’m Not Your Mother, You Were Not My Child: My Story, My Voice.
Age at Abortion: 19
Silence. A yellow, out of date, tiled bathroom, gilded with green and gold wallpaper, tortoise shell sink, and fluffy yellow rugs, all original to the 1960’s.
This however, was 1997, in the bathroom of my grandparents’ house. I held the small white, plastic stick between my legs, kind of quietly repeating this mantra in my head of, “I’m just not adding right. I’m fine, I’m not pregnant”. I placed the urine-saturated stick on the edge of the bathtub and waited… 5 minutes. The time sauntered by at a pace, the slowest turtle could lap, and I simply sat there stone terrified. Terrified, of the possibility of being stuck in something I wasn’t able to talk my way out of, being stopped in my tracks with no place to feel safe, and a consequence that I couldn’t numb out with heroin or Percocet or any of the other number of substances, I’d fallen in love with.
I was 19 years old; my uterus was swelling with the dividing cells of a pedophile 13 years older than myself. A man who had repeatedly sexually assaulted me, raped me, and mentally abused me, but yet, due to the fractures of my past, I was perfectly okay with this. As it turns out, I was rather gay, I’d come out of my lesbian closet a year later, and a whole bunch of interactions would make a lot of sense. But that is what WILL be, and THIS is February of 1997. His mental abuse I associated with his age, if I was going to be sleeping with an older man, I had to understand that his needs were going to differ from others my age. Again, let me reiterate, I was 19. He was 32. While technically this is not prosecutable, as I had indeed reached the age of consent, but just stop and think for a moment of the propriety or viability of a coercive, mentally and sexually abusive relationship between a 19-year-old female and a 32-year-old man. Over the next 5 years, he would be incarcerated for criminal sexual conduct with a 13-year-old. I don’t think I need to further describe him to conclude this man, was indeed, a predator. I can say that with full confidence in 2017.
The two pink lines began showing their faint appearance through the clear plastic window like the sunrise after coke binge. Harsh, painful, a reminder of all of my dignity that I’d replaced with shame and embarrassment, fed to me spoonsful at a time, slowly poisoning my self-esteem, self-worth, and my ability to find pleasure in anything that I couldn’t snort, smoke or drink. As the figurative sun peaked at high noon and reveled the affirmation of my worst possible fears, the air left my body, my blood ceased to circulate, and for a moment, my world froze. Everything stopped, like some sort of universal pause button had been engaged, and in those moments or moment I’m still not sure, my body no longer felt like I had any authority over it. In that moment, it was confirmed that I was probably an infant the last time my body was truly mine. The clarity of everything that had been stolen from me, and what I’d been left with in return, became more real to me, than the past 19 years of my life. Just as I did with my childhood abuser, my mind had turned my body into something that wasn’t for me, and that I was not allowed to make choices on. The clarity of having learned about sexuality at the age of 5 from a grown man insisting on “tickling my pee pee”, again at 8 by being held down, my pants nearly ripped off and tortured by neighborhood boys, and now by this man. My body was now, not only my greatest enemy, but had also created space for this man’s DNA to multiply inside me.
The information of the pending arrival of potentially a third child for him, was not met with one of those “happy dad” YouTube moments, but instead with this phrase “you know if you have this kid, you won’t be able to do anything you want to do”. While this is definitely not the harshest delivery of “I’m not interested” it was still a pretty emotionally invalidating response, and while I’d already considered that possibility, and long decided this little product of manipulation, coercion, abuse, and addiction would not be staying for 9 months inside my body, sucking away at what was left of my soul; the cold, absent, narcissistic quality of the delivery was a bit of a gut punch. If only that was all I needed to rid my womb of this albatross, but alas, we can shit in one hand, and wish in another and see which one fills up first.
