When I became accidentally pregnant as a single 25-year-old, I lost a few of my closest friends. But not for the reasons you might think. As open-minded, self-proclaimed “non-judgmental” gals, they didn’t judge me for engaging in casual sex and consequently getting knocked up. But a couple of them did mind that after discovering my pregnancy, I descended into a self-pitying pit of depression so profound that it threatened to completely unravel the future I’d worked so hard to create for myself.
You see, until that pregnancy I’d been the assertive go-getter of the group—the independent and overly confident one who never hesitated to go after what she wanted. I’d been the “tough love” type, too. When my more sensitive friends came to me for advice or even just to vent their own frustrations, I usually responded with my favorite motto: Don’t whine about things that can be fixed.
I once thought an unwanted pregnancy could easily be fixed. But it wasn't until I carried the weight of the decision (quite literally in my body) that I realized this was far from easy or fixable.
In a seemingly out-of-character twist of fate, I was unwilling to do anything about my nightmarish dilemma. Instead, I spent every waking moment outside of graduate classes and work huddled in bed and seized by paralyzing fear, wracking sobs, and fantasies about a miraculous miscarriage. I suffocated my friends with a frenzied barrage of texts and calls about how deeply this pregnancy was ruining my life plans.
They were both mystified and troubled by the profundity of my grief. They knew I didn’t want to be pregnant. They knew I never wanted to be a mother. They knew that the guy in question had cancelled his trip to see me after I foolishly told him the “bad news.” They knew I was laid off from one of my jobs after I became too sick to complete the work but was too embarrassed to tell my boss why. They knew that my parents had always warned me that if I were to get pregnant outside of marriage, I wasn’t to come to them for help. And they couldn’t understand why I refused to take any action to remedy my problem besides crying and whining on a daily basis. They listened and sympathized, but my hypocrisy perplexed them.
Finally they gave me a dose of my own famous brand of tough love. "It’s like you always said," they would tell me, "don’t whine about things that can be fixed. This is ruining your life. Take care of it because we can’t watch you self-destruct any longer. This is nothing like you! You don’t want this baby, so what are you doing?!"
Sobered by their rationale, I took their advice and made an appointment at a local abortion clinic. When I couldn’t bring myself to show up, I made another appointment. Suspecting I wouldn’t show up a second time, I called a friend to drive me there. Then, in a fit of dread, I told her not to come for me. In one last desperate attempt, I tried to make a third appointment, but hung up the phone while the operator scanned the clinic schedule for the next available time slot.
I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
In truth, I was shocked by that outcome. I’d lived solo in countries in the developing world. I’d stood up to an abusive boss when no one else dared. I’d barely flinched when a man tried unsuccessfully to assault me. But now, inexplicably, I couldn’t choose abortion even though it would give me the freedom I thought I desperately wanted. I began to suspect that there was something wrong with me. After all, I had a legal option to end my pregnancy. I had a choice. But I wasn’t so sure. What seemed so simple in theory was so far from simple in real life.
The Weight of What If
As it happens, I was experiencing a change of heart. The reasons were multifold.
First, I knew too much. As the old saying goes, “ignorance is bliss,” and unfortunately for me, my own knowledge was quickly proving to be my downfall. Even when my first ultrasound at a crisis pregnancy center revealed little, I knew that at approximately five weeks, the embryonic heart was already beating and the brain was forming. As a result I had a strange dream the night before that first abortion appointment. I dreamed that I’d taken an abortifacient drug and bled heavily. "My baby!" I woke up screaming. “My baby!”
Then, there were the memories of past experiences—other people’s experiences. A girl I barely knew crying next to me in Spanish class, abruptly telling me that that day would have been her child’s due date. An older woman who told me that twenty years after her abortion she was just now suffering nightmares so excruciating that they made her believe in the devil. A friend who avoided public spaces for an entire year following her procedure for fear of seeing infants or pregnant women. Male acquaintances who mentioned darkly how old their child would be, and how helpless they’d felt watching their past girlfriends suffer over the loss of something they’d never even wanted. These scraps of memories started coming together in my mind. At this important crossroads, I couldn’t not remember them.
