Monica's Story

I am right in the middle of my 5th abortion. I took the early option pill this morning, and tomorrow night I will insert the misoprostol to make me start to have cramps and bleeding. I'm 7 weeks along this time.

When I think FIVE abortions…I am really tempted to berate myself for it. I mean, how can an educated woman find herself in this spot five times by age 31? How could I be this careless? But you know, lack of caring had NOTHING to do with it. Every single time I have found myself pregnant my situation has been radically different, and every time, I believe I have made the best choice possible. I grieve about it, and want never to have to make this choice again.

Actually, I've been pregnant 7 times - I have two great children.

The first time was when I was 17. I had just arrived at college, first time away from home. I'd left a very pro-life boyfriend and a very pro-life family behind, and was dreading the truth my body was telling me. I was thankful, though, that I'd come to a town where an abortion provider was available. I was terrified. I felt I was committing the first knowing mortal sin of my life (yes, Catholic), but I had a sister who'd been nearly destroyed by giving up a baby for adoption the year before, and I wasn't about to screw up my scholarship, my illustrious future, or my parent's approval. I borrowed money from a high school friend, and leaned gratefully on my very sweet dorm roommate (who'd only just met me 2 weeks prior), and had a suction procedure at 8 weeks.

Given my inability to tell my parents or my sisters or my boyfriend, and my belief up till this situation that abortion was the option of selfish people, I was quite traumatized by the procedure, even though it was not especially protracted or painful. My distress was all emotional. I spent the entire time with every muscle in my body locked up, and I kept whispering, "I'm sorry," and I probably permanently scarred the nurse's wrist by squeezing it so hard. Afterwards I stayed in a fog for about a month. I worked two jobs and took classes full time. My grades were decent, but I was scared to sleep, because at night I had dreams full of the noise of that machine, and murder, and children screaming. I spoke with a priest and cried, and admitted through all the sadness that I still felt I had done the right thing. He said it was all understandable, that even my inability to regret it was not incongruous with forgiveness. I began to heal.

Four months later, I told my boyfriend. He reacted with a bizarre combination of anger and superstitious b.s. and sadness and caring. He came to visit me. We did not break up. We continued having this long-distance relationship for years, warped now by this underpinning of sadness and unevenly distributed guilt. We'd occasionally cheat on each other, and regretfully confess, but we seemed to cling to this idea that the relationship we had with each other was the 'real' one.

In 1991 (3 years later) I found myself once again pregnant. My 'real' boyfriend was not the father, and I was leaning towards abortion, an idea with which the father concurred. But between my terror of the procedure and my guilt over the first one, I told my boyfriend about my situation. He was adamant that I should not have an abortion. He said even if the child was not his, he would help me, he would marry me, and we'd raise this kid together. He also said that if I went through with the abortion he would never speak to me again. Looking back at that I can see how much arm-twisting that was, but I took his promise to make a family with me as true, and we were married, and I had a son.

My husband had misgivings. He was absent a lot, and unfaithful a lot. We had a daughter 15 months later, also unplanned, but believing we were a family I went ahead with the pregnancy. Eventually I went back and finished college, even though when I look back at those years I see how depressed I was. Increasingly, I was alone in all the family responsibilities. He didn't want to think of me as his wife any longer, and I became his 'partner' and then even less than that. He moved out and left me with two toddlers in a house with no electricity and no hot water. I went on welfare, and moved into subsidized housing, and still tried to preserve my wretched marriage.

One person cannot hold a marriage together single-handedly. I found out his girlfriend was pregnant, and that he went with her to get an abortion. I wondered why this was suddenly acceptable to him…maybe the realization of his stunning failure as a father made him wary of encouraging any more parturition on his behalf? Maybe her future in his eyes was more valuable than mine? I'm not sure.

That winter I had a transformation in my spirit. My husband was planning to study a year abroad, as if none of us existed. I worked up the courage to tell my parents all the secrets I had not revealed. They called me a 'murderer' but then apologized, and we all cried and tried to understand why. I cleared the slate with them, decided to stand up for myself and be my kids' best defender. I cleared the slate with myself, more importantly, and came to terms with the fact that my decisions had damn good logic behind them (except for when I got married), and I was ready to stop feeling guilty and ashamed.

My son was 3 at that time, and my daughter was 2, and with a university degree, I could not accept that they would grow up in poverty. I got a job as a copy editor, my first real job. Within a year, I was no longer eligible for food stamps, or for an apartment subsidy. I moved into a tiny little basement apartment where my kids shared a bedroom. I made improvements, and found my strength. Eventually I filed for divorce, bought a small house, and made the three of us a family.

I vowed to myself that I would not ever have a child unless I could be certain of the love and respect and support of the man who would be that child's dad. And with two kids already, that is a tall order. Of course I also vowed that birth control would always and forever be used.

My second abortion was after a one-night 4th of July reunion with a guy I'd dated briefly. Since I hadn't been involved with anyone, I was not using any birth control. There was no way I could consider having the child, and I informed him of the pregnancy and my decision in the same short conversation. I haven't spoken to him again, by his choice.

