As if I Have a Choice

May 2000

Phoenix, AZ

“Go take the test,” my friend Tiffany says. We’re at my apartment with a couple other friends, tequila, margarita mix, and a pregnancy test. 

The last item is for me. 

I started seeing my brother Brandon’s friend Cole again. Cole has a five-year-old son. Brandon’s daughter is almost one, and all our friends are married with children. Everyone drinks, which gives me hope maybe I can have a family, too, if I can sober up again. 

“Let’s make margaritas first.” We just returned from walking my dogs, and I’m thirsty. I reach for the blender. 

“I second that.” Diane, a sleek brunette, winks at me. She doesn’t want to see me go into withdrawal again, like last week when she rushed me to the store for more vodka. I couldn’t have gotten there on my own. I could barely hold myself upright or keep from puking.  

As incapacitated as I am without alcohol, I can’t tolerate it anymore. My body is repulsed by it. I feel like a patient rejecting a transplanted organ. I’m a mad alchemist, always teetering between deathly ill and too drunk, clinging to life through the workweek and dying while drying out each weekend, only to succumb again on Monday so I won’t lose another job. 

“If she’s pregnant,” my friend Shirley drawls, “she can’t drink.” 

“Take the test.” Tiff presses the box against my chest. “That’s what we’re here for.” 

Tiffany, a street-smart platinum blond with big boobs, intimidates me, so I comply and pee on the stick. The four of us stand in a circle and wait.  

Diane strokes her ponytail—an unconscious motion that means she’s thinking of her kids. She recently lost custody because of her drinking. Every day she wears the pain behind bright lipstick and keeps it hidden until the fourth or fifth cocktail. 

“You’re pregnant,” she says after a few minutes.

Shirley’s been estranged from her grown children for years because of her alcoholism. A

Texan, she’s cried more tears over them than Texas has oil. And Tiffany suffered time away from her daughter while she was in jail. Alcoholism has broken all of their hearts and their children’s hearts. 

I’m thirty-four years old, steeped in booze, and pregnant. 

This changes everything. And nothing. I’ve never felt the ticking of any biological clock, but this could be my only chance to have a baby, something I don’t want to miss.

We make margaritas because we have to, and then go out to the pool. It’s a gorgeous spring day, not too hot, but hotter than the hottest days of summer elsewhere. The water is cold and feels fantastic. I imagine a baby in a bucket hat, wearing floaties around his arms, splashing, giggling, and loving me. Counting on me. 

“What are you going to do?” Tiffany grabs the edge of the pool and reaches for her margarita. She’s a good mom. Drinking doesn’t have to mean you suck as a mother. Tiffany

stayed sober for a while in AA. Maybe this baby could help me do the same.

I’ve always used birth control, so I wouldn’t be faced with a decision like this. I climb out of the water and sit, legs dangling in the pool, and slowly shake my head. “I can’t have an abortion.” I couldn’t live with myself. But I can’t have a baby if I can’t stay sober. I light a cigarette, knowing I’ll have to quit smoking. That I can do.

“You’re having a baby!” Diane clasps her hands chin-level with forced glee, the image of me doubled over in her car shaking and sweating the other morning likely still vivid in her mind. I needed alcohol so desperately I should have been in an ambulance. Diane had to go into the store for me. I couldn’t have done it to save my life. She knows that this isn’t only about staying

sober for nine months. 

“Congratulations,” Shirley says. “There’s nothing better in the world. Despite all the pain

I’ve had around my kids, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

“You’ll be fine,” Tiff agrees. “How do you think Cole will feel about it? Not that you need him.”

I shrug. Cole is wonderful. He’s been there for me since I landed here a decade ago. I love him and his son. So does Brandon. But I’ve never considered Cole anything more than a good friend with benefits. That’s why we don’t fight. I don’t have unrealistic expectations of him. Maybe we could be a family. 

I stand up, dive into the pool, and glide through the water, weightless, strong, capable. I can do this! I want to do this! I will stay sober long enough to have the baby. Maybe even longer.

I burst out of the water, feeling exhilarated and determined.

As if what I decide makes any difference.

As if I have a choice.


A nurse at the Acacia Women’s Clinic touches my shoulder, and I open my eyes. I’m in recovery, devastated and demoralized, lying between two other girls in a chair that seems more appropriate for a dentist’s office than an abortion clinic.

The lights are off, and the blinds are drawn against the cheeriness of the morning sun. The dimness is a blanket of shame covering all of us in the room. Our inability to meet each other’s eyes despite our shared experience leads me to believe none will ever recover. 

“Your boyfriend wants you to know he’s here,” the nurse whispers. “I told him you’ll be out in about thirty minutes.”

