What makes a person a good parent? I don’t know the answer for everyone, but for me, it means that I’m committed to teaching my son how to be non-judgmental, confident, and caring. It also means teaching my son the importance of education for himself and for all people, to talk about human rights, and to emphasize that he should always try to be open to new ideas and to spot and challenge certain forms of group thinking.
If I had another baby screaming at night, the creeping feeling of utter aloneness would be worse than I have ever experienced–I can almost assure anyone that. To raise another human being, alone, would not be a confidence building feat in myself, and thus I know with utter certainty that instilling confidence in my son would be difficult.
To have another child would be to fail at giving all that I can to my existing son.
When my son was 3 years old, I was newly divorced having finally escaped an abusive relationship. I was depressed, broken, and very lacking in any sense of self. Who I was and what I wanted from life seemed foreign. I was floating around like a ghost in my father’s house, too angry to talk to anyone without yelling, and barely able to make it up each morning to get into work. I had dropped out of college, and I felt like nothing but the biggest failure ever. This time of my life still haunts me for a number of reasons, not the least of which being how emotionally closed off I was to the people rooting for me: my son, and those closest to me in my family.
I went out a lot, drank too much, and although those things aren’t inherently wrong or bad, the alcohol made me especially careless with sex partners. It was as if I cared so little for myself that making my partner wear a condom during sex didn’t really matter.
One afternoon, I was sitting at my desk in the cramped and lifeless cubicle that I used to joke was “as barren and lifeless as my soul,” when suddenly I felt the urge to eat. So I grabbed a bite of my half eaten Subway sandwich, chewed, and promptly bent over the trash to throw it all up. I went home sick, not because I felt physically ill, but because I knew now what I had been trying to deny: I was pregnant.
I didn’t even take a pregnancy test for another week because I wouldn’t get paid until then and no, I didn’t have a dollar to buy one from the Dollar Tree. I was that broke, and had just emptied my change jar into my gas tank and purchased a few kitchen staples so my son wouldn’t starve. When I finally did take that pregnancy test, it was positive immediately, as I knew it would be. I wasn’t upset, or shocked, or any other emotion beside absolutely terrified.
I could not be pregnant, I did not want to be pregnant, I felt to be pregnant would be like dying for nine months.
After consulting with a doctor, who confirmed with another pregnancy test that I was in fact pregnant, she told me “you have some options, “ and I replied, “ when can I schedule a termination?”
She said quietly, “ you need to wait to schedule with us for at least twenty four hours.”
My mind screamed and my eyes dried up because I wouldn’t cry in front of her and have her think this was a tough decision. I wanted to say, “lady, I have been here before, literally and figuratively, and I know in the deepest depths of my soul what I am going to do, so get the appointment book and write!”
I thanked her and walked out alone, sat in my car, slumped, before I called my boss and said,
“I’m pregnant, can you see which days are going to work for me to take off so I can get an abortion?”
Boss: “Oh my gosh, are you okay? Sophia, why didn’t you use a condom!?”
“Because, I don’t know, but I know I’m not going to be pregnant so which days work for the department for me to be out. One day off should be fine, I just don’t want to schedule for a day that ya’ll need me to be there.”
Boss: “we’re in the middle of open enrollment. Um, I’m leaving on Friday for some broker meetings, so try if you can to schedule a few weeks out. Just one day , though? Is that enough?”
“Yeah, should be, I don’t really know though. I’ll fill out a request for time off, I’m just going to put medical leave as the reason.”
Boss: “okay, good luck.”
She was a wonderful boss, and I stay in contact with her still, years after leaving that god-awful place. We were always close and she shared my pro-choice sentiments. I always told her , as she told me, that an unplanned pregnancy would be terminated, that I just couldn’t emotionally, physically, or financially care for another pregnancy or human being. I called her then because she was the only one available in that moment that I knew would listen to me and be at least a little supportive.
Although she is my friend, her response was very much a boss-like reaction. I was needed at work to cover for her absence and do my work on time for our clients, and any absence would be troublesome. Hence her suggestion that I schedule things a few weeks out. This is typical and most certainly a barrier for many people seeking to make time to have an abortion.
