FSome caveats, irst. As every woman who writes something on the internet knows, I must insert the appropriate number of “I love my kids!” “My kids are my life!” in anything that may be construed as complaining, lest the trolls start assembling. It’s true. It’s true. My kids are part of me. And in all seriousness, I don’t take any of this lightly. This may sound difficult. However, I am grateful to any one who has been through something like mine. So let’s proceed.
I discovered that my IUD had moved in September 2017. Later, I learned it had also migrated to my account. ColonI was already pregnant. (It’s very rare for an IUD to migrate; if you have an IUD, check your strings!) My children were aged 4 and 18 months, respectively. Hollywood had shown some interest in my novel, which was out a month prior. I had “gotten my body back,” a phrase anyone who has given birth is intimately familiar with (the way a cartoon character is intimately familiar with the club crashing down on her head), a phrase which, yes, means I was in shape and feeling good, but which also means there was no child hanging from my breast, no dried spit-up anywhere on my person, no middle-of-the-night aches waking me a minute or so before my baby cried out from his crib. I had shaken off the relentless gray cloud that seemed to follow me home from the hospital after each of my boys’ births and that rained doubt and anxiety over my every decision. The cloud was still visible, but I couldn’t see it anymore. I had gotten my bearings. A Paragard IUD was securely inserted into my uterus. It was impossible to get pregnant again.
And I was pregnant with a child, yes. But also with anger and helplessness, and the conviction I didn’t want to be pregnant. The cloud couldn’t come back.We didn’t want it. (I love my kids.) “I want an abortion,” I told my husband, my voice shaking with anger and grief. What about abortions that were performed by mothers? Six out of ten women with abortions are mothers. However, I was thinking of my own mothers and birthing fathers. My sister and my friends. It didn’t feel like a question I could come anywhere close to asking.
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In my doctor’s office, I held out hope that the test I had taken was wrong. And that the second and third tests I’d taken were also wrong. My heart sank into a throes as she scanned my chart, looking up at me, and confirmed that I was pregnant. Her face seemed to be expecting joy or neutrality. “Do you … want to continue with the pregnancy?” she asked, handing me a box of tissues. She didn’t judge me, she did not expect anything more. I was just human tending another human and I feel that way forever. “No,” I said, and I cried harder.
My doctor explained my options to me in a calm, fact-based tone. We couldn’t schedule an abortion at their Catholic attending hospital because it was against policy to terminate a pregnancy there. If I was unable to wait long enough, I could go to another hospital. It was possible to take the pills if I needed it immediately. She put the prescription in; all I’d need to do was make the call and I could pick them up. She told me to stay in the room as long as I needed, that she’d let her staff know not to disturb me. I left quickly.
Before any decision was made, I needed to have an ultrasound, so they could locate the IUD and make sure it wasn’t an ectopic pregnancy. A few days later, after visiting my doctor, I noticed the cluster of cells vibrating. This is often misinterpreted as a heartbeat under those strict laws that require women to hear or see cardiac activity before they have an abortion. He inserted an ultrasound probe into my cervix. Another doctor was called. The two of them took turns holding it and commented on the strangeness of all this, such as the doors opening and closing. When you’re pregnant, people handle your body like it’s not yours. It’s the baby’s, or it’s just a closet you rummage through, looking for something. The IUD was located near my sacrum and the embryo inside my uterus.
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I found my car and locked myself in the garage. Weeping, I cried. My husband called me and asked me if I believed in ending the pregnancy. I was treated gently by him, much like my doctor. We discussed each option at home. While our boys were napping, we began whispering to one another and I asked him whether he would be able to have another child. He said immediately yes. He was, I’m sure, thinking of future family moments: road trips, baseball in the backyard, inside jokes. But that’s not what I was asking.
What I was asking was this: Could I be pregnant again, age 37 to 38, attend monthly and then weekly doctor’s appointments, because my pregnancy was considered “geriatric” and therefore required further monitoring?
What if I didn’t survive my pregnancy? My age group had a significantly higher maternal mortality rate than those 25- to 24-years old.
Can I see my body expanding and changing, becoming another thing?
Could I stomach the infantilizing and proprietary way the world treats me when I’m obviously with child? (And here I’m reminded of the breathtakingly stupid suggestion, on the part of one of our — female! — Supreme Court Justices, that rather than abort, a woman should carry the baby to term and then simply drop it off at the nearest fire station. What if you show up to the company picnic with an empty stomach and no baby? “Oh, that old thing?” this imaginary woman might say, “I dropped it at the fire station on my way here.” “Cool, no further questions!” society responds.)
Can we really afford it? It is costly to get pregnant, and even more expensive to have a child. Some families Insurance Spend upwards to $5,000 if everything goes smoothly, and $10,000 if your baby is in the NICU.
How could we afford childcare? With our second child, I’d had to leave my job because paying for childcare for two children equaled the amount I was bringing home each month, essentially canceling out my income. And at that time, preschool cost thousands of dollars a year, something we were able to afford only because my husband’s mother paid for it. No, childcare was not possible for us.
Could I commit to spending less time with my still very small children, because I’d be spending a lot of time feeding and changing and holding and endlessly, endlessly attempting to put the infant down to sleep? There’s a reason sleep is withheld as a torture device.
Was it possible to handle the impact on my job and how I was able to spend as much time writing? It took me two years to get my brain settled enough for me to write again after each child. Would I be willing to sacrifice another two years?
Given that I would be dividing my time in three directions, could I give the kind of attention each child needs?
Could I handle all the new ways I’d be a failure at this motherhood thing that society promises is natural and therefore a given, easy, a flipped switch as soon as the doctor crows, “Ten fingers and ten toes!”
How could I deal with this dark depression? Could I figure out a way to adapt, to toss my family onto my shoulders and run us to safety from … me?
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This was not an easy decision. Heavy. Exhausting. But it was mine. This was crucial because I was able to decide. I could look at all possibilities and make my own decision. This reminded me how much I’m the mom I have become. May 2018, I gave birth my daughter. One day, I will tell my daughter this tale.
By all counts, I’m lucky. My home is stable and my partner is as good a friend as anyone. But motherhood does come at a price. We pay dearly. It is possible for our hair to fall out, we may lose our jobs, or suffer from debilitating mental consequences.
Many of the birthing parents I told about my surprise pregnancy, from my family to my friends to strangers who read about it online, confessed that if it happened to them, they’d seriously consider abortion. I get it. While I chose one option, others might choose another. And that’s exactly as it should be. Being a birth parent isn’t easy. Sure, it’s natural. It’s natural in the way that an antelope running for its life from a predator is natural, in the way that antelope watches its own intestines be ripped out is natural. However, giving birth should always be an option.
If we no longer have that choice, we’re no different than the antelope. It’s just a corps that is waiting for its chance to be ravaged.
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