I’ve made a few close friends in the last few months, and one of them told me this very personal story. I’m leaving her name out because she has asked for privacy in this matter.
When she was 15, a surgeon removed one of her ovaries because of a tumor the size of her fist. Post-surgery, a gynecologist sat both her and her mother down and said, “I don’t think you’ll ever have children.” As her mother cried, she shrugged. She had a sister who could have kids for the family.
At 27, she was scheduled for what would be the first of several serious spinal surgeries. Not too long out of a long, serious relationship, she had a new boyfriend. Remembering the words of the gynecologist twelve years before, and the fact that she hadn’t gotten pregnant after 9 years with her last boyfriend, she didn’t worry about contraception. She didn’t think she needed it.
A week before her surgery, she met with her neurologist. She had exciting news! She had done the impossible, and beat the odds with the life growing inside of her! Her neurologist looked at her and said, “You have surgery next week, you can’t be pregnant.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” she replied.
He explained the odds to her. If she decided to keep the baby, which of course was entirely her choice, she would be delaying the surgery about a year. The surgery was already incredibly necessary. She would probably be on bed rest within the second trimester. Even if she did everything right, without surgery, the weight and pressure of the pregnancy on her back would most likely end in permanent damage and paralysis before the baby was even born, not to mention the stress the body endures during labor.
As she left his office, she postponed her surgery a few weeks. She needed time to think.
She wasn’t a person who made snap decisions or took anything said to her lightly. She had believed the gynecologist twelve years ago, because it made sense that her other ovary wouldn’t be healthy enough to produce healthy eggs; her periods had been incredibly irregular, if they came at all. However, she couldn’t risk being paralyzed. Her mother was battling cancer, and her family didn’t need the extra burden of helping her take care of a child. She needed that surgery.
A few weeks later, she was back at the neurologist’s office, prepping for surgery. She’d had an abortion, which fortunately was not difficult to get during the first trimester in her state. Though she still has some back pain, she’s much better now that she’s had the surgeries. At 32, however, she is still childless.
But she doesn’t regret her decision. She can walk, hold a job, take care of herself. Shortly after her surgery, her mother lost her battle with cancer and passed away. Had she continued with her pregnancy, she and her child would have been dependent on others for a long time–something that would have been extremely difficult in the wake of her mother’s passing. There was a chance that everything would go smoothly with the pregnancy and birth, but she knows that wasn’t a risk she was willing to take.
Her abortion wasn’t medically necessary, by most definitions. She chose to have it because she might become paralyzed. If she had lived in an area where abortion is only allowed for sake of the mother’s health, chances are she wouldn’t have been able to get an abortion. Her life wasn’t in immediate danger, just the quality of it, and that’s not something that a lot of anti-choice folks take into consideration. Many would say it’s a risk she should have taken for her child.
Still, though, I know how much she wanted to have a baby. She said it was the most difficult decision she’s ever had to make. People like her do not deserve the harassment they get at the doors of the clinic. She’s quiet, she doesn’t argue with people when their beliefs differ from hers, and she only told me this story after finding out about my pro-choice activism. Her abortion is a quiet secret among a handful of us whom she trusts.
I wonder how many other women have made that weighty decision, quietly coming and going from the clinic, without a word to anyone. Who will be their voice? Who will make sure that the women who come after them will have the right to make such an important choice? I’ll speak up where she and so many others are silent. I may have never had an abortion myself, but I’m happy to have her as my healthy, not paralyzed friend.