I have four children but in Catholic circles I might be expected to say I have 7 children: 4 on earth and 3 in heaven. I do not say this nor do I think this or feel this. I can only think of one person (other than my midwives) who knows I’ve had 2 miscarriages and one abortion (my husband). I do not mean abortion in the medical sense (basically, what normal people call a miscarriage). I mean “elective abortion”. What normal people call plain old “abortion.” In Catholic circles you might hear it referred to as “murder”. The climate in this country being what it is, I find I’m supposed to either be filled with shame and share with you all the negative consequences from my choice or bravely shout out that I have no regrets at all. Like all else in the abortion debate, I don’t think either side is right.
I am going to tell you the story of my abortion. Not because I want to, but because I feel I should. Aren’t I just such a giving Catholic feminist?
I would like to say I was 16 and scared of my abusive belt wielding father when I chose to end my baby’s life. That I was raped by the high school quarterback and knew he’d ruin me if I bravely carried on the pregnancy. But this was not the case.
I was 30. A grown woman. It was my third year of medical school. It was either a week before my birthday or a week after. So maybe I was 31. It doesn’t matter. I had it done the day before a really big exam we call “shelfs” in med school. They cover large amounts of information you’re supposed to have learned on recent rotations (note: 1. Medical school can be defined as nothing more than a series of exams that cover a large amount of information 2. The exam does not actually cover what you learn on rotation. In reality, you keep a study guide crammed in the pocket of your short white coat and study furiously every free minute you have between listening to the attending ramble on about politics or whatever other topic they’ve chosen to hold you captive audience to and typing their notes into the EMR for them).
The particular shelfs (shelves?) I took the day after my abortion were Pediatrics and Obstetrics. I failed both (note: don’t do this).
The father of my baby had a PhD in computer science from Johns Hopkins and worked at Google on language translation programming. He knew some Welsh as a result of this and was able to tell me what the name of the town Nant Y Glo was in English (note: Nant Y Glo is a small town in western Pennsylvania I used to drive past a lot growing up and laugh at its name. It is also the town where the Amish man who built my parents’ kitchen cabinets’ bipolar wife moved and began working as a CNA at a nursing home when she left him and their ten children. It is not clear to me if having ten children made it harder or easier for her to leave).
He grew up in Alabama but had only a trace of an accent. His father was a NASA scientist. He was a former Christian, now atheist, and had given up guns despite being captain of his high school’s rifle team after his gun accidentally went off one day. No one had been hurt but they *could* have been, he’d told me repeatedly with a somber look in his eyes. It was the sort of thing a person who’s led a sheltered coddled life said in such a way.
He was also a feminist. He made sure to add “not that I’m trying to pressure you; this is *your* choice,” to every pleading argument he made for me to abort our baby. See? Proof he was really a great feminist progressive guy who totally respected me and my body. Practically had “your body, your choice,” tattooed on his knuckles.
He looked scared as shit and smoked nonstop as he paced on the front porch. He was 40 and hadn’t started smoking until age 28. Who does that, I used to wonder. 28? Really? He didn’t smoke in his house. I watched him through the big picture window from the sitting room.
He made various arguments as to why I should have an abortion but the only one I can really remember is “it’s not a sentient being so it’s not immoral. And we don’t love each other so it wouldn’t be moral to bring a baby into the world in that kind of relationship.”
Not a sentient being. That phrase loops through my mind often, to this day. What an asshole. That one loops right behind.
It stung when he said we didn’t love each other. I loved him and I’d thought he loved me too until an hour or so before I told him I was pregnant.
I’d picked him up at the airport late at night. I don’t remember where he’d been exactly. It involved visiting a friend of some sort. He was hungry and we drove back to his house and ordered a pizza, then walked to the shop to get it. It was a cold March night but parking in his neighborhood was difficult and he was very green and eco friendly and all that. Respected goddess Mother Earth, you know, in a symbolic atheist respect all myths and traditions kind of way.
As we walked to the pizza shop, slightly more quickly than natural-the way you do when it’s uncomfortably cold, he told me about his trip. Something about some woman being there he’d had feelings for years ago but she’d been married to his best friend at the time. Or something. And he’d run into this woman and now she was single and she told him she’d had feelings too. He told me this story as you would a friend, not a girlfriend. Not someone you love or even someone you might one day love.
The point of the story was not that they fell into bed and he was sorry for cheating or that he’d realized he didn’t have feelings for her or that bad timing’s a bitch. I don’t remember the story having much of a point at all actually. Just another opportunity for more of his self indulgent introspective rambling. I knew in that moment he didn’t love me. That I was carrying the baby of a man who didn’t love me and probably never would. My heart sunk. Cliche but true.
