I’ve been writing these words in my head for a long time. I wanted to tell you an eloquent story, one that felt complete, based on an experience that felt resolved. But as with any kind of heartbreak, I’m not sure real resolution is entirely possible. I wanted to tell you about how, in January, I met a boy with a deep voice and sweet lips; about how I fell in love with him in moments that, looking back, feel like a dream. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about this — about nights spent in dimly lit bars, about learning how to sleep next to each other as we spilled secrets beneath the sheets. I’ll tell you how it felt to remember how to love myself, and how it felt to let that love extend outward. But right now I need to tell you that two months into our relationship, I found out I was pregnant, and four days after that, I had an abortion.
I need to tell you this because being a woman is a blessing but also a burden in that we’re required to fight to maintain ownership of our existence. Because our voices are too often ignored, our bodies too often objectified, and our futures too often found in the hands of people who don’t consider us, who ultimately don’t care about us.
For complex and extensive reasons, unplanned pregnancies happen, and for complex and extensive reasons, an abortion might be the only available response. It was for me, and as a small contribution to a complicated but essential conversation, I’m hoping to articulate why. Because I’ve always believed in a woman’s right to choose, but until I experienced it, I didn’t understand what making that choice would entail.
For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a mother. As a toddler, I breastfed my Barbies. As a teenager, I romanticized young motherhood, watching through glass screens as girls my age embarked on the journey I so badly longed for.
I had imagined getting pregnant many times before: the joy, the fear, the excitement, the mutual celebration of a miracle shared with another person. But when faced with two positive symbols on two different tests the night before a snowstorm was meant to hit the city, I was alone, and the only familiar feeling I found was fear. Fear mixed with shame, regret and dread. Feelings rooted so deeply in reality they seemed impossible to escape. It didn’t feel right to even try. I could say I had no reason to expect it, but my period was seven days late, and looking back, I know there were moments in which I let passion precede logic.
The next morning, the snow had started and wasn’t expected to stop for a long time. It was the first of three days I would spend outside of my mind and the usual parameters it operates within. At work, I sent a text to the deep-voiced-sweet-lipped boy I barely knew asking if he would come over that night, that it was important. He agreed, and innocently attempted to return the conversation to our impending plans of snowboarding that weekend. Our would-be first adventure.
That night, I placed the tests in a small embroidered pouch as I waited for him to arrive. Not to hide them, but because it felt likely that I wouldn’t be able to get the words out, and would instead need to hand him the pouch and make him say them for me.
We sat on my bed, the space between us thick with nerves, my brain flashing blanks like it was gasping for air. And then I said it, calmly and clearly: I’m pregnant. I waited for him to say something, knees to my chest, head in outer space. I silently assumed this would be the beginning of the end. He asked a couple quiet questions, the same ones I had spent the last 24 hours asking myself, like how we could have let this happen. Then he took a deep breath and he told me he loved me.
How could we have let this happen? I told him there was no point in trying to place the blame, but I absorbed it anyway: It was my cycle to track, my rules to enforce, my womb to protect. I know better than this, both then and now, but I felt the weight of the responsibility that rests so strictly on the shoulders of women. When it comes to pregnancy, to what accountability do we hold men? Under what microscope do we scrutinize their actions? Do we condemn their choices like we do when women choose to steer their own lives?
It was never a clear decision for me. I cautiously considered taking on the role of mother, but the more I did, the more unfamiliar my body became. I couldn’t comprehend the complexities, couldn’t imagine my stomach growing and all of the experiences that would follow. I was a stranger in my skin.
A few months earlier, I had quit my job to pursue a freelance opportunity, and while I was paying my bills (often just barely), I didn’t have health insurance, I didn’t have stability, I didn’t have a plan for having a child join me. A list of dormant goals flooded my brain, bringing with it the panic of finding a neglected to-do list. But in my mind, the love I imagined having for any future baby made sacrifice seem easy, it outweighed all of the foreseeable challenges. All of them, of course, except the logical ones.
