“It has been one of the greatest and most difficult years of my life. I learned everything is temporary. Moments. Feelings. People. Flowers. I learned love is about giving, everything. And letting it hurt. I learned that vulnerability is always the right choice because it is easy to be cold in a world that makes it so very difficult to be soft. I learned all things come in twos. Life and death. Pain and joy. Salt and sugar. Me and you. It is the balance of the universe. It has been a year of hurting so bad but living so good. Making friends out of strangers. Making strangers out of friends. Learning mint chocolate chip ice cream will fix just about everything… We must learn to focus on warm energy. Always. Soak our limbs in it and become better lovers to the world. For if we can’t learn to be kinder to each other how will we ever learn to be kinder to the most desperate parts of ourselves. –Rupi Kaur
Perhaps, maybe, I thought a year would make me braver. Perhaps, just perhaps, I thought that adding 365 days of pain (albeit, not always) on top of pain might make my words wiser, more swallow-able, tasting a bit less bitter and a bit more of grace. And I am here to tell you that I am no braver or wiser in word nor deed now than I was a year ago. But, then again, maybe the simple action of sitting and writing in the first place is evidence to the contrary. I’ll let you decide for yourselves.
A little more than a year ago I sat at the kitchen table watching Parenthood, pausing occasionally to holler at Kate in our bedroom a few episodes behind when she’d exclaim over a plot development or character stupidity. I went to classes a year ago. To work. To babysit. To that little blue room. To Cheryl’s. To Tacoma. I was a person who went: places. Did: things. Lived: constantly. In my naivety, either the error of my humanity or an error of my youth, I was surprised when life did a three-sixty, sucker punched me, and then kicked me about seventeen times while I was already down.
Before all that, though, I was drinking wine with my best friend on Valentine’s Day and talking about this guy I’d met a few weeks ago who was so stupid good looking that I couldn’t quite believe he bothered to spend time with me. I was laughing while wine warmed my cheeks and made me a bit shameless and honest with that best friend of mine; we talked about how young we know we are and yet how old we felt. We talked about the mountains we’d seen moved in our lives and the ones too stubborn to budge. We projected how we thought this still-pretty-new-twenty-fifteen was going to change us, grow us. How this was going to be the best time of our lives up to this point. The best year.
The worst year.
Fast forward about two weeks exactly from that moment to me:
Laughing. Kind of crying. Probably both.
Because I am not the person that things like this happen to. I’d had the whole of 2011 to account for all the pain one is supposed to feel by the time they turn twenty-one. Lest we forget Life and its sick right hook and deadening left jab.
Positive. Positive. Positive.
Four of them.
Four Positive. One, reluctant (me).
I could not be pregnant. I could not be. It simply defied the logic of contraception which, clearly, had failed. But still.
I repeated it in my head like a mantra.
I looked at those four little tests on the back of my toilet and I laughed at them, remember very clearly telling them that they were wrong and then walking away to cook dinner. When I came back twenty minutes later and they still hadn’t changed their tune that’s when I went crazy. Like really, truly, diagnosable type crazy.
Which is to say I called my sister, then Stephanie, then Karen and sobbed.
It was not real, right? A cosmic joke from God who’d finally decided to come out of hiding and say something, right? Like, HAHA, just kidding—I’m here, just wanted to remind you how bad it could be! But it’s not. Go back to your life.
Except God did not speak.
My brain, however, made up for a lot of the silence of the benevolent.
I remember sitting in my living room despairingly sobbing to Stephanie, about what I do not remember. My brain would not shut off. It wanted to be logical and brainy and smart. My heart though, my trusty, sturdy, reliable heart
She did not speak. She did not move. She whispered,
gently, quietly, tenderly:
You have always known choice.
Long before having been kissed, before even being brave enough to talk to a boy, and LONG before sex I knew: that if I got pregnant—when I was not ready, when it was not time, when there was not love—that I would have an abortion.
I bet so many of you reading cringed. Or, just as likely, stopped reading all together when you read the “pregnant” first, then felt out the tone of this piece, and finally justified yourself whatever you feel about my choice by the time I wrote “abortion”. And, if that is the case, I ache for you. I am sorry that you cannot sit, even now, and listen. That you think to immediately shame me or throw bible verses at me as though you speak for God. Or me. You are in every prayer I don’t have the words for because there is never any peace when no one is willing to listen. Damn your pride. Your justifications. I do not ask for your tongue more than I plead for your ears.
