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Archive for March, 2010

catharsis

You may have noticed that the question of having children has recently taken on a new urgency for me. I’ve wanted to write about the reason why for a long time, but I haven’t felt up to it until now.

I got pregnant and got an abortion near the end of last year. I haven’t written about it yet, a.) because the audience for this blog includes potential grandparents, and b.) because the emotional processing for me has been ongoing and I’ve been unsure of what I wanted to say about it. But, since you all know me, you’ll know I’ll have been wanting to say something.

Where I might, left to my own devices, go into a lot more detail – my life, and especially this instance of it, is intricately tied up in Trevor’s now, and a respect for his own privacy prevents me from delving too deeply into the specifics of the situation. For a long time, I also felt that I should never write about it on my blog because of this same issue. However, I’ve come to the conclusion, that while respect for my husband’s privacy and feelings in the matter is important, I feel it is equally important for me to share my story.

Now, I know there aren’t millions of people reading the blog, and my story isn’t really unique or inspiring in any way. But I want to share my story for two reasons: 1.) because I think abortion should be talked about, not swept under the rug, or hidden away…it should never be a shameful thing, and to refuse to acknowledge it is to make it shameful and invisible, and 2.) catharsis: I need to do this, it’ll make me feel better.

I’m not a very private person. This isn’t a story that no one has heard. My coworkers have heard it, one of my best friends has heard it, my mother has heard it. It’s not so much that I haven’t told my story, just moreso that I haven’t written it. I’m sure most of you can appreciate the difference, but for those of you who maybe can’t: writing for me is, in fact, more cathartic than talking in most instances. As a way to process something that has happened or is happening to me, writing is very effective for me – I think mostly because it is so introspective and internal. I have been a life-long journaler for this very reason. So, while many people have heard this story, I haven’t written it until now, except within the pages of my private journal, where there is one short entry dated a few days before the abortion took place, concerning my ambivalence over the whole thing.

And, boy, was I ambivalent. When the idea that I could be pregnant first entered my head, my first thought was that I probably wasn’t actually pregnant. That has been my first thought during previous scares, and has always been proven correct up until this last time. When I did the period-math and discovered I was actually over a week late, I started to get nervous. When I get nervous I just jump into overdrive – I have probably wasted hundreds of dollars on pregnancy tests over the years, not because I am really that careless or had actual cause for alarm in most cases, but because I am so prone to nervous overreaction. So, even as I peed on my little stick, I thought to myself, “it will be the same this time, you’re overreacting, and of course the test will be negative like it always is”. A tiny, nagging voice in some other part of my brain said, “but you’re over a week late”, but I just tried to push that aside and focus on the more attractive explanation: that I had miscalculated, and in reality was not that late or maybe not late at all.

I wouldn’t exactly say I was surprised a few minutes later when the test showed positive, but I was shocked. You know how expectant moms will sometimes say things like “I just knew that it had worked this time, I knew we were pregnant before I even took the test” – I would say I had a similar experience in that something just felt different this time. The whole thing felt doomed from the beginning – all my mental wrangling, excuses of bad math, looking to all the times in the past when the test came back negative – it all felt like a very feeble attempt to deny the inevitable this time around. It was like, on some level, I knew. I think mostly though, that came not from some cosmic sense I have as a woman and potential mother, but from the fact that I know I’m not that bad at counting, and I couldn’t possibly be far enough off to account for being this late. When I mentioned earlier that all the pregnancy tests I have previously taken could be chalked up to nervous overreaction, I was not exaggerating or lying. This might have been the first pregnancy test I took when I was more than one or two days late, and I’m sure that, too, contributed to my feeling that this was the real deal.

They tell you to take the pregnancy test in the morning, at first pee, so to speak, because that pee will have the highest concentration of HCG (sometimes called “the pregnancy hormone”), which will make it easier to detect. Because I am impatient when nervous, it didn’t occur to me to maybe wait for a day I didn’t have to go to work. So, after I found out I was pregnant, I first texted my friend and co-worker, Esther, to tell her the results, then I took a long, hot shower, got ready, and went into work. The nice thing about working with one of your best friends is that, when something like this happens and you have to go into work anyway, your best friend is there to talk to you about it all day. Because Trevor had already gone to work, and because I didn’t really feel like texting him something like this was very responsible or appropriate, my best friend knew about my pregnancy before my husband did.

