Of all the battles in our half-century culture war, perhaps none seems further from being resolved, in our laws and in our consciences, than abortion. It’s a fight now in its fifth decade, yet in the past two years, 26 states have passed over 111 provisions restricting abortion. In Texas, the state where the single, pregnant woman who became Jane Roe sued for access to an abortion 41 years ago, Wendy Davis became a national hero for filibustering abortion legislation, as did her governor for signing it into law.
Lawsuits have been waged and courts have adjudicated, and still we seem no closer to consensus on when, where, how, and if a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy. Even in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court was qualified in its judgment: An abortion was a personal decision only in the first trimester; in the second, states could intervene on behalf of the woman’s health; once the fetus was considered “viable,” a state could set whatever limitations it saw fit.
Successive court rulings have granted even more latitude in writing abortion laws, and legislators have responded by creating a patchwork of regulations: Arkansas has banned abortion after twelve weeks, while in Louisiana, a woman is shown her ultrasound before having an abortion. In California, a trained nurse practitioner can now perform an abortion, but in Mississippi, a provider must be an obstetrician with admitting privileges at a local hospital, a rule that could shut down the state’s last remaining clinic. This month, a federal appeals court upheld a similar law in Texas, closing all but a handful of clinics.
But for all the regulations and protests, despite “safe, legal, and rare” and “abortion is murder,” abortion is part of our everyday experience. Nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended; about half of those—1.2 million—will end in abortion each year.
And yet abortion is something we tend to be more comfortable discussing as an abstraction; the feelings it provokes are too complicated to face in all their particularities. Which is perhaps why, even in doggedly liberal parts of the country, very few people talk openly about the experience, leaving the reality of abortion, and the emotions that accompany it, a silent witness in our political discourse. Even now, four decades after Roe, some of the women we spoke with would talk only if we didn’t print their real names.
As their stories show, the experience of abortion in the United States in 2013 is vastly uneven. It varies not just by state but also by culture, race, income, age, family; by whether a boyfriend offered a ride to the clinic or begged her not to go; by the compassion or callousness of the medical staff; by whether she took the pill alone at home or navigated protesters outside a clinic. Some feel so shamed that they will never tell their friends or family; others feel stronger for having gotten through the experience. The same woman can wake up one morning with regret, the next with relief—most have feelings too knotty for a picket sign. “There’s no room,” one woman told us, “to talk about being unsure.”
It was this past spring. The due date’s coming up—I’m dreading it. I wanted to keep it. My boyfriend always had football practice, so he couldn’t go to the doctor appointments with me. If he’d gone, he would’ve felt differently. But he said, “No way.” I wanted to show him that I loved him enough to do it for him. When I was thirteen weeks, we made an appointment at the closest clinic in Kentucky, four hours away, but the night before, we decided not to go. At two in the morning, he called and said, “Get dressed.” I said, “I don’t want to go.” We both cried the whole way there. I don’t think abortion is killing, but I’d always been against it. When I told him the credit-card scanner at the clinic wasn’t working, he asked if I was making it up. We went to get $1,000 from a gas-station ATM. I was hysterical, and he said, “Okay, you don’t have to go back.” I was so happy. Then he said, “We drove all this way. Stop crying, act like a woman.” I was angry, but I was so sleepy and tired of fighting. When I had the ultrasound, I asked for the picture and a nurse said, “Seriously?” A month later, he said he regretted it too. When I cry about it, I cry alone. He thinks it would make me sad to talk about, but I don’t want our baby to think we forgot. I’ve never heard of anybody else having an abortion here.
