I was 20 and a junior in college when I found out I was pregnant. I was with a man who was kind and understanding, but our relationship was fleeting.

I knew from the beginning that we did not have a future together. I’m not one to go against my gut. I grew up with two parents who were not married or even together when I was conceived, yet felt it was necessary to “try and work it out” for my sake for the first ten years of my life. What I learned about relationships in that time involved dishonesty, disagreement, and frustration, things that I would never wish for any child to endure.

Had I decided to go through with my pregnancy, my child would be born into a family that was not ready for another human to enter it. My love and affection could never account for the hardships of growing up in a poverty-stricken, single parent home. Yes, children grow up under these circumstances every day, but mine didn’t have to and I would not force that kind of life onto another person if I didn’t have to, especially my own flesh and blood. So no, I did not make the irresponsible or selfish choice to get an abortion. I made the choice that would prevent another child from struggling through childhood with separated parents who can’t afford basic necessities, who have little family to turn to for help, and who could never provide the life that they one day hoped for because they could not finish college.

Though I was content with my decision and supported by my close family and friends, one of the most upsetting aspects of the entire experience was walking into the doctor’s office that Friday morning to join a room full of women in my exact same position, all waiting patiently to make one of the hardest decisions of their lives. Though we were all feeling a mixed array of emotions, there was no denying that we were grateful to be in a room where no one could condescendingly judge or lecture us on our decisions. Oddly enough, however, it was almost as if we were still being held back by some unknown force. As if society was lingering inside, just waiting to cast a judgmental glare at the first woman who uttered the word abortion. We all knew what we were there for, but there was an overwhelming, collective fear to keep quiet anyway.

A year later when I was 21, I was with a man whose words tricked me into believing I had finally found someone worth letting in. I let him break down the walls I had spent so long building and trusted him with everything in me. In hindsight, he was the last person I should’ve entrusted with my time or my heart. He broke up with me the same night I found out I was pregnant. I can’t describe the amount of pain that I felt in that moment. I made it through an abortion with dignity and grace, but I couldn’t imagine doing it all over again. I started to believe the awful things “pro-lifers” said about women who choose to get abortions. I felt irresponsible, lost, and most of all alone. I was embarrassed to tell my family or friends in fear that they would truly judge me this time. What I failed to realize is that accidents happen. And yes, sometimes accidents happen more than once. I rarely talked about my first abortion to anyone because I was afraid of how people would react or view me afterwards. Personally, I was confident with my decision and trusted that I made the right choice, but I refused to give anyone else the satisfaction of looking down on me. This time I started to feel those very things about myself. Unfortunately, the father left me with a grim ultimatum. He already had a one-year old child from a previous relationship and he left me out of the blue to move in with his son’s mother. If I chose to carry the baby, I would raise the child myself, otherwise his son’s mother would adopt the child and they would raise it without me. That was an unbearable thought. I had one year left to finish school. I was waist deep in student debt but I go to a prominent school and have a good chance at starting a legitimate career when I graduate.

I chose what was right for myself and for my child and although it cut a little deeper the second time around, a decision had to be made that would cause the least amount of pain in the long term. Initially I wanted to keep the child, badly. I still don’t have a concrete explanation for my change of heart during my second pregnancy, but I have a suspicion that it was for the same reason that many women go through with pregnancies in hopes that the father will stick around to help. I knew this was nothing short of a fantasy in my situation, so after two months of back and forth arguments and nonstop tears, I decided that the two of us could not provide a child with the happiness and care that a child deserves. He showed up two hours late to take me to my abortion and paid for about half of it after initially promising to cover the entire cost. I realized then that I was making the absolute responsible choice in light of the father’s ongoing irresponsible behavior. Afterwards he dropped me off at home and never checked in to see how I was holding up after the surgery.

To be honest, physically, I felt awful. It’s different for everyone I suppose. I was awake both times and it was painful for me. The mixture of physical pain and an overwhelming sense of shame during those five-minutes made for an incredibly emotional procedure. The staff was wonderful, though. I had a nurse the first time and a volunteer the second time holding my hand the whole time telling me I was doing great and I was okay and that it would be over soon. Without those women I’m not sure how much worse I would’ve felt during the procedure as a whole. These are the women that should be the voices of society. The women who ask you about your life and your goals while you wait for the doctor to arrive. People who treat you as a fellow human beings with hopes and dreams, and understand that your decision is hard one that is made a little easier with compassion and support from others.

I think about my abortions frequently. I do not regret them. I am thankful for my life and that I am almost about to graduate and that I do not rely on a man or the government to support me financially. I sometimes feel sad thinking about “what could have been” but it’s not worth it if that alternate future was filled with financial instability and constant turmoil. I want to have children one day but it will be on my own terms with a father that I trust and want to raise a family with. A stable family, where the children only worry about kid things and can see both parents every day of their lives. I am not selfish, no matter what society thinks. No matter how sad I feel on a given day, I know that my decision was brave. It was difficult and painful and I still got through it. I refuse to be silenced by people who judge me without ever experiencing what I have experienced and never will. I am smart, compassionate, and considerate, all qualities that led me to my decisions. I refuse to add another child to the growing number of orphaned, unwanted, and neglected children brought into the world by women who were convinced by society that they had no other choice. The choice to protect their future child from a painful life is a choice that every single woman should be able to make for herself and her future unborn children. I envision a world where the majority of people who are part of the abortion conversation are women and those who have experienced abortions themselves. Our voices matter and they have the power to strip the shame and stigma from the abortion “issue”. It’s not an issue. It’s a personal decision. A decision that was right for me and for many other women who made the same decision in their own lives. Our words deserve to be heard so that no woman ever again feels that decisions regarding her own body and future are up for debate.