This story is about sex, but it's not in the least sexy. I had to write it because it demanded to be written. I find myself fighting the need to defend myself before I begin, so let me, then, just begin...
I have no children. I have been pregnant eight times.
The first time I got pregnant, I was eighteen; it was the summer before my sophomore year of college. I was seeing this guy with whom I’d convinced myself I was completely in love. For one reason or another, before hooking up with him, I had gone off my birth control pills. We had a lot of sex, I was firmly in denial and I got pregnant.
My older friend Nancy who had the red/gold/red hair of a Hemingway heroine took me to my first abortion. I don’t remember much of it, the procedure itself, other than the fact that it hurt a lot, and I could see the suction pulling at my stomach from the inside. I remember the morning sickness before; I remember my breasts getting bigger and my father asking if I was wearing falsies. I remember after, too, that Nancy gave me a glass of orange juice served in a wine goblet.
I remember she drove me to and from the appointment in her Fiat Spider, and she held my hand as the “Health Advocate” announced what the doctor was doing to my insides. That’s what I remember of my first abortion. (I myself would be the Nancy to two other friends, holding their hands, massaging their bellies, giving them orange juice after their abortions.)
What I remember of my second was the getting pregnant part. I got fucked by a friend—the same one who would become the Intended of the Valentine’s girl those years later—under another friend’s dining room table.
I could get pregnant, I told him.
“Let’s make a baby,” he said, and we did, or we might have, if I hadn’t made the choice to get the abortion. I don’t remember the abortion itself, though I do remember asking him for his half of the money.
The next one I didn’t abort. The next time I got pregnant by someone, somewhere, it was ectopic—the egg hadn’t descended all the way down my fallopian tube and the pregnancy took root in the tube itself. The pregnancy grew, unbeknownst to me, and ruptured my fallopian tube while I was having sex with my younger boyfriend. He drove me the short distance to the hospital, and in that time I’d already started going into shock.
By the time the doctor whirled in the emergency room blurting out, “I hope you know that you’re taking me away from my best friend who’s having her first baby,” I already had Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” playing in infinite loop in my head. I was already growing cold.
By the time I was being wheeled into surgery, I heard everyone speaking in Southern accents. I had bled two pints of blood internally when I ruptured my tube. I spent New Year’s in the hospital, an IV in my arm, and a cancer patient dying slowly as a hothouse rose in the bed next to me.
Pregnancy number four ended in abortion number three. Pregnant by my boyfriend Eff, I was living in Boston. I took myself to and from the clinic by myself. Pregnancy number five was by him too—this time in Vermont, though I might have switched the order. In any case, he went with me, white-faced and dry-lipped to one and left me to fend for myself for the other.
The next one I was here in New York. I got pregnant by this Brit named Rex. He was angry that I’d gotten pregnant, though he hadn’t pressed condoms when we had fucked however much he had pressed the fucking, because he was saving money to go biking extensively in South America. I took myself to that abortion too. I remember that the morning sickness preceding it was particularly evil, and that this abortion was the first one in which I was unconscious. I remember I cried when I woke from the anesthesia, a quirk I have. Anesthesia causes me to sob uncontrollably.
Abortions six and seven came from pregnancies with C, the heretofore love of my life, and they were the only ones that I really imagined perhaps keeping, if we had been more solid together, if his parents had accepted me, if he hadn’t been twenty and I thirty, if things had been different, if I had been someone else, not me.
The first one he went with me, and afterwards, I fell asleep on his couch, my head on his thigh. He didn’t move for two hours, though his leg went all pins and needles under me. He loved me, you see.
The second one I went by myself. I did so because I thought it traumatic for him and I wanted to save him from it, and I suppose save myself too. He never forgave me. That last one was well over ten years ago. To my knowledge, I have not been pregnant since, though I fear it regularly, even when I haven’t had sex.
I had, in all those years, been on and off the pill. I had had a diaphragm, and I had had a cervical cap. I had had sponges and films and condoms. I had had big wide pantheons of birth control and sometimes I’d used it, and other times I didn’t. I was exceptionally fecund.
I don’t blame my fecundity for my embarrassing track record of terminated pregnancies. I don’t blame any one thing, really, for it was a clusterfuck of issues that made it possible for an intelligent and forthright girl-woman such as myself to make this same mistake again and again and again and so forth to eight.
I knew full well how to prevent pregnancy. In fact, I’d known since I was about four, when my mother told me in excruciating detail first how babies were made and then how babies are not made. Even being a baby myself, I could see what her subtext was: she was saying, in effect, had I had this, this pill, you would not be here.
My abortions were in part my attempt to rectify my mother’s mistake. I was trying—and failing, failing miserably—to take control for my mother’s poor decision-making process that had left her alone at nineteen, a single mother.
In part, my abortions too were my attempt to compete with my mother. If she defined early adult life by her sexuality, then I would do so too, and with a vengeance. I outfucked my mom. I did it in her face, a whirlwind fuckforce of blonde retribution.
In part, my abortions were a by-product of my constant and desperate attempt to be close to someone, somewhere, somehow, regardless how flawed and regardless how wrong. Sex was the closest I got to love for a very, very long time in my life, and ok, cue the Oxygen for Women soundtrack, sure, it was because I didn’t love myself.
I know a lot about not loving my self. In fact, I know with agonizing precision how much a person can not love me. I have spent so many long bleak atomic wintry years of my life not loving myself that there is little a person can say to me that is outdone by what I have said to myself. And clearly, my will to terminate and terminate again and terminate once more was as much a by-product of my self-loathing as anything else.
This story of endings is a story of endings. It is a story of ending these pregnancies, obviously, but it is also a story that closes a chapter on the will to self-destruction that tick tick ticked in my basement for most of my life. I don’t have many lingering apparitions about my abortions—the occasional I-forgot-my-baby-on-a-bus dream is pretty much it. I don’t feel badly that I had them. I don’t feel badly that I didn’t do the altruistic thing and give some couple a white baby. I don’t feel badly that at forty-three I might very well have spent my reproductive years not reproducing.
I do feel badly that I couldn’t see the naked and pulsating truth of the pain I was causing myself—and others—earlier. I do feel badly that I didn’t find the help I needed to start healing earlier. I do feel badly that it seemed that I didn’t have a choice—not that I didn’t have a choice about having the abortion, but that I didn’t have a choice not to put myself through this repetitive rodent wheel of pain again and again and again to eight.
Today, I find, I am fortunate. Today, I find, I do have a choice. And my choice is this: to live and to tell and to tell the tale of me. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but in doing so, I give myself the precious gift of life, my life, as I understand it.