A few years ago, a woman I know, not well, but someone I have known for a long time, posted a picture on Facebook of men and women holding up signs at a pro-choice rally. They were advocating for the right to safe and legal abortions. The woman I know referred to them as murderers. I cringed and put my hands on my heart.
Standing outside of my house, I got talking to my neighbor’s friendly parents who were visiting from North Carolina. Their cherubic granddaughter had been adopted when she was an infant by their son and his husband. We spoke sunnily about how wonderful she is and how loving her adopted fathers are. And then I shuddered as he said, “Imagine if her mother had made a different choice.”
A dagger to my chest.
Imagine if I had made a different choice.
One morning when I was 17 and my mom was out doing errands, I ran to the closest pharmacy praying not to see any nosy neighbors or parents of friends. I walked through the aisles, bought the first test I found, drove home and ran up the burgundy-carpeted stairs that were installed the day of my dad’s car accident.
I went straight into the cold pea green bathroom. It was eerily quiet and I was on a mission. The summer sun was dancing through the windows. It was a beach day outside, a day to be carefree, to feel the warmth of the sun roasting my skin like a rotisserie chicken but the beauty made me feel empty. It was an attack on my senses. Instead of the beach, I knew before any confirmation that I’d be going to the drab brown building with the blue sign by the railroad tracks where angry people stood outside holding signs of bloody fetuses.
I looked at the test. On the counter, the lines indicated I was pregnant.
I love babies. I love kids. I babysat. I was an aunt. I knew I wanted to be a mom. I knew that before anything else. A career was secondary. I wanted to be a mom and something else. But that was the future. That, I prayed was my future. Not my present. Not at 17. I could hardly take care of myself during this incredibly difficult year.
No one was home. I was scared, paralyzed, heart beating out of my chest, disbelief. I’ll call Planned Parenthood from my mom’s bed. I dial information and get the number to Planned Parenthood. No one has to know, I say to myself. They will tell me what to do. My hands are betraying me, they aren’t working. They are so shaky that I’m having a tough time dialing the correct numbers. When someone answers, I struggle, stutter, trying to find the right words. My mouth is full of cotton balls. My face, hot, flushed.
I see my mom’s shiny dresser with photos in frames of my sisters, brother and me. One of my nephews and one of my mom and dad smiling all dressed up like they are at Prom for parents. I forget for a moment. They are so cute, I think. And then, I can’t believe that will never happen again.
On the dresser is Oil of Olay, Chanel number 5, and jewelry. The jewelry reminds me of being a little girl and putting my mom’s rings and bracelets on. On the wall, a painting of my dad when he was little. Blue eyes, blue shirt, blue suspenders. Where is he? I was frightened of this painting as a child. When I moved, the eyes followed me. Awake. Alive. What are they doing now? Looking at me with disgust.
I feel shame. I’m embarrassed. My brother told me once that pregnant in Spanish was embarrassed. Embarazada. I feel waves of sadness washing over me.
And then a scary thought pushes through the fog of nostalgia and distraction into the forefront of everything I am thinking and feeling and quietly whispers to me, if life is going to be this difficult, I don’t know much more I can take. I wouldn’t do anything outright to hurt myself. I don’t think. But I’ve never had a thought like this and it scares me.
My boyfriend is out of town. I can’t get in touch with him, he is out west on a camping trip. I can’t write to him and tell him I’m pregnant in a letter.
My dad is gone. Still. Even after eight months. Maybe he will reappear. Maybe he is in the witness protection program. Maybe that man driving with the gray hair in the car next to me was him after all.
Back in December, a week after Thanksgiving, only a few months after moving from Arizona to New Jersey, my dad, age 54, was killed in a car accident on his way to a meeting. He came to us as a John Doe, they said at the hospital. He never knew what hit him, I overheard. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
He stayed alive but barely, for two days in the hospital before he went into cardiac arrest. I saw him bandaged up, bruised and swollen. I held his familiar hand with hairy knuckles and found his soft padded thumb. I told him I loved him. I wasn’t sure he heard but I swear I felt a squeeze.
Shocking. Sudden. Tragic. Traumatic. He was so young. He went to work that morning and never came home. You never know.
No one knew my dad here. Or my mom, my siblings or our dog, Buffy. We had no history, no backstory, no context. My family was from a different part of New Jersey. And then before here, we were in Arizona for 10 years.
My mom kept herself looking put together with lipstick and smiles after my dad died. “I keep myself busy”, she’d say. I think she believed that if she stopped, she wouldn’t be able to start again. She played bridge, saw friends, took care of the dog, cat, house and me. My parents were high school sweethearts. She’d cry if he had to travel for business. I never could have pictured her without him. I couldn’t imagine what she felt and she never told me.
I also couldn’t tell her that I was pregnant. I wouldn’t do that to her. And we didn’t talk about these things anyway. Despite having had serious boyfriends, my parents never talked to me about sex. I knew what I knew from books and sex education at school which was taught via a tape on a VCR that was rolled into the classroom. The video taught us about menstruation (pronounced men strew ation) and STD’s.
I called my friend, Erica, and asked her to come over. I didn’t want to be alone with these thoughts. Erica was new to the area too and she was us for Thanksgiving, my dad’s last Thanksgiving when I placed a cowboy hat on my grandma and listened to, I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred. Erica sat in the backseat of the car with me while a stranger drove us to the hospital the night of my dad’s accident.
