My Decision To Have An Abortion Was Complicated
Here's what I want everyone to know.
I spent Mother’s Day in Washington, D.C., in front of the Supreme Court. My two kids were with me, it was my son’s 2nd birthday; we drove six hours from Cleveland to be there. It was windy and barely 50 degrees. Protestors had dwindled from nearly 2,000 earlier in the week to about 100, with many coming and going.
The subdued affair had been forced back, with barricades blocking the steps to the iconic building. A young woman in a black beret and red lipstick was leading the protest with a green megaphone. The crowd echoed her call and response cries, holding signs: “Pro-life is a lie, they don’t care that people die” and “ My body, my choice!” After nap time, parents showed up with their young ones; later, protestors rallied in front of the homes of Supreme Court Justices in Maryland and Virginia.
I knew this day was coming, like other pro-choice people. Overturning Roe v. Wade is the culmination of generations of organizing by the right wing; when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September 2020 and Donald Trump replaced her with Amy Coney Barrett, it was clear that soon the anti-choice side would have the superior numbers on the Supreme Court and it was merely a matter of time. When SCOTUS agreed to hear the state of Mississippi’s appeal in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the clock ticked even louder.
And so when the draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s decision leaked, I wasn’t surprised — but I was livid.
Frustrated but wary, I’d assumed it was maybe an error or hopeful fan-fiction written by Alito. After all, the case wasn’t technically over. Then I read more about the laws that Roe v. Wade set precedent for, listened as more statesmen started drafting rules against abortion and contraception, and watched footage from LA as Homeland Security turned a peaceful protest violent on May 3.
Anger did not even begin to describe the turmoil that built in me. Because — not that long ago — I had an abortion.
In 2017, I was living in Hawaii with my future children’s father. We had been using protection successfully for about four years when I realized I’d missed a pill. I took Plan B and soldiered on. A few weeks later, I realized my period never came, but that wasn’t unusual. I have endometriosis, and I was used to my periods being somewhat irregular.
I bought a cheap pregnancy test from Walmart and took it home, not expecting anything. I hadn’t even finished wiping when the little pink lines showed up and my heart dropped to the floor. My toes curled in the blue carpet of the bathroom rug. I had no idea how far along I was. I had a few drinks the week before and I had been in bed taking over-the-counter extra-strength cold medicine and prescription steroids for a sinus infection the past several days.
That evening, I mustered up the courage to tell the father. Despite four years together, we had been fighting hard for the last few months. He refused to look at me as I told him the news of the pregnancy. The next day, he went with me to the doctor and we found out I was 8 weeks pregnant with twins. We weren’t in the best financial situation, and I was advised to sign up for WIC, making it the first time I needed public assistance. I was becoming every stereotype, an unmarried and unexpectedly pregnant black woman on welfare.
But, deeper than that, I could feel something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like myself. My OBGYN brushed it off, but in just one week I lost over 10 pounds. As the father and I struggled to figure out what was wrong and then the right medication I might need, it became clear I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the pregnancy alive.
Day and night, I was plagued by intrusive suicidal thoughts caused by the rush of the increasingly exponential hormones flooding my brain. I became someone I didn’t recognize. I moved in a haze and couldn’t make myself eat. I was constantly nauseated and I found myself searching for ways to end my life. I had never been depressed like this before. I also had always wanted to be a mom but now, while working in a school, I hated the noises children made.
As every day passed, the voice in my head telling me to end my life got louder and louder.
We found out later, after the termination, that this was called perinatal depression, that lingering symptoms would fade as the hormones decreased after I was no longer pregnant. We learned that this mood issue could come with psychosis.
At the time of the pregnancy, a psychiatrist did try to to treat me for depression, but I quickly maxed out on the medication with no relief from symptoms. Healthcare providers also treated me like it was situational depression caused by an unexpected pregnancy and did not take it seriously when I said it was getting worse. Our town did not have a comprehensive psychiatric unit at the hospital either.
By 10 weeks, we chose to terminate the pregnancy. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was one made out of necessity. We flew from our outer island to Oahu, because the only clinic in our town had a waiting period where I would have to be counseled and then wait another week or so.
On that table in that clinic, I cried and apologized to the twins for failing as a mother through the whole procedure. Afterward, I tearlessly ate banana bread in the clinic lobby. Then I laid near-comatose in the hotel room — and later our bedroom — for what felt like weeks. I was sent to do intensive outpatient therapy in the same city where I lost our twins — flown back and forth by my insurance because a program like that didn’t exist on our island. In Honolulu, I lit incense for our twins every day at the temple across the street from therapy.
It was during therapy that I learned that my condition had been preventable if I had been on the right medication from the start. We wouldn't have needed to lose our twins if we had had a doctor that had recognized the signs or someone to take me seriously at the start. (Hormones increase with pregnancy. With the twins, I had more hormones than usual but, apparently, my brain also responds to these hormones poorly. For some people, issues like depression are situational caused by the death of a loved one or losing a job. For others, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain.)
Now I know that my first pregnancy symptom is a voice that whispers in my head, telling me to end my life. This voice arrives before morning sickness or even a missed period. It has happened with my two other children, and I know right away what medication to get on and what support systems to call.
In fact, we left Hawaii in order to move to a place with better healthcare and a team of doctors that understood my condition in order to safely have our next two kids. Not everyone is so fortunate or privileged.
The thing is, after this — after all of this — I still support a woman’s right to choose. I am still pro-choice. It was my body. It is my body. I don’t think I will ever have another abortion, but I know that I would not have survived without that one. I know that so many women will not survive without one. I know that, for many, the decision is hard and painful. It is not something done lightly.
I love my kids, all of my kids. I always wanted to be a mom and I will always miss my twins. Right now, their ultrasound picture sits on our family altar. My decision was personal and complicated, but I made the most informed choice with the information I had at the time.
I know what it’s like having to cold call providers to ask if they did abortions like it was a fucking manicure or if they knew anyone that gave abortions was heartbreaking. Being told I had to wait after the decision had been made unendurable. For years, that charge for a hotel for my abortion sat on my credit card like a lurking reminder of how inept our healthcare system is for women.
I cannot imagine the cruelty that would come with possible prosecution and criminalization of a decision that is not always easy.
Undoubtedly my story will not change the minds of those men and women so determined to regulate my body like its another consumable item. But, maybe, it will add clarity from one mom to another why something like this is so important.