The first time I discovered I was pregnant I was twenty-two years old, an art school drop-out on social assistance with no home in particular. I was couch-surfing, chain-smoking and imbibing illegal substances of all kinds. The father of my foetus was a man I had known for about two months. I was crazy in love with him even though my friends disliked him and seemed concerned for my well-being. I thought he was just intensely passionate. Turns out he was intensely abusive.
When I got the news from my doctor’s office that I was not just pregnant but four weeks pregnant, I stubbed out my last cigarette and ran excitedly to tell my boyfriend the news. I had been pro-choice for years and had never, ever wanted to have kids. I had no job, no money, no permanent residence, and had just been knocked up by a virtual stranger. Logically it seemed like a no-brainer that I would have an abortion; it’s not practical to be penniless and pregnant, but on the contrary, I was ecstatic, something I never would have thought I’d feel at the prospect of becoming a “welfare mom.” No one I knew was as thrilled as I was that I was pregnant given my circumstances but I knew that becoming a mother meant becoming an adult. It meant that I had to stop messing around, start taking care of myself, and grow the fuck up. No more Gen-X slacking, no more drugs, no more all night partying. Becoming a parent gave me a focus and drive to better myself, to make myself worthy of the person growing inside me.
The second time I discovered I was pregnant I was in my mid-thirties. I had left my son’s father just before my son turned four and had been more or less on my own ever since; occasionally being involved with incredibly supportive partners. I was about five years into a fantatic career in publishing that I had worked my ass off to establish, having put myself through night school while parenting full time. I was making a decent salary, my son was happy and healthy, we lived in a great child-friendly neighborhood. I was no longer a houseless slack-ass jerk, I was a capable, confident, career-minded sole-support parent and damn proud of it.
After a few months of casually dating an old art-school friend, I realized with shock that I was pregnant. Shock because I knew the exact moment that I had become impregnanted: less than twenty-four hours before vomiting as a side effect from the morning after pill. I had rushed to the pharmacy and dutifully read the instructions and took the pills as prescribed. I wanted to do the responsible thing; concentrate on my career, continue to parent my son, and keep enjoying my hard-won life.
I had some spotting and nausea the week after and still continued to feel like crap, assuming I was experiencing side effects from the morning after pill. I had read that Plan B often effected a woman’s menstrual cycle so I didn’t notice that my period was late. The moment I realized that I might possibly be pregnant even though I had followed all the Plan B instructions was a moment of pure terror. I was in the washroom at work and realized that I was having trouble squeezing myself into my pants. My breasts hurt. I couldn’t keep my lunch down and I was exhausted. It was a familiar feeling. It felt like being pregnant.
I bought a pregnancy test on my way home from work and after tucking my son into bed for the night, locked myself in the bathroom to take the test. There were three testing sticks in the package and I peed on them one after the other in disbelief. The morning after pill hadn’t worked. I was three weeks pregnant. I called my best friend immediately from the bathroom, crying quietly so my son wouldn’t overhear. She drove straight over and the first words she said to me were “I’m so sorry sweetie.” Trust me, those are not words you want to hear when you give someone the news. One of the things I had regretted when I had my son was that no one congratulated me, I didn’t have popping champagne corks and cigars. I had a lot of pitying stares and disappointed relatives.
“What should I do?” I asked my my friend, sobbing into her shoulder as she rocked me back and forth. “I don’t know what to do.”
I decided to go to my doctor’s office for a blood test the next day just to confirm that the pee sticks hadn’t malfunctioned. After a quick blood test the nurse came back into the room and told me that the results were positive. Then he said: “We can refer you to a number of services and clinics for termination.” His assumption was that as a single woman I would naturally have an abortion. I appreciated that he was offering to make the referrals but the second he had confirmed the test results I felt a shiver of anticipation.
“No thanks,” I told him. “I’m going to have a baby.” In my head I had concluded that if this little cluster of cells had resisted the morning after pill with such tenacity, maybe it deserved the chance to grow into a foetus. I was successfully raising one child on my own, there was no reason I couldn’t raise two. I bought pre-natal vitamins and made an appointment at a midwifery clinic.
I had always wanted to have another child. I wondered what it would be like to have a baby in better circumstances than when I had my son. Many of my friends were newly married or had toddlers and I felt a jealous ache for what they had. I started to get excited about having another child. I bought baby books and maternity clothes. I faithfully ate my veggies, took my vitamins. I had told a few people that I was pregnant but I didn’t want to make a general announcement until the start of the second trimester.
At this point the brief and casual fling with the guy who had impregnated me was in an off phase. We were a terrible couple, the kind who fought in public, called each other twenty times a day and became insanely jealous over the tiniest imagined infraction. In short, it was an emotionally abusive relationship that I vowed to put an end to the very night I became pregnant. I hadn’t spoken to him since but thought the right thing to do was let him know he was going to be a father, despite the gentle discouragement of my best friend who had met and disliked him.
He was ecstatic. He called his entire family immediately. He rushed over to rub my belly and cry, say he was sorry and vow to be the best father ever. Like an idiot, I started dating him again. He was not so thrilled that I flat out refused to entertain any idea of living with him.