She came over right away and took me to Planned Parenthood in her clean silver Saturn. She was reliable, loyal, and would never judge me. And her car was comforting, familiar, present, and safe like a cocoon. Like watching the Brady Bunch on my mom’s couch with my baby blankie and Cheetos – the ones in the blue bag with the confetti, not the orange bag with the crazy cat.
I sat there not ready to get out, not ready to have something else taken away from me just yet. Something, someone I simultaneously wanted and didn’t.
At Planned Parenthood, the nurse told me I was too early. I was pregnant but not pregnant enough. I was too early to do anything about it. I’d have to go home, carry on with my life, and come back for the next clinic. The word clinic struck me as odd, distant, athletic. The nurse was nice enough but removed. I could tell she had packed up her emotions and tucked them away neatly into storage boxes and hid them in a closet or under a bed like Christmas decorations or luggage.
Now what? I’d carry on with my summer plans. I’d pretend everything was normal for a little while longer. But nothing had been normal this past year.
I’d go on Outward Bound and spend two weeks in the wilderness of Maine; canoeing, hiking, climbing mountains, and sleeping in a tent whether it was raining buckets or hot and buggy.
I climbed a mountain and when I repelled down, I breathed heavily and scraped my knuckles till they bled. I hiked with a heavy pack with pots and pans clanking around on top all the while panting and searching for more oxygen. I was tired, exhausted at times, but I told myself it was the altitude, the exercise, anything but my body working overtime to grow a human.
I told one girl from Martha’s Vineyard that I was pregnant. As far as I know, she never told another soul. I spent one night alone under a tarp on the leafy, cold, damp ground. I wasn’t supposed to have a book with me while on my solo in the woods, only a journal, but I had brought Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher and was overjoyed with the distraction. My mom told me it was one of my grandma’s favorite books and reading words that I knew Nana had read brought me comfort and solace.
I survived the two weeks in the woods and came home starving for a hamburger from McDonald’s, a long, hot shower, Buffy, and my bed. My hair was knotted, my skin tanned. And still pregnant.
When I watch shows on Netflix now where the high school girl gets pregnant and has an abortion, the camera shows her drifting off to sleep with oxygen covering her nose and mouth while a moody lullaby plays. It is fast, quick, sterile, bright. A paper gown – the same light blue or white with bluish flowers, crinkles. There is an IV, a beeping noise, tears running down baby-soft cheeks. Words of comfort but none too personal. “There will be bleeding, cramping, take it easy”, the nurse says. They are handed something for the pain. But what about the emotional pain? What does one do for that?
When T.V. shows depicted pregnant high schoolers when I was in high school, they never had to have an actual abortion. The pregnancy ended with a miscarriage. Sad but convenient. Fortunate because it wasn’t your fault. Not too staining or scarring. No one would ever have to know.
Where are the boyfriends then and where are they now?
Finally, my boyfriend is home and I tell him while sitting on a bench across from the ice cream shop. I forgot how stunning his blue eyes were. I watch little kids as their parents lick the tops of their dripping ice cream cones. I want to be both the child and the mother of the child in the picture before me. It reminds me of my dad and how he would ask for a bite of my cake or French toast and then would eat half of it. I would whine and tell him to get his own. I felt a pang looking at these families, envious of the kids with parents both physically and emotionally present.
My boyfriend was sad. Shocked. He felt guilty. It was not his fault. It wasn’t my fault either. We were casual. Mostly, we weren’t. But we were that time. I guess it was our fault. We cried together. Held hands. “Now what”? he wanted to know. I told him. He agreed. He was supportive. He would take me to the clinic and would help pay for it. And then, after the procedure, he told me, he would take me home.
But home can be hard to find sometimes.
I didn’t tell my mom well into my 30’s and after having two kids myself that I had had an abortion as a teenager. A therapist friend encouraged me to do so after I told her that even though I had talked and worked with the pain of the experience, there was still grief sitting heavily on my chest. She told me I was denying my mom an opportunity to connect with me in a deep way that would help us both. That she did the best she could then but maybe she could do better now. I knew this friend was right.
When I told her, we were walking on a beach. She was in treatment for breast cancer at the time. She wasn’t surprised or angry. She felt bad for me and felt badly that she wasn’t there when it happened. It was a quick conversation. I realized I told her for me. Not for her. Healing can be confusing. And it takes time.
Today, I’m grateful. To be here. To be a mom now. To have had that option then. I am thankful I didn’t miscarry and bleed profusely in the woods in Maine. I’d go on to have two miscarriages, one naturally and one after the pregnancy was deemed not viable. They were hard, sad, and strange losses. Like the abortion, it wasn’t talked about it. I feared I was being punished.
The women I know who have had abortions never saw it as a form of birth control. It is an awful, heartbreaking decision but one we are grateful for having had the choice to make. No one other than you should get to decide how, when, and what happens to your body.
Safe, legal, accessible abortion is healthcare.
Compassion. Kindness. Empathy. Education. Support. Communication. Understanding. This is what is needed. This is what will help.
This is home.
About the Author
Lindsay Bomstein is a writer and creator of the blog, sitandsmile which is dedicated to pondering the meaty, messy, meaningful, and sacred stuff. She has a Masters of Arts degree in Transpersonal Psychology from Sofia University and leads women’s circles at her home in Tampa where she lives with her husband, 3 children, dog and cat.
Supporting Reproductive Rights
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