My heart knew. My mind caught up. And then I slept; the type of sleep you rouse from knowing that, to some extent, you slept but also knowing the exhaustion would not leave. I dressed myself gently, almost as if I was noticing my body for the first time. This long hair. These small fingers crowded with rings. These breasts. The belly button ring. The thick thighs. The feet so constantly cold.
I paid attention to the whispers of this body, quietly:
Wash your face. Okay.
Wear your favorite shirt. Okay.
Do not turn on music. But. Shhh. Listen.
And I did. I sat in that little kitchen, sun slanting through the blinds and playing hop-scotch on the floor. I listened to the birds. The dripping of the bathroom sink. The quiet of my home. I reflected on the choice I was about to make, the subsequent journey that it would spin me off on. I wondered at how long I’d been pregnant and not known then, alternately, wondered what knowing I wasn’t pregnant would feel like. Would my heart still whisper gently? Would the quiet still feel so sure?
I asked myself every question my brain had rattled off the night before and the resounding answer—mind, body, spirit—was the same.
We are sure. Sure as we’ve ever been. Sure as the birds and the hop scotch sun.
I said it aloud in that kitchen and my words filled the empty. I knew that it was okay, that I would be okay. That I had nothing to prove or justify or explain to anyone.
To no government. To no person. To no end.
The appointment took four hours.
I had to keep myself from laughing when the nurse informed me that they were required to prove the pregnancy using both a urine sample and an ultrasound to entirely rule out the possibility of a false positive or an ectopic pregnancy, given the four (excessive) tests I’d taken already. I was asked to regurgitate every bit of health information about myself and my partner that I could. I had to sign away my life, literally, saying that the clinic was not at fault if I were to bleed out and die because I was made fully aware of the risks, which I was.
I laid in that warm little room as they put the cold, cold jelly on the light saber (essentially) that they’d place up inside me to get a good look at what was in there. When the nurse turned the screen toward me she pointed at a spot of black, said “That’s it.”
She nodded. “That’s it.”
A little black blip. A jelly bean (that’s what I’ve always called it).
“You’re barely four weeks.” She told me. “Most women don’t catch it this early.”
After each portion of the appointment they verified if I was sure.
Post-ultrasound. Yes, I’m sure.
Post-counseling of my options. Yes, I’m sure.
Post-paperwork. Yes, I’m still sure.
And then, finally, they put me in a gown. Gave me a Dixie cup of what felt like a million pills (probably it was ten). They prepped the stirrups for me feet. I remember feeling warm. Relaxed. Exhausted.
That moment, naked under a gown, holding a friends hand was the most honest I have ever felt. The most true. Sure, the most laid-bare-naked-vulnerable-and-scared-shitless, but honest nonetheless.
Fifteen minutes later it was done.
All I could muster, through the tears and the gratefulness and the clarity was to say “thank you” to the receptionist and the nurses and the doctors and the friend who went with me. And I cried; tears a result of knowing I’d done the right thing (note: the right thing for me. For myself, for my partner, for my life, for my own subset of beliefs. Not yours. And that is okay).
I went home. I went to bed.
And then I woke up a day in a half later: went to therapy, to work, to school, and to bed again.
Like nothing had happened. Like everything did.
I took care of myself like I have never taken care of myself before. I had to learn to speak the language of grace, indecipherable as Arabic and complicated as Greek to me. To know when silence was good. When talking was best. I learned to unpack my exhausted body from clothes, from conversations, from community and how to tuck myself into a corner and write until I was worn enough to sleep. Pack, unpack, tuck, live, work, study, cry, breathe. Breathe again.
I learned a few things very quickly after the abortion:
I learned clarity. As honest and raw and real as grace can be, unadulterated. It nurtured me.
I learned silence: knowing that the not talking was just as okay as the talking.
I learned allowance: allowing him to kiss me again, allowing myself to stay away, allowing myself whatever felt best and most caring. I allowed myself the grace of only saying yes or no to myself, for my own sake, on my own terms.
I did not learn a few things, too:
I did not learn regret. Nor shame.
Once, in reference to something I had posted regarding abortion someone had written that—in the case of women having abortions—any healing they have, any assurance is false. That we say and do and mask a lot of things to justify our actions or protect ourselves.
I responded with something airy. Lighthearted though pointed.
What I should have said is that she was wrong. That my mental health (thanks largely in part to the part of me sane enough post-abortion to get myself into therapy) was perfectly in-tact. I was neither projecting nor deflecting any feeling I had at any given point in time. To the contrary, I never once felt shame or regret from my decision. Because it was mine to make—uncoerced, legally, safely, with my best interest in mind. To some that may sound selfish and heartless. But when I looked at that little jellybean on the screen, thought about that beautiful man I cared about, thought about myself, thought about the life I’d envisioned for myself, I did not for one second think of an alternative. I was that sure.
