When I was 16, due to a very irresponsible pairing of an impetuous one-night stand and a few days of partying, I woke up one morning to discover I had mononucleosis and walking pneumonia. As if that wasn't enough, my period was late.
I was on the pill at the time, but it was the only time I hadn't used a condom with the pills, and I'd recently been on antibiotics and not known they could potentially interact with the pill. I'd laid in bed for days, sick with fever, but mostly with worry. My parents had been young when my mother had gotten pregnant, and when I'd started to become sexually active, I'd sworn constantly to myself any child I had in my lifetime would be an on purpose, not an "accident."
One night, two weeks later, still sick, and still late, I'd had a dream that a twinkling star was giggling at me, speaking in a soft voice I could not understand, and I was certain, upon waking -- cheesy as it sounds -- it was the spirit that, perhaps someday, would be my child. But not that day, or any day near it. I was 16 years old, the guy I'd slept with lived in another country, I was enrolled in an arts school for the gifted, my father and I were living on public assistance as it was, and I was just not ready.
I sat quietly for a few moments, and then imagined that twinkling star, and began talking. I explained all of this, explained that I wasn't ready, that the time just wasn't right, and implored that presence to wait, and go now, that she might come back again. I was crying hard having this conversation, and only stopped crying when I was seized by cramping, followed by a flow of blood between my legs. I can't say for certain what happened that day -- either I miscarried, or my period simply arrived almost a month late, I don't know. What I can say, is that over the years, I have had several occasions on which to speak to that giggling star in my dream.
In my life, at this point now at the end of the 90's, I have had that miscarriage, if that is what it was (it is well established that around 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, many so early as to go unnoticed or resemble a period -- my instance was hardly unusual), one herbal abortion and one surgical abortion. When they tell you that no birth control is 100% effective, they aren't kidding. That once, I got pregnant while on the pill. Once a condom slipped off, many years before the advent of emergency contraception, and before I knew how to make condoms work more effectively with lubricant and proper wear. When I had my surgical abortion, I was using natural family planning as a method.
Making the choice to terminate a pregnancy is a big one, just like all choices with a pregnancy are. There may be many factors involved: our age, our financial status, our health, the quality, or lack thereof, of our lives, our readiness, our willingness. You may not be ready for a child because you are or feel too young, too poor, you have children already you cannot support. There may be other factors: being pregnant may be a health risk for you or a child. You may be pregnant because of a rape or via an abusive relationship you don't want to be tied to. You or your partner may have conditions which will adversely affect a child: HIV, drug or alcohol addiction or dependency, an STI. You simply may not want a child or want to remain pregnant. In any of these situations, all of these conditions should be weighed, and all are valid. But even when it is the right choice, it is often a difficult one, especially in a social climate or situation where all your choices aren't supported equally and abortion is made out to be the worst one, even if you don't feel like it is for you.
What I personally will not forget easily is the surgical abortion, and for some unlikely reasons. I remember sitting in the clinic with a group of women; all of them different. Some were younger than me, some older, some richer, some poorer. Most of them scared, very scared. Most were alone.
My pregnancy at the time had me torn. I'd loved the partner I was with, and I'd taught children for years; I loved them and felt I would love to parent at some point, though I wasn't sure I ever wanted to reproduce myself. But the timing just wasn't right, and it just didn't FEEL right. My relationship with my partner was changing, I worked 80 hours a week running an alternative school, I was in my early twenties. Even early on, my pregnancy had made me terribly ill: I couldn't keep food or even water down, and I was exhausted. I had no health insurance, and very little income. I wasn't miscarrying this time, clearly: the pregnancy wouldn't just miraculously go away.
By the time I had decided to go to the clinic, I felt strong about the choice I had made. It was early, only five weeks in, but there it was: a little speck on an ultrasound. The funny thing was, when I saw that dot, I did not think: there you are. Had I felt that speck was a child, not the possibility of a child who wasn't there yet, I cannot say if I could have gone through it; it's difficult to say in retrospect or in theory. But what was there was a ball of tissue, to me, my child wasn't there -- mine was that twinkling star that floated nearby, waiting until there was a life for it.
I opted to have an abortion without anesthesia. I felt going through this, to do it right, I must be fully aware of what I was doing the entire time and be mindful. I had no desire to be unconscious, or not feel any pain I might feel. During the procedure a nurse held my hand and I said the alphabet loudly while I dug my fingernails into her palm. The pain was intense, but it was short, almost like a shot, and I didn't feel as if I had "lost" anything. I was wheeled to a recovery room where other women lie, most of them attached to IV's, having chosen to receive anesthetic, or to be asleep during the procedure.
While I laid there, waiting my 15 minutes, a girl of about 16 woke up next to me crying and very disoriented. She called for a nurse, but there wasn't one, so, feeling fine, I went over to her cot.
"Where am I?" is what she said. I explained she was in a clinic.
"Is it over?" she asked. I told her it was, that she'd had an abortion, and she was laying where she was until she was more alert, and her bleeding slowed.