Perhaps most terrifying of all, I couldn’t un-remember the story of a close friend’s botched abortion—how she’d been pinned down for a second time to remove the remaining fetal parts accidentally left inside her. I thought of how her traumatic experience initiated a long spiral of self-destruction into substance abuse, sex addiction, and suicidal tendencies. I remembered all of this with startling clarity, and it prompted in me a morbid epiphany. I realized that even if I ended my pregnancy, I would be haunted.
Choosing to have a baby as an unmarried young woman is often viewed as a huge, life-altering decision that will change her prospects forever. But rarely had I heard anything remotely close to what I actually experienced—a distinct sense that the alternative is no less life-altering or regrettable. I knew that choosing to keep the baby would be a remarkably challenging endeavor. But even with the assistance of an abortion clinic to make it all stop, I knew too vividly how that choice would affect the rest of my life as well.
Feeling the weight of the decision, I decided to learn more about making an adoption plan. I confided in a friend that I had recently begun communicating with an adoption agency. “I’d never give away my own child,” she told me, visibly dismayed. “How could you do that?”
I thought back to some months earlier, when I’d texted her a snapshot of my 11-week sonogram. She’d cooed over the little limbs, the oversized head. She’d marveled at how much it looked like a real baby. Then, a few days later, when I’d told her I’d been fired from my job, too sick and depressed to keep up with the workload, she'd counseled, “Maybe you need to get that abortion now.” I'd winced, remembering her reaction to the ultrasound. Now here she was telling me how heartless adoption seemed. A couple other friends echoed her sentiment and regarded me warily.
Despite everyone's attempts to help me in different ways and with different advice, at the end of the day I felt incredibly alone. At the end of the day, it was just me and my pregnant belly tossing and turning at night, the weight of the decision affecting us in more profound ways than anyone else in the world could possibly understand.
What I Wish I Could Say
By the time my daughter was born, I still hadn’t called the family I’d informally chosen as part of my adoption plan. I became a mother by default, and the first few weeks were fraught with fear and hesitation. But I knew I couldn’t stay scared forever. My carefully guarded heart quickly dissolved into a pool of deliriously infatuated love. Suddenly, I had hope again.
But I also had a deep well of broken friendships. I had been a mess for months and my friends were frazzled. Now, three years later, those friendships are faded, irreparably laced with unvoiced tension, although not because they did anything mean-spirited. In truth, they were compassionate, grieving with me as I mourned the loss of who I was during most painful nine months of my life.
You don't know what you'd do until you're in that situation. How frequently people say that, I've found, while remaining clueless to what that moment of truth actually feels like. I'll admit I was making unwise choices that led to me getting pregnant in such an un-ideal situation. But I don't think I relinquished all my options simply by having an unplanned pregnancy.
I've come to think there's something about abortion that makes people want to move past it quickly without thinking or empathizing. All in one swift motion, as my friends recommended I do away with my pregnancy, I felt they were also doing away with me as a friend. Amid my mixed feelings, I felt completely unsupported as I assessed my other options.
People thought that because I was young, unmarried, and the pregnancy was unplanned, it would never work. I can understand that. I felt that way for a lot of my pregnancy. How thankful I am that in those most challenging moments I listened less to those fears and to others' judgments, and more to my heart.
If I could tell them what I never will, I would say I wish they had believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. When I told them, in my weakest, most hopeless moments, “I can’t do this,” they confirmed it. “It’s okay that you can’t do this,” they echoed. Looking back, I wish they’d said, “Maybe you can do this.” Such a response would have forced me to wonder if maybe I was more powerful than I presumed, able to endure more pain and hardship than I dreamed possible, only to emerge stronger as a result.
If I could tell them what I never will, I would say that I never really had a choice where my daughter’s life was concerned. My daughter’s life was never just a choice of mine. What I needed, what so many desperate, terrified girls in my position need, are people who force them to believe what they themselves can not: that they are capable, that they are powerful, and that, unfortunately, there’s no such thing as an “easy way out.”
Photo Credit: The Manchiks