I knew it was the right decision, but that didn’t make it easy.
My back was in knots and my body trembled from the nausea; I knew, immediately and without question, that I was pregnant. The mother of a 2-year-old, I didn’t need to pee on any stick to remember the heavy and persistent sickness that accompanied early pregnancy. So it came as no surprise when an over-the-counter pregnancy test confirmed what I already felt on the inside.
Fervently pro-choice, I had always reflected silently—and more than a little judgmentally— that I could never have an abortion. I am so careful; I am beyond consistent; I would never. And indeed, the sex was protected. But we should all know by now that nothing is ever really safe. Now in my 30’s, the hubris that had cursed my youth had come back to kick me in the teeth. From the minute I realized I was pregnant—the nausea insurmountable, the headache instant, the exhaustion overwhelming—all bets were off.
I knew what I needed to do, but first I had to work up the strength to do it.
I cared deeply for Al, my co-conspirator in accidental sex and unplanned pregnancy. My fondness for him was great, his affection for me was obvious, but we were not in anything remotely resembling love, and we both knew it.
He was in his first semester of a rigorous PhD program, and I was floundering in graduate school while juggling two jobs and an active toddler—a child I adored, whose needs I could barely meet.
“Do you need anything?” Al asked, when I told him.
“No,” I lied.
“I’m really sad,” he said.
I understood; I was sad, too. And I wanted him to hold me in his big arms and tell me that he loved me, we could do this, and that everything was going to be OK. In short, I wanted him to lie.
Only everything was already OK. I realized I didn’t need his love. Redemption was not readily forthcoming, but there would be no trial by fire, either.
And I knew I could have carried the pregnancy to term. It would have bankrupted me, rendered me unable to properly care for the child I already had, left me in a precarious emotional condition, and offered a terrible start for a child yet unborn. It would have been the wrong decision, but I could have done it.
When my son was born, I understood, in an abstract way, that the struggles of single parenthood were many, and great, and that these lay before me. I did not know exactly how challenging they would prove to be. But I was young, and bold, and arrogant.
It would have been selfish and self-destructive to bring a life into the world under these conditions. Still, it broke my heart to schedule an abortion, even though my politics supported it, and I knew it was the right thing to do.
But I made the appointment, and I drove myself in a snowstorm to my local Planned Parenthood chapter, stopping twice along the way to throw up from morning sickness. I was six weeks pregnant. The life inside of me was still emerging, in no way viable, and yet…I imagined the person I would never watch in soccer games and school plays, the embryo that would not grow into a fetus, a newborn, a child.
I had no barometer for what I was supposed to feel. I was not ambivalent about this pregnancy; I did not want it. I knew that life, even potential life, was an incredible gift, and in some sense, I was spurning the universal offering, abandoning the opportunity to sustain and nurture the being that began inside me. I called upon my ancestors, as if in prayer, asking for understanding, if not forgiveness—aware, for the first time, that my commitment to myself preceded all other obligations. It hurt terribly, but I think they call that growth.
I’m sorry, I said, to myself, to my embryo, and to no one in particular as I cried in the waiting room, tears of sorrow mixed with those of sweet relief. My apology was instinctual and automatic, but it was also meaningless. For though I was deeply sad to terminate this pregnancy, foreclosing the possibility that this embryo could grow to live a life, I also knew: I wasn’t sorry.
As I swallowed the pill, I thought of the man who I might have loved, but could not have built a life with. My choice may have seemed callous, but it was not cavalier. I knew what having a child entailed, understood the sacrifices firsthand, the challenges and the losses, the gains. I knew what I was letting go of. But I also knew that the jump from one to two children would be exponential, and knew that raising another child alone was a task I could not reasonably take on.
Had this been my first pregnancy, I would not have had an abortion. I might have done it on my own, or fused my life together for a time with Al, and tried to make it work. But ours was another story. We came together in a moment of deep affection, and when it was time to let go, we let go.
And maybe that was the most we could ask of love, of life, of one another. Even if we were open to the possibility of more, maybe this was the best thing. And in spite of myself, when I ingested the medicine that would terminate my pregnancy, I did feel a sort of love—for the person I would never know, for the man who would not be her father, and also for myself.
It was a different kind of love. Like the pregnancy itself, it was so brief that it might never have existed. It was also beautiful. And it was enough.
A.L. Giannelli lives, writes, and teaches in Western Massachusetts. Her writing has been featured in publications including Babble, Feministing, Salon and the forthcoming Book Lovers and Three Minus One Equals Zero.