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I had an abortion a year after I had my biological daughter and went through adoption. Both times I was pregnant I knew what was right. Both times I was lucky enough to have a support system to help me make those choices.
When I was pregnant the first time at 19 and we tried to make an appointment to get even a check up, it would have taken over 4 weeks. We couldn’t go to the clinic an hour away because Dr. Tiller had just been murdered in Wichita. We went to one 4 hours away, and I found out I was 7 weeks pregnant. I had been incredibly depressed and dealing with other trauma and issues, and I was young and scared and had been on birth control. Seven weeks was nothing. I decided to go through with the pregnancy but I had the support to do it right. I wanted to be pregnant and then I wanted to give my daughter a life I couldn’t. A year later, I found out I was pregnant again. The phrase the first doctor had said to me rattled in my head: “For some women getting pregnant is as easy as falling off a log.” I told my boyfriend at the time. But we kept it quiet. I had an abortion. I couldn’t be pregnant.
Every time a woman has to make a choice like this, it is complicated and heavy and hers. It is hers.
You carry the choice alone just as much as you carry the child.
I thought about writing more on this but I wanted to share pieces I wrote 10 years ago soon after both experiences because I’m a different person than I was then. I got to grow up and find out who I was and become the person I am now because of the choices I had the support system to help me make. I would never have done comedy. Would never have started yelling my stories on stages. Never have met so many of the people I love who are doing the same. What I get to do now has saved my life. I could not have done any of it alone. I hope maybe this helps someone out there feel less alone and more capable of finding support.
When I found out I was pregnant the first time, I was the most alone and ashamed I’d ever felt. The relief when I told my parents was overwhelming, but I was so scared to, even though I’m lucky to have a supportive family. I can’t imagine doing it alone.
Keep telling your stories. They are the most important thing we can give each other. We shouldn’t have to share them to make people realize how much we have in common. You don’t have to share yours. But don’t let anyone make you feel like you have to keep it quiet, like you don’t have control over its noise. Especially now as so much control gets pulled out of our hands.
These are two of the essays I wrote when I was in my early 20's, soon after both pregnancies. I hope they help.
Wishes and Wants
My parents and I had gone to the first clinic the week after Doctor Tiller had been murdered at the one in Wichita, leaving us with the only option of Kansas City; though we’d already decided to go there, on the off chance that some members of a local church would be outside at Wichita with picket signs and misplaced anger.
I hadn’t hesitated when I’d decided to make the appointment. My stumbling voice told the receptionist that I was calling for an abortion as I scanned the web page I’d opened after guessing how far along I was: no bigger than the tip of my pinky and starting to look like a tadpole.
My memories of being at the clinic come in jolts. The salad cart being wheeled out of the same room that crying girls and couples filtered out of. The older couple, hands clammy together, voices clammed up, staring at the television as it spouted news. My mother telling them I didn’t do well with needles as they pricked my finger for blood. My father sitting in the waiting room, twiddling his nervous thumbs on his protruding belly as he leaned his head against the metal picture frame. The doctor rushing in, snapping slimed gloves, and telling me how the procedure would go before I could spit out that I needed more time to think. The trouble he had finding the image of her spindly forming form: insubstantial in construction. His office, the owl image, the paper he handed me after asking me what I’d have felt if he’d told me I wasn’t pregnant after all, what I would feel if it was all just a bad dream. Unfolding it to find his answer and mine: Relief. “You don’t want to be pregnant; you just don’t want to have an abortion.”
I didn’t want to have an abortion, either time, but the first time I did want to be pregnant. My body and head reacted differently to the discovery, at first going through the motions of undoing my mistake, and only when I let myself feel it, realizing I didn’t want it undone.
The second time I felt fully right after peeing on the stick. As it turned I knew I didn’t want to be pregnant then, that I couldn’t be pregnant then, and I chose to remember every step of the undoing.
It didn’t take me that long to heal physically after birth, and it took even less time to heal after the abortion. I remember panicking and planning for time away from school, trying to find ways to hide blood, but then having an excess of these too-large safety nets stuffed under my sink for a year. They stayed around as a reminder unused, too awkward for regular use.
The clinic I went to boasted, “We speak Spanish!” as though no one else who offered abortions could speak any language other than one. The clinic’s Spanish abilities were limited to one nurse even though at least two thirds of the women and couples in the little waiting room spoke Spanish. In the “after” room, a small space filled with two old recliners lined with plastic and a chair with a nurse in between, I saw the stress of one woman in the aftermath of not quite understanding that he just wanted her to relax her arm so he could take her blood pressure.