Even in my overreaction to all things big and small, I am a very thorough person. So, even though my doctor’s office cheerfully told me I was probably pregnant if the test said I was and didn’t really need to confirm it with a blood test, I went in that evening and had them draw blood anyway. This all happened on a Thursday. On Friday morning, the doctor’s office called and told me the blood test had also come back positive and I was, indeed, pregnant. I told Trevor that night when he came to bed. I had been trying to find an in, a way to start the conversation, all evening, but in my cowardice I had shirked away from disrupting his blissful ignorance to basically ruin his night and make him feel as anxious as I did. I was already in bed, but not yet asleep (how could I sleep?) when he came to bed, and in the quiet, darkened room I told him my news.

I have to put in a word here about how bad I feel for anyone in the situation of being told this news when it is unwanted news. Do you acknowledge that it is unwanted? But what if she wants it and then you have gone ahead and said you don’t? Like most smart men, Trevor countered my news with a question: “what do you want to do?” and the rest of our conversation flowed from there.

We decided to terminate the pregnancy based mostly on two things: the impracticality of continuing it given our financial situation was the foremost concern, but the fact that we had only ever talked about having children in the abstract also informed our decision. When Trevor and I met, he said he did not want to have children. Shortly before we married, we had a series of conversations that can basically be summed up by “maybe someday far in the future, but not anytime soon.” By the time we found out I was pregnant, Trevor had been intimating for some time that he may never want children after all, and I had already begun the process of reconciling this with my own barely-formed, or even as-yet-formed, wants and desires. Finding out I was pregnant put an immediate, intense strain on our relationship, and that period of our marriage was the most difficult yet. Although we emerged intact and, I would argue, all the stronger for it, this is not a course I would recommend.

The course I recommend is having a frank, honest, open discussion with each other early in the relationship – perhaps before marriage is even mentioned, but certainly after it has been – about whether or not you want to have children, and whether or not either of you are likely to change your mind. We did only half the work. We had the conversation, many conversations actually, about whether or not we wanted to have children, in which Trevor stated he didn’t and I stated I hadn’t decided yet, but we never really had any concrete conversations about whether or not any of this was set in stone. Then we had more conversations which confused the issue entirely, as one or the other of us would waffle back and forth between “yes, I want them” and “no, I don’t”.

Furthermore, once you’ve had this discussion you have to be willing to make a decision and you have to be willing to walk away if necessary (if either of you feels that strongly one way or another). Neither of us were willing to do that, even though we saw a potential conflict down the road -“down the road” was a long way away, and we would deal with it when it came. I’m actually kind of relieved it happened so early in our marriage, because can you imagine how much worse it might be later on? The potential for disaster increases with each passing year spent together, with each bond formed. As your intimacy becomes deeper and deeper, and the two of you become more and more of a family unit, the hurt and pain caused by any fracture or separation becomes that much more severe. So, again, I’m glad it happened pretty early in our relationship, because we had to reckon with it early and have come away stronger because of that.

I was the first one to say the word “abortion” and I often feel, to this day, that I gave him an out by doing that. I’m sure many women have felt the same – you do not want to force your partner to be the one to say this. In my case, saying it was initially easy. It was the most logical course of action open to us given our financial situation; the fact that we were still newlyweds living in an apartment and had not had a whole lot of time to ourselves; and given that we had never expected to be in the position to have to make this commitment so soon. But I found myself quickly regretting that I had said it, as Trevor agreed so wholeheartedly and with such fervor that it almost broke my heart. It certainly punctured my little bubble of hopeful, ignorant assumptions: namely, the assumption that, when the time came, he would want it, too, he would change his mind and embrace having a child. Is it incredibly naive to say that I still hope that might happen, that as he ages his priorities will shift in the “right” direction? While being faced with the very real predicament of my pregnancy clarified and intensified Trevor’s own feelings on the issue of whether or not to have children, forcing him to come to the conclusion that he really does not want them, it also clarified and intensified my own feelings that I might, which of course is problematic.

I still can’t say whether or not I want children, for sure. I have struggled with this question ever since all this happened, because it challenged an assumption I had about myself. I always assumed that, even if I might have wanted children at some future date, not having them would be fine, too. But being so close to having a child, and then not having one, triggered in me a much more acute desire to, in fact, have one, and an awareness that this could be a much bigger stumbling block in our relationship than I had previously thought. I used to just think, if I wanted them and didn’t have them or couldn’t have them, I would just get over it and move on, no big deal. But I see now that, should that become a conflict in our marriage, “getting over it” will not be an easy or pleasant thing to have to do. However, because I don’t want to be having a baby this August, and because the experience of making the decision to abort so clarified both of our own feelings and positions on the issue of having children, I don’t have any regrets about my abortion at all.

