I Had an Abortion at 21

An honest recollection because these things don’t need to be secrets

Young woman holding flowers while lying on the floor
Young woman holding flowers while lying on the floor
Photo by nazanin salem on Unsplash

It was July of 2012 and I was twenty-one. My boyfriend and I had just moved into the first apartment we were paying for ourselves, a walk-up in Queens that was more expensive than we could really afford. We were both working part-time as swim instructors, and every week, I was both coming up with and abandoning new money-making schemes.

I didn’t have a path. I’d gone to a conservatory-type program to be an actor but didn’t like the life. So by that summer, when I could have been graduating from college had I gone a more traditional route, I hadn’t done a single semester. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I didn’t feel qualified for anything.

It was the Sunday before the fourth of July that we decided to get a pregnancy test. I had always been irregular, so we hadn’t been worrying. I’d even taken one of the cheap tests a week or two earlier just because I had it, and it had come up negative. But that morning, I threw up.

On the way back from the discount store, we joked about being overly cautious. We knew I wasn’t pregnant — we were careful. But back upstairs, my boyfriend came into the bathroom with me and sat on the edge of the tub; he couldn’t deal with any closed-door moments of not knowing.

When the positive-sign materialized, we didn’t say anything. Or maybe I was too much in shock to remember doing so.

Regardless, it was far from the moment that always imagined. I was terrified. We both were.

Within a few minutes, we were out the door. We walked some blocks to the nearest hospital and inquired at the front desk, where the guy told us “congratulations.” We didn’t know anything about any of this stuff, and we were hoping for an ultrasound because it seemed like something we could do. But it wasn’t an emergency, so of course, they couldn’t see me.

The next day, we went to the women’s clinic under the above-ground subway station. The doctor wasn’t in, so the best they could give me was another pee test. It was positive, as we knew it would be. We made an appointment to come back another day for an ultrasound.

I had grown up in a relatively conservative family, and my mom was a big talk radio listener. She was very openly “pro-life,” and I suppose, I had been too until sometime in my teens.

That afternoon, I called my dad. I said I had something to tell him. Something that would make him upset. And thank God for New York, where no one cares if you cry on the sidewalk in front of everyone, because that’s what I did.

But my dad wasn’t upset, and I will never forget the conversation because it was everything it could have been. He had no agenda; he just offered support and dialogue with all options on the table.

He said that he’d love me if I “remained one person” or if I “became two.”

I started then to see this image of myself and the baby at the beach with my grandparents. I’d always wanted my future child to meet my grandma and worried about whether or not grandma would make it until then. This could become a baby that she could meet.

But my boyfriend and I had never seriously discussed what we would do if I were to get pregnant. We were in a long-term relationship and had planned to get married at some point. We wanted to have kids in the future but we hadn’t talked about an accident.

Now that I was pregnant, I found that he was unable to even really consider keeping it. He couldn’t do it, he said; he wasn’t ready. And he was so worried about what his parents would think, so worried about disappointing them.

I understand it now, but at the time, I couldn’t fathom his apparent unwillingness to even think about it. I didn’t know yet if I wanted to keep it or not, but I definitely wanted to have a full conversation. I wanted to talk about what the possibilities were, what ways we would need to change our life around if we wanted to have a baby.

But he didn’t want to have a baby with me then, and I didn’t want to have a baby that he didn’t want. I more or less came to terms with that.

Adoption was never on the table for me. Once a fetus became a baby inside me, that would be my baby, and I could never let it go.

I booked an abortion. I wasn’t that far along — less than 6 weeks — so I was a candidate for a medical abortion, i.e. the abortion pill(s). It wasn’t covered under my insurance, but we managed it.

I cried so much in anticipation of the appointment. I knew it wouldn’t have been practical to have a child then. It wouldn’t have made sense. I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life, and I knew I couldn’t provide at that point the childhood that I would have wanted to give. Still…

Fantasies of all of the things that could be, maybe, are hard to let go.

We went to the appointment at the clinic under the train. They gave me water in a small paper cup, and I took the first pill — the one that stops the fetus from growing.

I was surprised to find that it was then that I stopped crying.

With a decision made and action taken, there wasn’t anything to fret about anymore. It was effectively done, and honestly, I was relieved. I felt better than I had since taking that damn test.

At the appropriate time a day or two later, I took the second pill — the one that induces the equivalent of miscarriage. “It happened” at work where I was coaching swim camp. I changed my pad and went out to work with the kids.

Yes, I was melancholy those next couple of weeks, but only because I’d had this glimpse of something I had looked forward to for so long. I’ve always wanted children. I’ve always known, more than I knew anything else about myself, that I wanted to be a mother.

Still, I have never for a moment regretted the decision to terminate the pregnancy.

About six months after the abortion, that boyfriend and I separated; we had been unhappy for a while and unwilling to admit it to ourselves. We soon each fell in love with other people, partners who were a much better fit.

I got a better job, a management position in the organization, that helped me to grow and pointed me toward going back to school. I got my degree, and with it, a new level of confidence. I began writing, a passion that I’d abandoned many years before. I cultivated a life for myself.

That pregnancy was eight years ago, and terminating remains the best decision I could have made. It left space in my life for many other things and gave me the time I needed to grow up.

There are still a couple of people in my family who I never told about the pregnancy, although mostly because I know it would bring them sadness, and I see no reason for that. On the whole, though, I try to be very open about it. I’ve never kept it from friends or even acquaintances if it for some reason came up.

I wouldn’t tell someone else to make the same decision I did; I think it’s important that each person does what’s best for them. I do, however, want to share the experience and the truth of it for me.

My younger self would have thought that there would be lasting emotional pain. It sounds hard to believe that for someone who not only wanted kids above all else and was raised by someone who was “pro-life,” that there wouldn’t be even the tiniest hint of regret. Hell, I was told that it was something women regretted, which may or may not have been propaganda…

This is why I want to put it out there, particularly for anyone who may find themselves in a similar position. I want it to be known that as difficult as those days were after finding out that I was pregnant, I have never been anything but glad about the decision I made.

Elan is also a writing mentor, helping aspiring writers hone their craft and develop their authentic writing selves. If you’d like to subscribe to the write with elan! email list, click here: https://www.subscribepage.com/b5j6t7

Writer and Writing Mentor. Screenwriter. Honest. Human. She/Her. @elancassandra on Instagram, @ElanCDuensing on Twitter. https://linktr.ee/elancassandra

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