The nurses in the procedure room talked about how this suction machine didn’t work, and how that one over there worked but the gauge was broken so you couldn’t tell how high it was getting. They had to go by feel, but that wasn’t a problem. How they’d ordered a new one but it takes so long for anyone to get back to them. Old yellow machines with the danger sticker underneath the on-off switch. The painting across from the chair I lay back in, my legs open up to the red of its paint: a girl’s face smeared and hidden behind black and red streaks. I painted what I remembered of it afterward and added stars to the dark. The instruments on the metal table next to me that I can remember because I chose not to take the medicine that makes you forget, like somehow deciding it should be forgotten would make it worse. The prick of needles. The silence that eventually forced the nurses to make small talk. Where are you from? What are you studying? The silence during that just let them go through the procedure. The tensing and pressure of the holes in the ceiling, just like any other suspended ceiling in an office but I stared at the panels all the same. The passing of hands between the table next to me, one instrument and another, metal going red. “You did really well.” “She did really well.” Signing, walking, sitting, and trying to release the tense shaking of my body on the way home. It was all easier than I thought it would’ve been. It was all over and done with faster than planned, and the signs of it stopped coming out of me before the week was up.
One of my cousin’s kids was born the same day I had the abortion, and pretty soon the postcard announcement arrived in my mailbox and dropped on the coffee table. It rested there, getting buried and unburied and reminding me. Maybe it would’ve stopped if I hadn’t kept thinking of that day when I saw it. It was like a secret between me and their photo. Do you want to know what I did on the day you were born, little picture? The fact had to be hidden but not from that card.
The song “Friday” had just become a real viral hit the week before that date. I discovered I was pregnant on a Friday, and the song twisted. “Gotta get down on Friday,” looping through my head as I attempted to keep the weight from my chest. Now whenever it plays or anyone jokes about it, that week comes back, and the secret between me and the song has nowhere to go.
A week after I went to lunch with a dear friend. We’d connected previously over unplanned pregnancies. At lunch we spent over an hour with small talk, plans and past and classes and relationships. I don’t remember what led to it, but at some point I told her that I’d had the abortion a week ago that day. She gasped and nearly cried. “You’re kidding. I had one months ago, and I’ve been wanting to tell you.” In the middle of the crowded restaurant, we shared where we’d gone and what had gone wrong. One time, bad luck, bad timing, busy days. I told her about the machines and the painting. She told me about the frustration of having to wait the extra day because of a 24-hour form when she and her family were about to move. The waitress passed our table or stopped by with beers, families arrived nearby, others finished their meals and paid their checks, and we kept talking about the events and details that had been pressing unspoken on our tongues and mentioning who else we wished we could tell our stories to, wondering who else they might connect us to if we could let the words come out.
I sit in a room with fifty women sitting on hospital beds attached to ultrasounds. We’re all in gowns, and apart from me, everyone is pregnant. An instructor walks among us, navigating the three feet of space between each bed. “Now breathe deep and hold your hand against your stomach, as if holding your baby in.” Each back straightens and breaths are silently drawn. I place my hand against my stomach to find the skin’s gone taut and, looking down, I’m five months pregnant. As I join the other women in holding my baby in and breathing, the ultrasound kicks on and a picture of the fetus comes into focus. I watch it and breathe, the image stark and clear, a vhs video more than a grainy sonogram. Thoughts roll into reality the way they do in dreams, fog washing from cliffs to clarify what was always known underneath: I’ll have the baby in September. My boyfriend and I made it, and we’ll give it away in September. It sticks its tongue out, and I start to cry, bawl in the middle of the room. This warehouse of pregnant, breathing, sonogrammed women. I can’t do it again. Can’t give it away. Can’t breathe and hold it and sit up straight. Can’t watch and feel it move and give it away in September. But it’s too late to undo it, too late to not have it. For some reason I’d felt like I could give it away somewhere in the five months missing in the dream. So I cry, and the instructor continues to instruct, and with my hand on my stomach over the fetus’s image, I imagine life in September with my boyfriend and the baby, with all of us living together, and everything shifts. I hadn’t chosen a family yet. I could keep it. We could keep it, and it would be okay. Everything would be okay. Its tongue still sticks out between the lips of its unborn mouth. I feel warm, and I keep crying, but in a glow, in relief, in smiles and tongues and hands and bellies.
