In one week, on a very different space-time continuum, I would be celebrating my first child's 18th birthday. This information will be shocking, personal, and controversial, so I am warning you up front. But it's my life, decisions I made, and consequences I survive inside of. Try and remember that.
When I was 17 and three months away from graduating high school, I fell ill. So ill that all I could remember was being 10 years old with meningitis, being rushed to the ER, and laying on the couch for days afterward because moving wasn't an option; it was that bad. I couldn't open my eyes because it made me nauseous; I surely couldn't close them, because the room would just spin like a top. Crackers and water is all I consumed, and as quickly as they went down, they came back up. I missed one month straight in school because getting out of bed wasn't happening. I could just see me setting at my desk with a puke bucket at my side. Excellent imagry, right? So, after the blood work revealed my worst nightmare, I seriously considered suicide, running away, homicide, giving up on a good life, and the most amount of prayer anyone could perform, for the first time in my seemingly adult life. I was pregnant.
Realistic scenario: Seventeen years old, living with my grandmother who made $7.05 an hour, I made somewhere around the same, we had, more than once, had our electric shut off because we had no money to pay it and it was the one feasible thing we could go a few days without. We had gas heat for the stove so we could heat water on the stove to take semi-warm baths. No one in my family had a formal education. In fact, I was the great white hope of my bloodline. The man who had gotten me pregnant was 28 and horrid. He had one child he never saw, or took care of. Drove a $200 car and lived with his brother in a place that had a landlord who was in his 90's and literally forgot they existed. (I have explained to you my taste in men before; I am aware). He had no job. No money. No prospects. No interest in having a child with what was apparently supposed to be a good time for him with a teenager before he hit the big 3-0. I had no support system. I had no hope. I had no clue.
I'm not setting you up to feel bad for me; I am merely trying to paint a picture that some of you may have never been able to bear witness to as of yet. It was destitution and poverty and shame. It was the uneducated, impoverished class breeding more of the uneducated, impoverished class, a cycle I was long trying to end in my family. I was ready for my spot on the Montell Williams show. But I digress.
Something I believe many of you also know is that I have never wanted children. Turns out, they have never wanted me either. I got sicker, and sicker, and sicker. I lost weight because I couldn't eat and I was pale as could be, and that's saying something for a tried and true redhead. When I finally was able to make it out of the house and to the doctor, he basically said, make a choice. So I did. At 17, living in the circumstances that I did, it wasn't the hardest choice to make. But don't take what I am saying lightly. I have had 18 years to cope with my decision.
The baby growing inside of my body was depleting me of any nutrients that I was able to consume, which was very little, and at the rate I was going, about 8 weeks in then, we would both die, fighting for our lives. I could make a choice, terminate the pregnancy, and thrive as a normal individual would. I could risk it if I didn't believe him, though I was experiencing the difficulties every moment I was awake. Or I could let the baby take my life, when it wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving anyway, just in the off chance that I might last long enough to give it lungs or something. That was the choice I faced. We see which path I took.
My hope isn't to change your mind on the way you feel about abortion. No one should be out there pandering to pregnant women to try this method instead, it's great! That's a ridiculous notion, but seems as though it is a very real image a lot of pro-life people have which I have actually encountered. Pro-choice and "pro-abortion," (something I believe does not even exist) are two entirely different concepts. The protesters outside of the clinic that day, yes, it was incredibly stereotypical, were the worst. Evil people assuming things about me and shouting them across Franklin County lines. But there I was, facing the door of this tremendous choice, hardly strong enough to stand upright, walking the sidewalk alone. Those who drove me went shopping, taking advantage of a day in the big city.
Once inside, everyone was very nice. The facility was clean, the doctors were very detailed and everything went pretty smoothly. Except one thing. Sidebar: as I hunted for a place to go and have this procedure completed, I was bombarded with nurses begging me to reconsider before hearing a word out of me. It was a slew of pro-lifers who shoved their way into the clinics in an attempt to change someone's mind, or scare them away, I can't decide. The place I finally went to asked questions, listened to my reasoning, requested doctor's reports, seemed to care. About me, the one who was here! Hours after counceling, doctor's explanations, charts, expectations, etc., one of these women found me. As she wheeled me into the surgical room, she told me my due date. My utter disbelief of this woman stops me as I type. What kind of a person...?
And so it was finished. I came to in the recovery room, half sedated I heard the radio. Bens Fold Five, "Brick," came on. Now for those of you who don't know the song, it's about a young couple who is torn apart by the decision to have an abortion. With cookie in hand, a slighted attempt to bring me out of sedation, in a room of a handful of other girls, I very vividly remember saying to the nurse, "it's the abortion song on the radio, how ironic," subsequently making them think I was ok and didn't need any follow-up counseling to deal with my experience.