Because I did not want to wait 24 hours to schedule an appointment, I called around to the many Portland-area clinics that perform abortions and asked for openings and pricing. The consensus was that an abortion without anesthesia would be about $300 cheaper, and the abortion pill being approximately the same price as non-anesthetic D & C.
I had heard from a family member that the abortion pill was awful for her, so I scheduled an appointment for the non-anesthetic procedure 2 weeks out, the same day I would be getting paid. The entire check did not cover the almost $500 cost, so I sold some clothes and purses to Buffalo Exchange to just barely meet the cost. I knew that I wouldn’t be paying my bills that month and that I would probably have to ask my dad for some money, but I didn’t care. I was relieved to have the appointment scheduled and was finally able to get some rest.
I have written before about the procedure itself, so I won’t rehash that in full detail. It was painful, and a bit awkward as the doctor talked openly about miscellaneous topics, but it was no where near as traumatic or as painful as childbirth. The antibiotics and pain meds they gave me put me to sleep quickly and I had my dad pick up my son from pre-school. I told him that day that I had a kidney infection (I have suffered from those periodically throughout my life) and locked myself in my room. When I woke the next day I called sick into work, eliciting a big sigh from my boss and serious guilt on my part, but I just wanted to rest and sleep.
That month, I asked friends and family for money. Twenty dollars here, twenty dollars there to meet all my missed bills and payments. The stress of the financial sort is always awful, but this time, doubly so. During that time, it elicited a gnawing feeling of guilt and treason as I lied to family members in order to get a few dollars to pay for groceries, feeling as if I couldn’t be honest with them about where my pay check had gone.
Those bubbling notions of worthlessness were only kept at bay by one simple fact: I was not pregnant.
Even though an abortion can be a serious thing for some people, I felt nothing but relief and happiness afterward. I hugged my son tight and took him to the park the weekend after my procedure. We laughed, and giggled, he read a little to me and I read a little to him.
I have never felt true happiness and have struggled openly with depression and bi-polar disorder, but that weekend was a good one. I was so incredibly relieved to not be pregnant and I felt I had a fresh lease on life as a parent. Having an abortion saved me and made me a better parent.
Fast forward five years and I’m a college graduate, abortion rights activist, freelance writer, and career -with-a- 401k-and-savings-account woman who loves her work. My son enjoys an array of curricular and extra-curricular activities, runs around the neighborhood with his friends building tree forts and constructing launch-able spaceships in our back yard. He’s happy and joyful in a way I don’t remember feeling. His joy brings me joy, and while I continue to work through my depression and serious bouts of self doubt. I know that if I were to have had another child, five years old now, my son’s quality of life would have been decreased as would that of the child.
I spoke with my dad on the phone the other day about the pros and cons of entering law school or graduate school, and I said, “with my son, and I love him to death, but everything is twice as hard to do.” With another child on my hip, everything would be 4 times as hard. His response to me,” just because you’re a parent, and a very young one at that, does not mean you don’t get to have and to live your dreams. You can only control you. ”
A year after I had that abortion I broke my leg. My dad was there to cook and clean, take and pick up my son from school, and help out in general. He noticed a stack of papers on my desk with a sticky note reading, “to be filed.” So as I slept, he helpfully went to file them. He happened upon an itemized receipt for tax purposes from the clinic where I had the abortion. When I woke up, he asked me if we could talk , in that voice from your parents that indicates something very serious needs to be said. He showed me the receipt and said, “ I love you very much.”
Today, he gets it. As do many others in my family. They see first hand how things are hard for parents, single parents at that. My dad’s support on the phone was in part his way of asking me not to be too hard on myself. And he is right, because we can only control ourselves.
I sometimes imagine not being able to control whether I had a baby or not. To not be able to control myself.
It’s a nightmare I’ve had, where I have woken up in a panic feeling my belly, making sure I wasn’t eight months pregnant and waiting for that feeling of relief as my mind slipped back into reality.