I had an injection of methotrexate, glad of an option that didn't involve an invasive procedure. This time I was not destroyed with guilt, though I still did grieve.

About a year and a half later, I found myself pregnant again. This time I was in a relationship that had lasted about 15 months. I was on the pill, but I had come down suddenly with pneumonia, and had to have IV antibiotics, and wouldn't you know it…this was the first time that I actually talked the decision over with the dad. We agreed that neither of us was prepared for parenthood again (he had 2 kids from a previous marriage). My misgivings were largely based on scary tantrums this guy would throw from time to time. He was borderline abusive, and watched my every move suspiciously, and I was pretty sure I didn't want to co-parent with him. But at least I felt supported this time.

I was right about him. We stayed together, and within a few more months his behavior continued to worsen, until I got a restraining order against him. I wasn't about to become an abused woman, or stay with someone I was increasingly scared of, even though I loved him. I wasn't going to subject my kids to that kind of attitude. So I got him out of my life.

A week after the cops escorted him out of my life, I realized I was once again pregnant. I'd been on the pill, but with the chaos of the relationship I was in, the senseless arguments, the pressure to continually forgive him, and the depression I was slipping into from being so controlled by this neanderthal, I apparently wasn't consistent enough with taking it. This fourth abortion went along with my grieving for what I'd once thought was going to be a lasting relationship. It was also supposed to be the last time.

All this brings me to now. I am planning on graduate school, and my son is 10 years old. My daughter is 8. I'm working at a university as a writer and editor. I broke up with the abusive guy a year ago, but I stayed in touch with him, unfortunately. It's hard to totally turn your back on someone. While he was with me he was working and keeping up with his bills, but afterward he pretty much fucked his life up, and hooked up with this drug user, and became one himself. He ended up in jail for a while (for hitting her), and he wrote me a lot of letters, and I started to believe, ridiculously, that he was something other that a total loser. He got out of jail, and stupidly, trustingly, I let him stay at my place while he got back on his feet. We had very sporadic sex. In fact, in the whole last month he lived with me we only had sex once. He got back together with this junkie, and never got a job, but was getting by purely on shoplifting, if you can believe that. I lost all faith in his decency, and finally pleaded him out of my life again. And a week later, I was expecting my period. Ha.

I've had it with loving unlovable men.

I give a small apology to the embryo inside me again. I know that every one of the embryos that I have aborted have been every bit as unique and special as the two I decided to keep and raise. I take small rationalizing comfort in the knowledge that the cerebral cortex does not begin to transmit impulses until about 25 weeks, meaning that there will be no pain for the little one, just a simple failure to thrive. I will try, in wonder and fear to spot the grayish embryo in the clots that I will begin passing this Sunday, and if I find it, I will give it a burial. I am glad that there are earlier, non-surgical options available to me and to other women. I am pro-life in the sense that I respect and revere life. There is nothing easy and nothing comfortable about this decision, even though I have come to it before.

But you know, it is not miraculous at all to conceive. It happens constantly all around us, and for a woman built like I am, to bear and nurse many children, it is not the breathless wonderment we try to make it out to be in our culture. We shroud it in this shaky reverence, but without a sustaining love between the parents (or a solid commitment on the part of the woman to be a mother regardless of where he stands), it is only a biological event.

I've considered having my tubes tied, but I love my reproductive capacity. And I'm only 31. There's still reason to imagine that during or after graduate school I'd meet someone I'd want to have another child with. What I can do is stringently recommit to birth control, and I think I will have an IUD inserted, even now while I am involved with no one, even though it is usually reserved for people in long-term monogamous relationships.

I can only imagine that anti-choice people are probably reading this with much gnashing of teeth, but you know, if every woman with an unwanted pregnancy gave her child up for adoption, we'd have orphanages full of the unwanted all around us. You're not going to find enough adoptive parents for all those conceptions. Moreover, we'd have women who had to knowingly turn over their child to that unknown fate, and live their entire lives knowing that somewhere their child lives, maybe lacking in love or in basic needs, just so that she could live free of them. I'd rather know that I could fully provide for those I chose to bring into this world, since raising them is my responsibility and should be my reward. Sometimes I look at my two kids and think they are awfully lucky to be the ones that got born, but you know, the embryos I aborted are not suffering, and did not suffer when I ended their development. If they were assigned a soul yet, that soul has gone straight back to God, and I know that God understands the choices I have made as a foolish and emotion-addled human being.

So anyway, that is my story. Thanks for having the patience to read it. I hope that you can see that at no time have I felt flippant or careless or apathetic about the idea of ending a pregnancy. Being a good mother is the best thing I have accomplished in my life so far, but I hope to do a great deal more with the opportunities that lie ahead of me.

I pray for the strength of women to shoulder the most difficult choices we humans must make, and for the fearlessness to look at a situation head on, and to decide what's best.

4 June 2002

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"Just watch, all of you men. I'll show you what a woman can do... I'll go across the country, I'll race to the moon... I'll never look back."
- Edna Gardner Whyte, regards her first solo flight, New Year's Day, 1931.