The following is an overly long narrative of the last couple days of my life, written for my own sake so that I can better articulate and comprehend my own experiences. I do not mean to suggest that my story is unique. Nor is this intended to invalidate the lived experiences of others who have been through the same situation but accompanied by vastly different thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. This is my story alone and written for therapeutic reasons. If it offends, I am genuinely sorry. If you have strong negative feelings about abortion or strong negative feelings about rambling blog posts, this is not for you.
Chapter One: It's No Big Deal
"My breasts hurt," I complained to my mother on a Google hangout from my favorite bar, "this is seriously the worst PMS I've ever had."
"It must be from going off that pill. I'm sorry it made you so sick."
It had. But I felt guilty looking gift contraception in the mouth. The free generic birth control I'd been handed in a massive Planned Parenthood goodie bag had made life unpleasant if seemingly sperm-proof for two months. Cramps, spotting, weight gain so significant that I could no longer fit in my shorts just as the weather was finally turning, and vomiting that made me want to interrogate my boyfriend about just how bad condoms really were that we were trying this now, 14 months into our relationship. We'd had another reason too: my dysmenorrhea put me out of commission one or two days per cycle, which I spent in fetal position, a heating pad wrapped desperately against my abdomen, nearly ready to believe this *must* be a divine punishment for something. Perhaps Genesis wasn't a series of appropriated Mesopotamian myths after all? (Answer: no, it is) The pill had helped in the past, and it made sense to try again for me and for us. But having given up and quit on it, I was now afflicted with breasts so sore that I found myself clutching my chest protectively every few moments.
I whined to my mother for days, as daughters do even at thirty, before she told me she only experienced what I was describing when pregnant. I'd just gone off the pill that my body seemed to reject with every organ system. I was anticipating an adjustment period. I wasn't concerned about the period that was only perhaps five days late but sought pity at my girlfriend's apartment with whom I'd commiserated in the past about rough birth control side effects. As we wrestled with her new pasta machine in an adventure that would grant me incredible appreciation for premade spaghetti, I joked that I was either pregnant or I had some kind of double black diamond PMS, and either way screw that stupid pill. She stopped cranking. The dough I was feeding became a growing mass of sticky green spilling from the mouth of the machine. She had a pregnancy test, she told me in a tone that was serious but warm. She fetched it. I found some way to ignore it for hours, half fibbing that I was too dehydrated. It sat on the counter as we dried spaghetti all over the apartment like it was a laundry day in Europe and ate a terrific dinner over Game of Thrones. While I ended up bringing it home at the last moment, I didn't want to take the test. I felt guilty wasting her pregnancy test over my PMS melodrama.
I didn't expect it to be positive, but it was. In fact, because it was e.p.t., it was an honest to God positive sign, which felt inappropriate. This is not a positive development, e.p.t. Thanks for your assumptions. I considered not telling my boyfriend, considered whether it was selfish to force him into a potentially stressful situation when he could easily never find out. I texted first out of cowardice, and he called me after comparing the photo I sent to a Google images search for positives. I spoke rapidly, my words crashing into each other like cascading dominos, explaining that all tests have false positives. It's an inescapable fact of medical tests. I learned it in epidemiology. My internal voice unhelpfully identified this coping mechanism as textbook "intellectualization." I stopped referencing years old lecture notes on sensitivity and specificity and was suddenly quiet. Then burst into approximately forty-five seconds of hysterical crying. I'm not a crier. He was supportive, explaining that on the off chance that I really were pregnant, all it would be is one bad day in my life. One bad day of an annoying clinic visit, some forms, and then some heavy cramping, and then everything would be normal again. No big deal. I apologized reflexively, having somehow internalized the cultural message of unplanned pregnancy as a woman's moral failure and sole responsibility, despite my liberalism. He said I had nothing to apologize for. I asked if he'd think of me differently afterwards. He said absolutely not. Of course not. It's no big deal. I took two sleeping pills so that the thing that was no big deal wouldn't keep me up all night buzzing with panic.
I felt oddly nonchalant the next day comparison shopping pregnancy tests, until I noticed the plastic covers that set off alarms when opened. It wasn't like buying toothpaste after all, apparently. People don't steal toothpaste out of fear and desperation. One of the digital options represented a positive result with a smiley face. I wanted to punch the plastic cover that box was housed behind. The cashier asked if she should double bag the two pregnancy tests. Oh, we're all secrecy now after everyone in the store heard an alarm sound every time I attempted to read the back of a product and compare brands?
"No thank you. I already own plenty of plastic bags," I said tightly. This is no big deal, I reminded myself.
I regretted buying a digital test. While I'd skipped over the one with the audacity to suggest which preschool "feeling faces" chart doodle I should make over the result, the one I used produced a spinning hourglass, then bluntly said "Pregnant." That felt a great deal realer than the ones that told me something so significant in a bizarre hieroglyphic language of lines and crosses. I'm not two lines. I'm pregnant. Great. I told my boyfriend. Now what, he wanted to know, but I really wasn't sure.
