I always knew the decision to have an abortion was the right one at the time. Two live births later, I no longer feel guilt.
I didn’t know what to expect with my first labor experience, but it seemed to go about as smoothly as I could have hoped. My water broke in dramatic Hollywood fashion—and thankfully, on the tile floor. My contractions were mild, and thanks to an epidural, I was never truly uncomfortable. In about 24 hours, after an hour of active labor, my son was born.
Holding my son
The moment he was placed on my chest, I wanted to hold him forever. I held him as they cleaned the blood and excrement on and around me. I held him as the midwife stitched up my second-degree tearing. I held him through painful latches. But when it was time to get up and go to the bathroom so that I could be moved into the postpartum unit, I had to let him go.
The nurses helped me sit upright, but I felt too weak to walk. They helped me into a wheelchair and brought me to the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet, still bleeding, I felt faint.
This isn’t right, I thought. My hearing had started to become dull, and my eyes couldn’t focus.
After cleaning me again, pulling up my hospital underwear heavy with ice packs and pads, they wanted me to step toward my hospital bed.
Come on, I thought I heard one nurse say sweetly.You can. I got you.
I can’t. I can’t see. I can’t see.
Everything went silent. Then it went dark.
low blood pressure shock
When I woke up, I was flat on my back, disoriented, staring at a bright overhead light, an oxygen mask on my face. I immediately panicked. I could hear my son crying. I started trying to get up, shivering, scared and calling out for my own mother, then for my father. My lungs burned from the oxygen. The weighted blanket they put over me felt as though it were suffocating me.
And then everything slowed down. One by one, I started recognizing faces. I saw my partner holding our son, and I knew he was ok. I just wanted to hold him again. But I was scared of my blood pressure dropping so low that I would go into shock again, that I’d be holding him and he’d fall. How would I ever forgive myself?
asking myself, “What If?”
But week after week, month after month, I saw my son thrive. Once in a while, I’d wonder, “What if?” — and a wave of guilt would wash over me. Was my son really more worthy of these moments than the seven-week embryo I had aborted years ago?
Six months after my son was born, I was pregnant again. Sobbing, I asked my partner how we were going to handle two kids under two years old. How could I go through labor again knowing what happened to me the last time? I knew from the minute I bought that pregnancy test, I was going to carry to term. But the stress of taking care of an infant while pregnant, while also navigating a pandemic and financial uncertainty, caused me to lose twelve pounds in my first trimester. By the time I was 24 weeks pregnant, I had to quit breastfeeding. By 30 weeks, my pelvis was painfully separating. And after 41 weeks, my daughter finally arrived.
After three pushes, I was holding her on my chest. I held her through cleanup, stitches, and afterbirth. I held her through having my catheter removed and my IUD inserted. I held her knowing it would be the last time I would ever give birth again.
I have been pregnant, breastfeeding, or both for over two years now. I’m reminded every day of the toll pregnancy and motherhood has taken on my body. In the days after delivery, I watched blood clots fall out of me and run down the shower drain. I bled for weeks on end. I cried using the bathroom because of microtearing. My hair has fallen out, my breast ducts have clogged. I dread having to use tampons because my uterine prolapse has completely changed a landscape I’ve known for 20 years. The dark circles under my eyes remind me of how much sleep I’ve lost so that the people I love the most can sleep soundly.
I lost sleep over my abortion from worry that I was a moral failure who hadn’t lived up to the values my parents had worked so hard to instill in me. I bled. I was in pain. But the pain and bleeding reminded me of just another period. My recovery was days, not weeks or months.
I recently asked myself one last time, What if?—knowing full well that I could never truly know the answer. But what I know for certain was that when I had my abortion, I was in no adequate state to carry a pregnancy to term and raise a child. Even at my best, with a loving and supportive partner, family, and friends, motherhood has been a more difficult journey than I could have ever imagined. It’s nothing I would have been able to handle in my twenties: a decade marked by mental illness diagnoses, unhealthy relationships, alcohol and tobacco abuse, and profound loneliness. The trauma of carrying that pregnancy to term would have been born into that child’s marrow and become generational.
Letting go of the guilt
Abortion did not traumatize me. It freed me. And I no longer feel guilty for having made that choice.
I used those subsequent years to seek psychiatric care, to form meaningful, lasting friendships, to repair my relationship with my family, and to get away from the coercive control that I otherwise would have remained tethered to for the rest of my life. Because I chose abortion, my children have a mother who can love them wholly and fully.
My story will not change the minds of anyone who believes with unchecked religious fervor that forced birth is the same as protecting the sanctity of life. It will not change the minds of anyone who would be appointed to the highest bench only to legislate from it. It will not change the minds of anyone who would refer to women as “earthen vessels” with no bodily autonomy. My story isn’t for those people.
My story is for the one in four women who will have an abortion by the age of 45. It’s for anyone who became pregnant and didn’t want to be, but felt they had to carry to term. It’s for anyone who had an abortion and still hopes for children when the timing is right. It’s for anyone who had an abortion and is childless by choice. It’s for anyone who had an abortion and looks at their children now with guilt over what might have been. It’s for anyone who wants to be a supportive friend, family member, or partner.
You are not alone. And our voices together are much more powerful than others would lead us to believe.
Alexandra is a writer and a mom to two under two. She lives with her family outside Providence, RI.
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