Looking back on it, part of me realized something else in that moment: I didn’t love him either. If I hadn’t been pregnant I think I probably would have broken up with him soon after that night. But I was. I needed to believe I loved the father of my baby. And I needed to tell him.
We picked up the pizza and walked back to his house. I told him right as he was about to take his first slice. We never ate a single piece of that pizza. We left the lid of the box open all night and it dried out. I don’t remember what kind it was.
I don’t remember how I brought it up. I don’t think I blurted it but I didn’t put a lot of effort into a soft lead in either. I was fairly annoyed with his endless talking by then and a small part of me enjoyed the jolt my revelation caused.
He took it considerably worse than I’d expected him to. It could be because I already had two kids and he didn’t. It could be that he’d led a very, very, very easy life and I hadn’t. Or it could be that men in general freak out about pregnancy than women. Some of each, maybe.
He said he’d never gotten anyone pregnant before.(How do you really know, I’d thought).He couldn’t believe it, he said. What are you going to do, he asked.
I told him I didn’t believe in abortion, that I hadn’t ever since having my special needs son and thinking how many of us might have aborted him given the chance, so I would have the baby. I didn’t expect him to react the way he did. I didn’t expect him to keep me up all night explaining over and over why this was a bad idea. Pleading, pressuring, point after point after point. Always ending each with “not that I’m trying to pressure you. This is *your* choice.”
I was sad and lonely and wanted someone to love me. Anyone. Even this sad sack. I had PTSD and two special need kids and a black hole inside of me you can’t possibly understand if you’ve never felt it.
I convinced myself I loved him and that if I had this abortion surely he would love me too. How could such a sacrifice not show him how much I loved him? Am I sounding like Susan Smith here? I sure as hell hope not.
It was more complex than that. I needed to finish med school for my kids. I was already a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt with absolutely no way to repay it if I didn’t finish and become a doctor. My medical school did not look kindly on pregnant students and already had it in for me. My baby was due around Thanksgiving. My only hope would have been to give birth Thanksgiving day so that I could have 4 days off before going back on rotation. And I would have had to convince my mother to take care of a newborn full time in addition to my two special needs preschoolers. And I would have had to somehow finish med school, pass my board exams, apply to residency and raise my boys while taking care of a newborn.
Did I mention I was on *seven* psych meds for my PTSD at the time? I couldn’t have stayed on most of them while pregnant. That alone would have caused my very precarious life to collapse. I couldn’t do that to my boys.
I told my good feminist boyfriend I would have the abortion as the sun was rising, casting a very pretty rose colored light on the cold dried up pizza still sitting out on the coffee table. He was so damned relieved. He said not to worry, he would make all the arrangements and pay for it. What a swell guy.
I couldn’t miss rotation but I was on ER so I worked midnight to 8am, drove to Pittsburgh, had the abortion, slept it off at the good feminist boyfriend’s house, then drove back and worked another midnight shift.
The next day after that, I failed my shelfs.
I ended my relationship with the good feminist not long after. I met my husband in June. We had two beautiful children together. We finished med school and residency together. We’re starting up a medical practice together. We became Catholic together. We argue feminism and what it really means to be pro-life together.
I wouldn’t have met him and had our two bubs if I’d kept my baby. I couldn’t have finished med school. If I hadn’t finished med school, my very tenuous mental health would have fallen. And with it, my two boys and their own very tenuous mental health.
Part of me says, maybe not. Maybe it would have worked. Or, maybe it doesn’t matter. Because is anything worth killing your baby? I cry sometimes. Three of my four kids were born at the same time of year when this baby was due. I don’t allow myself to do the math. I don’t calculate out how old he or she would be. Because it makes me cry. And there’s already so many other tears in our lives.
I was using 99% effective contraception when my baby was conceived. I did not enjoy the sex I had with the good feminist boyfriend but I needed it. To try to fill the emptiness so wide and so deep inside the PTSD creates. I tried to fill it with relationships, with food, with shopping, with work. I tried.
I consider my baby and her death mostly a result of the trauma Jeremy Noyes and my med school LECOM did to me. You can feel free to disagre with me, but if you do I imagine you’re most likely one of those sheltered people who’ve led an easy life.
Life is not simple or easy. I am not in need of healing weekend retreats with Catholic sister fellowship to recover from the emotional and spiritual wounds of my abortion (no offense if you are in need of such a weekend. I’m just personally not) Nor am I okay with having ended my baby’s life. It’s not okay. But it is what it is. As is often the case in life.
My 16 month old has been suckling on my left breast the whole time I have been typing this out on my phone. He is asleep. The whole house is. A rare time of silence and calm where I can write. Do something just for me. Even as one of my kids literally feeds on me. This is motherhood. I have four children. I am their mother. I try my damnedest.