It was January of 1999 and I was 22-years-old and in love. Having just graduated from college, I was packing up the last remnants of my apartment and moving to a larger town to search for a job. Until I was gainfully employed, I planned on living with my mother and her long-term boyfriend. My boyfriend was in a private college on the East Coast--not due to graduate for another two years. He'd been home for Christmas and we'd spent a rare month together enjoying going out, visiting family, and hanging with friends. New Year's Eve resulted in a large party and a failure of birth control. Two weeks later, as I was packing up my apartment, it was actually him that called attention to the fact that my period was late. I told him to calm down, that it was no big deal, that I wasn't that late and I was stressed from the move. But, my heart started thudding and I couldn't breathe and I thought, "What if..."
Two days later, my things and myself firmly ensconced in my mother's home, I decided to stop delaying the inevitable and take a test. Before I dropped it down on the counter it was positive. I threw up, went weak in the knees, and almost passed out. This can't be happening. The long list of things I didn't "have" reverberated in my head: "I have no job. I have no money. I have no home. I have no partner within a 1000 miles. I have no friends in this town. I have no insurance." I couldn't breathe and I watched my dreams flicker like a television about to break. Dimmer. Everything seemed dimmer.
I knew my decision before I even picked myself up off the floor. I wasn't going to keep it. I had too many things to do. To some, that may seem selfish. But, I'd watched my mother struggle as a young mom and as a single mom, eventually. I knew that life. I knew the traps and the heartache and the tears. I'd seen it. I wasn't planning on letting a broken condom dictate the rest of my life. I'd MADE the "safe" choice. I'd made the "right" choice. And, I felt THIS choice was the next step in that process.
I went to the OB/GYN in my small hometown. She affirmed what I already knew. I'd been a patient for years and I knew she was a feminist but I only hoped she'd understand. "You're about five weeks." "I'm not keeping it," I whispered. "You know you can't do that here", and she met my eyes, "go to Memphis." "Thank you."
I'll never be able to repay her that kindness. No judgement. No discussion. Just a quiet affirmation of everything I thought and one simple directive, "go to Memphis."
I didn't worry about the money. I informed my boyfriend and he, coming from a wealthy family, sent a check for the full amount. I couldn't afford the $375.00 that it cost at the time. I called for an appointment and they informed me that I had to wait until I was at least 7 weeks.
"We have to have a heartbeat to confirm the pregnancy." "OH, okay." We counted and figured dates.
"The next appointment we have after that is February 18th". My dead brother's birthday. I took a breath. This was going to kill my mother. "I'll take it." I don't believe in things like that, do I? "I have you down for February 18th. Please make sure you have someone to drive you home after the procedure." "Thank you."
And I waited. For three weeks. I told my mother. For three weeks she wrote me a letter every night and put it near the coffee pot every morning. Twenty-one days of her begging me not to do this. I threw everyone in the trash. I drank gin. I smoked. I valiantly proved to the world that this was not going to be my future. Three weeks later I donned a comfortable outfit and my mother, the same one that wrote me twenty-one letters, took my hand and drove me three hours North to do something she didn't agree with. But, she was a mother...and I didn't want to be.
We waited only minutes before being called back. I met with a counselor and succinctly explained my situation and decision. There was no mandatory waiting. I was taken to a 2nd waiting room and offered a shot of Valium. "Yes, please."
Then there was an ultrasound. The screen was turned away from me. When the technician left I picked up her notes and saw, "Pregnancy confirmed. Seven weeks/two days. Heartbeat: yes." I felt nothing but relief. Or Valium. Who knows?
In the second waiting room I looked at strained faces of women spanning all ages between 15 and 37. No one talked loudly. Everyone tensed when the nurse opened the door and called a name. Finally she called mine.
I stood and was taken into a small examination room. Feet firmly shoved into stirrups, I was deftly explained the mechanics of the procedure by a kind nurse. A few minutes later a young female doctor came into the room. She had the prettiest red hair. She smiled kindly and once again reviewed what she would be doing. They began to dilate me and I pretended to read a magazine about fashion for the summer and parts of me wanted to laugh at the irony and insanity of this moment. There was cramping and pain. I wrinkled the magazine in my grasp and gritted my teeth. Then it was over and they transferred me to a "recovery room". They handed me a bag with medication and pads and gave me discharge instructions. I ate cookies. The mood in this room was completely different. Girls smiled. The weight of it all was gone. The air was visibly lighter. No longer held down with regret. I stood to leave and my mother held my hand out to the car.
I'll never forget that. Twenty-one letters later and she held my hand. She drove me home and helped me into bed. Twenty-one letters later and she pulled the covers up around my chin, kissed my forehead, and set the alarm for four hours so I'd remember to take my medication. Twenty-one letters later and on the birthday of the child she put into the ground, she turned out the lights and said what she'd said to me every night I'd spent at home for my entire life, "Night night, baby. I love you. God Bless You."
I felt right again. Not someone's mother, someone's child.
Thirteen years later and I do have a child of my own. I am someone's mother. The mother of someone that I really wanted. I went to graduate school. I am gainfully employed. I have a husband. I have a house. I no longer make lists of things that I do not have... all because I had an abortion.