My friend had been struggling through infertility treatments for years. My cousin had given up on getting pregnant and instead decided to adopt, but after five years of disappointments, she was still childless.
These were some of the thoughts running through my mind as I sat in the waiting room of an abortion clinic at age 38.
At this age, I should have “known better.” At this age, I should have been happy that I was able to get pregnant with ease, when so many women -- some younger than me -- are experiencing infertility. At this age, my husband and I should be buying a baby stroller and picking out names.
How did I end up there?
My pregnancy came at one of the most traumatic periods of my life. Three months earlier, my husband of seven years blindsided me by saying he wanted a divorce. It was something he’d been planning for a while, I later learned.
We decided to remain living in the house we’d purchased together the year before as I saved to be able to afford my own place to live. It was a small house, so we remained sleeping in the same bed, never touching. Friends asked me how I could live like this and assumed it was very painful. It was, but I also found it to be comforting, like we were easing out of life together instead of making a huge, traumatic and sudden break. But we both knew our marriage was over and had been over for quite a while. Neither of us wanted to work it out.
In my haze of grief, I reached out to a former co-worker who I had been back in touch with for the past year. I always had feelings for Ryan, and he for me, but we were never single at the same time. He still was not single. Ryan and his girlfriend both worked at a popular restaurant in our seaside town and my husband and I would hang out there with them a few times a month. His girlfriend and I hit it off. I really liked her.
Despite that, I selfishly allowed an affair with Ryan to begin. At the time, I knew it was wrong and destructive, but being with him made me feel less depressed about the sudden turn my life had taken. I thought of him as my painkiller. I’m so very ashamed of myself and if I had to do it all over again, I would have made different choices. I feel a lot of guilt over how I behaved in regard to another woman -- not only another woman, but someone I considered a friend -- even though she never found out about any of this.
Ryan and I only saw each other every few weeks, keeping things discreet, also known as sneaking around. We’d steal an hour or two here, an hour or two there, sometimes we’d meet at a cheap motel a few towns over. I hadn’t had sex with my husband in a couple of years, so I wasn’t on birth control. Given that I was in my late 30s and wasn’t having very frequent sex with Ryan, I didn’t think I’d get pregnant.
At some point, I realized I hadn’t had my period in some time. I waited and worried, until I couldn’t wait and worry anymore. I bought a test on a Sunday morning and it was positive. My initial reaction was a strong desire to have the baby, even though I’d never wanted kids. I would be moving out. I had a job and health insurance. I could find a day care near work. I had never envisioned myself a mother, but I started to see this as a possible opportunity to give my life a new direction. And at age 38, this was probably my last chance to have a kid.
My best friend, who is married with three kids, didn’t see it that way. How could I manage as a single mother? I was barely scraping by on my salary, and Ryan didn’t make much more than I did.
I met Ryan on the boardwalk that night and told him. He was shaken at the news, and upset that I was talking about trying to keep it. His girlfriend would surely find out somehow, he couldn’t afford to pay me support, he wasn’t at a place in his life where he wanted to be a father.
The next day, I reality set in and I started to agree with my sister and Ryan. The thought of having the baby made me uneasy, like my gut was speaking to me. Plus, I was still living with my husband. Shortly after learning I was pregnant, I found the perfect bungalow to rent, but it was being renovated and I couldn’t move in for two months. So, at that point I’d be about three months along. I could have kept it a secret, but I was still afraid of him finding out somehow. I didn’t want him to know.
If I had the baby, I was afraid I’d “look bad.” People would wonder whose baby it was, and I didn’t want to deal with the questions I’d get from friends, family, co-workers, everyone. I was never someone who cared much about what people thought of me, but in this instance, I was very concerned about it.
I thought of my cousin, who was married to a man 10 years younger. She was in her late 40s when she tried to conceive, but did not have success. They were set to adopt a pair of twin infant boys when their mother changed her mind and wanted them back.
I seriously considered having the baby and having my cousin adopt him or her. It seemed like the perfect thing to do. But again, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Looking back now, I see how weird and selfish that sounds. The pregnancy happened after my husband and I split, even though we were still married at the time. I guess having the abortion was my attempt at keeping my life, which had gotten so messy and complicated, from getting even more messy and complicated.
I emailed my friend Jamie, the one who had been trying to get pregnant for years, and told her what I had decided. She asked me to reconsider adoption. Things turned awkward. She finally said she understood and she doesn’t judge me, and I thanked her for not hating me, but that was the last time we had any contact.
At the clinic, on the day of my procedure, I was given an ultrasound. They ask if you’d like to see the image, and I decided that, yes, I did want to see it. I felt like I needed to punish myself, I needed to make it really sink in. I signed a waiver, she handed me a printout and I squinted at the blurred image.
This is me and Ryan. This is the life we created. I knew this person would have big brown eyes and be so smart, and he or she would be creative and probably a little rebellious. I said a little goodbye in my mind to this tiny gathering of cells, this would-be person, because my mind was made up.
I started to cry, and the technician asked if I was okay.
“It’s just tough doing this at my age -- it seems wrong,” I said. I had noticed that most of the women in the waiting room were in their teens or 20s. Not pushing 40.
She passed me a box of tissues and let me cry for a minute. Then I said I was ready, and she led me into the room.