She then cried more, mostly in relief, telling me how scared she was before this, and how everyone around her had not supported her in her choice to abort, even though she was 16 years old, and poor, and did not want a child with her boyfriend at the time, who she informed me was both a drug addict and someone she was trying to separate herself from. She crawled her head into my arms and lay there, thankful it was over, and then asked me, looking right into my face, if I'd thought she'd done the right thing.
"Was it right for you and who that child might have become?" is what I asked, to which she nodded, very firmly.
"Then you did the right thing," I told her. And she thanked me more earnestly than I think anyone has ever thanked me for anything before or since.
A nurse came in then and fussed at me for being up, but I'd told her I was fine, and ready to go, but that the girl beside me needed some attention. As I left, she mouthed "thank you" again as I walked out the door.
Later at home, I was a little sore, and I bled for a few days, but more than anything, I spent a few days crying. I wasn't crying for the speck of tissue that was no longer in my body. It wasn't about that.
What I mourned for was that the world was so backwards that a girl of 16 was told the way to be a good person was not to act responsibly, and give both herself and a possible child thoughtful respect and consideration for the quality of their lives, but instead, that it was better she bring into the world a child she did not want, could not care for, and which may have had every handicap known to man, including possible drug complications. I cried because it made me full of sorrow and because it filled me with anger. I cried because no one should be made to feel so horrible for going through something so difficult, alone and bravely, to do the best she felt she possibly could with a really lousy set of options. To make a choice which she has the legal and personal right to make, one which can be as right as any other.
I was pro-choice before that abortion. I remain so. Thousands upon thousands of women in the past have died to make that choice, before abortion was legal, and then, and now, those who do not support choice, let me make this clear, do not oppose abortion. They oppose a woman's right to make choices for the quality of her life and her children, and that is not supporting life or any quality of life. It is supporting an ideology and dogma that cannot fit something so subjective and varied as every single woman's choices and set of circumstances.
Being pro-choice is not often or necessarily being "pro-abortion." I personally believe that as women, it is our responsibility -- if we do not want children at any time -- to do whatever we can to avoid getting pregnant when we don't want a pregnancy. However, there are times things happen, we make mistakes, birth control doesn't work, natural abortion doesn't work, when we may change our minds about wanting to be pregnant even in planned pregnancies -- and surgical or medical abortion is an option we may consider like any other, and may easily be our best option. There is no need to apologize for that, and no need to demonize that choice or oneself in any way. It is as valid and acceptable as any other.
Being pro-choice, in my mind, is being pro-child. Anyone who tells you that it is in the best interest of a child to grow up without the most basic things they require, reared into a family that either doesn't want them, or who simply isn't ready, or who harbors anger and resentment towards them is not thinking of the best interests of a child. Anyone who tells you that there are thousands of families just waiting to adopt ALL children isn't familiar with the fact that hundreds of thousands of children every year remain without homes and many will never have permanent homes, especially minority or special needs children. Many saying such things are projecting their own values and morals in the larger sense, and the person that benefits most is themselves: not children, not the women who bear and rear them. That's human, to project our own perspective, and with such a loaded issue it's difficult or impossible to escape, but it's absolutely possible to recognize and take ownership of.
Abortion usually isn't easy; again, choices with pregnancy rarely are. If you really think it through, process it, and go through the procedure and the healing thereafter, physically and emotionally, it can be tough. It's expensive (though far less so than delivery or raising a child), it has its own set of risks (much lower than with a full-term pregnancy, but still), and there are many who will not support you in your choice. Ultimately, it is one of those things in life you may wind up going through primarily alone. Your best support may or may not come from a partner, friends or relatives. But for me -- and most likely for the young girl beside me -- I have had few moments where I felt as strong a woman as I felt going through that, and by that, I mean the larger sense of being female that exists. Women are not only one body, one mind, or mother to one, but are linked in an indescribable way to one another, and as well, to all of our children, present and potential.
When I work with children, and get to know them, there is no doubt in my mind that they are not simply the flesh they are in, and who they are at birth, at two, or at ten, did not exist in a small spot of tissue at four weeks. It exists both in a mystical place in their souls, and through what we give to them as they grow; in nature, but more so, in nurture. Even at ten, without that unnamable, magical thing that is their spirits, and without being given our love and experience, and theirs, they might remain simply that: flesh and skin and bone.
An abortion isn't right for everyone, or for every situation. But if we cannot really welcome a child into our lives, or give he or she the most vital things life requires, in my mind we are doing neither ourselves, nor any child, a favor by bringing one to term. We are possibly robbing everyone involved.
If you listen closely, and look deep, I can almost promise there will be a giggling star, or similar, out there for you, and, combined with your own voice, it guides if you let it. When you listen to your heart, it becomes clear that everything, on some level, is your choice. Before you are ever ready to rear a child, you have to be ready to make your own choices, and to be accountable for them. If you cannot, you cannot possibly make the choices for anyone else, including your children, and if we cannot give them the gift of the strength and responsibility of being in charge of their own lives, shown through our example, we cannot give them the most vital thing life requires.