Illinois, 2004, 2005, and 2007
I looked in the Chicago Yellow Pages and made an appointment at what I thought was an abortion clinic. They sent a black woman in to talk to me. She told me that she and her husband hadn’t wanted their child at first and tried to convince me to keep mine. Then they showed me a video of a D&E (dilation and evacuation). They assumed I was on food stamps. At that time, I didn’t know how to articulate why that was offensive. I was a 28-year-old paralegal—not the stereotype. They sent me home with a rattle and onesie. This was in 2002, not some bygone era. They sent me to another place to get a free ultrasound. The technician said, “If you have an abortion now, you’ll rupture your uterus and won’t be able to have children in the future.” I had no idea what was true. I didn’t want to regret not being able to have children. I went ahead and had my son. Those people weren’t there after I lost my job and couldn’t afford my COBRA, utilities, rent, food. Since then, I’ve had three abortions. I didn’t understand my body. I had no information. After the third time, I ran into a reproductive-justice advocate who finally taught me how to understand my fertility.
South Dakota, 2004
The day I got accepted to college, I had a positive pregnancy test. I went to a community health center and said I wanted to talk to a nurse about my options. They told me to leave. The closest three clinics were all 300 miles away. I borrowed my mother’s car. My boyfriend, now my husband, came with me. I honestly don’t remember how we came up with the $700. We left at 5 p.m., after work, and drove to Colorado. It was the dead of winter, cold. Weather can be touchy through the Rockies. We stayed in a hotel in Cheyenne, another $60, but we couldn’t sleep. I felt very on edge. I wished someone I knew besides my boyfriend was nearby. When we got to the clinic, an escort met us at the car and asked if we wanted a bulletproof vest. Inside the clinic, the doctor took my hand and apologized that I had to travel so far. Ten minutes later, it was done.
When I got pregnant with my son, my very controlling boyfriend had convinced me that birth control poisoned my body. We usually slept in the car. I took a pregnancy test peeing over the kind of bucket you mix concrete in outside a dilapidated, vacant house. I decided I couldn’t abort a baby based on a stupid decision I made. They tell you that you love the baby automatically, but it’s not true. Then, in 2008, I was pregnant by my boyfriend Steve. We worked together at Target. He wanted to get married and have the baby. I was barely supporting the son I had, still living with my parents. I didn’t want to be tied to Steve forever. My mom and I went to Planned Parenthood. It was pouring rain. The picketers met us at the car with disgusting pictures. I was quite emotional, but I was so scared that if I showed any emotions, they wouldn’t let me do it. I told them I already had a baby. The doctor acted like it was assembly-line work. I told Steve I miscarried. We dated another year. The secret was devastating. People might be more understanding if I’d had an abortion when I was living in a car in an abusive relationship. This time, I was on birth control, with a full-time job, a boyfriend. People might think I should’ve kept it, but I couldn’t.
Tennessee, 2011 and 2013
I already had two daughters. Neither was planned, and it never, ever, occurred to me to terminate those pregnancies. I was brought up with a very religious background. Now I’ve had two abortions, and if my family knew, my relationship with my family would be gone. My first was two years ago. My husband and I were having financial problems and were considering separating. I just had to shut my conscience down. The doctor was grotesque. He whistled show tunes. I could hear the vacuum sucking out the fetus alongside his whistling. When I hear show tunes now, I shudder. Later, he lost his license. A few months ago, I got pregnant again. My in-laws have been helping us out financially, so we have no choice but to involve them in our decisions. They gave us $500 cash to bring to the clinic. I felt very forced. I felt like I was required to have an abortion to provide for my current family. Money help is a manipulation. I’m crazy in love with my daughters—imagine if I did that to them? It’s almost too much to open the door of guilt and shame because it’ll all overcome me. In the waiting room, there was a dead silence that’s hard to describe. Everyone was holding in her emotions to a heartbreaking degree. Truly pro-life people should go light on the judgment, because shame motivates abortions.
