Intimate partner abuse does not always look like it does on TV. It is not always people who have been drinking or who punch their spouse on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s not confined to a lower socio-economic bracket. Abuse can be a quiet threat, as it was for me, a few years ago on March 17.
I got married young and the wedding was hastily planned, so it was assumed I was pregnant. When a friend’s mom asked me outright and I denied being pregnant, she made me promise I would finish college before having kids. I promised, and my husband heartily agreed. We had plans for our lives and didn’t want kids until we were ready.
On top of our decision, my in-laws frequently told me how children would disrupt our lives and we would be better off never having children. My mom helpfully pointed out that having me ruined her relationship with my dad. With encouragement like this, it was no hardship to put off kids until after college.
After college, we delayed kids again for my husband to go to grad school. Then post-grad. Eventually we started enjoying the benefits of all his schooling. We bought a house and started decorating it with new furniture instead of hand-me-downs. Still no kids, and to be honest, I was ambivalent about the idea.
One St. Patrick’s Day the decision to have children was taken out of my hands.
My husband and I were with his siblings, their spouses, and his parents in a beach town on the coast. We had come together to celebrate a big family milestone. It rained constantly that week, and we spent a lot of time together in the large rented vacation house. After a few days being with relatives, my husband and I were stir crazy and braved the rain to find a good spot for lunch. We wandered around the small downtown, finally settling on a restaurant that looked good. It was decorated in dark paneling and with the gloomy day, the interior was dark, intimate and quiet.
Somehow, we started talking about children. I don’t know how the subject started, but I remember I said that if I got pregnant accidentally, I would want to have the child, that we were in a privileged position and could give a child a good life. “Even if an amniocentesis showed that the child might have Down Syndrome?” my husband asked. It was a valid question as we were both getting older and therefore my eggs were “old,” as my husband liked to remind me. I am fiercely pro-choice but I believed that our situation in life would make it morally wrong to terminate a pregnancy unless the fetus was non-viable, or my life was in danger. My husband laughed and said:
“It doesn’t matter; if you get pregnant I will just bring home a shot and give it to you while you are sleeping. You’ll abort.”
What a ridiculous statement, right? Except — he is a physician. A physician who delivered babies and had performed abortions.
I was stunned. I felt cold all over, sick to my stomach. Coupled with the fact my husband was already violent toward me at night, I believed his threat. Without a doubt I knew he was capable of this violence.
I swallowed my sick feelings and finished the meal quietly. We walked back to the rented vacation house in silence, my husband not even remarking upon my lack of conversation.
When we arrived back to the house, his parents gathered us all together in order to tell us the story behind the event we were celebrating. I quietly snuck upstairs to our bedroom and sobbed into a pillow for hours while the rest of the family celebrated downstairs. I fell asleep at some point and didn’t hear my husband come into the room.
The next morning I woke up with my eyes swollen and my husband remarked on my appearance. I brushed it off and he asked no further questions. Later that day he again noticed my withdrawal and asked if something was bothering me. I broke down in tears and told him that I was upset about his remark. He looked at me, told me he was joking and that I should have known that.
He didn’t sound like he was joking. He didn’t apologize for saying such an abhorrent thing.
However, he did get a vasectomy soon after we got home from that vacation.
Intimate partner abuse takes many forms. For years I did not realize that these types of threats constituted abuse and I stayed with my husband for far too long. Every St. Patrick’s Day, I think about the type of person who could “joke” about aborting his child against his wife’s will. I am so happy that I got out.