“How are we supposed to be a family if we live in different places,” he’d demand. Practically speaking it would be challenging but every instinct inside me screamed to not move my son and growing foetus into a house with this man.
“Lots of people co-parent without living together,” I tried to pacify him as this became an obsessive issue that made him angrier and angrier. “We’ll figure it out later.” Honestly, I had zero desire to live with an unemployed middle-aged hoarder with anger management issues. I didn’t want to support another adult financially. I didn’t want to live with someone who couldn’t clean up after himself and regularly spent all day playing video games instead of looking for a job.
The reality of my financial situation started to sink in. At that moment my salary covered rent and daycare with enough money left over that my son lacked for nothing. I earned enough that we could eat out a few times a month, go to the movies and I could buy a latte on my lunch break. As the sole support parent of two children my salary would barely cover daycare. I would have to move out of my apartment into social housing, that is if I could get on the waiting list and find a place. It would mean moving my son to another neighborhood, there would be no more going for ice cream or trips to the zoo. I would have to use food banks, again, when now I was able to donate to them. I felt sick that I was appraising my situation like this. When I had my son life was less complicated because I hadn’t built a life yet. I didn’t want to quit my career to stay home full time on social assistance, I didn’t want to sacrifice the comforts my son had, I didn’t want to move away from my neighbors and friends.
I was ten weeks pregnant. I had to wear larger pants and my breasts hurt all the time. I was so tired and everything I ate tasted like dirt. I was lonely and frightened. But I had already begun to think of baby names, had bought a few sleepers and infant outfits. I had met with a midwife and started working on a birth plan. I was devouring pregnancy magazines and planning my cute and work-appropriate maternity wardrobe. All the while I was crunching numbers in my head knowing that the foetus inside me would be taking food out of my son’s mouth. In short, I felt totally fucked up.
In my eleventh week of pregnancy the father of my potential progeny came over for a visit, again to harangue me to move in with him. I told him no as firmly and diplomatically as possible. I was lying down while we had the conversation because I was literally too exhausted to stand up. He loomed over me, telling me that I was a lazy, horrible person, the worst person he had ever known, that I was a selfish, self-centred bitch … etc. I asked him to leave my place and he refused. I started to cry and he ridiculed me. He was a very large, angry man and I was scared for my physical safety. When he finally ran out of steam and left I called my best friend.
“I can’t do it. I can’t.” I didn’t have to tell her what it was I couldn’t do. She made an appointment for me at a woman’s health centre to speak to a social worker. Then she helped me make an appointment to terminate the pregnancy the following day. I was nearly three months pregnant so I needed to have the procedure immediately. My friend picked me up, drove me to the clinic, waited for me, brought me home, stayed with me, took care of my son, and checked in on me almost every day for a long time after.
When the issue of abortion comes up inevitably teenage girls become part of the dialogue, and that’s good, we should as a culture be making sure their rights are protected. But what rarely enters the dialogue is the decisions of middle aged women to terminate pregnancies. There were a few teenage girls in the clinic waiting room but most of the women there were my age or older. Many of them were professionally dressed, many of them were there alone. In later talking to friends about my decision I was floored by the number of women who said that they too had had an abortion, and not in high school or college but that year or a few years ago. Some of them were married with kids, some of them were single and childless, all of them in different situations but most of them the same age. I felt like I had just joined a secret club of women who carried with them a decision that was socially unacceptable. It was alright for a young woman to make a mistake and need an abortion but it was somehow shameful for an adult woman who should have known better. There was a culture of self-blame surrounding this secret club, not unlike sexual assault survivors.
I shared it. I was and will always be pro-choice but having that abortion was the most difficult thing I had ever done. I knew it was probably my last opportunity to have another baby. In my mind I pictured a baby, a little girl maybe, I felt her weight in my arms. I saw her getting bigger, crawling, toddling, following her older brother around. I saw her go to kindergarten and college. I felt her arms around my neck, heard the sound of her voice. And then I had to say good-bye to my baby that never was. I felt simultaneously like a monster and an adult who had made the best possible decision.
Having my son in my early twenties when I was broke and homeless could have been a disaster but it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It made me a better, stronger person and I love him with a ferocity I didn’t know was possible. Having a baby in my thirties when I was in an established career and living a stable life sounds on paper like a sound decision but it would have been a disaster. In my last phone call to the man who would have been the father I lied and told him I had a miscarriage, on the advice of the social worker and my friend, who was concerned for my safety.
I’m in my forties now. I probably won’t ever have another child. I will never hear the pop of a champagne cork to celebrate a birth and no one will ever congratulate me for being pregnant. As gut-wrenching as it was to have an abortion I know without a doubt that I did the right thing, just as I knew without a doubt that having my son was a damn good idea. But who’s to say? It only takes one tiny tear in a condom to get pregnant, even at my old age. My circumstances are different now but even so, I don’t know what I would do faced with that decision again. I do know that I am so goddamned grateful to live in a country that allows me to make up my own mind about what’s best for me. I am so thankful that I am able to make a choice.
Roxanna is a freelance writer and artist educator who likes comic books, subjecting others to angry tirades, and coffee.