After Dr. Tiller was killed, I watched the man I didn’t know would become my doctor talking on the news, rubbed my belly, and wondered how anyone could possibly have a late-term abortion. A month later, I understood. During the 29-week ultrasound, the ventricles in the brain were enlarged. There aren’t adjectives to describe how I felt when we learned a few weeks later her neurological system wasn’t formed. It’s not that I didn’t want an imperfect child; even if we had all the interventions, she’d have seizures 70 percent of the time, never suck or breathe. We couldn’t have detected the problem until then. My first thought was of my 2-year-old son. No one presented abortion as an option—I asked. During the car ride home, I kept saying to my husband, “Please don’t think I’m a bad person.” As far as I knew, only one doctor in the country would perform an abortion that late, even for medical reasons. He had to approve us. He was in Colorado. We were in Maryland. I started to feel her seizing within me. We flew to Boulder the next week, paying for everything out-of-pocket: $17,500 for the procedure and about $3,500 for last-minute travel costs. They did a sonogram to find her heart and injected her with a long needle. I counted four movements, and she was gone. At six in the morning on the day I was supposed to return to the clinic, I felt my water break. I was alone in a hotel bathroom so far away from my home. I wanted to protect my husband. I didn’t let him in. I delivered her intact, sitting on the toilet, and I sat there until the doctor and nurse came and took her away properly. It’s different for me than my husband. I carried her. I didn’t have relief until my next daughter was born. Now we have three living children. That doctor gave me my family.
Although I always thought it was a woman’s right to choose, I honestly thought if I got pregnant I’d find a way to make it work. All that changed. My boyfriend terrorized me. At some point, I decided it was safer to have him in my life than cut him out. But when I got pregnant, I knew right away I didn’t want a lifelong connection to that person. I was right; when we later broke up, he sawed my clothes in half and poured corn syrup in my gas tank. During the ultrasound, I shouted, “We’re not keeping it!” It was a way of not acknowledging the life-form. When I went to the clinic, there were protesters with awful, very graphic signs. I felt their judgment. Other experiences changed me more. This year, I had another D&C after I miscarried, and it’s amazing how much I mourned that pregnancy. The same experience can be so different when you’re in a different place in life. My first husband died. With the slew of shitty things that have happened to me, I wonder, am I paying the price for what I did? I believe in a God who wouldn’t punish that way. But when you don’t want the gift you’re given, will the universe offer up that gift again? As I started to get older and was nowhere near having kids, I started to wonder if that was my chance and I blew it. But I’m 21 weeks pregnant now.
I was secretly excited for the ultrasound. But they couldn’t see it. They said I could let it grow and go back for the procedure, but I couldn’t stand the idea of letting it grow. I went into this refrigerator of a room, with a tiny poster of a tropical island pasted on the ceiling, and this middle-aged white lady nurse told me to breathe and hush. I wanted to sock her in the face. A couple days later, I found out I was still pregnant. The amoeba—my baby—was somehow surviving. The next time, I kind of hoped it wouldn’t work. I kept saying negative things to myself, like, “Stop being such a baby.” Afterwards, I felt this mix of regret, relief, gratitude, and I had a new sense of control and determination about my future, like, I’m going to do this and this and this. I tracked the whole pregnancy online, living in fantasies about how big my belly would be. The only people who would listen to me say I had any emotions were people who wanted me to fall down on my knees and ask for forgiveness. I saw a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center, but she gave me an icky feeling. There’s no room to talk about being unsure.
The story I want to tell first is of the abortion I didn’t get. Three years ago, I knew I couldn’t afford a baby on my own. My son was 6. I made a clinic appointment for the next day. Outside, protesters shouted, “You don’t need birth control, you need self-control!” One woman followed me and said in my ear, “You’re never going to forget.” In the waiting room, I looked around at the other women. A teenager, who looked about 14, was crying. I kept thinking, Who do I think I am? I wasn’t raped. I’m not underage. I just don’t want to have a baby. It was too early, and I needed to come back in two weeks. The clinic required you to have someone to drive you home, so I needed to tell someone. I told my friend who I thought was kind of liberal, but she refused. I never went back for that abortion. When the baby was little, our lights got turned off. I got depressed, kind of suicidal. Sometimes I’d think, I didn’t need to have this kid, and now he’s suffering with me. Last year, I got pregnant again. I knew how to deal with the opposition. The clinic rules had changed, and I could drive myself. Afterward, I went on birth control, but it failed. I didn’t have the money for an abortion, but the clinic gave me a number for a fund. I told them I had kids. They covered half of it. The clinic gave me copies of the ultrasound, and I keep them in a drawer. I never cried about it. I don’t feel guilty. I know being a parent isn’t all stars and sprinkles.
