I Had An Abortion, But I Tell People I Had A Miscarriage So They’ll Be More Sympathetic
I found out that I was pregnant courtesy of an E.P.T. test I stole from Walgreens on 51st street. My first thoughts had been of the abortion I knew I would have, wondering whether it would be painful or bloody or traumatic, how many days would I need to ditch school, could I, like, die?
Of course, I soon discovered that one does not just get an abortion; there is bureaucracy to be maneuvered and monies to be paid before said procedure can be performed. I mean, my boyfriend's job at Wendy’s (where he was "practically a manager") combined with mine at Gizmobies Phone Accessories provided plenty of cash for weed and Jordans and bejeweled Armani Exchange T-shirts, but certainly not the $375 needed to terminate a first trimester pregnancy. So when I went to the doctor one morning because my everything hurt and found out there was no heartbeat, my initial reaction was relief. I was 9 weeks not-pregnant.
"Just give it some time. Your body should expel it on its own," the doctor said. He said he was "sorry for the loss." I took a thorough inventory of my emotional state and "loss" was nowhere to be found, not regarding my pregnancy. Whatever emotional energy I possessed as a sullen, underachieving 18-year-old was invested in my quasi-abusive relationship, siphoned into loving a boy I thought was smart and deep and a poet but who was really broken and malignant. He didn't love me and he didn't love himself so I had no expectations that he would know how to care for something that was equal parts both of us.
I waited one week, then another and another, until I could no longer handle the thought of carrying around a dead thing in my body. The fetus refused to vacate the premises without some serious motivation in the form of a speculum, a curette and cervical dilators so Dr. Whatever performed a manual vacuum aspiration on a Monday in June. The procedure was not really horrible and not really pleasant -- not as bad as a root canal, but no picnic in Millennium Park either.
Neither my boyfriend ("It’s too early in the morning!") nor my best friend ("I don’t wanna see you chop up a baby!") could make it, so one of the female residents held my hand and said nice, morally unbiased things to me. Such was the end of both my pregnancy and of people being morally unbiased regarding it.
I initially told people that I had an abortion because that had been my original plan and because I thought there was nothing wrong with doing so, what with a woman’s right to choose and all.
"So, you don’t feel bad at all?" my friends prodded. "You killed a baby. You’re a murderer."
There have been times when I have questioned my moral fiber and I have no doubt that at that age I was a less-than-stellar human being, but murderer? Another even chided me for killing what she thought was the spirit of my grandmother reincarnated. "It always works like that. First there’s a death (my grandmother had died 6 months prior), then there’s a birth. That could’ve been her spirit you killed."
Said friend also conspicuously invited me to church in order to facilitate the healing and retribution I was certainly in need of. I had various acquaintances and neighbors who were expecting, teen motherhood being so in in 2008, and they would rub their bellies and remind me that they could never do what I had done. I felt the strength of my resolve waning and began to question my decision, settling into the role of pathetic, repentant baby killer. I cried on the phone with my boyfriend and even tried to write a poem to the baby, one that was stilted and forced and insincerely cliché, wringing of my love for "a face I never saw, a voice I would never hear." I threw the shitty poem away.
In the middle of my histrionics and handwringing, my mother found an ultrasound picture in my book bag and soon my entire family and close family friends were aware that I had been pregnant.
"I had a miscarriage," I told them. Hugs and condolences and concern replaced shame and derision and repulsion.
"I’m so sorry you went through that alone. I wish you would have told me so I could have been there for you!" And, "You need rest and prayer. That’s what women do after they lose a baby." So what do women do after they have an abortion? And can you lose something you never wanted to have?
The cups of consideration and understanding reserved for someone who "lost a baby" are totally different from the disgust and judgment heaped onto someone who "killed a baby." Since then, whenever I relay my reproductive history, whether to lovers or physicians or friends, I stick with miscarriage. I told a doctor once that I had had an abortion, and he asked, "How many?" with a raised eyebrow and a tone that made me feel vile and small.
Neither version of the story is a blatant lie, but due to other people’s reactions, saying that I miscarried feels slightly better, sort of like trying on jeans in a store when none of the sizes available are yours; you pick the one that’s least bad. I don’t love being the object of sympathy and pity, but it’s a much more comfortable space than ridicule and vitriol. I accept my truth but I am often unable to accept everyone’s reactions to it.
It could just be a part of my millennial affectation, this idea that I am entitled to a world that is yielding to me, respecting of my experiences and opinions, an eternal safe space. I can imagine elder ladies going, "Ha! In my day, we couldn’t even get birth control, much less safe, legal abortions. You’re whining about your feelings? Suck it up!" And maybe that is true as well; I am overly sensitive and whiny and hyper-aware of people’s opinions of me, which is my own cross to bear. After all, it is no one's responsibility to be considerate of me or whatever I have been through. Or perhaps this idea, that certain truths are okay while others most certainly are not, is a part of our larger social tendency to inform women what is acceptable and not to do with their bodies.
I know that eventually I will be one of those women, a champion and advocate and warrior, raising her proverbial fist in order to elicit literal change, standing and saying. "I had an abortion and that’s OK." After all, it is only through honest, open conversation that we are able to normalize the taboo. But as of now, I am just not there.