Digression is a wonderful defense mechanism. Anyway, over 18 years have passed, and every detail of that building rests inside my brain as if I have looked at pictures of the place every single day. The pink warmth of the rooms upstairs, plush couches and comforting paintings on the walls; the steel coldness of the downstairs, shining and clanging with every movement. I can see the blond hovering over me on the table as she tells me, November 4th. Bitch. I lived in Columbus for six years, and every time I drove by, my head turned and I looked to see if any protesters were out that day. There never were. Every November 4th rolls around and I think of what I would be doing for that year's birthday celebration, and every November 5th, I let it go. I am not saying I cry and sob in a mound of guilt over what happened to me. I don't. But it's there, in my subconscious, and sometimes it rises up, and I wonder, what if?
Nine years later, I was married to the man whom I thought was the love of my life. I miscarried for ten days, not knowing I had been pregnant to start. We had a home, jobs, stability, no expectations. When I saw the tenth day, physically held the tenth day, I cried. I cried for two days. It was the most unexpected thing that ever happened to me. I never wanted kids. Like I said, they apparently never wanted me either. But I felt a little bit of payback, a little vengence being had on me. When I looked my husband in the face and told him what had happened, he said, "why are you crying, it's not like we want kids anyway," and I suddenly knew the answer to "what if."
I do not regret the choice I made. I value my life. I value the lives of others. I regret that it had to happen the way that it did, but again, I see no possible alternative. It's ok if you do, or think that you do. It's ok if some people never speak to me again after reading this. It's a very sensitive topic. "All those women out there who can't have babies and you killed one." The outrage! Yes, I did. But the system is so overcrowded with already perfectly adoptable children that this excuse doesn't affect me. I have some of these women in my family. I feel for them. I don't understand the motherly impulse to want to bear life. My body told me I apparently didn't have to worry about it. I developed a condition later on in life that almost makes having children an impossibility. My tendency toward miscarriages increases with age and I feel that has always been with me. It basically rejected two fetus' by the time I was 26 years old. All I can hope that you take from this is that decisions like this are not black and white. Everyone says, just give it up for adoption. Well, a lot of those people don't understand the seriousness of bonding with something as it grows inside of you and the hardships of giving it up at that point. How many lives get ruined from that botched decision? It doesn't always work. This isn't one of those topics that have a catch-all answer. Every single situation is different.
I remain pro-choice to this day because I am glad I had the safe, protected, legal ablity to save my own life. A lot of people don't see this side. And for those of you who think I made the wrong choice, then the lack of value you see in me, in my life, only tells me the type of person you are. I don't believe there is a place in this world for the judgement of others. Empathize for the choices people have to make and just be understanding. You have absolutely no idea how you will react when you face some of the challenges others have to face every day. I hope you know that.
I have shared with you before that I enjoy reflecting on my life to try and see the puzzle pieces coming together and picking up on lessons I may have left behind. A few I learned from this; 1. Have sexual respect for myself. There are serious consequences to being sexually active, and if we don't discuss them openly with people, believe it or not, some will never know. I know I didn't. And I'm smart! 2. Understand that things happen as they are supposed to happen. I have to charge myself with a great meaning for my life, or else, my choice may have been made in vain, and I can't let that happen. 3. With the second loss, I felt a little freedom from my choice, as if it were my body telling me it would not have worked anyway. No this is not an excuse. After a lifetime of doctors in my ear, I'm pretty certain it's the truth. 4. Get to know someone before you marry them, as much as humanly possible. 5. I don't have to regret what I did. I am on this earth to bear the great burdens in life and explore their interworkings with you all, in an effort to save you from bearing them for yourself. I have accepted that cross and happily abide by my purpose. 6. And most importantly, don't let others push you down for the things you have done. I will get slack for this, but I know my truths, and I know my heart. No one else, no matter how close you get to another human being, will ever be able to say that about you. So take charge of how you are treated for your actions. Be strong and hold true. It has taken me 18 years to be able to express this time in my life to people. Until now, maybe a dozen people in 18 years ever knew this even happened. Not out of shame, but out of avoidance. I have no reason to hide anymore. I have only reasons to share, help, and illuminate. There are so many women who allow the shame of this experience to rule their heart. I ache for you. You are stronger than you will ever know for coping internally, alone. I credit you with some of that now. Don't live in regret. Live in the moment. Know that you will be the person you are meant to be. Just open your eyes and pay attention to your life.
One thing I have never told anyone...I always knew it was a boy. I always knew what I would have named him, Isac. Six weeks before my due date, my brother was born, to a woman I had spoken to once at the time. She named him Isac. I believe that spirits are never lost. The world resides with exactly as many spirits as there are to hold them. The same is true in death. If we believe that we die when it is our time, then we must believe that those who are born, are born when it is their time. I hold onto that and believe it deeply. As I have dealt with more death than life, and believe it is harder to cope with, I believe in life's cycle as a system of faith. There is no control in either direction; we merely must embrace which option is in front of us.
Take my story with you if you need. Hate me for it if you must. But know this. Every November 4th I will have a little "happy birthday" song in my head. And every Novemeber 5th I will move on.