I won’t go into details about the procedure, but I will say that having Trevor with me was absolutely invaluable. It was hard to go through, regardless, but having Trevor there made if infinitely more comfortable and made it seem a little less like an out-of-body experience, as surreal as it all was. The actual procedure was mostly painless except for one, short, very intense pain that actually made me cry out. They had to remind me to keep breathing in the laughing gas, since I had stopped when I was so shocked by the pain, and then it got better again. Trevor stood by me and held my hand the entire time (which is to say, the entire few minutes, since the actual procedure is very quick), and let me squeeze his hand as hard as I wanted to. He looked as in pain as I felt, which is really sort of sweet, I think (does that sound totally fucked up? You know what I mean).

There’s a little recovery room where they let you lay down and give you candy, and usually men aren’t allowed there because there are other women recovering from the procedure in the room, too. But because there was no one else in there at the time, Trevor got to stay with me for awhile, until someone else did need to come in. I was crying, kind of residually from the pain, and then also just because the whole experience was so intense and surreal and I didn’t really know how I felt about it yet. And he just held my hand and stroked my face and few times and picked out candies for me from the little basket. If it weren’t for the whole abortion thing, it might have been one of the most tender, intimate moments in our relationship.

In sum, my ambivalence toward having children, and the newfound urgency with which I’ve been pondering the question, stems almost directly from this experience. Over the last three or four months, I’ve thought a lot about Trevor and my’s relationship and how much it means to me. It seems the height of stupidity to even ponder losing him so that I can have children, probably especially now, when I’m not even sure I want them. But, at the same time, it also seems the height of stupidity to ignore the situation, the potential conflict, and just wait until some unspecified, future date to deal with it again, or to have it thrust upon us once more. The thing that is so frustrating about it is that Trevor is, mostly, a known quantity, whereas having children is not. If I could just know what I’d be gaining and losing by having or not having them, I’d feel so much more equipped to make a more permanent decision. But there’s no list of pros and cons in the world that could make this kind of decision for you, and, as I’ve stated before, why do I need the permanence? Why can’t how I feel about it today just be enough for me, enough for now?

Even though I don’t want to be having a baby this year, and I’m glad I aborted last December, I often think about how far along I would be on a given date. Today I would have been approximately 18 weeks along, which is about 4 1/2 months. I guess it’s kind of masochistic in a way, but I like to be aware of that. It’s sobering to me, and it actually helps me to remember why we terminated it in the first place.

I’m starting cosmetology school later this month, and I wouldn’t have been able to go to school if we were looking forward to having a young child to raise. I may not have even been able to work, once it came along. I may not know yet whether or not I want to have children, but I do know that I want to have a life first. I want to learn to do something I’ll enjoy, I want to make better money, and I, just generally, want to do more before I have children.

After the abortion I told Trevor that I didn’t think I could ever go through that again. Now that I’ve gotten some distance from it, I have to amend that. I think I could do it again, if I had to, although of course my preference is not to have to at all. Having actually exercised my right to a safe, legal abortion has made me that much more staunchly pro-choice, and has really personalized all of the recent debates over the issue in regards to health care overhaul, too. So, although I don’t ever want to get an abortion again, I, more than ever, want to be sure that I can get one if I want or need one – that anyone can get one if they want or need one.

A new goal of mine, that I had hitherto not really outlined within my own personal fight for abortion rights, is to make abortion more affordable. Luckily, my health insurance covered a portion of my abortion, but I still had to come up with $275 that I really didn’t have. If I didn’t have a partner who was willing and able to help me cover not only the costs of the actual procedure, but also some of the bills I couldn’t pay because I had to shell out for it, I would’ve really been in an untenable situation. No one should have to choose between gas money or food or paying an important bill and paying for their abortion. And the current assistance that is available through some clinics is meager at best and, while it is a great asset to lower-income women and families, middle-class women are often left stuck in-between a rock and a hard place – making too much money to get any assistance, and too little money to just be able to pay for it on their own.

Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now, I just thought it was interesting how in this case that phrase “the personal is political” really applies. Thanks for reading about my experience, I’m happy I shared it with you all.

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