Today the Supreme Court struck down mendacious and cruel restrictions on abortions in Texas. In honor of that decision, and on the eve of having our second child, our son, let me tell you about the one we decided not to have.
We were 22, and seniors in college. I was on birth control, but, who knows? Maybe I missed a pill. Maybe it failed, as it sometimes does. What I knew was that my period was late. So I bought a pregnancy test, blushing. I went to Bryan’s apartment and took it. It was positive. I sat in his yard-sale arm chair and waited for him to come home, so we could talk about what to do.
Not much time passed before I realized I knew. We had talked about it hypothetically, and our opinions were pretty clear: we couldn’t have a KID, we WERE kids. So I figured I’d just do a little internet browsing for clinics, and then, oh, there’s one right there, and then, oh, why not just make an appointment? So when he got home, I told him I was pregnant, and that I’d scheduled an abortion. And we sat with that, and it was right.
My appointment was two or three weeks later, at a clinic that is one of the 18 still open in Texas, right on the edge of our current neighborhood. It was February 1, 2003. On the TVs in the waiting room, we watched the space shuttle Columbia disintegrate as it tried to land.
I think we were just there once. I think this was before multiple appointments and counseling with false information and 24-hour waiting periods were required. I know it was before the state mandated that staff perform an ultrasound and force women to look at the screen as it’s described. But I asked to look anyway. I wanted to see, wanted to fully experience and own what I was doing. I remember a tiny lump, about 8 weeks along, that I felt no connection to.
The procedure hurt. They gave me nitrous oxide, which didn’t seem to help, and I squeezed the hell out of a nurse’s hand, looking up from the table at a picture of a landscape on the ceiling. When it was over, I spent an hour or so with other women, in arm chairs in the recovery room. Then Bryan took me home. I felt relieved. Relieved is all I’ve ever felt about it. For years I’d do the math in September: our kid would be 4 now; 7 now; starting middle school now. I didn’t want to forget, but I still felt just relief.
I never imagined I would tell my parents about it, let alone write about it on a public website. For years I didn’t tell anyone at all, and then only a very small group of very close female friends. Not because I felt bad about my decision. I neither regretted it nor felt I’d done something wrong. There was no guilt, but there was the chance of shame, the awareness that other people might feel like I made a bad decision. Why invite anyone else’s judgement on something so personal?
Now I understand why. It’s so that the 30% of women who have abortions are not faceless, not reckless sluts or people who belong to someone else’s family, or class, or race. It’s so our story isn’t left to the people who would shame us, so that a wider group is forced to reckon with the trade-offs.
What would have happened after college if, instead of adventuring off to Teach for America in California, I’d stayed in Texas and had a baby? If, instead of getting to realize that we were perfect partners and deciding to live our lives together, Bryan and I had been yoked to each other by an incredible responsibility we were not ready for? Instead of deciding to start a family at 34, we’d accidented into one at 22?
I don’t know. But I sure don’t regret the life we’ve had for the last 13 years, and I sure don’t regret the one we chose not to start. Everyone should have that chance to choose.