When I was 18 I was drugged and date raped. I just remember waking up with the guy on top of me with this weird grin. When I found out I was pregnant I just thought: That asshole. I didn’t think about the baby. I had to save up money, so I had to wait for the very last possible week. My best friend drove me. I was very scared. When I was actually at the facility I thought, Oh my God, there’s a baby inside me. The staff was very matter-of-fact, no kindness. A nurse said, “It looks like it was a girl.”
New York and Oklahoma, 2010 and 2011
The first time I was 25, in New York. From the time I was a teenager, the idea of having an abortion if pregnant was a no-brainer. I had this idea you can’t let life get in the way of your plans. My friend drove me. The procedure was in a tiny, bright white room—it was like a nightmare, but it was over really, really quickly. They moved me into this communal healing room. Women were reclining on big, pillowy chairs. I remember feeling comforted, warm—we’d all been through the same experience. Two years ago, I was in Oklahoma. I wasn’t given a choice in method—I got the pill. My boyfriend worked in Idaho—I was alone. They gave me all this paperwork that said, “This is serious. You could die,” and an antibiotic, painkiller, and a latex glove and a pill to shove up my vagina. At home, the antibiotic made me vomit and shit everywhere. I thought, Fuck the latex glove! Fuck them for thinking I can’t touch myself! After the contractions started, my hands turned into claws. I was dehydrated. I had this underlying feeling that I was being made to suffer, to repent for my situation. I called my boss. He took me to the ER. It cost $2,000. When I stood up, the bed was covered in blood. I felt ashamed, but the way he reacted with kindness, I saw that I could choose not to feel ashamed. When I went home, I got up to pee, and this gray golf-ball thing came out. I thought, So I just flush the toilet?
This guy forced himself on me. When the woman at the clinic went over my options, I bawled. Society is so focused on women being mothers. I felt selfish for not wanting to be a mom.
West Virginia, 2007
I have schizoaffective disorder. I’m fine on my meds, but I was scared I might hurt a child like my parents hurt me. When I started understanding my family’s history of mental illness, my husband and I said, “Okay, let’s stop the cycle of abuse and not have kids.” When I found out I was pregnant, I just started sobbing. The doctor slipped me some cards for clinics in different states. She couldn’t be pro-choice publicly—we live in a very religious area in West Virginia—but she knew that I couldn’t keep taking my meds during a pregnancy. We drove three and a half hours to Maryland so we could get it done in one day and miss less work. Outside, nuns prayed; protesters threw themselves on their knees with holy water. “Wonderful” is a weird word to use, but inside the clinic was wonderful. There was a sensation of finally being able to breathe. I had the suction procedure. On a scale of one to ten, the pain was an eight. On the drive home, I was nauseous, had light period bleeding, and we had to stop a few times. My husband’s family stopped talking to us. It taught us who our friends are. There’s an intersection of stigma—mental illness and abortion. I can’t live off my meds. I can honestly say if I hadn’t had that abortion, I’d be dead.
My boyfriend and I went to the doctor for an IUD and were told to use condoms until we were together longer. A month later, when the campus nurse wouldn’t look at me, I knew the results weren’t good. I was sobbing and scared to go into the waiting room. In my gut I think I knew what I’d do. It took my thoughts a little while to catch up with my gut. The clinic near where I lived only provided abortions one day a week, the same day I had four classes in a row. So I went to a clinic 45 minutes away. The soonest appointment was three weeks later. Walking around pregnant when you don’t want to be is a nightmare. I wanted to tell everyone, but I was scared that they’d think I was stupid. I borrowed a car from my friend’s roommate. I wore a black turtleneck and very nice jeans—I wanted to impress the nurses. I think I even mentioned that I was in the honor society! Now I think, Who did I think I was? I had no idea that the average abortion patient is all of us.
