I was 19 years old.
My boyfriend was attending college in southern Colorado. We had only been dating since the summer before, and then he left for school.
We wrote often and called when we could afford it (this was back when they charged you for long-distance phone calls). He played bass guitar. He used my eyeliner. He wore my feather earrings. He was, to me, extremely cool.
It was a seven-hour drive through the mountains over Wolf Creek Pass to visit him. I would make the drive with his two best friends in my silver Toyota Corolla hatchback. Many times, we hit bad snowstorms on the way; many times, we were pulled out and up the pass by a kind stranger who took pity on a teenage girl in love.
Actually, it wasn’t love. It was more lust than love. We would rent a room at Howard Johnson’s for the weekend because it was cheap. His friends would leave us alone for a couple of hours, and then after, we’d usually go out and get drunk somewhere while smoking some pot.
I was careful. I took the birth control pill. I rarely missed a day. I never missed a day when I was sexually active.
It was spring. It had been over a month since we had spent time together. The letters from him arrived less frequently, and mine ebbed as well. Then it happened. I missed my period. My breasts ached. I waited, hoping it would just go away on its own. It didn’t. Month two and no period. Over-the-counter pregnancy test.
An appointment with Planned Parenthood followed. It was confirmed. I was pregnant.
Before I continue, I must go back. Back 20 years earlier, when a woman in Michigan became pregnant as she was trying to divorce her husband. He was a truck driver; she was a nurse. She already had a toddler, and adding a baby to the equation must have seemed more than she could handle. She gave birth to a little girl and gave her up for adoption. The child lived in an orphanage run by the Children’s Aid Society for a few months until a woman and her husband found her.
The woman was my adopted mother, and the baby was me.
My mom had tried to have a baby but just had a string of miscarriages, all of which left her empty and ashamed. She finally convinced my dad they should adopt, so they found me. I was loved by my mom but not smothered. We were meant to be a family. My birth mother gave my adopted mother a wonderful gift: a life to grow in her heart.
Fast forward 20 years, and here is this child, me, carrying one of her own. I was drinking alcohol a lot, experimenting with drugs—in full rebellion from my mother, who wanted to protect me from it all. I was selfish; I didn’t want to be pregnant; I didn’t want to give birth.
I also didn’t want an abortion.
Planned Parenthood provided me with unbiased counseling, but I still felt pulled in two directions.
Do I, or don’t I?
The protestors in front of the building made sure I understood their point, with no compassion, no effort to understand, and no willingness to see the pain in this decision. They seemed to find joy in shaming me as I quickly walked to and from my appointments, pushing the fingers out of my face and holding my hands over my ears to muffle their verbal cruelty.
They referred me to a doctor in town who performed abortions. He was the only one.
The call with the boyfriend did not go well. It became my problem, not his. I could not talk to my mother about it either. She would not have understood, and the thought of “I told you so” being thrown at me was something I wanted to avoid. I handled it—with the help of my friends. I borrowed money from everyone and anyone. A note was written to them, a list was kept by me, and I finally had enough money.
The appointment was scheduled.
It was raining that spring day and cool. My friend drove me and waited outside for me. I was led into a basement, dimly lit and cold. I undressed and donned the obligatory paper gown and laid on the metal table. A few moments later, an IV was inserted in my arm with valium. There I was for what seemed like hours. I was so cold. The table was so cold. There wasn’t much light. I was so scared. Nobody was around. I tried to crawl off the table but was so drugged I rolled off like a walrus onto the floor with a slap of skin to cement. I laid there and waited. Questions came and went through my mind. I still had time to change my decision.
Finally, a nurse came in and scolded me. I was too drugged to protest much as I cried silently and shivered. The doctor came in and was not kind nor gentle. Then I heard what sounded like a shop vac, picking up something wet off the floor. I then realized it was sucking a life out of me. I wept for it and for the horrible me that I was. I was ashamed of myself.
Physically I recovered in a day. Those who had lent me money were repaid over time. The reckless behavior continued with alcohol and drugs. I still wept with shame and guilt when I was alone.
On my 21st birthday, my Mom took me to lunch. She asked about my life and how I was living it. I told her everything, including the abortion. Once the word abortion came out of my mouth, it just hung there above the table like a dark cloud. She could not understand. She had never been able to carry a baby, and I never even gave myself the chance to do so.
A few years later and a few bad relationships later, we talked again, more like friends than a mother and daughter. She forgave me and understood why I chose abortion rather than adoption. She did not agree with my decision but respected me enough to support me.
I continue to struggle with shame. I was not reckless. I thought I was protecting myself. I was the one percent who the pill failed. It was not an easy decision. It was the only thing I thought I could do at that moment in time. The thought of having an unhealthy baby, a baby who would struggle for reasons it had nothing to do with, was unbearable. I was too selfish to give up the lifestyle I was living.
As women, we should all have the right to make decisions about our bodies. We don’t all have to agree with abortion, but we need to have the right to do it. We need more than six weeks (Texas) to make that decision. It doesn’t matter the circumstances. We reserve the right to decide for ourselves.
If this happened later in life, would I have made the same decision? Yes.
Would I have made the same decision? No.
But I deserve time to make that decision for myself. Do I still weep for the life I ended? You bet. Even 35 years later.
Shame is thrown about so easily in our society. Rather than shame each other, let us support each other in whatever decision is made.
Compassion, love, and kindness always.