Cole said he would support me no matter what I decided. Still, when I told him I was having an abortion, I saw the hurt in his eyes. I thought he understood about my disease, but no.

No one does.

I wanted this baby and fought to the best of my ability for my right to be a mother but drying out wasn’t possible. I endured multiple rounds of severe withdrawal, promised every morning not to drink, but the compulsion had been overwhelming. I could’t help but drink and hated myself for it. 

Maybe if I were younger, if my disease hadn’t progressed so far, I could’ve stayed sober long enough to have the baby, but I couldn’t do it at this stage. Not alone, and Cole wasn’t

offering any help. 

Tiffany is the one who was there for me. She took me for an early sonogram and held my hand while we wondered at the little life stirring inside me. The tech who performed the sonogram said if I needed to terminate, she would make the arrangements for me. I noticed she said “needed” not “wanted,” as if she smelled who I was. 

I close my eyes again, trying to blot out the morning’s excruciating physical and emotional pain. I only drank a couple of ounces of vodka this morning, not enough to numb the horror of what I was doing, ease my hangover, or ward off withdrawal. And I didn’t mention my high tolerance, so I wasn’t given a sufficient dose of painkillers to dull the physical sensations of the life being yanked savagely from my womb. I felt every tug and tear.  

I feel heartbroken and ashamed, violated like when I was raped, but worse because I did this. The abortion wasn’t something I wanted any more than I wanted to be attacked, but I allowed it to happen. Both will haunt me, but the price of the abortion is heftier—the loss of life, of all the things that might have been. Having an abortion does not fit my self-image. My life doesn’t look like it’s supposed to look. This tragedy directly results from my drinking.  

When it’s time to go, I slink into the lobby, eager for Cole, who’s always accepted me, to brighten my mood. But the twinkle in his eyes and the sparkle of his smile are gone. He sees me and stands, a dark cloud in an already threatening sky. My heart sinks. His usual warmth is replaced with a coolness that makes me shiver.

“Are you ok?” he asks. I can’t tell whether he’s relieved or upset I had the abortion.

I nod and curl into him for shelter that isn’t there. The drive to his place is silent. I follow him inside, and he sets me up on the couch with a pillow and blanket, mixes me a whiskey and Diet Coke in the most oversized cup he can find. I gulp some down while he loads bong hits. His chocolate lab, Kodiak, plops down at my feet. 

Stoned and working on my second cocktail, the day and my life stretch meaningless before me.

“Can I make you some breakfast?” Cole asks with what I perceive as forced kindness.  

I shake my head. “You don’t have to be so gloomy. You got what you wanted.” 

“What I wanted?” He jumps up. “How can you say that? You never cared what I wanted.”

“Of course I did! You never said you wanted this baby.” 

“Because you were going to do whatever you wanted to, anyway. You always do.” He stomps to the kitchen and slams ice into his cup. 

I shift around on the couch to see him facing me from the other side of the island. I frown into my empty cup as he pours whiskey into his. 

Noticing, he trudges over and snatches the cup. “You don’t care about anybody but

yourself,” he grumbles, refilling my drink.

“If I had thought I could count on you, it might have been different. But I can’t.”

“That’s not fair. Don’t turn this around on me because you’d rather drink!”

“Rather drink?” I jump up now, too. “I couldn’t stop. Don’t you get it?” I yell. “I tried! I couldn’t do it! This baby would have had fetal alcohol syndrome, and you would have been long gone. The poor kid would have been left with an alcoholic mother who passed out drunk while he cried in his crib. How is that the right thing to do?”

“Go ahead and justify it all you want, but don’t blame me.” Cole hands me my cocktail.

“We both know the truth.”

“Obviously not.” I light a cigarette. “This abortion didn’t end your life like it has mine.

You have a son. You’ll have other children and a future. But I won’t get any of those things.”

My life will always be hell.” 

There’s nothing to me as if my essence was aborted with my baby. I gulp down my cocktail and set it on the coffee table. 

“I’m leaving.” I scratch Kodiak behind his ears, thinking my dogs are the closest I’ll ever get to the “good stuff” in life. I will drink until I die with no purpose, no marriage or family, no career, no meaning. 

Cole doesn’t try to stop me. Instead, he holds the door open.

About the Author

Lisa Grantham is querying agents for her first memoir, Soul, Eclipsed. Excerpts have been published in The Write Launch and Waxing and Waning and shortlisted for the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She has ghostwritten two books about alcoholism and recovery: 180 Degrees and Twelve Simple Steps to Loving Life. Lisa has been in recovery since 2004, and her husband since 2005. They have a seventeen-year-old son.

Supporting Reproductive Rights

This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.

  1. Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
  2. Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
  3. Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood for the work they are doing to ensure access.

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