I didn’t think I was ready for sex, but my boyfriend pushed it. Rape feels too strong, but it wasn’t really consensual. I didn’t think about the whole condom thing. I was going to a Catholic high school, and in health class we never talked about sex. The scariest part of the whole experience was not having anyone to share it with. I was in AP classes and couldn’t concentrate. I’d look around and think, No one knows. At night I’d think, What if I wait too long and then suddenly have this baby? I tried to plan out telling my parents, but my mom’s religious views scared me. I read on the Internet that minors can get a judicial bypass, but I was nervous it would take a long time—when I lay down and sucked in, there was a little bump on my tummy. Finally, I got up the courage to tell them. Both my parents took me. It’s a two-day process. I was at twenty weeks, just a few days away from being too late. During the ultrasound, the technician told me how big the head was—it was the most scarring thing. The next day, the procedure took fifteen minutes. I slept for the rest of the day. I was grateful my parents were there. It cost about $2,000, so I definitely couldn’t have done it without them. I feel bad that it was so far along, developed. In my government class, we spent a whole week on abortion. It was awful.
Michigan and Georgia, 1998 and 2003
When girls I knew had abortions, I thought, I would never. But I did the thing I thought I’d never do. I was 19, at college in Michigan. I couldn’t believe I was pregnant—we’d used condoms—and I was disappointed in myself. I knew my mother would consider the pregnancy God’s will, so I didn’t tell her. I told a friend who’d just gotten one. When we got to the clinic, the waiting room was full, and I remember thinking, Wow, some of these girls are from school. I didn’t feel alone. I wasn’t the only one. I paid for it with my tax return, 300-and-something-dollars. I chose to stay awake during the procedure, even though I was afraid of the pain. The second time, I was 24, living in Atlanta, and into my career. It hit me more emotionally. I thought, I really do want this baby, because I want a family, but I couldn’t imagine that with my boyfriend. I’d just taken a friend to have an abortion, so she took me. There’s something about having someone with you who’s been through the same thing that’s comforting.
We had a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old and hadn’t envisioned having more. At first I thought, Well, I love my husband, and we have plenty of money. I had this naïve notion that access to abortion was easy for people like us. I called my doctor, who referred me to someone else because that practice didn’t perform abortions. I’d never thought of myself as someone who goes to a clinic. I called five doctors, each time having to explain how I’d gotten the number, as if I needed some secret code. Pittsburgh has world-class medical centers, but it took a couple of days to get an appointment. Pennsylvania is one of 26 states that require a waiting period between counseling and the procedure. We went back the next day. The staff was great. It felt a lot like a regular checkup but with painful cramping. My insurance covered the whole thing. In the waiting room, my husband said, “Where do you want to go on vacation?” We booked a trip to Spain.
New York, 1968
It was November. I’d just graduated high school and was working, going to college at night, living with my mother in Queens. I didn’t believe I could tell my mother without her killing me. At work, a wonderful older guy, a father figure, told me about a doctor on the Upper East Side. I had to go late at night and pay $800, a fortune at the time. My father died when I was 5, and from a wrongful-death suit I’d inherited $1,000. That money was very special to me, one of the only things I had from my father, and it made me feel like a criminal that I had to spend that money that way. I was four months pregnant. The doctor inserted a metal tube and said I’d be uncomfortable. The attending nurse said, “You’ll never have children after this.” I was to return the next night, with clear instructions not to call the office. On the subway ride home, I could feel the blood seeping through my jeans. I was so relieved to be wearing a coat so I didn’t leave blood on the seat. When I took off my jeans, blood covered my thighs. I couldn’t let the sheets get bloody, so I wrapped towels around me and stayed in bed, with incredibly painful cramping. I realize now that I was in labor. I thought I might die there in my apartment. In retrospect, I should’ve gone to the hospital, but I thought I would be arrested. It’s such a horrific thought that anyone should feel that alone again.
