I don’t remember where I was when I found out. Probably in my disgusting bathroom in my cramped apartment, scrolling through TikTok. And I don’t remember how I felt when I actually saw the words “pregnant” on the screen like a noxious pop-up ad. All I remember is the exorbitantly priced Uber ride I took the following morning to my gynecologist’s apartment, double-masking because it was at the height of the pandemic, and waiting in the lobby of a building I’d never be able to afford so she could come down with a white paper bag of mifepristone and misoprostol, which she silently palmed off to me like she was Snoop from The Wire. And I remember texting her after I took them to stupidly whine about whether I’d taken them correctly, minutes before I started feeling like I was in a torture porn movie and someone had decided to take a hatchet to my intestines. I remember, for the first time in my life, feeling the distinct urge to poop and barf at the same time, a phenomenon my husband later helpfully informed me was known as “jackpotting.” And I remember I had to spend the rest of the day in bed eating Korean soup and listening to my son watch Daniel Tiger, intermittently yelling at my husband to stop letting him watch so much goddamn TV.
The story of my abortion is not particularly unique or interesting. In fact, it’s probably most notable for how uneventful it was: because I am lucky enough to have access to good reproductive health care and live in a blue state where the right to abortion is protected, it was safe, clean (with the exception of the fleeting jackpotting threat), private, and legal. But my experience is not going to be the norm across the country if a leaked Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade takes effect. It will be the exception, not the rule.
We know what a country without legal abortion will look like, because we have seen it before. Doctors will be thrown into jail for giving misoprostol to terrified 11-year-olds who were brutally raped by their grandfathers. Teenage girls will bleed out in high school bathrooms. Women like me — respectable wives and moms, with nuclear families and middle-class jobs and health insurance and FreshDirect accounts, some of whom probably voted for the very president who appointed the SCOTUS justices who made this decision — will endure the unbearable agony of being forced to carry babies they know will die, or nonviable pregnancies they know will kill them. This is not fear mongering. This is not speculation. This is codified in U.S. history, pre-Jan. 22, 1973: people who are pregnant and do not want to be will not have the benefit of undergoing a safe and efficient medical procedure in the privacy of their bathrooms with Daniel Tiger in the next room. They will die, wretchedly and scared and alone, and not in small numbers.
We know what a country without legal abortion will look like, because we have seen it before.
When I heard that the court was set to overturn Roe v. Wade, I was not exactly surprised; to some extent, this has been years, even decades, in the making. But like many other women, I was anguished and irate, in part because I feel like I have experienced pretty much every side of the spectrum of what it is like to be a [in white liberal voice] person of childbearing experience. Within the past five years, I have carried a pregnancy to term, lost a nonviable pregnancy, struggled to get pregnant (otherwise known as “un-fun rawdogging”), and terminated a pregnancy; I have experienced the discourse over reproductive health care from multiple different positions, which I guess makes me something of the Carl Yastrzemski of fertility. All of these experiences were incredibly difficult for wildly different reasons, and all of them have made me all the more ardent in my belief that what a person does with their own body is their own fucking business and not for accused date rapists, right-wing Christian MILFs, and spouses of government insurrectionists to legislate.
But even though I am not ashamed of the fact that I had an abortion, if I’m being perfectly honest, every bone in my body told me not to share this story. For starters, I am a leftist woman who often covers the far-right, which makes me a target; add being a woman who has had an abortion to the list, and I can’t even begin to predict the opprobrium. I also had very complicated feelings about my abortion, which means my story doesn’t fit neatly into the “no mess, no regrets” narrative that is often promoted by the pro-abortion movement (and which is often co-opted by those on the right to portray leftist women as callous bitches who love to kill babies almost as much as they love to eat avocado toast and turn children trans).
At the time I had my abortion, I was not a callous, baby murder-loving bitch. On the contrary, I wanted desperately to become a mother again and to give my son a sibling. The desire to have another child, to clean spit-up and squeeze chubby legs and feel a tiny warm body fall asleep atop my chest, consumed my every waking moment, to the point that moms on the street were probably wary of how much attention I gave to their babies. But my desire to have a baby coincided with the advent of the pandemic, which had absolutely fucking wrecked my mental health; I spent most of my time sanitizing groceries, worrying about my then-3-year-old son; and calling my father sobbing because he had made a surreptitious trip to the grocery store. My OCD had gone into overdrive, and I also developed an intense vomit phobia, which led to me refusing to eat anything except for buttered toast and ginger ale. I was neither eating nor sleeping and I was in such a state of constant, unrelenting anxiety that I remember reading a story about a guy in a vegetative state for 20 years who woke up and complained about having heard the Barney theme song over and over again, and all I could think was: wow, must be nice to have a vacation. At some point, I went back into intensive therapy, which involved a type of exposure treatment that entailed me having to look for extended periods of time at GIFs of drunk British guys puking. I also went on an extensive cocktail of medications for OCD, anxiety, and depression, all of which were incompatible with pregnancy. When I accidentally got pregnant in early 2021, I was still on those meds.
