t matter what I wanted, that he would tie me up and throw me in the trunk if he had to, but I would have an abortion. Mom, as usual, sat passively by.

I gave up after about 2 days of arguing with Dad, and agreed. Mom and Dad made a point of telling me I’d made them liars – they had to borrow money for the trip to Dallas and the abortion from my grandmother. Nobody could know I’d gotten pregnant; you see. I had zero support and was 100% dependent on my parents for food, shelter, transportation – for everything. I had no way to raise a child.

My Mom and I flew to Dallas. I had an abortion. I don’t know how far along I was – more than 6 weeks but not too much more than that.

About a week later I woke up in the middle of the night, briefly thinking I was still pregnant. I put my hand on my abdomen and felt empty. And I hated my parents. And I hated myself even more, but I channeled that hatred towards Mom and Dad, and it lingers over every single thing even now.

I’d always thought I was incredibly strong. Strong willed. Strong physically. Strong mentally. And the entire experience had proved to everyone that I was the opposite of all those things. Those times Dad had slapped me around and I’d taken it like a champ instead of falling apart like my brother did – those times meant nothing. Evidently that was not strength. That was nothing next to my father’s will and my mother’s limp accession – she backed Dad.

And so that night, when I waked up in the wee hours and put my hand on my empty belly, in my own 16-year-old opposite of self-aware way, I grieved and I stewed. The grieving eventually seemed to stop, but the stewing never did. Nor did the self-hatred, which only grew.

By the time I was 24 I’d had a total of 5 abortions from 3 dysfunctional, painful relationships. I had Norplant inserted and kept it implanted for a few years beyond the expiration date, determined never to have another abortion or another unplanned pregnancy, but when I was 34 I got pregnant again.

This time, I was determined to keep it. The father wasn’t interested and I was glad about that. I had a great job making great money and I knew I could afford a kid. I wrote a letter to it. I bought it a stuffed bear. I went to my first pre-natal visit and saw it’s heart beating.

I moved back home to be close to Mom and Dad.

And then I miscarried.

Six years later, married for the first time and pregnant after multiple surgeries and IVF with ICSI (both of us had reproduction issues), I didn’t dare hope to carry to term – and I did not. I had another miscarriage. We tried again, but no pregnancy, and that was it.

I am 54 years old, now. While each abortion I had was technically my choice, I can honestly say that the choices (in my mind) were always actually made by other people. By my father. By my boyfriends. And each and every one was a trauma to me that took over my life and made me hate myself and my weakness even more.

Today I emphatically support a woman’s right to choose. I regret each of my abortions, but what made them so awful was the feeling of an absolute loss of personal autonomy behind each of them.

”My Body, My Choice” sounds like a woman choosing to have an abortion. It could just as easily be a woman choosing not to have an abortion. Choice is the key word, here. Nobody has a moral right to decide what I do or do not do with a pregnancy, and women who have become pregnant need support.

There is a song I love called “Daughter,” by Loudon Wainwright III. One chorus goes as follows:

That’s my daughter in the water
Every time she fell I caught her
Every time she fell
That’s my daughter in the water
I lost every time I fought her
I lost every time

That’s the way it’s supposed to go, in a perfect world. Women – and girls – need to be caught, if they fall in to an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. Whether they fight for or against it, they need to win.

My only sibling died without children when he was 37. I am 54 and have no children. My parents have no grandchildren. And that amazing and horrifying and sad situation was sparked by a 16 year old child who fell, and was never caught. Who fought – and lost.

Choice. It’s the most powerful concept known to man. Women need to exercise regularly from a very young age. We have a lot of catching up to do.

Remember that our stories are ours to tell. We’d love to hear your story too!