New York, 2006 and 2012
I’m pro-choice, but for some reason I still hold a stigma for people who’ve had multiple abortions, and yet I’ve had multiple. The second time I was ashamed of becoming “one of those people,” although I know that thinking is wrong. When I was 17, the toughest part was being asked if I wanted to see the ultrasound. That was the first time it was really presented to me, real. I went on birth control right after, but it gave me mood swings, made me feel terrible, so after a couple of years I went off it. The second time was harder because I got pregnant with my boyfriend. We’d been using protection. I was in my twenties, more prepared to take responsibility, but he’s from a strict Muslim family, and a child would’ve meant immediate marriage or maybe him going home. My boyfriend couldn’t comprehend my shame of having to go through it again. He’s used to girls having to hide things. I took the pill overnight, hunched in bed, cramping unbelievably, and he sat up with me all night. Well, I think he fell asleep once, but I woke him up. I went to work the next day. I think a lot of girls in my circle look at each other and think no one else has gone through it. It does affect you. Sometimes you regret and sometimes you feel good. You think, The baby would be a year old now.
My IUD failed. I thought my boyfriend would say, “Yay!” But he wanted me to have an abortion. I felt like if I did that, I’d be killing somebody. He wasn’t really involved in anything except video games. That night, he played Call of Duty, this very gory war game that was his life. I slept alone. It mattered to me what the father wanted to do. I was cheating on my boyfriend with a guy who laid out the pros and cons and said, “You’d have to be a mother forever.” I kind of hoped it was his baby. My boyfriend said things like, “I don’t have to worry about it until it pops out.” I just looked at him and couldn’t imagine raising a child with him. It was an epiphany. I went by myself. I took the first pill and was given a prescription for Vicodin. At the time, I was an illegal immigrant, so I couldn’t show the pharmacy an I.D. My friend came to use hers. I told her everything. At her apartment, I was puking and pooping, everything at the same time, delirious, unable to stand up. I expected to have regret, but I didn’t. I left him. I made it to school again. I rediscovered all these things I like to do.
Because I was only 16, I needed to go to the court. Everything took about a week. I stayed with my sister in the city where the clinic was, 45 minutes away from where I lived, so my dad wouldn’t know. First I went to get an ultrasound—I was nervous, but it was like a usual checkup. I met with a lawyer, and then me, and my lawyer, the judge, and a lady who typed everything sat at a table. It was a little awkward—the judge was an older man. After growing up Catholic, I felt really ashamed having to tell him, but I knew what I wanted, and he understood, which was amazing. I wasn’t ready. My boyfriend was a dropout. I kept telling him he should go get his GED, but he didn’t. After I got approval from the judge, I went to Planned Parenthood with my papers. I didn’t want my boyfriend to be there. I was nervous. I did have an attachment to this thing you couldn’t even physically hold. I’d think about what kind of amazing life a kid deserves and feel upset I wouldn’t be able to provide that. The worst part was with my boyfriend. Afterward, he wanted to have sex, but I said, “No, it still hurts,” but he didn’t care. He was my first. I found out the person I loved wasn’t a good person.
New York and California, 2003 and 2006
I actively support Planned Parenthood for doing important work, but I was stuck in a waiting room for hours, with young girls, some flippant, some sad, and the doctor was dead-faced and didn’t make eye contact. I woke up in a gurney in the hallway, surrounded by chaos. No one checked on me. About three years later, in L.A., I found out I was pregnant again. There was this lightbulb moment when I realized I had health insurance. I made an appointment at a hospital, and the whole thing cost about $30. On the way, my boyfriend started freaking out, saying, “What if you’re killing my son?” I had him pull over so I could drive. I respect that it was an emotional experience for him. I never think about the abortions. When I tell people, they respond with a panic face, and when I say I’m truly okay with it, they make a second panic face. I end up comforting them.