I did not want to have an abortion. I wanted to become a mother again. I wanted to carry my pregnancy to term. But I also knew that I could not. As a parent, I knew intimately the incredible stressors and vulnerabilities and uncertainties involved with carrying a child to term: the doctors’ appointments spent constantly scanning the ultrasound technician’s face for good or bad news, the nights carefully budgeting out expenses only to realize you can barely afford to buy a decent stroller, let alone the cost of childcare in New York City; the cold and all-consuming dread of considering the prospect that, despite praying every night for your baby’s health, maybe they wouldn’t be OK, and maybe you won’t ever be OK either. Last time, all those thoughts and more ran like an ongoing chyron through my mind, and that was when my mind and body were relatively healthy. This time, I was underweight, overmedicated, and profoundly not OK. I was deeply concerned about the effects some of my medications could have on my pregnancy, which included a higher risk of birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth. But more to the point, I was barely a good parent to the child I had, and I knew I could not be a good parent to the child I wanted. I didn’t want to have an abortion, but I also knew that I couldn’t not have one. Abortion rights advocates like to frame the conversation around reproductive rights as a choice, but for me, there very clearly was not one.
I did not want to have an abortion. I wanted to become a mother again. I wanted to carry my pregnancy to term. But I also knew that I could not.
For people who have mental health issues, whose wellbeing rises and falls on the principle of certainty — and even for people who don’t — becoming a parent is a high-risk game. Even under the best of circumstances, it is a nonstop parade of unanswered questions and gaping pitfalls, each one seemingly more difficult to navigate than the last. For this reason, I have no idea why any parent would ever stake out the position of being anti-abortion. The idea of forcing someone to embark on a challenge as emotionally, financially, and physically draining as parenting strikes me as beyond monstrous — certainly, far more so than opting for the death of a cluster of non-sentient cells. There are some on the anti-choice side who would argue that becoming a parent teaches one to value the sanctity of life even more, and for me, it did — it taught me the value of the sanctity of mine.
I spent the months following my abortion trying to get to the point that I felt I could safely carry a pregnancy to term. Thanks to a team of therapists, overwhelmingly supportive family members and the eternal patience and support of my husband, I was able to do so, and I am currently 18 weeks pregnant with the baby I have spent years waiting to be healthy enough to carry. In the months leading up to trying to get pregnant, I thought often about the pregnancy I had terminated with what I now recognize to be grief; in my darker moments, I wondered if my difficulty in getting pregnant now had somehow been impacted by my decision to Uber to the Upper West Side and pick up the abortion meds a year earlier. And I’m sure to some extent, I will always grapple with those feelings; they will always slowly bob up to the surface, like a Mob victim in a polluted river. But two emotions I did not feel — the one that anti-abortion activists always harp on, the one that they so desperately want women of all ages and experiences to feel — were shame or regret. How could I be ashamed of making a decision that I knew was in the best interest of my family? How could I feel regret for making the choice to be a better parent: not only to my existing child, and not only to the one I didn’t yet have, but to myself?
As a result of publishing this, there are going to be people who are going to try very hard to make me feel these things. In doing so, they are probably going to say terrible things about me, my husband, my son, and my unborn child. They are going to try to make me feel regret. They are going to try to make me feel shame. And they are going to delight in doing so, the way I saw them on Telegram delighting in the leaked SCOTUS decision from last night. I did not write this for them. There is nothing I or anyone else can do to change the minds of people who view the ability to carry life and care for a child as a punishment, instead of the incredible gift and immense challenge that it is. They feel like they’ve won for now, and, to the extent that they view the bodies of women and girls as tokens to be exchanged and dispensed with in an ongoing game of GOP dick-measuring, I suppose they have. The only thing that we can do, while we scramble to donate to red-state funds and protest outside capitols and try to turn these feelings of rage and despair into something constructive, is not let them make us feel the way they want us to feel, for the choices we have made to save our own lives and countless others. We are not dispensable. Our loved ones are not dispensable. Our children — the ones we have, the ones we choose not to have, the ones we dream about and the ones who never enter our thoughts at all — are not dispensable.