This story titled Growing Up In Catholic Country comes from The Choice VR.
The first time I got pregnant I was in my early twenties. I left Poland when I was 22 years old, dropped out of college and came to live in the US (this was before Poland joined the European Union and Poles were not yet allowed to work in Europe). I had a steady job, a boyfriend of few years and I was on birth control. My life was good, I had plans and dreams for the future and I was finally feeling at home in this foreign country I chose to live in.
The way it happened was trivial; one morning I simply forgot to take my pill and did not realize it until the very next day. After I discovered my mistake, I got scared for a moment but told myself that it wasn’t a big deal, it was only one pill, it will be OK. I thought I knew everything there was to know about sex and birth control but in reality, I was very naive. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in a predominantly Catholic country where sex is still considered a sin and women’s reproductive rights are looked at as a liberal propaganda, and in a Catholic family that did not talk about “those things”. Back then, I’ve never heard of a “morning after” pill or that it was sold over the counter in every major drugstore chain in the country, but how I wish I have. I could have simply walked into any Walgreens, buy a small box of pills, take one and move on with my life never thinking about it again. Unfortunately, I had no idea this was even an option so I did nothing, just waited, hoping for the best. A few weeks later, my period was late and I knew; I didn’t need a test to tell me I was pregnant.
After I told my boyfriend, he made it clear that this was my problem, not his and I had to “deal with it”. I have never felt this alone in my life. My entire family was back in Poland and I knew I could never tell them. They would be horrified and disappointed in me, and even more worried than I was. To them, it would mean I failed in life. I had to make this decision on my own.
I knew right away that I did not want to keep this baby. I was just making enough money to support myself, how would I support a baby all alone? (My boyfriend and I split up shortly after because I could not stay in relationship with someone who took no personal responsibility). Where would we live? How would I afford all the clothes, diapers, bottles, a stroller, a crib? What about daycare, how would I pay for it, how would I arrange it with my work schedule? Keeping the baby also meant that for the rest of my life I would have to be in contact with the man who abandoned me with all this.
And yet at the back of my mind, some strange little voice kept insisting that I should just have that baby, that it didn’t matter how I would do it. That I should forget my plans and my dreams, the worries, the money, the economics of it all and just have that baby, and the rest didn’t matter. I always knew I wanted to be a mom one day, so here it was. “Be a mom, keep the baby” the voice said. To this little voice I didn’t matter, the baby did.
And yet when I really, truly thought about this pregnancy, not about what I thought I SHOULD do, but what I WANTED to do, I discovered that I didn’t want to become a mom in this way. I didn’t want to have a baby by chance, by accident, by mistake. I didn’t want to struggle financially, physically and mentally by being a single mom making hard choices to keep us both barely afloat. I didn’t want to worry if my potential next partner will ever truly love this child. What if he didn’t? I didn’t want to abandon my hopes and dreams just because I made one foolish mistake and forgot to take a pill. This was not what I wanted.
At the end, I decided that both, the baby and I, deserved a better life and that I did not have to become a mother when I wasn’t ready. My time would still come one day.
It took me about two weeks to make this decision. I found the Planned Parenthood through an online search and made an appointment. I was terrified to go to the clinic. I had no idea what to expect and since I grew up in Poland where abortions are stigmatized and considered an equivalent to a murder, I was sure I would be treated like a criminal. The moment I walked through the door I knew my fears were unfounded. Everyone at the clinic, from the person at the reception window to all the nurses and doctors, was kind, helpful and gentle. After I was ushered to the examination room to have an ultrasound taken to confirm the age of a pregnancy, the first question the nurse asked me was “How are you feeling?”. “Pregnant” I answered. “Don’t worry, in a couple of hours you will feel like yourself again” she replied. I will never forget those words, this kindness. This was the first time I truly felt that I am not some horrible monster who wanted to kill her child, but simply a girl who didn’t want to be pregnant. I felt…normal, understood and accepted.
The procedure itself was fast and painless (it was a suction aspiration) and immediately after it was over, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Up until that moment, I did not realize how anxious and stressed I felt about this pregnancy. This was my liberation, my freedom, my life back. I have never regretted my abortion.
The second pregnancy happened many years later, with my husband. We were a couple of newlyweds when we discovered I was pregnant and the moment I told him, we both knew we didn’t want to keep it, we were not ready. We wanted to spend more time together as a couple, camping, kayaking, mountain biking, backpacking and enjoying the outdoors life we both loved so much. It just wasn’t our time yet. We went back to PP and this time my pregnancy was early enough to use the combination of pills. I took the first one at the clinic and the next day, at home I crawled up on a couch with a blanket, warm tea, and a movie, and took the rest of the pills (among them a strong pain killer and an anti-nausea medication). About an hour later I got my period. We never looked back.
Today I am in my late thirties, I am still married to my wonderful husband and I’m a mother of two wonderful children, a girl and a boy, who I absolutely adore. I know I am an awesome Mom (yep, I am!), and I have no regrets about any of the decisions I made in my life. If my story taught me anything is that abortions are not something shameful, isolated, or sinful and the women who choose to have them are not monsters. They are girls just like you and me: your friends, your co-workers, your neighbours, single, married, divorced, teenagers, mothers, grandmothers and they are everywhere. It’s time to stop demonizing abortions and women who get them and instead focus on making it what it should be: a safe, legal and easily accessible medical procedure for those who want them. Because every one of us has a right to create her own life story, on her own terms.