Over Christmas break, one semester into nursing school, I fell into a whirlwind long-distance romance. We talked daily on the phone, taking advantage of whatever free time I could find between my accelerated nursing program and a full-time job in a molecular biology lab. I was intent on graduating with as little debt as possible and continued to work full-time, despite the objections of my instructors. Somehow, I squeezed in this romance.
As my second semester started, I just about emptied my bank account to pay for tuition and textbooks. At this time, my long-distance boyfriend was moving to Florida and would be spending a week with me in Atlanta. I used a hormone ring for birth control at the time. Even with insurance coverage, it wasn’t cheap, and I didn’t quite have the money to pick up my next prescription refill. It was only two days overdue…
After a week, Jose continued his drive to Florida, I managed to pay for my birth control, and dove back into my schooling. I don’t remember what triggered me, but a few weeks later I began to be suspicious of my state. My body felt different. My mind felt different. With a chronic autoimmune disease, I was pretty in tune with my body. I was also seeing a psychiatrist for ADHD and depression. It wasn’t until we discussed Depakote, a medication used for depression and bipolar disorder, in my pharmacology class that I learned that it could interfere with hormonal birth control. With a feeling of dread, I stopped at the pharmacy on my way home.
After peeing on the sticks and seeing the results, I began to count back, then forward. My due date would be right in the middle of my finals, right before graduation. Although I had yet to see the full extent of it, I was starting to see the way Jose sailed through life, shirking responsibility. He was always crashing on someone’s sofa, overstaying his welcome, ensuring he would pay rent as soon as he got paid, but never did. That was when he actually had a job. I tried to imagine his role as a father. He would have the best of intentions, but the poorest of execution.
As for my health, the stress of school made my lupus flare. My joints always hurt. I would occasionally feel the sandpaper pain of pleurisy in my lungs. I had already lost ten pounds after my first semester. My body was barely hanging on as it was, and I knew: if I continued this pregnancy, I would have to drop out of school. Jose would move to Atlanta and try to be a father, but he would only be yet another person for which I was responsible.
I called him in Florida and told him I was pregnant. He said he was fine with whatever I wanted. What I wanted was to finish school, to be a nurse, to start my new career path. A baby and a child-like partner didn’t fit into that picture. I was embarrassed by the pregnancy and didn’t want anyone to know. The first thing I did was search the internet for anything that could induce miscarriage. There were so many references various herbal abortifacients. Despite being a scientist, I was willing to try anything, and I did. Unsurprisingly, parsley and various other suggestions produced no results. So, I called the clinic to schedule my abortion. I had to wait two more weeks, until I was at least 8 weeks. I made the appointment and waited.
I had originally planned to go myself. Jose was in Florida. I felt no connection to the thing inside me. It was just something that was sapping my energy, blurring my mind, and constantly keeping me on the verge of vomiting. But I had a friend who insisted I shouldn’t be alone. So, we shared a bottle of wine the night before, and after she left, I drank some more.
The next morning, my friend picked my up. I was in the same clothes as the night before, and I know I smelled of alcohol. At the clinic, I was called back for intake. I was asked my medical history, as well as my social history. After a few more questions, they asked if I had been drinking. I was honest and said I had been drinking the night before. If I had been really honest, I would have admitted I still felt somewhat inebriated. But they knew and told me no. I would have to reschedule.
For the first time since learning I was pregnant, I began to cry. Big, body wrenching sobs. I had been so close to being done with this, and now my drinking had gotten in the way. I wanted the abortion. I wanted to be done.
After a while, the anesthesiologist came back to the room. She assessed me physically and mentally. The counselor came back and asked more questions. They were not going to let me move forward unless they were 100% positive that I was fully capable of making such important decisions. They made me wait another two hours and evaluated me again. This time, they said yes. I could move forward with the abortion.
After the procedure in recovery, where a nurse gave me a heating pad and a hand to hold, I began to cry again. The nurse encouraged me to talk about my feelings, but they were tears of relief. It was over, my life could continue as planned. My friend and I stopped for Ikea meatballs on the way home.
My concerns about Jose as a partner had been correct. After moving to Atlanta, he flaked on every responsibility, and was eventually kicked out of my home and my life. I graduated nursing school. I passed my boards. I got my first job. A few years later, I reconnected with an old acquaintance and we began to date. This relationship was different. I didn’t know back then that this was the man I was going to marry, but I knew it felt unique from any previous relationship.
As responsible adults do, we got tested for STIs, and I made an appointment at the clinic for an IUD. In the meantime, we used condoms for protection. When I got a new job, he took me away to a cabin on the lake in the mountains to celebrate. And celebrate we did. We never noticed that the contraception failed, but looking back, I know exactly when it did.
Once again, I stopped at the drug store on my way home. Once again, I peed on the sticks and awaited the results. I called my Neil and told him we needed to talk. Unable to wait until he could come over, I told him I was pregnant. He was honest and said he wasn’t ready to be a father but would support whatever decision I made. This time there was no school in the way. I had a job that provided medical leave and PTO. I had a partner who was responsible and trustworthy. But I just didn’t want a baby. I didn’t want to be a mother. Not yet, at any rate.
Once again, I called the clinic. I told them I had to cancel the appointment for the IUD and schedule an abortion instead. I was embarrassed as I said it. This time, I showed up stone cold sober. As I told the nurse and the counselor the how and the why, I was clear and confident in my decision. There were no tears this time. Once again, we stopped for Ikea meatballs on the way home.
A year and a half later, we were engaged to be married. All my life I had talked about when I became a mother, after I had kids, and on and on. It was an abstract concept at the time. With the wedding in the near future, it suddenly became real. I stopped and tried to think about when I would be ready to be a mother, to have children. I couldn’t see it. I could not see a point anywhere in the future where I would want children in my life. The realization shocked me. Children had always been part of the plan. I began to realize that that plan belonged to somebody else. It was everyone else’s expectations of me as a woman. It grew from the expectation that women grow up, go to school, start a career, marry, and then become mothers and housewives. The concept was no longer abstract. It was concrete in front of me, and I wanted no part of it.
I discussed my feelings at length with my fiancé. He, too, could not see children in our future. So, we planned our future from there as one without children. We acknowledged that our feelings may change over time and we would deal with it openly and honestly if it came to pass.
Seven years later, and we are still childless by choice. We have a multi-tiered pregnancy prevention plan. Should all those levels fail resulting in another pregnancy, I will likely terminate again. I still don’t want to be a mother. I can’t imagine an eight-year-old running around the house. I know I would love them, but kids aren’t stupid. I’m sure somewhere, deep down, they would feel my resentment. People tell me I’ll regret not having kids, but I’d rather regret not having a child than raising a child I didn’t want.
I try to be open about my experiences, to reduce the stigma, to put a face to abortion, but I feel regret and shame and embarrassment. Just like the anti-choicers said I would. But I’m not embarrassed by the abortions, but by the pregnancies. I had all the knowledge and resources to prevent pregnancy, and yet I let it happen twice. That failure is the source of my regret and shame, not the abortions.
I don’t think about my abortions all that often. They don’t haunt me. I was as confident in my choices then as I am now. Abortion was the right choice.