So, there are multiple emotional stages folks can experience in the realization of an unwanted pregnancy. My first stage was shock and fear and embarrassment. Here’s what I desperately needed. I needed someone to give me a hug, hold some space for me, and to reassure me no matter what happens, I have the capability to figure this out. Because I was 19, and in the express lane to addiction-ville, and a multitude of other reasons, I did not have a great relationship with my mother, or a great relationship with well thought out decision making. Talking to her? NO!! How about my best friend? Sure. I called her, but really, I needed more information. I needed to know what would happen, how things went, what to do, how it feels, etc. And unfortunately, I had few folks that could answer this for me. These were the days before Google and the “Abortion Pill” and anything that was really even affirming about abortion. It was still something (still pretty present today) that held a stigma, that wasn’t really talked about, or if it was, it was whispered in shame and degradation. I’d seen a place multiple times on Woodward. A nice place, in a decent looking space, (this is now a martial arts studio,) thankfully. Those magical and mysterious words “Crisis Pregnancy Counseling” caught my eye and bells rang like angel voices inside my ears. Like trumpets from the heavens played by cherubs dressed in sheets who do part time work, shooting arrows at hopeful Valentine’s Day, lovers. This is what I needed. I needed to be counseled, just to be heard for a little bit and hopefully an appointment to get this out of me. Surely, a “Crisis Pregnancy Center” will have tons of resources, amazing women to talk to, and medical professionals that can explain the facts about the “abortion procedure”.
It certainly seemed I was spot on. I was met by women with very large hair, big smiles, and wide eyes. Their concern was so genuine, so motherly, so loving. When I cried, there was an arm around my shoulder, and an “ohh sweetie, we can help you”. At 19, I was naïve as hell, I trusted women, I felt safe with them, so the idea that this kind, big haired, Holston smelling woman might have an ulterior motive or agenda, didn’t really register for me, not at that point anyway. She sat me down and a wooden chair with a brown woven fabric seat that represented every shrink’s office I’ve ever been in, and sat across from me at a large wooden desk. I told her, I wanted to make an appointment for an abortion. Her reply was quick, “well let’s talk about adoption” first. This response caused an immediate reaction of full and total terror inside me, I began to cry, desperately cry and exclaimed, “I can’t do that! There’s no way I can do that” I couldn’t feel this thing in me come to life, to move, to grow, to remind me on a momentary basis of all the shit I’d landed in thus far, of how it got there, and all the things I couldn’t make go away. There was NO WAY. I responded nearly hysterical, “I know I am going to have an abortion, I just wanted to talk to someone about it, to understand what happens”. Calmly and coolly, the big haired lady asked “would you like to see a video on the procedure? We do have videos”. Again, oblivious, I agreed. I was shown to another room, with posters on the walls of pregnant women and pictures of fetal development through the stages, a TV stand with the latest VHS machine attached, more of the brown, wooden, shrink chairs, and a small square side table dressed with pamphlets about pregnancy, nutrition, assistance, free ultrasounds, etc. and amongst all of those, a small black box, with tiny little babies’ kind of like those Russian doll things. They were all shaped like a full-term baby, just at different sizes and with tiny little details that represented each inter-utero milestones. She inserted a tape into the machine and pressed play. She told me we would do my ultrasound after the movie was over. I sat back into the chair as I watched an attractive woman walk onto the screen in a fresh white Dr.’s coat. Everything seemed legit thus far. She went on never using terms like embryo or fetus, or fetal tissue, but always referring to “your baby”. I was about ten minutes in and fully confused as she talked about how much pain is not only experience by the patient but also, the baby’s ability to feel pain during the abortion. This made zero sense in my head. And as I became distracted by my own analytical, science based nature, my heart stopped. I looked around me, not a single piece of literature regarding abortion services. There were documents about increases in breast cancer post abortion, infertility, post abortion, mental health issues post abortion, and in the corner of a pink pamphlet advertising something, on the back, down in the corner in small print, I saw the words “pro-life”. My body reacted as if I’d seen a spider. I threw the paper, jumped up, ran out the door, screaming “What the fuck?” got into my car and proceeded to have a full meltdown.
Okay, at this point, I GIVE UP! I need someone to care for me, to just give me a hug, to help me. I speed home and I find my mother. Lucky for me, I was raised in a pro-woman, pro-choice household. She did not shy away from the subject or possibility of abortion and neither did I. I finally felt like maybe there was some light in this situation.