I called the Planned Parenthood a mile from me and after hesitating over the options menu pressed 1 for "abortion services." How could she help me, the polite woman on the other end wanted to know.
"I had three positive pregnancy tests…so…"
For some reason my mind flashed to the Sex and the City episode where Miranda calls an abortion services provider and quips, 'I'm pregnant and I need not to be.' I felt more like 'I guess I'm pregnant, and I wish I never had been or at least still didn't know,' but there's no number for time travel on Planned Parenthood's menu of options.
"So, you've decided you want an abortion?"
I furrowed my brow. I'd confirmed the situation minutes ago. I hadn't "decided" anything. I hadn't wrapped my head around what was going on at all. It didn't feel real enough to contemplate, and "deciding" implied an ability to review, process, and determine that my foggy brain wasn't very capable of.
What came out of my mouth was, "yes." From that point forward the conversation consisted of questions and appointment information not dissimilar to any straightforward phone call with a medical receptionist. I was in my polite, business phone call mode, and I knew how to do that. That was comforting. All she wanted to know was the date of my last menstrual period. I was four and a half weeks in, plenty of time for a medical abortion. It would be $620 due at the time of my appointment, or I could fill out a form to qualify for free care under a California state program. I shouldn't eat beforehand, because the medication would make me queasy. I could bring a single person over the age of eighteen to stay in the waiting room for the two hour duration. Once there, I would fill out forms, have blood work, have an ultrasound, and participate in a counseling session, all before the abortion itself. The soonest appointment was in seven days, my birthday. I accepted the next soonest, seven days after that. Two more weeks of this. Okay. I expected to be told what would happen to me afterwards, what pills they'd give me, what I'd be experiencing right now and perhaps how to manage those symptoms. But following a confirmation of my appointment time and date, she ended the call. That isn't their business, I suppose.
"Maybe you can call someplace farther away and get in sooner?" my boyfriend wanted to know. "Wouldn't it be better to have this taken care of before your mom gets in?"
My mother was visiting for my birthday and set to arrive over the weekend. We'd discussed the night before, after I asked him not to tell his friends, that he'd prefer I not tell my family. Because wouldn't it be easier if no one but my girlfriend knew and this was all just dealt with quickly? I'd immediately agreed at the time. It's no big deal. But I didn't want to be sitting in a clinic an hour or more away – wherever they made next day appointments for something like this – alone, still dazed, and spend two hours handling something I hadn't even processed. I imagined how that mandatory counseling session was going to go. 'So this is your decision? No one has coerced you? You're sure?' 'Sure? Decision? I don't even know what the fuck is going on. I just want my breasts to stop hurting.' And then drive myself home in whatever condition, whatever number of hours necessary. I would be keeping the appointment, I told him. I needed time to process anyway.
My need to process was perplexing and a bit unnerving to him. I assured him I wasn't going to change my mind. There was no actual decision to make. Intellectually, I knew perfectly well what must happen, what should happen, and what I wanted to happen. But emotionally I had to catch up. It felt like a fog, and I was strangely sad. On the phone with him later, I was able to articulate why. We were thirty. We had careers, though I was still in school. We were in love and intended to spend our lives together. At this age many of our close friends and family members were pregnant or already parents. I wanted very, very much for us to be pregnant together. And I wanted being pregnant together to be something joyous and exciting that we announced proudly to everyone in our lives. But it couldn't be that this time, and that was sad. He lived thousands of miles away. I had to complete professional school. We were not ready to get married, and it would not be healthy to rush that. There was only one way all of this could end.
"I get that. We're not teenagers," he told me. "That would make it easier."
It would. It wasn't that I believed there was a person inside of me. I didn't conceive of the microscopic sheets of scarcely differentiated, pluripotent cells as a person or a life. Rather, it was potential. Those cells had the ability, maybe, if I were to let them be and if they managed to form and grow correctly through precarious stages and milestones of development, to result in a life. It was like I was digging up a tulip bulb long before it could take root, grow, and bloom. I was choosing not to eventually have something that ultimately I very much wanted, just not like this and not now. And I felt guilty for feeling anything at all. I wondered if I weren't as good a feminist as I'd thought myself. But I had two weeks to digest everything. I asked him if he had any questions for the Planned Parenthood folks. Yes. Couldn't we get some better birth control? What was up with that anyway? I bit my lip; that hadn't even occurred to me. He admitted none of this felt very real to him, and I couldn't blame him for that. It wasn't his body or his time zone. I was envious of his distance. I agreed that we needed better contraception. That made good sense.
I realized, after my boyfriend told me he had to get back to work and we said goodbyes, that now fifteen hours into this ordeal, after however much was spent on overpriced pregnancy tests, after a surreal conversation with the abortion services receptionist, and after a series of uncomfortably melodramatic exchanges with him, I hadn't done anything about the issue that precipitated any of this. My breasts sill hurt.