“Just do what you have to do and be done with it already.”
That was his response, my boyfriend of three years, as I sat on the edge of the bathtub holding my stomach— crying, shaking, shattered, and feeling every piece of my world wash out from under me. You know, because pregnancy is a miracle and that’s my purpose as a woman, right? To bear children and be a loving mother to a beautiful family and live the “American dream.” Right?
But at nineteen the reality wasn’t so miraculous. I was out on my own for the first time and struggling. Struggling to work full time, to go to school full time. And although I felt it, I hadn’t yet fully realized that my biggest battle was trying to pacify a bipolar and verbally abusive man-child three times my size. I was only pretending that I knew how to care for myself, and all of my energy was being spent avoiding the unavoidable hours of fighting. How on earth was I supposed to bring a child into that?
Both the NuvaRing and condoms had failed me, and ten years later as I sit and remember that moment, staring blankly at a little piece of plastic, I can still feel the shame and the humiliation. No one except us knew that I was pregnant, but the entire world was watching me and judging. There was NO way anyone would believe that two methods of birth control had failed. Hell, I was struggling to believe it. I was a whore. I was disgusting. I was the slut I could already hear them calling me behind my back. I would have to quit school. I would become “one of them”: one of those redneck welfare moms who curse their five children in the middle of Walmart and never find any semblance of self-truth or happiness because they don’t have the time, money, or patience left to do anything more than exactly what they’ve been doing to get by. It was terrifying, that tainted, judgmental vision of a woman bearing children too young. But it was burned, vivid in my mind: a necessary fear-branding that all proper young teenage women internalize. And “that girl” was the last thing in the world I was willing to allow myself to become.
But I was lucky. I didn’t have many friends at the time, but I had one. The sort of friend whose true beauty shone when you thought all the light had gone out and your hope for normality had gone with it. I had a friend who loved me and wanted nothing more than to help me make the best decision I could possibly make for my life and for my body. Not once did she make the situation about her, her religion, or her opinions. She simply made me breathe. And once I’d regained composure, she laid it out for me. My options. Logically. And, oh, the pure power of logic and options when every bit of your chaotic mind has lost the ability to see them.
- Keep it
- Adoption (Open/Closed)
Still, despite the momentary ebb of emotion, the weight of deciding left me inconsolable. I felt broken and numb and isolated. My boyfriend would roll his eyes when he’d see me crying and avoid me as well as he could. He simply didn’t want to deal with it, and I raged inside. I was angry at his callous disregard for me as his partner, as a woman, as the woman he’d gotten pregnant. I was angry at society for making me feel like any path I chose was a trap— that I was in some way obligated to choose based on what the world would say when they found out— and either way I felt I’d already lost. I was angry at the stupid happy birds chirping outside my window and at the neighbor girls giggling on the front porch. For the first and only time in my life, I even contemplated suicide. The idea of throwing myself out of that same five story window seemed better than feeling so incredibly trapped and alone.
After three days, I decided for sure that I was going to have an abortion. I drove myself to the clinic, and I was given a pill that I later took that night at home. I have rarely mentioned it since.
I remember standing in the shower that night until well after the water had run cold – exhausted – heartbroken – relieved. I was fully aware of myself and my body in a way I never had been before; my skin felt so thin that I could feel each drop of water as it hit and trickled down. For the first time in forever, I could actually feel myself again, and it scared me. I was beginning to see just how incredibly screwed up and unhappy I really was and there were so many things that desperately needed to change.
Two months later, that same friend called to tell me that she, herself, was pregnant. She had just finished school, and despite the father not wanting to be in the picture, she was keeping it because she felt like she was in a position where she could. She was moving to go to grad school, though; she would need help, and she knew I was miserable. “Move with me” she said, excited about her plan. “Be my live-in nanny until you get your feet on the ground. Move with me!”
Just a few months later that is exactly what I did.
Her son is nine now, and I cherish every moment I’ve ever spent with him. I held him when he cried, I fed him, I rocked him to sleep. His mother and I danced with him to every kind of music imaginable, and when we were tired we’d sit him between us as we watched old musicals with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. I cuddled him when he was sick, I watched him as he took his first steps, and now we go roller skating and he tells me about school and his day while he shows me his newest Lego creations.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I had made a different choice. But not once have I ever regretted the choice I did make. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was the most responsible thing I could have done; I simply wasn’t ready. There was no way, at that point in my life, that I would have been able to be anything close to a decent mother. A decent live-in nanny, sure. But not a mother. And more than that, I could not justify bringing another human being into this world if I couldn’t support or guarantee a healthy, happy chance at a life worth living.
So, now, after ten years of tucking it away in the very back of my closet, afraid of the shadow it could cast on who I am as a person— as a woman— I am tired of carrying it around like some burdensome dirty secret, and I refuse to internalize the shame and regret that society wants me to feel.
To be perfectly honest, I am proud of myself. I was strong, and I made a hard decision that I dealt with the best I could. I left an abusive relationship. I moved to a whole new state. and I created a brand new life. I found who I really was, and I fell in love with pieces of myself that I’d forgotten— that I never even knew existed. I discovered what I was truly capable of, and eventually I learned what love between two people really looks like.
I am even close now to being ready to be the amazing, loving, rock of a mother that I know I have the potential to be. And if I got pregnant now I would, without a doubt, keep the baby. But until then, I am going to embrace every bit of joy and pain and sorrow and beauty that this life of mine has to offer. And I am going to let it be no more or less than what it is because while this experience, like many others, has helped to shape the person I am today, it does not, nor will it ever, define me.