I fought those logistics over and over again, throwing them against the wall. I considered the costs with no insurance, no stable salary, no promise that my new career would work out. I considered my student loans and the reality of carrying all of this on my own, because the only other person involved had his own choice to make, regardless of mine. I knew this, and I faced it head on it, at times to my own surprise. Amid all of the uncertainty, I knew that I didn’t want to start this chapter of my life, start the chapter of a child’s life, in a deficit.
We arrived at Planned Parenthood that Saturday morning. The snow had melted by then and though it was early, the sun felt warm. I would spend the next six hours facing, and fighting, the decision I was there to see through. Six hours in the care of some of the kindest, most honest and nonjudgemental people I’d ever encountered. Strangers offered each other tissues; doctors and nurses distracted me from needles as they answered my questions clearly and matter of factly. I spent an hour with a social worker who talked me through every impulse I had. She offered to cancel a meeting to stay with me until the last moment she could. I declined, but awoke from anesthesia not much later to see her walking into the room. I thanked her with words that could never accurately convey my appreciation.
I’ve long believed the right decision is often the hardest to make. I have days (sometimes moments, hours) when I fight the one I chose, when the emptiness feels deep and pervasive. I look at pregnant bellies on the subway with admiration but also with anguish. I wonder if I’d have made the same decision had I known my freelance gig would turn into a full-time job, like it did, or that I’d keep loving that deep-voiced-sweet-lipped boy, like I do. I keep myself busy and my body active because doing so helps me heal, but also because I’m terrified to feel like I’ve let my decision go to waste.
I also have days (sometimes moments, hours) where I’m comforted knowing I made the right choice. I go to therapy to understand my experiences and manage my anxieties and I’m grateful I can prioritize this. When I cut my hand doing the dishes in July, it cost nearly $10,000 for five stitches in the ER without insurance (and before a generous hospital adjustment). It was a reminder that our system is deeply flawed, that access to affordable prenatal care would have been one of the many hurdles the people working to restrict our right to safe abortions would never help us overcome.
For the four days I knew I was pregnant, I searched desperately, almost manically, for a story I could relate to, one that would offer an understanding. I eventually found it, and while in some ways it was too late, finally reading it felt like an embrace. I wasn’t alone, nor was I wrong. Not for the choice I made nor for the conflicting feelings that came with it.
I’ve been writing these words in my head for a long time, but I still don’t know if they are the right ones. I know that my white skin and socioeconomic status provide a privilege in both my everyday life and in the way in which I was able to maneuver this experience: the access, support, space, and tools I needed to survive, all while facing less judgment than others likely do. I know that in the terrifying and dangerous possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned, I am still twice as likely to have a safe pregnancy and to have my infant survive birth than black women are. I know that I’ve barely skimmed the surface.
I needed to tell you this because we deserve this dialogue. Because feeling safe while seeking health care should be nothing short of a guarantee. Because I’m sad but I’m not ashamed. Because whatever reason a woman has in deciding against having a child is valid. It is subjective and it is significant. It affects no one outside of myself, my life, my body — and to an extent those of my partner — that I decided to not grow that embryo into a child. People who point their fingers, void of empathy, seem to forget this.
Having the ability to conceive, carry and deliver children is an extraordinary gift; I often have a hard time wrapping my head around the miracle of it all. It’s also an unbelievable weight we feel every month, and it grows heavier with every stigma, stereotype, assault, narrative and restriction imposed on our bodies.
Two months after all was said and done, when the warmth of the sun had come to stay, I found the small embroidered pouch under my bed, where it had fallen that snowy night. Reluctant to open it but even more so to keep it any longer, I tipped its contents into my hand, clenching the two plastic sticks tightly in my fist as I walked towards the garbage. Before I got there, I stopped to take a final look at them, the last tangible piece of evidence that any of this happened, the only evidence that existed outside of me. On one, the two pink lines had faded to white, and on the other, the message that once read “YES+” had disappeared.
Natalie is a Brooklyn based writer who makes money penning copy for brands, and makes friends by oversharing on the Internet. She likes drinks, dogs, and the Oxford comma.
Illustrations by Ana Leovy.