The nurse comes in with a yellow Post-it and hands it to the doctor. Glancing at the paper, he looks at me, then at my belly and says:
“I don’t know whether to say congratulations or good luck, so I’ll just state the obvious: You’re pregnant.”
He then shakes my hand and walks to the door, glancing back before he leaves. “Oh, and your strep test also came back negative. You probably just have the flu. Either way, just get some rest.”
I walk out of the clinic as dusk settles into night. It’s the coldest January 11 on record and I am bundled up tight in layers of insulated thermal wear, burrowing down further into my heavy outerwear, preparing to walk the 10 blocks back to David’s* place.
I am suddenly desperate to feel the cold air on my nose and cheeks, laser-focused on navigating the uneven mounds of tightly compacted snow occupying space on the sidewalk. I think about nothing. My mind is blank; my thoughts are frozen. I am catatonic; overwhelmed with disappointment, frustrated with my continued lack of foresight; the same now, at age 31, as it was 15 years ago when I was a teenager.
But things are different now — life has a sense of urgency. My mother is dying of lung cancer, a stage four diagnosis. My sister has suffered three devastating miscarriages and we haven’t spoken in months, maybe even a year. I haven’t spoken to my father since late summer, and I can’t seem to shake my resentment for his decade-long absence in my 20s when I needed him, just as I do now.
I think about how much I need all of them. I think about the thousands of miles between us geographically and emotionally. My best friend, who I will soon ask to be the Godmother, is across the country living in Los Angeles.
I’m alone. I take it in strides: one foot in front of the other; the repetitive crunching sound of my impractical footwear on the icy snow is the only noise on an eerily quiet strip of concrete.
I tell myself, It will all be okay. Things happen for a reason. I remind myself that I am no longer alone and all of this means something, to be determined at a later date.
I walk for 30 minutes past my intended destination. I look at my phone. There are three missed calls and six text messages -- all from David, who is now understandably worried about my whereabouts.
I text him back: “I’m pregnant.” I immediately turn off my phone and shove it back into my coat pocket before giving him a chance to respond, then I turn around and begin walking in the opposite direction, making a conscious effort to put one foot in front of the other: repetitively, carefully, equally.
Twelve minutes later, I turn left on David's street, vaguely making out his silhouette standing at the top of the stairs of the brownstone apartment he owns and shares with his two children and mutt -- and the home that he will soon also share with me.
He greets me on the stairs with a hug. There is a tear in his eye — a pointed, yet unclear display of emotion that I can’t interpret as either sadness or happiness. But he assures me it is the latter. Before I am given the chance to speak, he looks me with intensity in his eyes.
“I love you,” he says there on the steps. “I just want to lay it out there and tell you that as far as I’m concerned, terminating the pregnancy is not an option that will be discussed.”
I sigh with relief, or maybe it’s exhaustion. Not because I was ready to have a child, but because I was ready to not have to put my body through an abortion. It was not my first and the last one had been incomplete, a total nightmare. I lost myself in this memory as he continued.
“I want to build a life and a family together.”
“OK, I’m on board,” I say, resigning myself to accepting the consequences of my irresponsible behavior as this time I'm not sure I could put myself, and my body, through this sort of trauma and continue to collect this sort of baggage. I am too old.
So while unplanned and the timing less than ideal (we’d only been together three months), we decide that we will make it work. From my naïve and emotionally unavailable vantage point, where there was a will, there was a way; I willed myself to accept this reality.
“It’s not like David was a total stranger,” I was telling myself, while at the same time everyone else in my life was asking, “David Who?”
The two of us met three months prior to our first actual date in a creative writing class I was taking, casually flirting and creating intimacy with one another through sharing my deeply personal essays. He’d read about my demons and the struggles I’d faced and overcome and then reciprocate the intimacy with thoughtful feedback and what felt like a true interest and belief in my writing, seducing me with comments like “You are a fantastic writer. You’ll have some success."
He also worked in publishing and had 16 years of sobriety under his belt. As a newly sober aspiring author, this made me feel safe — or at least understood.
In some regards, through my words, I felt as though he knew me, the real me, the one below the façade I presented to the rest of the world. He made me feel like it was OK to be me, and for this, I loved him.
But while David might have known me, I didn’t know David — as it turns out, no one really knows David.
The rest happens fast: February, we are engaged. March, I move into his home and we hire a fancy midwife for the home water birth we will be having in October. April, I am four months pregnant and we find out I am carrying a healthy baby boy. The doctor sends us home with a 3D image sonogram of our son’s foot, his penis, his tiny features beginning to form.
Then, the following morning — without any sort of preemptive argument or event — David breaks up with me.
Dogmatically, without emotion, he tells me that he fell out of love with me the previous night and there is zero chance for reconciliation.
“Huh?” was the only thing I could muster at that moment.
He tells me he’d consulted with his “spiritual advisors.” He tells me I need to move out by Friday — in two days — before his kids came back to the house. He tells me this was a non-negotiable demand and then follows it with the cruelest coda: “You should probably have an abortion. It might not even be mine.”
He leaves, and this will be the last time we speak to one another. That's it: he just walks out and I start packing.
As I begin to my put my things in boxes, I discover that some of David’s belongings are mixed in with mine; among them is a notebook I assume is my own, only to find that it is an old journal of David's. Inside the notebook I find haunting, incriminating information about him that makes me genuinely fearful for my life and safety.
I double-lock the door, counting the seconds until daybreak when I can move my things and get out of his home.
And just like that it was over. There was no closure or formality or even a goodbye to him or his children. I never saw it coming and remain confounded by what transpired, literally overnight.
In the aftermath of the break-up, I went home to live with my mom in Tennessee while the dust settled and I made a plan. Two days later, upon discovery that his notebook was missing, my ex served me with paperwork at my home in Tennessee, stating very serious false claims against me that included Felony Domestic Grand Larceny, a crime that New York state defines by taking any property from one’s home (where you have and/or had an intimate relationship).
What happened in the next three months was nothing short of a nightmare, but my decision to terminate the pregnancy was due to what I now understood would entail at least 18 years of similar battles and nightmares for everyone involved in the situation.
Like many others, my ex was using the criminal justice system as a weapon of domestic abuse, and while an entirely different issue, it was harmful enough to me psychologically and emotionally that I could not imagine this being a part of my child’s life.
Once I realized and accepted that David would never be a part of my life or our son’s life, I made a difficult decision that was mine and mine alone: I decided to terminate the pregnancy. I was 23 weeks pregnant, over a month too late for a legal procedure in Tennessee, and one week shy of the legal cutoff in the state of New York.
I flew to Manhattan for the two-day procedure. It was the darkest two days of my life. I got on a plane right after and flew back to Tennessee to heal, almost hemorrhaging my entire blood supply in the air.
My story is about choosing life — your life, your future, not only the future life of the unborn child. For me, what it came down to was this: Were I to bring a child into this world as a single mother, would I be giving it the life it deserves? Would I be giving it a fair chance to succeed without bearing the burden of the complicated world I had inadvertently created? The answer, for me, at least, is no.
I am sharing my story on behalf of all women who have to choose between a lose-lose situation when things didn’t work out as planned, or who were the victims of abuse – psychological, emotional, verbal, and physical. On behalf of all the women who chose life, theirs, making the impossible choice to not ruin the life of a child that would be brought into the world without a father... or with a father who would make life miserable.
It is time for men to own up to their responsibilities and for the pro-life community to understand that a man’s actions, before and after, can be just as influential on whether a woman decides she is willing and able to raise a child by herself.
Six months later, I am back home: still healing. Forever changed.
* Name has been changed.