It was my junior year of college. I was completely in love and actually living with my (then) boyfriend, Chris. We had officially moved away from the seemingly typical shacking-it-up college couple and were actually playing house. We split the bills and every night I made us dinner. We had made the decision that down the line a sparkly ring, white dress and penguin suit were in our future. A baby fit perfectly into that little dream—later.
Never in a million years did I think going to the doctor over Christmas break for a stomachache would mean finding out I was pregnant. Until reality came into play.
We were poor.
Still in college.
Not exactly how I pictured my life—especially not with a baby. But I had a decision to make.
I was a practicing Catholic—I had been raised Catholic and had attended Catholic school for most of my life. The “a” word was not something we did. The “a” word was not something that was even a part of the conversation. But could I really be a mother before I turned 21? I was already playing house, so how much harder could adding a baby be? I was able to keep our puppy happy and healthy; I babysat a ton in high school and college, so I wasn’t scared of children. I loved kids, in fact! I knew I could do it. But there was that small voice in the pit of my gut, the one that always seems to say, “What should you really be doing?” My pre-“a”-word mind was constantly saying, “No, don’t even log onto Rue La La, you’re broke.” But things had changed: this time it was saying, “Yes, you’d make it work and be an excellent mother. But are you really, really sure you want to do this? Are you really, really, sure you are prepared?” At this point, I knew I was going to struggle; I felt so selfish. I wasn’t worried about what my sorority sisters would say, or my friends back home, or even my professors. I struggled with what I would tell my baby, if I kept it, about how it came into this world. This was such a charged situation for both Chris and me. We both struggled. We wanted to be independent, but at the same time we wanted to be kids. We wanted to be grown-ups, but I wanted to fully celebrate turning 21 and drinking 21 shots and trying to not puke all over my best friend.
Having a baby at our age would have meant taking a lot of help from others. I think Chris was too proud to let that happen. I knew my parents would help me raise the baby; they would offer emotional and financial support. I knew Chris and I could really do it, if we had to. Chris and I would get married and his parents would help out as well. He was about to graduate from college, so he could get a job quickly, and we could make it work. But, the question became, did we really have to? I, myself, always said I’d never have an abortion, yet there I was, discussing the possibility of one with Chris, every single day.
Since he was raised in a good Catholic family like me, we decided to give ourselves a month before we told our families. Give ourselves time to process. To fight. Freak out. Be happy. Be sad. Make a decision.
During that month, my thoughts drowned me. I couldn’t focus on my sister, married, age 30, desperately trying to get pregnant. I couldn’t focus on the lessons that the Church had beaten into me for years. I couldn’t focus on any of that. So instead I ate chicken queso burritos and thought irrationally. I looked at baby clothes online. I read abortion support group forums.
Chris dealt with it privately. He never really shared his thoughts with me. He simply said, “I support you 100 percent either way. It’s not my body, it’s not fully my choice.” I knew he was a solid man. I knew, from watching him with our dog and the children we knew, that he would be a good father. His father had taught him well. But I also knew he wasn’t ready; he, too, wanted to simply be 22, wild and free.
One of the biggest questions that plagued both Chris and me was how this had happened. I have been on birth control pills since shortly after starting my period at age 15. I would have menstrual pain so bad that I have a prescription for muscle relaxers. I would not be able to get out of bed on rough days during my flow. So I went on birth control at a young age to regulate those issues. But, somehow, I got pregnant. According to my gynecologist, when my family’s insurance starting only covering the generic brand of pills, my hormones fluctuated too much. Generic medication, for some women, doesn’t work. He informed me that I wasn’t the first he’d seen get pregnant while on a generic. Since then I demand, and pay extra, for name brand pills.
My best friend’s parents were one year younger than I was when they got pregnant. That always seemed to make its way into my mind. “What if I abort someone’s best friend?” Every time I saw, texted or called her when I was pregnant, I thought about that. I know that sounds ridiculous because I was pregnant with my baby. But for some reason, I was able to separate that part out. I was able to think of the baby as not yet my baby, or on some days, not even a baby at all. Except when I was around my best friend. Around my best friend, the baby was someone’s best friend. The baby was just like her: a “mistake.” Except my best friend was no mistake. She is a wonderful girl, college graduate and gainfully employed. I would think about her mother a lot. I thought about seeking out her advice on the situation, but never did. How would I feel if she wasn’t my best friend because 20 years ago, her parents, ages 18 and 19, did what I was considering? To this day, I’ve yet to tell her. I don’t think I ever will. In the end, the way I rationalized it, it was my business, and it would stay my business.
