As you read this, a woman somewhere in this country is making the most difficult decision of her life. In the recent past an overwhelming attack has been launched towards women and their reproductive rights. You can stand on any side of the issue that you choose, but until you’ve lived it personally, you cannot know the effects that these situations have on a person’s life. Many women have a very personal story of why these rights are so important. This one just happens to be mine.
When I was eighteen, I found out I was pregnant. It was not due to drug use or promiscuity (as many have been accused). I was married. We were young, in love, and poor. Every month was a financial struggle. We couldn’t afford the high price of condoms, much less medical insurance or prescription birth control; we were lulled under a false sense of security because we were in a committed relationship. We were happy, because we had each other and our whole lives ahead of us. That is until we realized that my period was a few weeks late.
We sliced our already tight weekly food budget in half in order to afford an over the counter pregnancy test. Relief washed over us as we watched the little pink minus sign slowly appear on the plastic stick. Two weeks later, yet still no monthly menstruation. Not being able to afford another test, I drove to a local place that advertised “free pregnancy tests.” This time, although it was the exact same brand I had used previously, a bright pink plus sign was the greeting from the apparatus. As I sat there alone with the woman who ran this Pro-Life center (a detail that I had not been privy to before entering), I sobbed as she handed me pamphlets about adoption and the joys of becoming a teenage parent. Abortion was never even brought up. Instead, the woman wiped my tears and said, “I saw you smile as soon as the positive sign came up. Then you burst into tears. But the initial reaction was one of joy!” She was pushing her opinions on me in this desperate time. With that, I politely took her pamphlets and left the building. As I headed towards my car, I threw away all the papers in the first trash can that I walked past, and promptly vomited on top of them. As I drove away, my mind was a whirl of fear, anguish and absolute confusion. The closer that I got towards home, the more the world I had once known began to feel as if it was crashing down around me.
Being young and naive, it had never even occurred to me to discuss the option of future parenthood with my husband. Imagine my surprise when I announced the pregnancy and he said matter-of-factually, “I never want to have children. Ever. So if we are going to stay together, we are just going to have to get rid of it.” That was it, no further discussion. Inside, my reality was no longer crumbling, it was in ruins. Two microscopic cells had merged inside of my body, and now my life was in shambles.
As he snored softly next to me that night, I lay awake and in tears. I sorted through my options, not feeling as if I had any viable ones. Like most little girls, I had been taught to want a family so the idea of having a baby in nine months was intriguing, yet we were so young and barely able to care for ourselves, much less another mouth to feed. We hadn’t even finished growing up ourselves; we were not ready for the intense responsibility that comes with a child. Knowing that my husband was the bread winner, I was at his financial mercy. If I chose to continue with the pregnancy, he would walk away and leave me homeless. If I chose to give the child up for adoption, he would also leave, presumably in fear that I would change my mind at the last minute.
It seemed that the only thing I could do was have an abortion. This idea made me cry even harder. The tears were not motivated by religious or moral reasons; my mind was swimming with choices, yet deep down I felt that I only had one. This brought up yet another list of issues. How would this affect my health, how and where would I feel the pain, and of course financial matters. We had to forgo eating to afford a $14 over the counter test, so how ever would we find the money to afford the fees for a professional extraction of the thing that was in my uterus? As I drifted off to sleep all I could do was hope that this entire situation was a nightmare that I would wake up from the next morning.
The next time my eyes opened, I noticed the smell of breakfast wafting from the kitchen. I stumbled out of the bedroom to find my husband with a smile on his face. I groggily sat down and wiped the sleep out of my eyes. My husband, the amateur herbalist, often made me concoctions for my physical and mental well being, so a steaming cup of thick black liquid put in front of me was nothing new. As I waited for food to be ready and my tea to cool down, I tried to bring up the subject of our baby.
Dismissively he told me that he “had figured it out.” I tried to swallow eggs past the lump in my throat with no luck. Instead, I just sipped my tea. As soon as the sickeningly sweet, yet bitter taste hit my mouth I began to gag. I tried again and again with the same reaction. I was accustomed to the awful taste of many of my husband’s herbal remedies, but this one was worse than any before it. As I sat my cup down, I was almost positive that I saw a skull and crossbones symbol float up over the liquid as they do in cartoons. Noticing my winces, my beloved smiled even larger while he refilled my cup and explained that all I had to do was drink more of this and our “problem would be solved.”
He had made me an infusion designed to induce miscarriage, and I had already started to ingest. My hands shook and my eyes welled up as I tried to choke back another glass of herbal poison. By the third one, I felt like my life was over and went back to bed, not to come out for days.
Eventually, I was awakened from my depression, guilt, and fear induced coma by searing pains in my torso; pains that felt as if I was being stabbed repeatedly in the gut. I screamed out in agony. I felt a wet sticky substance between my legs. I wailed in the shower as I cleaned myself up, knowing deep down what was happening and that I couldn’t do anything to stop it. My husband came in to help after hearing my screams, but he looked evil to me. Between pain and worry, all I could think about was wiping that proud “it worked” look off his face. This horror continued for almost three months. I wouldn’t leave the apartment. I couldn’t talk to any of my friends. All I could concentrate on was the pain, and the shame.
I remember the one event when I did have to leave. We had dinner plans with his parents. I tried to pull myself together, but even his Mother kept asking if I was sick, because I had no color in my face. In the hour that we were at dinner, I squeezed his hand so tightly under the table that I drew blood. After that, I refused to leave home again.
