I got pregnant the first time I had sex. This was not the plan. The plan was to have sex with a man I would marry. I was not married. I was at the tail-end of 18, living in a college dorm, carrying the seed of a boy I met through church. I became a Southern Baptist in middle school after a friend took me to an all day prayer session at her church. I got super into it super fast: I attended Disciples Now (a retreat for hip Jesus teens), went to church camp and on mission trips. I memorized Bible verses for fun. I soon spent my weekends knocking on strangers' doors to tell them about Jesus and how to get into heaven. Premarital sex with the guy from church was not one of the ways.
Even though my parents were casual Episcopalians, they were just as uptight about sex as the Baptists. "Sex" was not to be uttered or asked about. My brother and I were adopted and I think they vaguely liked us to believe they never had sex themselves. I'm confident they did, but I guess technically, they wouldn't have had to.
In sixth grade I asked my mom about sex while shopping for jeans at Sears.
I said, "Aren't we supposed to have a sex talk?"
She looked at me, then said, "We have cable."
So I was to get my sex info from Showtime and HBO, I guess. And I suppose I did.
By 18 I was horny as fuck and Jesus didn't do anything to assuage this. I had actually lost a lot of my Christian faith once I had my first college history class. Once I learned how Christianity and the Bible were used to control people, especially people who couldn't read, it lost its shine a bit. Meanwhile, I had strong physical urges that I didn't understand. I woke up with physical convulsions, humping pillows or the air. I had wet dreams. I had lots of wet-jeans near-sex with guys. I thought something was wrong with me because nobody told me girls have these wants.
Finally, my body won out over my mind and I had sex with Dan.
Dan and I started going out my senior of high school. He was sweet and goofy, stocky but cute, and I was wildly attracted to him. We'd had epic make-out sessions. We were so affectionate and hand-holdy on church trips and at Dairy Queen that apparently some people assumed we'd had sex already. When I was a freshman in college, he was a sophomore in another college close to where we grew up. We'd grown apart and weren't really together anymore, but I saw him sometimes when I went home to visit.
Finally, a few weeks before my 19th birthday, I drove the three hours to go "home" but didn't tell my parents. I went to see Dan. I didn't even tell Dan, but I went to finally have S-E-X with Dan.
We had margaritas and chatted. It was awkward because we weren't officially a couple anymore and I knew I wasn't going to stop this time. Then we made out. Then we moved to the bedroom. Then we did it.
Oh my god, I was ready to do it. I don't know what I expected from sex, I hadn't really thought it out rationally, I'd just been driven to put him inside me. It was primal. He was on top because it was my first time—there's no need to get creative.
He put on a condom, and just before he entered me, he whispered in my ear, "Just hold on to me."
This was great advice. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and held on as he rocked inside me. I felt flushed with heat. Mentally I couldn't believe this was finally happening. Physically, I was a fireworks warehouse exploding.
It was over pretty quick, but not too quick. We lay there a while, processing what happened. Then I wanted to do it again. The way you want to ride a roller coaster for the second time: Okay, now that I kinda know what to expect I want to do it again, and not be so freaked out. I kissed him and we started up again. I climbed on top of him. It felt like a defiant feminist act: I'm doing this thing that feels good! Sex is natural! I'm taking my power!
I had not paused to put a condom on him, but I just wanted to feel it without a condom, without anything. I was definitely going to stop and have him put on a condom, but I just wanted to feel it for a second, then another second. Then I felt it. He came inside me and I felt a small sensation, almost right behind my belly button.
I was pregnant.
A few weeks later, I started to wonder if I was pregnant because my boobs hurt, and I felt funny, out of sorts. But I dismissed it. What am I, a human after school special? No one gets pregnant their first time, I'm just being dramatic. When my period didn't arrive, I got a test from a drug store. It said I was pregnant. I flushed with shame and horror. But it was a cheap home test; there was room for denial.
I went to a clinic, peed in a cup, and got a real test.
When the clinic called with the results, my roommate was out studying and I was napping in my dorm room. I lived in the Scottish-Rite dorm, the fanciest dorm on campus. The building was said to be the finest example of Georgian architecture left in the South. You can only go there if you are a descendent of a Mason, and you have to have letters of recommendation to be considered. My letters were from state senators.