These were the days of phone books. The yellow pages, all thin and newspaper-y with quarter page illustrations containing words like “pregnancy help” and “Women’s Center” and “Crisis Pregnancy?” all containing some form of female imagery. I settled on the one that looked like the 1980’s. It was this double silhouette of a woman’s profile, and it listed “Abortion Services”, something the other lacked. Honestly, I can’t recall the name or location, but I know I ended up in their parking lot, in my beige Lincoln Grand Marquis that I’d been given by my grandparents after totaling my first car. There were protestors, it was snowing and we sat in the warmth of the car him, angry at the world for “having to be up this early” and me FUCKING TERRIFIED. I took a deep breath, grabbed the door handle and exited the car. Immediately, I heard the rhetoric that has changed very little in 20 years. The same ideas, the same anti-agendas, and all I could do through my cracking voice was say, “fuck you”. Tears streamed down my face, as I pulled the door open and made my way up the flight of stairs. I remember the waiting room being full of people, and it seemed like everyone smelled. The whole space was just thick with winter sweat and body smell. I signed in, they took my blood, and I sat and waited. The predator was restless. He didn’t want to sit there. He didn’t want to wait for me. He wanted to go home directly after because he “didn’t want to sit with my mom all evening”. I was starving. My stomach was growling, I was terrified because no one was really telling me anything other than pricing. All the other women around me where laughing and joking. It was like the volume got turned up to 12 in life, the room began to swallow me whole, the voices and noises and ringing of the phones became amplified to a point where I swore I could see sound, it was then the predator advised, he was going to find something to eat, he grabbed my keys, exited the room despite my pleading with him to stay, and left me there. Sitting, crying, lost, abused, alone. Whenever he took my car, he was rarely quick and rarely honest about what he was doing with it. All of this information, all of this emotion, all of this desperation is what kept me company. I simply couldn’t go through with the procedure. I asked to use a phone to call my mom to come and help me, asked for my money back, and waited. It wasn’t that I was having second thoughts, it wasn’t the protestors, it was a total shut down of all rational thought and decision-making ability. The trauma not only of my childhood, but the entire trauma that this garbage human had infected me with, had come to the surface and literally paralyzed me in my seat. My mother arrived, we waited for the return of my vehicle, including the predator, I returned him to somewhere, honestly, I have no idea where, and I went home.
My mother knew a private physician that provided abortion services in Troy. Much of this I do not have any recall of, but according to conversation with my mom, I was completely disconnected, very cold, very matter of fact, and completely devoid of any emotion. Terror. Just terror. I remember the paper dress that didn’t fit me, my naked ass ripping away at what shred of dignity I kept with me. I remember sobbing on the table and the IV inserted into my vein, and the male doctors voice saying “you need to calm down or the medicine won’t work” which honestly only made me more upset, then there was blackness. Nothing, quiet, stillness. Peace. And then, there was a navy-blue recliner, with a hospital pad on the seat, a blood pressure cuff on my arm slowly inflating, while a nurse sporting hair with much less height than our “lifer” friend, asking me how I felt, while stroking my arm. I felt my lip start to quiver, and emotion swell in my throat, then the sting of salt running down my cheeks. I asked her “is it over?” she said “yes, you’re in the recovery area now, I just want you to sit here for a bit and take some deep breaths, and rest.”
The tears began to come at a much greater rate, with much more emotion behind them. The stained my cheeks and my paper gown, and anything that had any sort of absorption skills within my personal radius. In that moment, while I cried, I was not experiencing grief, or loss, or pain, or sadness, or regret. I was crying because I was relieved, because I could walk away from this now, because this choice, gave ME a choice to live, to heal, to understand my own trauma and name it so it no longer had power over me and my decisions. It’s been 20 years since that day. And it hasn’t been easy, but that day gave me the strength to understand what I am capable of enduring, surviving, and healing from.
Today, I spend my Saturdays as a clinic escort. Most other days, I am somewhere on the front line in the war against reproductive rights. I am a voice for our patients when they need one, I am a hug if they want one, and always an ear that reassures them they are being heard. My partner and I brainstorm together on how we can create a safe space for patients to sit with their emotions, to laugh, to feel accepted, to grieve, if they need to. Whatever experience, and they are ALL unique to the individual, we make space for and respect. We provide pro-women, pro-voice coloring books for wait times, we’ve created “family packs” for families left without childcare options, giving the children onsite some fun things to do, create and distract from the anti-choice images and hate speech that are horrifying for a child. We play music that represents female strength, and challenge the structure of our political climate, and we drown out the poisons directed her way. And, for every patient that leaves our clinic, I meet them with an affirming smile, and this statement “be kind to yourself, you are amazing”, because no matter what the circumstance that brings us together, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that we all are deserving of self-love, we all are deserving of kindness, we are all capable of healing, and we are all in charge of our own bodies despite what we’ve been taught. AND, we all need to be reminded how truly fucking amazing we are.