Each October, in the atmosphere of Halloween and all the attendant witches, goblins, ghosts and skeletons, I am reminded of a ghost that resides in my own soul, a skeleton that lives in my own inner psyche’s closet.
I mentally wish a happy birthday to a child, who this year would be turning 18, legally an adult, except that this child was never born.
In 1997, I was a young married professional living in a new city, where my husband and I had no relatives and no real support system, when I came to the shocking realization that I was pregnant after a failed contraception.
During the time I was unaware of my pregnancy, I underwent not one, but two medical tests that required radioactive isotopes be injected into my body. Since I had unknowingly exposed the fetus to high doses of radiation, I was told that I would be facing a high-risk pregnancy with a great likelihood of complications and birth defects.
Suddenly, my husband and I were faced with the most difficult decision of our lives: Continue down this new and thorny path we had suddenly found ourselves on, fraught with uncertainty and fear, or decide to have an abortion.
We were both young, in new careers that were very stressful and demanding, with not a lot of financial resources. This, combined with the above-mentioned lack of support system, made the choice, though incredibly difficult, pretty obvious to both of us. Ultimately, my husband left the final decision up to me: An abortion was our only viable solution.
Fortunately, the procedure went well, with no complications. And a little less than five years later, we were able to start the family we had always wanted, on our terms, and were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.
Fast forward almost 15 years later. Now divorced, my former spouse and I co-parent our child, sharing custody 50/50, and my relationship with my son has grown much stronger in the years since I became single.
It is for this reason, along with the recent controversy over cutting funding to Planned Parenthood clinics, that I decided it was time to come clean and tell my son about the choice I had made so many years before.
He took the news stoically, which is about how you can expect any young teen in the throes of puberty to take news. Then he turned to me and asked me one sentence: “Why did you decide to tell me this now?”
So why did I? Was it for some misguided sense of confession, to ease the burden my soul sometimes feels, no matter how right the choice was for me at the time? No. It was because I believe knowledge is power.
I chose to tell my son about my abortion because I wanted him to know that despite what he may hear in the media, church, and from politicians in our incredibly conservative southern state in which we live, abortion isn’t a bad word.
It isn’t something evil that bad people do. Abortion isn’t a sin, and sometimes, even the most unforeseen accidents of fortune will propel us into decisions we never, ever expected to make.
I told my son about my abortion because someday, if he finds himself in a similar situation, I would want him to support his partner, to be able to ask for help, and maybe most importantly, be able to tell me and know that I will be there to love and help him.
In all likelihood, had I had that first child, especially if the child was born with complications and medical conditions from fetal radiation exposure, he wouldn’t be here. No doubt my life would have had a completely different destiny, one that might not have included him.
As I watched my son take in my words, he leaned over, kissed me on the cheek and simply said, “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Mom.” As an afterthought, he added, “But I’m pretty glad to be here.”
He then retreated to his room, no doubt to resume playing his latest favorite video game. As he did, I knew, with a surety as certain as anything I had ever known in my life that I had made the right choice all those years ago.
I fear that choice may not exist for women in the future if the war on women and our reproductive rights continues. I, as a mother, want my son to be aware that good medical care for women shouldn’t be a privilege, it shouldn’t be a hardship or a political gauntlet one has to run. Most importantly, it shouldn’t be a crime. It should be a choice.
That choice freed me up to do many things – go back to graduate school, have a career, enjoy trips and experiences I would not otherwise have had, and have a child, on my own terms, when I was ready.
While a part of me will always mourn the child I could have had, thanks to the women who went before me, the individuals who helped pave the way, I was afforded a choice. I was gifted with options, no matter how difficult; a ticket to my future, to mess up, make mistakes, learn and love.
And in return, the universe entrusted me with a wise and wonderful son, and for that I will always be grateful.