I called the university health services from the Walmart parking lot and said I wanted the abortion pill, and the woman said, “The abortion pill is illegal in the United States.” I was livid. I said, “That is not correct.” How many young women has she told that to? I went directly to the doctor. The lady administering the pee test said, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant!” and I thought, Congratulations, you’re an idiot! I was in my gym clothes, obviously distraught. The doctor said the abortion pill wasn’t an option in our state. I called clinics all over until I found one a four-hour drive away in Tennessee. I couldn’t have told my family. The two girls I told have kids and husbands; they couldn’t just drop everything and come with me. I drove four hours by myself, thinking about what an idiot I was for stopping birth control. I took the first pill in Tennessee. I took the second one the next day, on the Fourth of July, my favorite holiday. I was expecting something terrible. I watched movies alone. I felt fine and could’ve even gone out, but I’d made up stories about where I was.
New York, 2007
Unlike many Latinos, we’re not religious. My parents are progressive and always said I needed an education. It was my senior year of high school. My boyfriend was homeless. I bought a pregnancy test at Duane Reade and went to the bathroom in the middle of class. I sort of panicked but also thought, Let me get back to this tomorrow. On the train going home, I saw a sign. In my daze, all I saw was abortion. It was one of those places where they convince you to keep the baby. They showed me the ultrasound, but I wasn’t falling for that. Later, I went to see a counselor, and she made an appointment at Planned Parenthood. I had it on a Friday so I could recover for school. On Monday, I found a note on my bed—my boyfriend had left for California. When I got pregnant later that year, I was in Argentina. Abortion’s illegal there. I drove around with a doctor looking for someone who would do it. I can’t even say why I decided to keep the baby. I didn’t want an illegal abortion. And I was in love, I guess. I didn’t think I could go to college with a kid, but I’m graduating this year.
New York, 2007
I come from a family of sick people—my mother had multiple sclerosis—so I grew up doing everything I could to keep the people around me happy, at the risk of my own sanity. I don’t want to put another human being through what I went through. Money, babysitting, housing is conquerable, but I’m terrified that I’ll end up like my mom, and I don’t want to call the school nurse to ask her to drive my child home because I fell out of my wheelchair. Losing my mom later that year convinced me that I shouldn’t have a family, even though I really, really want one. That morning, my boyfriend fasted in solidarity. For a month after, I’d weep at anything, even a toothpaste commercial. I Googled it—my hormones were wonky. Even when I felt I made the right choice, I regretted having anything to regret.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was ecstatic. After the twenty-week ultrasound, a doctor came in and said our baby had a kidney disease and wouldn’t be able to breathe. When the diagnosis was confirmed, my husband and I looked at each other and knew immediately abortion was the only thing to do. Why give birth to a baby who will die? In Wisconsin, you need to sign a form that says you’re aware that the fetus has a heartbeat, fingers, and toes. After I signed, my husband took the pen. They said, “No, only the patient needs to sign,” but he said, “I want to.” The public university where we teach offers insurance affiliated with a Catholic hospital. We had to submit our case before an ethics committee of priests who would decide if insurance would pay. Otherwise, the procedure would cost us $25,000. The priests decided I had to deliver the baby. I was so upset I couldn’t talk. Later it turned out the state would cover it. They induced labor and offered me a Valium. It doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t want drugs. For weeks, I’d been holding my breath when trucks drove by, for my baby. The next night, my son was born into one of those hats that catch urine. It’s not how your baby is supposed to be born. My husband sang him “Thunder Road” and told him that Achilles was the greatest hero ever to live, which is ridiculous. We held him until he got cold. We named him Isaac. We didn’t tell anyone what happened, even my parents. We just said we lost the baby.