I guess now we’re passing around abortion stories on Facebook. I don’t know, man, I’m barely keeping up with social media here, I just got a Gram and that’s very confusing. Too old for this shit. I’ve been too old for this shit since I was ten.
But I endorse the aim. I am indeed ashamed of the choice I made, as I was taught to be. If shame were going to shut me up, though, it should have already. I got a little long talking about this on the Book of Face, and now I’d like to get a little bit longer, because there’s a kind of prologue to this story that I’ve never told anyone.
When I was 20 I was very lucky to have Planned Parenthood and my unflappable mother, who could scream the house down over my tone of voice but received the call every mother dreads with equanimity, saying calmly, “Okay. What do you want to do?” There wasn’t a lot of consideration to be done, and she knew it as well as I did. I was working at a daycare center at the time, and I took two buses to get there in the morning. At the end of the bus ride, I stepped down onto a corner claimed by an older woman with a truly grotesque anti-abortion sign, one of those with pictures of dead babies on it. She screamed into traffic every morning, Monday through Friday, through every season in Tucson, Arizona. Her brain must have been baking in her skull.
I walked past her for several weeks after taking a pregnancy test and before ending the pregnancy. I didn’t get in her face. I was scared, and ashamed. I felt stupid, criminally irresponsible, murderous. Everything she said I was. I felt that way every day until my mom took me to Planned Parenthood, where they were kind and softspoken, and they did something cold and painful downstairs while I stared at the clouds painted on the flourescent light fixture.
Afterward I sat in a little room filled with egg-shaped chairs. They brought me weak lemonade and crackers, and nothing has ever tasted so good or so necessary. I was alone for a few minutes before they brought in someone else, sat her in the chair next to mine. I couldn’t see her, but I heard them give her the same gentle instructions they gave me: “Eat a little of this. Here’s an electric blanket – hold it against your stomach, it’ll help the pain a bit. The bathroom is there if you need it. You can stay here as long as you like, and when you’re ready to go, the door out to the waiting room is right there.”
I stayed about twenty minutes. For the first five, it was silent in that room, just me and the other woman sipping lemonade in our separate little eggs. Then she started to cry, quietly, her face buried in a cushion just like the one pressed against my temple. Her tears freed mine. We both cried for a long time. We didn’t speak. I never saw her face.
I heard her get up and leave through the waiting room door. I went out a minute later. Mom took me back to her place and put on movies while I swallowed gutwrenching nausea. We watched Batman Begins and the Peter Jackson King Kong remake. I don’t remember King Kong at all. I assume there was a monkey in it. The next day I went back to my broken-down apartment where the door didn’t close and the power was off one month in three, and the day after that I went back to work at the daycare center, past the woman with her dead baby sign, still screaming. I still felt ashamed. That never changed. It was never easy and it never got better, and I was very, very lucky to be able to access the help I needed.
Here’s the part I haven’t mentioned before, because I don’t know how to feel about it. Before I worked at the daycare center, I had a work-study job with the newspaper at my community college. I wanted to be a journalist, for a little while, before both me and journalism took a few bad years straight in the face. Then I got pregnant, and for two months I was very unreliable – I didn’t make it in on time, and when I was there, I spent half my shift in the bathroom drooling bile. Fortunately I couldn’t afford to eat breakfast, so it was just bile.
I think they knew, somehow. I was the only one in the office most of the time, so I don’t think they could have seen me, but… I think they knew. When they called me in to fire me, they sat me down on the other side of a pressboard table and said, “Is there anything you can tell us that’s been affecting your work performance?”
I looked at the carpet. I couldn’t understand why they were asking. The idea that I might be fired at this moment wasn’t surprising to me – I deserved to be fired. Why on earth would it matter why I wasn’t doing my job? I shied away, as I always did, from telling the adults around me what I was dealing with. Because I was ashamed, because my pain and my failure was my fault. Because what would happen if I told them, if I paraded this private agony to keep my job, and it worked? I would have to face them knowing, face whatever they might think, and when the pregnancy ended with no legitimizing infant to wash away my sins, I’d have to tell them what I had chosen. I couldn’t do it.
At the time it felt like integrity, maybe. Maybe it was just cowardice, obedience. I wanted to be good. I was trying to do penance, trying to take the punishment I deserved for my stupidity. I told them I had nothing to say. They fired me. A few weeks later I started work at the daycare center. I met the woman with the gory sign, and twenty or so three-year-olds I adored more than their parents seemed to, sometimes. I worked there almost exactly a year before I got fired – for smelling bad, because we still lived in the apartment with the broken door, and the power had been cut off in the middle of June, and I couldn’t afford to wash my clothes.
I went home and made sort-of-hashbrowns out of grated potatoes and flour and fried them in oil – gas stove still worked. Flour’s a dollar, potatoes five bucks the ten-pound sack. Canola oil three bucks for the bottle, reuse it a few times before throwing it out. I put a candle in a stack of potato mess and brought it to my boyfriend sitting on the futon in the living room, where we were sleeping because it was the coolest room in the house owing to its convenient broken window. I sang him happy birthday.
There was never another scare, even though it was another eight years with that boyfriend and I didn’t have access to birth control for six of them. I learned that lesson if nothing else. I still want to have a baby, maybe, if I can. It feels less likely to be possible or practical every day. I remember writing on my blog at the time: “What if this is the only chance I’ll ever get to have a kid?”
I still don’t know. I made the best choice I could at the time. I was lucky to be given a choice.