One night, I jolted out of bed with a scream. I crawled to the bathroom to notice my pajama bottoms drenched in blood. My husband was out of town for work and I was all alone. Looking at the bed and then at myself in the mirror, what had once been my reality seemed more like a scene from a slasher film. I was more afraid then I had ever been, or would be after. I grabbed the portable phone from the bedside and rushed back to the bathroom, knowing the tile would be easier to clean up there than carpet. As I sat on the toilet, a clump of mucous membrane from my uterus came out of me and I collapsed on the floor. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in a hospital room. Evidently, I had dialed my Mom before I lost consciousness. Doctors and nurses and my Mom were giving me information at a faster pace than I could handle. I had been hemorrhaging. If I hadn’t gotten there when I did, I would have died. The doctor came in to say “Ms.Thomas, did you know that you were pregnant? I’m sorry to tell you that you had a miscarriage and we had to perform surgery.” My Mom held me even though I felt numb. I stayed quiet and just stared into space until it was time for me to be released. After that, the relationship with my husband slowly faded. I was angry at him, but even angrier at myself. We were divorced soon after. I never told anyone about why I ended up in that state, until now.
Years later, when I was financially, emotionally and mentally stronger, I decided that it was time for me to have a child. I did not plan the actual timing of the pregnancy, but I did plan my parenthood from it. I kept my mouth shut about my past experience due to fear of judgment or repercussions. All I told my doctor was that I had once had a miscarriage. Because of the damage done to my reproductive system in my youth, I was put on bed rest for the majority of the pregnancy. I had many complications both during the pregnancy and delivery. I was convinced that this child was not going to make it because of the “sins” of my past. However, this time I chose to fight, and I am proud to say that she is now a happy, healthy pre-teen. I made the choice to risk my life to give birth when I was physically, financially and mentally ready. I have never once regretted it.
When I came out of the anesthesia from giving birth to my daughter, my Mother was sitting in a chair next to me. As she stroked my hair, she slowly explained what had happened. For the first time, I admitted all of the details of what I had done years before and claimed responsibility for what my newborn and I endured that day. As I drifted off to sleep, my Mom whispered her big secret as well. Before Roe vs. Wade, when women had fewer options than I did at the time, she herself had gone through something similar. Hers was in an alley miles away from her home. She then reminded me that just ten months before I was born, she’d given birth to a child that died from SIDS. She had never forgiven herself. Part of her always blamed the decision she had made in her youth for this child’s death. My Mom then held me tighter than ever, knowing that we had both made a choice that we would never forget. We were two generations of Pro-Choice women, who felt that we hadn’t had any other choice.
You might ask why I have told you all of this. The answer is simply that it was time for this story to be told. I was not the first young and petrified girl to be in such a situation, and I will not be the last. In my lifetime, I have heard stories that horrified me, even after my own and my Mother’s tales. Girls getting thrown down stairs, using hangers and thinking they deserved what they got because of their body chemistry.
So if ever there was a time to speak out for my mistakes, it is now. With proper education and support, other scared women may be more capable of making a healthy decision that not only works for them, but for their bodies as well. With affordable birth control my situation and so many others like it could have been avoided. These new proposed laws frighten and anger me; if they’d been proposed 20 years ago, I would have been sent off to prison.
No woman should ever need to make the most important decision of her life and feel hopeless, alone, or worse – out of options. I have never told anyone this entire story before; I don’t even like to think about it. If this essay can help even one person, it was worth it for me to dredge up old demons. Unlike my Mother, I have been lucky enough to have Planned Parenthood available for proper medical attention and realistic birth control options. If contraception isn’t affordable, women across the country will continue to experience stories like mine, or worse. I do my best to educate my daughter with facts and science, not hatred cloaked by the religious beliefs of others. Women and men need practical information, not propaganda and hype. The “aspirin between the knees” or abstinence teachings of the past weren’t successful then, nor are they successful now. People will continue to have sex; it is our responsibility to encourage them to make the right decisions. We must fight for proper sex education and affordable contraception.
I am proud to say that my daughter is happy, healthy and the best decision that I have ever made in my life. With her I gave myself the right to make the choice, instead of falling to pressures and “advice” from those around me. As she grows older, I have normal parental fears, but I try to remain confident that I am up for the challenge. Before I sent this story to be published, I was tormented. I waffled over whether to attach my name or to remain anonymous. It was not because of a sense of shame, but to shield my daughter from potential ridicule or hatred that may be directed toward her. Our lives our naturally intertwined and my decisions affect her, and vice versa. I asked her what she thought I should do and she said, “Mom, I want you to write what is important to you. We will handle the problems as they come.” We made this choice together, as a family. That is real choice.
Two decades ago, I was not in an emotional, spiritual, or financial place to bring a child into this world. Instead, I waited until I could handle the responsibilities of Motherhood. My life, my daughter’s life, and the next generation of women will be better for it. Unfortunately, because of my cowardice to stand up to my husband twenty years ago and the toll that it took on my insides, she will never know the joys of a sibling. My uterus may be closed for business, but I will continue to fight for those that are still functioning; including my daughter’s. Who’s next?
Jodi Renee’ Thomas spent the majority of her adult life as an alternative fashion designer/dominatrix, until the writing bug called her away. She believes in living life to the fullest, and then chronicals her antics on her blog “Confessions of a Party Girl.” She is a proud pupil of the school of life, in which each semester she gets varying grades from Suma cum Laud to this lesson needs to be repeated; but she keeps going strong. By day she is managing editor for DStripped Magazine in which she has a featured column entitled “Relationship Rehab.” By night, she trolls Facebook and tries to write articles that entertain and inform. She happily lives in the sunny state of Florida with her aspiring writer/designer daughter Xoe Lizbeth, and her cats Rocko and Shaft, who like to help her type.