Sex wasn’t talked about in our house. I was raised going to church every Sunday, saying grace before dinner, and praying before bed. The only times sex was brought up was when my parents were warning me not to do it. But mostly, it was just ignored.
Around 16 I became much more involved with my friends, and began questioning the teachings of the Catholic Church that I was raised in. Soon after I lost my virginity to a guy I did not like. My self esteem was barely existent and I just did not have the courage to say no, but we did use protection. I ended up distancing myself from him immediately afterwards, and did not have sex again for over a year.
At the beginning of my last year in high school, I began dating a man who was not good for me at all. He never physically or verbally abused me, but he was a severe alcoholic that was on probation for a drug charge. A mixture of rebellion, low self esteem, and discounted drugs was the basis for our relationship. I can remember asking my mother for birth control after deciding that I wanted to eventually have sex again. The inevitable answer was no, but there was not much elaboration about why. So instead of going to the doctor on my parents health insurance and getting pills free of cost, I had to go to Planned Parenthood, alone, and pay out of pocket for a years worth of pills while still in high school. Thankfully there was a clinic in Huntsville, near where we lived, and I was old enough not to need parental consent. After graduation I wised up and called it off with this guy, and thankfully the birth control did its job and I never got pregnant.
Although I liked to have more fun than my parents condoned, my grades were quite good and I got accepted into the business school at the University of Texas at Austin. Once I was enrolled, I used my access to the student health center to get low cost birth control. I wasn’t in a relationship but wanted to have my bases covered in case I found myself having sex. My mother says this is a result of the contraception mentality that is destroying our nation and family values. I call it being responsible and planning ahead.
My sophomore year in college I began dating a soon-to-be lawyer. This would be my first experience with a healthy romantic relationship. One of the best gifts I received from this relationship was the slow healing of my sexual identity. My entire life I had been told that sex was bad unless you were married, and even then only a certain kind of sex was acceptable. I was able to overcome the extreme guilt, shame, and shyness towards sex that I had grown up with while in this safe relationship. I was lucky to have a partner that understood my upbringing and didn’t judge.
The relationship didn’t last forever, and I had several flings afterwards, but nonetheless I graduated single and ready to become a working woman. Before I found my fist job, I began dating a man I had known as a friend for years. Again, I didn’t have insurance or a job at the time so I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood in Austin. I didn’t have much money, but I knew that I didn’t want to take any chances getting pregnant, so I forked over the money and got the pills.
The relationship lasted for almost two years, and became steadily worse the longer we dragged it out. It was obvious we weren’t meant for each other but we had already invested so much that it was long overdue when I finally pulled the plug. When we eventually moved out of our shared house, it was a welcome relief, to myself and those around me. Also, since I was no longer living with my boyfriend anymore, I was finally free of the emails and letters from my mother about the importance of chastity and marriage, a sliver of a silver lining in an otherwise undesirable situation.
Upon moving out of our house, I was ready to have some adventure, especially since I didn’t know what I wanted in my professional life. I spent over a year abroad and came back with tons of stories, but barely any money. To make ends meet I lived with my parents for a year while working full time in the local school district. Living with my parents again proved to be a much more difficult task than it had been when I was a teenager. We disagreed fundamentally about most things, especially politics and religion. I love talking about politics and religion, but unfortunately none of us could do so civilly, and feelings inevitably got hurt on both sides. Eventually my parents had to make the rule that we couldn’t talk about these topics again, or I would have to leave permanently. I complied because it’s their house and their rules.
Around this time my friends from high school had slowly begun getting married and having children, and suddenly my Facebook feed was full of babies. Up until that point in my life, I had never really given a thought to whether or not I’d have kids. I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other. So, I set out to learn everything I could about becoming a mother. After months of soul searching and reading opinions from every type of parent and non parent I could find in books, online and in real life, I firmly decided that kids were not for me. I’ve worked with kids of all ages for several years and loved my time interacting with them, so my attitude is not born out of disdain for children, but rather from weighing the pros and cons of parenthood. I’ve done my due diligence and I recognize that being a mother is something I actively do not want.
During this period of self discovery, I was not dating for several months, but instead focusing on myself. But as fate would have it, I randomly met a guy. John and I instantly connected and talked daily for several weeks. No topics were off limits and we were positively giddy over the fact that we had found a kindred spirit. Unfortunately, I was planning to move back to Austin in a couple months, and he made it clear he needed to stay in Huntsville for his career. We decided we’d enjoy the time we have and not put pressure on ourselves to be in a long term relationship.
