“You’d be the first dancer to complete the program pregnant, but I believe you can do it.”
I believed I could do it too, I was a strong dancer. I imagined the audience, mouths agape, watching my pregnant body express stories through gestures of modern dance - my torso, my limbs, moving through space, through time, through gestation.
I liked the idea of being the first, of being known for something. I knew I was bold enough. I had the courage to carry the reputation a decision like this would bring but I didn’t believe in myself as a parent, not without support from the father.
I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant, but I was, and because the relationship was barely one and he chose to spend his time smoking marijuana and playing video games in the dark, it should come to you as no surprise that he didn’t want the baby.
I wasn’t the first woman he said that to.
Laying on my futon in my one-bedroom walk-up apartment, more tired than I’d ever been before, I felt my body adjusting to the life growing inside of me. He lived in the apartment above me and I could hear the low hum of video games through the old wooden floorboards.
Staring at the ceiling I tried picturing my life as a single mom. I was 25, old enough to make it work, but could I make it work with the waitressing gig I had at the Greek restaurant across the street? Lots of moms had done it with a lot less, I thought, rubbing my left hand below my imagined belly line.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I decided to end my baby’s life. It happened sometime, sometime after I’d spent hours staring out of my kitchen window, watching leaves fall and leave the trees who birthed them.
Why should he get to walk away while my life changes forever?
The irony that he used to be a tree planter was not lost on me – planting seeds and walking away. I could smell the weed from his apartment again.
I don’t want to be responsible for his “mistake".
I said the words out loud, to make my convictions real and imagining my words a spell, I closed my eyes and wished they would take the life from inside me. I thought of the long line of mothers in my life, their decisions already made for them, decisions that eventually gave me life. Motherhood was the expectation my mother and her mother’s mother and her mother’s mother carried. Expecting a child was a presumption passed down to me; I carried the words my grandmothers could not say in my bones, my blood - in my body which was their body too.
I didn’t want to carry the responsibility of someone who didn’t care where his sperm landed. It made no difference to him whether those little guys sat warm and wet on his belly or if they got wiped up in a shirt he picked up off the floor, or maybe those little guys landed in a woman’s womb. It didn’t matter to him because he didn’t care, he didn’t have to.
There are so many reasons why a mother needs support from the father to bring a child into the world, and when a woman doesn’t have support, she needs to have a choice.
I called the abortion clinic and made an appointment - the confirmed date seemed so far away. “Is it okay to wait that long?”, I asked. I would be 8 weeks pregnant by then. Assured by the woman on the phone, I hung up. I felt a moment of relief before the shock of what I just did filled me with guilt and a premature sense of loss. I spent the next 8 weeks (plus 20 years and counting) grieving for the baby I was intentionally taking from my body.
I tried pretending that I didn’t care about the little life growing inside of me. I pretended it didn’t exist so I wouldn’t have to say goodbye.
I imagined that I heard him coming down the stairs, knocking on my apartment door… in my mind, I open the door to see him on his knees, pleading with me, “Please don’t do it. I changed my mind. I want us to be a family”.
My mother always said I had a good imagination.
It made me sick that the abortion clinic was only 2 blocks away. I never noticed the tan brick building before I had to. I thought of my great-great grandmothers, the ones who wanted to be something other than mothers. I imagined the look in their eyes, wide with disbelief and envy at how easy, how convenient, getting an abortion had become.
But this isn’t easy, I whispered into the wind and to the long line of women who made me.
My appointment was early, 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I could have walked the two blocks to the clinic but insuring I had a ride home was part of the process. I wanted him to care, so I asked him to drive me. I probably shouldn’t have but I wanted to give him one last chance to come to his senses.
We walked to his car.
He didn’t grab my hand and tell me that he didn’t want me to go through with this. He didn’t tell me that he wanted to try. He barely looked at me. I would have accepted an apology, but he didn’t offer one.
The silence in the car during the short drive told me what I already knew – I was on my own.
I’m alone in this.
He watched me walk into the clinic and then he lit a cigarette.
I provided my ID, filled out the paperwork and consulted with a counselor. I put on my gown and walked into the waiting area.
I was surprised by how many women were waiting there. Did that many women really need an abortion at 7am on a Tuesday morning? I avoided eye contact, but I was curious. Shamefully, I made a few judgements about a few of the women there, a few assumptions. The women around me stared at their hands and their feet.
I wanted the moment to mean something more than the sadness I felt. I was here to take back my body, my life! Surely this moment meant something! Surely another woman felt the same. I sat there waiting, hoping to share a knowing look with someone when I heard a nurse cry out.
I looked up at their desk and saw a nurse with her hands over her mouth. Another nurse seemed to be in shock, shrieking “Why?!”. Someone was crying. Sounds of disbelief filled the air. Someone called my name.
Caught up in the drama at the desk, I didn’t hear them at first.
I got up.
A woman guided me to the procedure room. A radio was on.
I remember asking the doctor or the nurse, someone, to change the channel from the news they were listening to while I lay on my back, metal instruments clinging and clanging louder than they probably were.
“Sorry”, someone said.
The mood in the room wasn’t what I expected but I wasn’t sure what I expected. I wondered if they were judging me. I tried to stay focused, to be present in every single moment that my life was changing and in less than 10 minutes, it did.
I felt tugging.
I felt suction.
I asked the doctor to show me what he removed from my uterus. He showed me what was once inside me, on a silver tray.
He picked me up when I was done. I felt a bit fuzzy. I looked at the bandaid from the IV I was given. Neither of us talked about the abortion. He talked about the news.
I went up to his place instead of opening the door to my apartment – I was desperate to feel something other than what I was feeling. I wanted to feel loved, cared for, understood. I wanted him to thank me, to hold me.
None of that happened.
I sat cross-legged on his floor instead of his couch, worrying that the pad I was wearing was already overflowing with blood. I didn’t want to damage his furniture. I felt uncomfortable to be there. I felt uncomfortable being in my body.
The T.V. was on. A (now famous) video clip of a plane flying into the World Trade Center was on replay. I realized then what the nurses were crying about. I didn't hear it then, but that was the news on the radio.
I never did become a mother. There were times when I wanted to have a baby, but the men in my life were boys and they didn’t know how to love me. I wanted someone who wanted me, someone who wanted our baby. By the time I was reunited with that someone, I was in my mid-40s and that window had closed - it had been accidentally painted shut.
I've learned to live with the choice I made (as I write that I hear myself scrutinizing, have you really?). I've tried to make peace with my guilt and with my grief. I've tried to feel okay when I feel judged by other women who wonder why I don't have children. I try to find my way between awkward pauses in conversations and with being the odd one out in a group of mothers. Somedays I feel like a murderer, a baby killer. Other days I don’t even think about it but because the world "Never Forgets" by commemorating 9-11, not a year goes by when I'm not reminded about what I did.
Sometimes someone will ask if I remember where I was when 9-11 happened.
Sometimes I tell them.