I wake up. My boyfriend lies next to me, and I squirm and feel my stomach, and it’s empty, but somehow still feels like it did in the dream, lacking just the taut skin and the image underneath. The warmth washes away, and I’m crying again as he breathes against my back, his arms wrapped around me, hands on my belly, holding me in. The dream had given me a child in September, then ripped it from my gut.
Both times I’ve been pregnant, I would have been due sometime around January. The first, coming to term early actually, but at just the right weight. The second evacuated before four weeks - before I’d even fully accepted I was pregnant the first time around - not even taking shape. My relationship with ultrasounds has changed along the way, from an uncomfortable instrument inserted into me to find the spindly form and determine the weeks: seven. To images a week further along with a nurse congratulating me and my mother gasping in excitement - How much better the images are than from when I was pregnant with you! - while my own heart nervously accepted them but still telling the nurse we weren’t sure if we needed another appointment. To images that show her sex for the first time, images I sometimes hang on my wall and that I sent to the adoptive family - their inquisitive responses when they didn’t see the font on the images proclaiming, “It’s a girl!” To fluttering images and beating sounds that told me she was still growing inside me when my fingers were drenched in blood. To a minuscule circle state regulations demanded be seen before the abortion. To simple confirmation that the t-shaped piece of copper that I’ve inserted to take control of my fertility is resting correctly. To vivid proof in dreams of life that will start in September.
Now when I hang the series of images that declare her sex up on my wall, the black and white paper my cats bat, it reminds me more of the abortion than of her spindly forming form or her kicking mass beneath my skin. When they did the check up after inserting the IUD, I felt sinking waves as I watched the screen in front of me, the set-up the same as it had been through both pregnancies. I watched the screen up on the wall focus in on the T, just as my mother and I stared in awe at the potential limbs being found in obscuring amniotic fluid. But I didn’t think of her. I didn’t feel how I did when she was kicking me, or even feel loss that she wasn’t mine. I felt the sink of the unnecessary machines finding that circle inside me before taking it out.
Kansas is one of the seven states that requires abortion providers to perform a sonogram and offer to show the woman the image, one of twenty that “regulate the provision of ultrasound by abortion providers,” even though ultrasounds are “not considered medically necessary” for first-trimester abortions. I remember declining to view the image, “No, that’s okay,” but I remember the woman in the small flower-papered room telling me as she searched, “Oh yes, you’re barely pregnant, less than six weeks, probably four. Just a little circle,” and I caught a glance of the image on the small screen. I couldn’t help it. What does that small circle look like. Maybe I asked then when she said it, “Oh, well, actually, can I see?” And looking, wow, yes, barely a thing. Amplified by the machine.
The room was for imaging, and nothing else. I went into it alone, scooting up on the table and waiting, watching the ultrasound as though it might yell at me, fearing what it would show me, remembering images of her.
Aid centers for pregnant women who want help and information offer a medical pregnancy test, and a follow-up sonogram. Let’s concrete the reality that you’re pregnant first, show you what’s inside of you, connect it as much as possible to a living thing, an actual being, certainly not a clump of cells barely differing from what you hold in you every month. I’ve never been to one of these places. I can’t really say. However, one was situated conveniently across the road from the second abortion clinic I went to, offering help and advice.
When I was first pregnant, I made an appointment at the abortion clinic. But then when I decided I needed more time and wasn’t sure, my parents and I tried to set up an appointment with an OB-GYN at a hospital, to get everything checked out, but they were busy for too long, weeks that couldn’t be wasted. I wanted a place to go to that could do everything, could give me information, could tell me what I needed to know, tell me my options, offer me an abortion, or offer me prenatal care, and then keep caring for me after, help me better understand and control my fertility. The secluded building with its small rooms - no matter how hard the staff tried to break this association - carried with it a feeling of isolation, of being cast out. We were forced into small rooms because the big ones wouldn’t take us, because there was something wrong with us, because we should be hidden. Because we should hide.
I spent a good part of a day in that building, moving around in the shabby small rooms, shuffling self-consciously with other women, but never sharing with them a single word. I hid that day from everyone around me. I emailed in sick to work. I emailed in sick to class. I disappeared, but the circle of cells was given clear form.
The experience of seeing them claims a fresher part of my memory than the day I found out she was a girl, than the times I watched her kicking inside me.
The regulations are in place so that a woman going to abort will connect the procedure to machines automatically associated with birth, but now fuzzy images of a fetus that evolved into a walking, laughing child, make me think of small circles in dark, hidden rooms.