When I was 20 years old, the granddaddy of all my lady-fears came true: I accidentally got pregnant.
I had just started going out with my college boyfriend, and we were young and dumb and entirely unconcerned with the nebulous concepts that came along with grown-up life, like responsibility and consequence.
My best friend and I found out about the pregnancy six weeks in at a Planned Parenthood during a routine test. The woman at the clinic advised me to weigh my options, but I didn't have to think about my decision.
I got a medical abortion less than two weeks later at a questionable clinic, the one where my best friend had gotten hers done, just to get it over with.
I do not regret my choice, not one bit. This isn’t some cautionary, woe-is-me tale about the horrors of abortion or sex (although seriously, use protection). This isn’t even about the procedure itself.
It’s about what happens later, quietly, in your inner life, after the periods come back, after you ditch the loser boyfriend, and after you’ve made peace with your choices, at least enough to talk to people about it.
It’s about the secret little compulsions that followed, irrational in their nature to everyone but me.
For a period of time in my early 20s, I would buy a pregnancy test every month around the time my period was due. If my body was betraying me, as improbable as that was thanks to my now-religious dedication to taking the pill, I had to know. It was a ritual that I had to perform, or else I would lay in bed debilitated, agonizing over the what-ifs rattling in my head:
These leftovers smell really, really rotten. AM I PREGNANT?
I'm cramping. AM I PREGNANT?
I'm not cramping at ALL. AM I PREGNANT?
I washed down my birth control with whiskey last night. Could this have broken down the norgestimate, negating its effectiveness, thus rendering me fertile and POSSIBLY PREGNANT?
I took a pregnancy test and tested negative. BUT COULD I BE PREGNANT??
A tingly boob, a perceived uptick in pee frequency, or even the slightest wave of nausea sent me running to CVS, alarm signals blaring in my brain, for a pack of tests.
After doing it so frequently, I stopped feeling embarrassed when the cashier would ring me up and look at me disapprovingly. Judge me all you want, lady. I don’t care what you say. I ONLY CARE WHAT THE STICK SAYS.
I worried about my pee stream not hitting the stick precisely, so I would buy little plastic cups along with the pack of tests, just like the ones at Planned Parenthood, to make sure to eliminate outside pee-variables, like high impact or poor aim.
Then, after doing the deed and feeling so, so relieved when the test reaffirmed what I would have already known if I wasn’t such a veritable freak, I would tie up the evidence in a plastic bag and throw it in my neighbor's garbage so my roommate wouldn't find out.
This went on for maybe two years.
Planned Parenthood was my jam, my amulet. I accrued a huge shoebox full of condoms, birth control pills, and Plan Bs that have since gone unused and are now expired.
I would horde my arsenal of baby-stoppers like sacred treasure. Getting my period became an absolute joy. You know you’re off your rocker when you enjoy getting your period.
As my female friendships grew year after year, I started to feel less like an alien. I knew that many of my friends, and many women in general, had had abortions, but it never occurred to me that they might also have shared the very same set of anxieties and neuroses surrounding unwanted pregnancy. It turns out I wasn’t the only one at war with my uterus up to 12 times a year.
"I study the shit out of my nipples, wondering if they look darker or puffier or feel itchier,” Sarah told me the morning of summer graduation, after a long, long night out, the last of our college hurrahs. “It’s toned down a lot now. Maybe because I’m not having as much sex."
“The first time I got pregnant, the tests were so shitty that it was hard to tell if it was a plus or a minus. After that, I always got the really expensive ones,” said Karen.
She continues: "You know those pregnancy apps that help you keep track of your menstrual and ovulation cycle to figure out when you’re most fertile? I use one of those, but like, for exactly the opposite of its intended purpose."
Melissa, who has looked out for me in so many ways over the years, told me: “For awhile, I peed on a stick every month. I was still living in fear, even though I knew I probably wasn’t pregnant,” she said. “I would buy the cheap, money-saving Target brand though, because this way, at least it got to feel like a really good deal."
For the longest time, I thought I was crazy. My exes, the ones that knew, thought I was crazy. But these exchanges, confessions from girls who are stronger in will and greater in heart than I could ever be, made me feel less like the weirdo I once thought I was.
And with the warmth of an intimacy that was once rooted in shame, along with the cure-all of time, I’ve come to peace, really come to peace, with the thing that kept me from trusting my own body, always looking and fearing.
Because when you are taught not to talk about the choices you’ve made or to feel the grief that follows, you end up mulling and fretting over your body and what its doing, over and over in your head, as a means of control in a time where you feel like you have none.
In short, lots of women are freaking out about what their weird pee and tingly tits might mean, all the time, and that’s totally OK.
"I missed my period last cycle, but I knew it was because of stress or diet,” Melissa told me recently. “I didn’t second-guess it. No tests or anything."
She added: "Sometimes it just takes time."