At almost nine weeks, I made my decision. It wasn’t some big dramatic fight between Chris and I. We didn’t even really talk about it. I woke up one morning, very early. I woke him up and just looked at him. He knew, without me saying a word. I don’t think I ever actually said to him the sentence. I think it was just understood. We were going to have a termination. I made a promise to myself that I would not cry after it happened. I would let my life go on, keep my head on straight. I chose to have the in-clinic procedure, as it was less expensive and supposed to be less painful, than using the pills. The in-clinic procedure was also faster. Once Chris and I made the choice, I wanted it over as fast as possible. (I was also starting to have a lot of first trimester symptoms, like wicked morning sickness and cravings, specifically for Lay’s potato chips, in the yellow bag.)
I went in on a Friday morning and was released later that day. Chris was silent throughout the entire weekend. It took two to tango, as they say, and it was going to take two to turn off the music. And so he drove me there, as I had been drugged and couldn’t do it alone. There were no protestors outside. No scary crackheads in the lobby. Just a few other women, some with men, some not; some there for the same procedure as mine, some not, but we were all at a women’s clinic that specialized in terminations. Yet despite that solidarity, we were all quiet, minding our own business. I vividly remember one girl, flanked by an older woman and a girl around her age, sitting in the corner, sobbing. Everyone let her be, because on the inside, we all knew the exact pain she was feeling. I know I did. It’s the feeling that this is the best thing for you personally, but the nagging fear, that some might not understand, the fear that speaking out means getting called a name or ostracized. Having an abortion isn’t easy, it takes a strong person to survive it, and sometimes people don’t understand that.
I cried during the procedure, not because of what I was doing, but because it hurt so badly. I will spare the details, but let’s just say that was one of the most physically painful things I have ever endured. I had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and spent most of the weekend sick. I avoided talking to my parents for the duration of my pregnancy, and didn’t speak to them at all that weekend. Since it was obvious I was still having stomachaches, they were fine letting me be. Chris spoke with them and told them I was violently ill again, but he was taking good care of me. They didn’t question it. Keeping this from them killed me.
As every good Southern girl knows, your parents are some of your best friends. Not sharing this with my Momma still eats at me. I know she would have not judged and would have done everything I needed her to, pre- and post-op. But this was my mess, my situation, my issue, and I was going to handle it on my own. Chris paid for our termination in full. I tried to brush it off and get him to laugh by saying, “At least this is cheaper than 18 years of private schools!” (He didn’t find it funny. I went in the bathroom after and cried.) He didn’t really talk to me much that Friday. Saturday he only kept repeating, “I love you,” over and over. Looking back, I wonder if it was to reassure himself or me. Monday morning, I showered, dressed, and went to class.
Life went on, slowly, but surely. Three weeks later, I turned 21.
To this day, I can count on one hand the number of people that know I was once pregnant. I don’t stay silent because I am afraid to tell my story, afraid of what people might think. Instead, I stay silent because it was a tough, personal decision I made. No one made the decision for me; I cannot go back and change it. Even if I could, I would make the same choice. Having an abortion only defined me for a short amount of time.
Never in a million years did I think I would ever want to have sex again. But I got over it. I kept my promise to myself; I let my life go on. It took Chris and me a long while before we were back to “normal,” and it took us both even longer to desire sex again. In fact, the first time he tried after the procedure, I burst into tears. I don’t think Chris ever really recovered from it. Not because he was personally against it, but because, he, as I, was raised to be a good Catholic Southerner. Good Catholic Southerners don’t have abortions. I know our relationship never recovered; I also don’t think he ever looked at me the same. He moved out of our apartment that summer when we ended our relationship. I haven’t spoken to him in over two years.
I wish him all the best in life. I will forever remember him, not just as my college boyfriend, but as the man that stood behind me during one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made in my life. Maybe one day I will tell my parents what I did. Maybe one day. The biggest question I have unanswered is whether I will tell the man I marry. I have dated since the abortion and the breakup, just as I have had sex since the abortion. I have not told any of the men I’ve dated. A three-month relationship just doesn’t seem like it’s substantive enough. Maybe, just maybe, Prince Charming will come, and I’ll find myself telling him. For now, I just smile and always remember January 15, 2010 as a day I forever changed. If it weren’t for my abortion that cold January day, I wouldn’t have the inner strength I do now. I smile not because I don’t have a toddler right now; I smile because it taught me a lot about my inner strength and myself. I am a lot of things; this is just a small piece of the whole pie.
On dark days, I think about what my child would be like today. I imagine a precocious little girl with my hair and his smile, playing with her cousins. I can’t think about that too much because what’s done is done. I have made a great life for myself and wouldn’t change a thing. I think the baby would be proud of the things I’ve accomplished.
The day my child would have been born, I took myself out to the nicest restaurant in our town, drank way too much and had dessert. I said a rosary before bed, and I thanked my little experience for turning me off Lay’s potato chips in the yellow bag, forever. My outlook on pregnancy hasn’t changed, not because of what I went through, or what my sisters have gone through during their experiences with my nieces and nephews. I’m still hopeful that Prince Charming and I will have a family, one day. When the time is right.
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