I remember exactly when I knew. I was hanging on the wide porch with my BFF. We were talking about girl stuff, and the conversation winded its way around to periods. I was clockwork, regular as a traffic light, 28 days. “I got mine …” I started counting. “Six weeks ago.”
Then, my stomach sunk and I knew.
I wouldn’t even say the words to myself, because even though I had to make it real, my mind shied away from it. I’d grown up very religious. And even though I no longer attended services, I still held a few things sacred. Life, itself, was sacred. Life was precious. It was important and beautiful and perfect.
I was 23 years old, a few days from graduating college. After that, I’d start graduate school, in the school of my choice, something I couldn’t delay without serious hassle and uncertainty. Something I couldn’t do alone, not with a child in tow. I lived hundreds of miles from family — family who would certainly throw me to the curb for getting knocked up out of wedlock, if I decided to keep it (and they would pressure me to keep it), or give it up. I would be the great Whore of Babylon.
Especially since I couldn’t exactly pinpoint who the father might be. There was more than one possibility, and I wasn’t comfortable playing eenie, meenie, minie, mo with something like paternity.
I knew, as soon as I knew about it, what I was going to do. I always knew I thought it was wrong. I also knew I didn’t care, because I wasn’t going to ruin the entire course I’d charted for my life, and I wasn’t open for the imagined misery this new one might hold, thank you very much.
So, I had an abortion.
The pain was excruciating. This wasn’t normal period cramps; this was like the time I miscarried later, when I woke in a puddle of blood to realize my baby had bled out of me in the night. I took a shower and watched the blood swirl down the drain. So much of it. It hurt so bad I doubled over and threw up.
And after the baby was gone, the guilt filled its empty space. It shaped itself to the child I didn’t want, the child whose coming inconvenienced me, and I carried it. For far longer than nine months, I carried it. I carried it alongside its brother and sister. I carried it as I watched them grow; I carry it still. You could call my terminated pregnancy my longest.
I know it was the right thing to do. I know that I would not be where I am today with that child. I would never have met my husband. I would have faced harder decisions at an earlier age, and I am in awe of the courage of women who do this on a daily basis. I know some of them. They are much stronger than me. I know this in my heart. I would not have the children I have now: I would not have their laughing faces, their warm cuddles, their sweetness and their light. I would have something else: a tween, now, begging for a phone.
I always imagined my baby as a boy. I gave him a name.
A name for something I love. A name for my punishment. I cannot have any more children now, and my husband and I long for one. I can’t shake the feeling that this child I let go is the reason why. This lack of fertility is my punishment for him. I could have had another child; I did not want him. I want more children now. Because of him, my heart tells me, I cannot have them.
This is my religious guilt speaking. This is my tit-for-tat, my holy roller sooner-or-later-gonna-cut-you-down. My heart says that God does not work that way. My head says that maybe He does.
I know I made the right choice, all those years ago, lonely and alone. I didn’t tell anyone, of course. I did it all by my lonesome. I went on to a brilliant school career, a wonderful career in my own right, an amazing husband and two beautiful children. I avoided what could have made me stronger. I also avoided what would have been hard, what would have been different, what would have been something I never would have wanted or asked for. I made the best choice with the best resources I had at the time.
And I did it. I had an abortion. I can say the word, sometimes, now. Look it in the face. I can mouth it, type it, admit it. But I cannot own it. The tangle is to great. My arms are too empty.