A little while after I met John, my family took a trip out of the country for a family reunion. I have great memories of this trip and look back at it fondly. However, my brother and I got in a spat, and it was the straw that broke the camels back for my parents. I was told to find a new place to live when we returned home. I had several friends that were willing to let me stay with them, but they had to charge me, which was understandable. I was only working part time at this point, and needed to save my money for my move to Austin. I presented the situation to John, and of course he welcomed me to stay with him for much cheaper than I could have done elsewhere. My mother didn’t like the idea of me living with a guy again, much less someone I had just met a couple months ago. But money talks and I didn’t have many options.
There was no question that I wanted to get physical with this guy. So, I decided to do what I had always done before and get on birth control. I didn’t have insurance or a gynecologist, so I knew my cheapest hope was Planned Parenthood. Since I had been traveling the previous year, I was a little out of the loop on what was happening politically in Texas. New restrictions had been approved by the legislature that effectively cut millions in funding for Planned Parenthood, and our Huntsville clinic had no choice but to close its doors. The next nearest clinic was all the way in Houston, over 150 miles roundtrip and an hour away. That’s when I made the decision that condoms would just have to be good enough. I could barely afford food, much less gas to and from Houston, plus the costs of the pills.
John and I were very careful when we had sex. The one time we had an accident, we threw together the money and made our way to Walmart for Plan B, just in case. John was just as adamant as myself about not wanting children, so there were no disagreement between us on this matter. A couple weeks go by and I know that something is not right. I didn’t usually track my periods, but I knew that it was overdue. I picked up a couple pregnancy tests, just to be sure. At John’s apartment I did the ritual, but only a faint blue line appeared under the pregnant window. I figured that meant inconclusive and decided to wait another few days and take it again. That faint blue line was now dark as night and staring up at me from the bathroom counter a couple days later.
I had already made up my mind about not wanting to become a parent, and that little blue line did nothing to change those feelings. There is more to the story though. I suffer from several chronic genetic illnesses that would make pregnancy not only physically dangerous for me, but mentally as well. The drugs I am prescribed have not been tested on pregnant women, and they don’t know how it affects a fetus. What I did know though, was that I would suffer greatly without those drugs. Not only was giving birth and being pregnancy something that I did not even remotely want, but the drugs could have severely harmed the fetus if I had chosen to remain pregnant. Even if the fetus wasn’t affected by the drugs, there was still a good chance that they would develop the same chronic illnesses that have plagued me for the majority of my life. I did not want to add a potentially chronically ill, unwanted child, to this already over populated earth. So, adoption was not on the table.
Surprisingly, when I saw the two blue lines, I was completely calm. I knew what needed to happen. I called the Planned Parenthood in Houston and made an appointment. I texted John and told him the news and what I was planning. Perhaps I should have waited until he got home from work, but I already knew his opinion because we had talked extensively about not wanting kids. When he got home he hugged me and told me he was proud of how rational and calm I was remaining. I am grateful I had such a supportive man to help me along on this journey.
I chose not to tell my family about what was going on. My parents are very pro-life and my mother is very active in pro-life demonstrations and politics. When the Planned Parenthood was open in Huntsville, my mother would often take trips there to pray outside of hand out pro-life literature. She worked actively to close the clinic, and celebrated when it finally came to fruition. The clinic didn’t offer abortions, just low cost reproductive health care for poor women like myself. Ironically, if the clinic would have been open I probably would have gotten the birth control pills I needed before I got pregnant. But since I would have had to drive almost 150 miles I decided to forgo it and use condoms, which are not as effective as the pill when used correctly.
I went to the first appointment alone, and was actually quite surprised when they said they needed to insert a probe in my vagina in order to do an ultrasound. The clinicians are required to explain what appears on the screen, but all I saw was a fuzzy dot, and nothing that looked like a baby or even a fetus. I was about 6 weeks along. I have heard many women’s stories about seeing their unborn children on an ultrasound and having a complete reversal of their initial ambivalence. Nothing of the sort happened to me. I found the entire ordeal interesting and actually kept the sonogram, but overall I didn’t feel any more emotion than when I got a planters wart frozen off my foot.
