by Elisabeth Pruden
Nothing changes someone's opinion of you quicker than revealing to them you've had an abortion. Some people are genuinely curious about your experience, and respect your right to control your own body as well as your own destiny.
Others, (and in my experience these "others" constitute the majority), tense up and recoil from you, as if you'd just informed them you are carrying the ebola virus and are highly contagious. As someone who has never had an impenetrable shield of high self-esteem, it's been difficult to get used to.
Not that I'm just running around telling every person I come across about my dirty little secret. For a long, long time I told no one, including the wonderful saint of a guy I'm now married to. But, as my mind processed the emotional aftermath of the abortion, I realized it was something I shouldn't have to carry around inside of me like a big, black spot on my otherwise healthy soul. That epiphany led to the next logical conclusion - if I was having trouble coming to terms with what that event meant for me as a person and what it meant for my future, other young women were probably grappling with the same thing. Maybe by becoming active and sharing my experiences, I could help someone else deal with what I had had to confront alone.
Whenever I see a blurb on the news about the abortion controversy, my interest is piqued, as if big, flashing neon arrows are pointing to the television. Never mind if the stock market just fell through the floor or if every nation in the world just declared war on the United States - here's something that actually relates directly to my life for a change. My point of view is rather unique because I've been on both sides of the fence when it comes to abortion, so to speak. As a young teenager, I had an abortion; a few years later I was pregnant again, but this time I chose to carry the baby to term and raise her. And last summer, I miscarried my third pregnancy.
Each one of those pregnancies rocked the foundations of my self-concept and tinted my view of the world and what is important in it. It still amazes me that an ancient, primitive biological process - reproduction - has the power to change the center of my own personal universe and arouse such passion in people with differing viewpoints and experiences.
Before my first pregnancy, I considered myself decidedly pro-choice, and I still do, although my reasons have changed. My hometown has a reputation for its conservative, religious-right attitudes, (hell, it's George W.'s hometown) and many houses had signs in the front yard with the oh-so-catchy little slogan, "It's a baby, y'all."
In the throes of my rebellious teenage angst, the signs drove me completely nuts. Late at night, after the town had rolled up the sidewalks and all the good boys and girls were safely in bed, my high school girlfriends and I would dress in black and make drive-by alterations to these nifty little signs.
I'd dash out of the car and race to the sign in the unsuspecting victim's yard, and with my jumbo, industrial-strength black permanent marker, obliterate the word 'baby' and write in 'choice' so that the new and improved version now proclaimed, "It's a choice, y'all."
What righteous rebels we were then. However, at that point, my enthusiasm for choice was purely intellectual. I had never been pregnant, or even known anyone my age who had been. Life at that point centered around prom and clothes and getting through the next band practice.
The deep emotional turmoil of facing an unplanned pregnancy was unfathomable to me and I was just not mature enough to realize that some things are more important than having an acceptable date to Homecoming. Beliefs I thought I had weren't really convictions until they were tested by fire. And shortly after those carefree, independent days, the fates would indeed see what I was made of.
I met Ryan through a friend of a friend just as school was starting in September. I immediately found myself disliking him. He was older, he was brilliantly smart and he was quite the hottie to boot. Sounds perfect, right? The problem was, he knew all that, and had the ego to go along with it. For weeks I could barely stand being in his presence, and only endured him because my best friend had decided he should be the newest member of our clique.
By Thanksgiving, I had broken up with my longtime boyfriend and found myself single again. I had been the type of girl who always had a boyfriend, and I didn't know what to do with myself. So, when Ryan asked me out, I agreed.
As we became closer, I came to see that he was even more flawed emotionally than I had previously thought, but we had an incredible, almost surreal, chemistry and I realized we viewed the world in much the same way. Eventually it was those flaws that drew me to him and blinded me to what would be the inevitable result of our lustful relationship. I was in love, and it was bad?
In late December, just after Christmas, I realized my period hadn't come like it should have. Immediately, I filled with panic and raced to Wal-mart for a pregnancy test. My hands were shaking uncontrollably as I watched the dreaded second line appear in the little window. My heart was pounding so hard I thought I would pass out. What the hell was I going to do? As much as my heart wanted Ryan to take me in his arms and say, "That's wonderful news, let's get married and have this baby," I knew it wouldn't happen.
We were so young, and Ryan had grand dreams of entering politics and changing the world. As he so sensitively put it, "I can't be President of the United States and have some illegitimate kid running around somewhere".
My friends were supportive, and eventually Ryan lost the respect of everyone in our group, and left town. Last I heard he was wandering around Canada somewhere.
Naturally, I was in denial for a while. There was no way in hell I could keep this baby, I thought. My mom was definitely not the type to give unconditional love and support to her pregnant teenage daughter; my dad was pretty much estranged from us and was the last person I thought of going to for help. Never in my young life had I felt so completely alone and doomed.
But gradually, through the love of some great friends, I began to see the situation from a larger perspective. It wasn't just me whose life was going to be profoundly affected, there was this tiny little embryo in there that depended completely on me. Adoption was not something I considered, because going through with the pregnancy would, without a doubt, get me disowned and thrown out on the street. Plus, I knew I would never be able to go on with my life always wondering where my baby was, and if she were being loved, and not abused.
My options, as they appeared to me that cold, gray winter, were to either keep the child and live completely on my own, young and with no education, with no means of providing any kind of appropriate life for my child, or have an abortion. Ultimately, the choice was clear, but it still broke my heart.
Since then, I've developed into a more mature, altruistic, and confident person. Because of that experience, I realized the importance of getting a good education and thus the means of providing for a family. A few years later, while at college, I received a letter from my first high school sweetheart. We hadn't talked in about two years, and even though I had moved on with my life and become somewhat self-sufficient, I always knew we'd end up together.
Soon we were engaged, and a few months after that I was pregnant again. What a world of difference it made having the right guy beside me this time. Although we were still young, and not yet finished with college, the thought of having an abortion never crossed either of our minds; we knew we were in it for the long haul.
On St. Patrick's Day in 1999, our daughter came sliding into the world, screaming and making her substantial presence known. She has taught me much about abortion and the older sibling she never had, and with every milestone she reached in her first year, I wondered what would have been had my circumstances and decisions been different a few years earlier.
I know that I would not have my daughter or my husband today if I had kept the first baby; my husband would have assumed that having a child by another guy meant there was no place for him in my life, and thus we wouldn't be together now. And I can't imagine my life without my beautiful, strong-willed, two-year-old baby.
My abortion has been called a selfish decision by some, and others have gone so far as to condemn me to burn in hell. But I figure that if there is indeed a hell and that's where I end up spending eternity, it will be for reasons other than having an abortion. I'm coming to terms with the concept that my decision was not only best for me, but best for the child who would have suffered a harsh and poverty-stricken life with no family to lovingly buffer the cruel realities of daily life.
Call me what you will, but before you condemn a young woman for choosing abortion, take a long, hard look at your own motives. Hopefully you'll realize that's it is much easier to tell someone what they should do when you're not in their shoes. And when you decide that you are free from sin, let me be the first to congratulate you.
But women facing unplanned pregnancies don't need to be made to feel like murderers for choosing abortion, they need to be educated about the consequences of any decision they may make, and, most importantly, receive non-judgmental support from friends, family, and society.