My Abortions Were Not A Mistake

I am where I am today—a happily married mother—because of all the decisions I’ve made in my life. And those decisions included two abortions.

I have made no mistakes.

Well, in retrospect—because how else should one determine a mistake—all the mistakes I have made, whether large or small, have brought me to where I am today. And where I am today is where I am meant to be: here, as the mother of one mildly autistic boy, wife of an ER nurse, a writer, and a teacher.

If that statement annoys you with its bourgeois Buddhist bullshit, consider this: When I was in my late teens with no prospect of college ahead of me, a boyfriend who was a high school dropout, and a fast-food job where I was making minimum wage, I had managed to save enough money to pay for two abortions. Yay me. To make the story even more pathetic, I could not afford a car, so I had to ride the public bus for 90 minutes each way down to the clinic in White Plains, New York. And on each ride back, the cramps were so bad all I could do was curl up in a ball at the back of the bus and refuse to talk to the boyfriend who shared in the blame, but shared none of the pain.

My mistake, in each case, was to get pregnant, but with no sexual guidance or understanding about how one secures birth control, my mistake—or mistakes—were not just mine alone.

They belonged to me, yes, but also to my boyfriend who took no responsibility; to my family who had no time to educate me; to my school, which assumed I would amount to nothing; and to the town I lived in that grew sloppy and apathetic as a result of its low expectations. I was merely one of the youth that Adrienne Rich mentions in her poem “XIII (Dedications)” from An Atlas of the Difficult World, when she talks about the young people who “are counted out,
 count themselves out, at too early an age.”

But were the abortions a mistake? Sometimes I think, yes. I think yes when I consider the one child I have, and yes when I yearn for a second child I won’t get to have because it took me too long to get around to my wanted boy, the one on the spectrum, and yes when I think about the almost second child that manifested as nothing more than a miscarriage, nothing more than a clot on a piece of toilet paper.

Yet those events in that clinic in White Plains have no relevance on the small reproductive tragedies of my life today. I’m talking about two entirely different lifetimes. If I had a baby or babies when I was 18, where would I be? Single and working a dead end job in downtown Peekskill, New York; single and scrimping paycheck to paycheck to get by; single and dating men who want nothing to do with a single mother? Would I share a one-bedroom apartment with my children? Would I have found my way out of Peekskill? Would I have ever finished college?

And the father of these children—a man whose family was stricken with drug and alcohol addiction—would he have provided good genetic material? Would he have smacked me, again, when I couldn’t get the baby to stop crying? Would my children have gotten mired down in that shithole town? My almost son working the pumps at the gas station; my almost daughter working the overnight shift at the Westchester Diner while I watched her baby?

There is no doubt that everything about the pregnancies was a mistake. How they came about. The path that led up to them. And the sad, imperfect solutions to the mistakes were the abortions, which, by necessity, brought two fewer children into this world. My children. My abstractions. Too early conceived to a woman who would long for more children later in life.

Is this irony? I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like heartache. Sometimes I assume it’s karmic just desserts. What I do know is that the abortions fixed the mistakes and altered the path of my life to bring me here: to the beautiful boy who struggles to make sentences but who plants full mouth kisses on my lips, to the husband who builds houses with me, to the composition of this essay, which seeks to validate the idea that no mistakes have been made.

Which means as much as I am sorry, I can not be sorry.

Sonia Greenfield was born and raised in Peekskill, New York, and now calls Los Angeles home, where she lives with her husband, son, and two slightly overweight dogs. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including The Massachusetts Review, The Antioch Review, and Rattle, and her work can be found in the 2010 Best American Poetry. She also writes fiction and essays, and her prose can be found in Mamalode (forthcoming), the Monarch Review, and the Bellevue Literary Review. She teaches writing at USC.

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