Since there is a mandatory waiting period in Texas, I didn’t get the actual abortion until a week later. The abortion itself was fairly noneventful. I wasn’t nervous or scared since I knew the procedure was safe and I was making the right decision for myself. John came with me and we sat in the waiting room for hours. I took a nap, he played on his phone. We even made some jokes and had a conversation or two. Neither of us felt guilty, ashamed, or coerced. During the procedure a volunteer held my hand and it was over in a few minutes. I didn’t feel any pain and the doctors and nurses were incredibly kind. There were no judgments being made.
It has been several months and I still feel the same as I did the day I got the abortion: fine. I am not sorry for putting my physical and mental health above the life of the fetus. I am not sorry for sacrificing the potential life of another human so that I did not have to suffer. I am not sorry that I don’t want children in the first place and don’t want to be pregnant. Am I regretting I didn’t drive 150 miles to get the birth control I needed? A little. Do I hold my mother accountable for a role in all this? Yes. Had her efforts been placed in distributing low cost contraception instead of making access more difficult, I might not have ended up in the place I did. Am I also responsible for my role in this? Yes. However, I would be the first one in line to get my tubes tied, but alas, almost no doctors will perform the surgery because the risk of me changing my mind is too great. The cost of this procedure, which is usually not covered by insurance, is also something that I cannot afford. I have another two decades of fertility and reliable contraception is getting harder and harder to access.
Fortunately, I have a front row ticket into the mind of a radical pro life advocate. After my abortion I really wanted to understand my mother’s mindset on this contentious issue. I decided to start up a conversation with some hypothetical questions about someone who doesn’t want children. Being a devout Catholic, she doesn’t believe in any form of birth control except Natural Family Planning, and that’s only for married couples. Being open to children is also a requirement to get married in the Catholic Church. So what do people do if they don’t want children but want to get married and remain true to Catholic doctrine? It doesn’t leave you with many viable options when it’s rationally played out. This is one of the many reasons I decided to abandon the church – there is no place for women like me, unless I want to remain single and celibate, or get married and play Russian Roulette with my health.
Unfortunately, this is the pervasive attitude underlying the fight against abortion. It boils down to “Don’t want kids? Don’t have sex.” Should women be forced to remain celibate because they don’t want children at the time, or ever? Would we ask the same thing of a man? It seems drastic and even a little dangerous to shut off such a vital part of one’s identity, especially since we have the technology to separate sex and children. If this approach works for some and they can lead happy and fulfilling lives without sex, then good for them. But I am a sexual being and if I try to suppress my sexuality, it will result in untold damage on my psyche. The solution is not abstinence from all sex until you want to get pregnant. The solution is to do it safely, with several forms of birth control. We should be making it easier for women to obtain birth control, not harder. The more obstacles that are put in the way, the less likely it is that women will go out and get the birth control they need, as evidenced by my own case. This will lead to more unintended pregnancies and higher rates of abortions and undoubtedly more babies being born all around, especially to poorer women who can’t afford them in the first place.
What needs to happen first? Agree that women own their bodies and can have sex for pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it’s two consenting adults. Unfortunately this flies straight in the face of most religions that espouse waiting for marriage as the only moral way to have sex. This creates a society that shuns women for having premarital sex, and demonizes single mothers. When the stigma is removed around premarital sex for women, they will benefit tremendously. We need to stop the war on Planned Parenthood and increase access to contraception, not punish women for having sex in the first place.
I have not told my mother about my abortion because I love her too much. She has helped me financially and emotionally with my health issues and is generally a really nice woman. She would be devastated if she found out I had “murdered my child”. She believes that only desperate women are duped into abortions by Planned Parenthood and eventually end up depressed and remorseful for their decisions, no matter the reasoning behind them. I want to shield my mother from her inevitable torment of “failing” and raising a daughter that could have so little regard for the sanctity of life. I know my mother has good intentions, and does not purposefully want women to suffer, but I feel she is greatly misguided. I only think about my abortion when I read the news and see the pro life movement making strides towards their goal of outlawing abortion for all women. I recently saw a photograph on my mother’s kitchen counter of a toppled Planned Parenthood sign outside a former clinic in Bryan, Texas. There are plans to build a religious based crisis pregnancy center in its place. I now feel it is my duty to step up and join the fight for my right to not be pregnant and still have sex.
Despite taking precautions and being responsible, I still got pregnant. My abortion was a way to affirm that I am in control of my life and my future, whatever it may hold. It is not something that eats me up, but rather something that makes me grateful to live in a society where I had a choice about my health. Hopefully it stays that way.