In the days, weeks, and months to follow I will not tell you that regret, shame, and guilt did not come up. They just weren’t a direct link. Not because I didn’t think about them (I definitely did) but it wasn’t a thinking as a result of direct feeling more than that of being aware. Aware that regret and shame were there but they were not mine.
In the months post-abortion I’d be called a whore, by some. Heartless, by others. A sinner in need of repenting if I ever wanted a man to care about me again or if I wanted to get into heaven or if I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror every morning, for the rest of my life.
“It makes me sad” I’d tell my therapist each time I reported one negative response for the five other positive ones I had received.
And my answer then, as now, is that same.
Because our conversation and choice to talk about sexuality, contraception, birth control, and abortion is done in a slew of statistics and politics and religion all while, in the wake, we’ve left women, couples, and families with stories behind. In the dust. Choking on the fumes of our intolerance and unwillingness to listen.
To clarify: I think there needs to come a point where we (generally speaking) draw the line on when we allow abortions. To be clear, if I had found out about my pregnancy at a time in which that jellybean had developed into less of a substance and more of a human with a heartbeat (debatably anywhere between 12 and 17 weeks) I would have carried to term. That simple.
But as I sat in that room not so much weighing the options as recognizing them, I knew the result of this life altering moment had one conclusion. One ending. One option. And I took it.
Listen, I’m not writing this to convince anyone to be “Pro-Choice”. I am not writing this to shame anyone for whatever stance they do or do not take. I do not write this as an expert on children, women’s health, politics, or abortion. Though I do write this as an expert in my own choice and my own experience.
I am not doing this as a celebration of abortion (see the Buzzfeed lash back in which thousands of women use the hashtag #shoutyourabortion in an attempt to break the shame of silence and stigma and are then, systematically, called whores by the very people using Bible verses to assert their “right stance”). I am not writing this with an intentional political or religious agenda.
But here are a few reasons I do write it.
I write it, first and foremost, because it is time. I have spent the past year since February 28th, 2015 doing a lot of listening, a bit of responding, and much silent reflection. I have stood by frustrated by tampons being taxed as luxury items, mother’s not getting paid maternity leave to raise the children they choose to keep, and hurt that—even now—the response to abortion is to sling Bible verses and call women whores, a clearly effective and obvious method of conversation.
I write this because I recognize a serious deficiency in the church to speak in the very love into which they want to live. This is a statement neither misguided nor over-embellished as every single hurtful and negative response I’ve had to sharing my story has come from people with a cross around their neck. You’ve broken my heart with the way you misrepresent God. And I think I’ve every right at this point to give a very pointed “shame on you.”
Finally, I write this because I have a voice. A voice housed in body with the insatiable need for conversation over argument, love over hate, and allowing people to be catalysts before we’ve the audacity to crucify them with words for simply making a choice.
I write this in the hope of being a catalyst for change in the way we approach the subject of abortion: snubbing out the grief and loving with our grace. My god, to think of where I’d be 365 days out without grace. I write this because it is necessary. Because I am angry and frustrated and so much stronger than I was a year ago; a strength that does not allow me to be silent.
And so I will not be. Not silent, nor apologetic.
I refuse to be a woman who apologizes for my body. I am above allowing myself to be a victim to your subjections.
Yet, I write this also with a very present, tangible, terrifying fear. Because I know that I could, and likely will, lose people over this. That people with itch to scold, to argue, to explain their “right.” But unless it is a conversation I reserve my right to disengage.
I write this knowing that I babysit, nanny, and teach a handful of children, whom I love in the deepest part of myself, whose parents might think this choice clouds my judgement as an educator, a caretaker, and provider for their children. I write this knowing there are professors who might read it, friends, friend’s parents, grandparents, former cabin-girls, high schoolers I mentored who might read and might turn away. Be that the case, my heart will ache. But I also understand that each of us reserves the right to expose ourselves to that which we see as beneficial.
To and for our own selves, on our own terms.
My story may not be beneficial for you. And I do not hold that against you.
If you have read this far through, at this point, I must say thank you. I must reiterate that nothing I say is ever done to harm. Or with ill intent. Nor malice. Nor hate.
But I have been silent too long.
I’ve held my grief and struggle and let it go;
It has come back in words that are a relief and a blessing to finally write.
As a result of grace, self-love, and the undying need to write out everything,