I sat on my bed, listening, waiting for the relief I'd feel when they said I'm not pregnant. Expecting to feel silly for making such a big deal out of this. It's just sex, right? Everyone has sex. I'm sure I didn't get pregnant, that's crazy.
The woman on the phone said the test was positive. Time stopped. Everything changed. It was no longer hypothetical, "What if I have this huge problem?" Now I had a huge problem. I hung up and screamed and cried. I knew my suite-mates could hear me but I didn't care. Now it was real. I felt trapped under the weight of it.
I'd always felt that getting an abortion was a woman's choice to make, but I never thought it was a choice I'd have to make. I was always a good girl, a straight-A student, a Super Christian. Now I was pregnant. I considered options and non-options.
I imagined having a baby and giving it up for adoption. My birth mother got pregnant when she was in college. She was studying music, I've since learned. She was religious and directed the church choir, then had sex with a frat guy who wasn't really her boyfriend and she got pregnant with me and (obviously) had me. She grew me inside her, no matter the effect it had on her parents, her life, and education. She carried me to term then handed me off to an adoption center. That was in 1969 and she was 19. In 1989, I was 19 and facing the same problem.
My birth mother carried me to term then handed me off to an adoption center. That was in 1969 and she was 19. In 1989, I was 19 and facing the same problem.
But I didn't like being adopted. I always felt weird and thought it was weird and I felt different and didn't like it. It's not something I'm supposed to say. I'm supposed to be grateful and feel "chosen." A lot of adopted kids don't mind it—some, like my brother, never even ask about it. But I honestly didn't like it. And I felt if I ever went to the trouble to birth a kid, I'd keep it.
I considered keeping the baby, but nothing was beckoning me to raise a child. Nothing screamed for me to procreate. Nothing spiritually inspired me to create a life. And I sure didn't physically want to. I didn't feel like having a baby would save the life of an unborn person; I felt it would hurt some lives of already-born people. I didn't want to have a baby.
Then there was abortion: it was the only way to not have the baby and not be pregnant anymore. It was the only option I seriously considered.
I called Dan and told him. His first question, "Are you sure it's mine?" Really, Guy From Church? Does this situation turn every guy into a massive dickhead? I assured him it was his, as I'd never had sex with anyone else ever. It was infuriating and humiliating to have to deal with this.
It cost $300. He said he'd pay for half. In an instant I felt like I went from middle class getting-college-educated girl who was smart, careful, and didn't have sex to the stupid slut who has to shake down a boyfriend for 'bortion cash. I sold textbooks for my half of the money. The semester wasn't over yet, but I sold them anyway.
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I felt ashamed, isolated, and alone. I felt stupid. I hated myself for getting into this situation. I hated my body for doing this to me. What a betrayal. I felt punished by God. I'd waited to have sex because I knew I shouldn't, then I had it ONE TIME—OK technically two times—and I get pregnant. Why me? I was mad. People have sex without dire consequence ALL THE TIME!
Weeks before I got pregnant, I'd been at a friend's house when we saw a clinic demonstration on the news. Women had to run past people yelling and shaming them, and fight their way through people blocking their way. My friend said, "Jesus, what a way for all your friends to find out you're getting an abortion. You're on the news." Now I'd be one of those girls.
When it came time for the procedure, Dan didn't pay half. He said he tried to get it but couldn't. I heard an audible shrug before I hung up on him. I borrowed money from a friend.
The clinic was sterile but welcoming. It had the feel of a regular doctor's office, but cast in tan and light browns instead of stark white. I checked in with a woman in her 20s who had funky hair. I paid in cash. She gave me a small smile like, "I know, I'm sorry" and I appreciated it.
There's a myth that abortion is easy. It's not. Even though I knew it was the right decision for me, it was still hard emotionally. What if I am making a mistake? This can't be undone, and I'd never had to make a decision like this.
Physically, the procedure starts like a gynecological check-up. But I had never been to the OB/GYN, so even this was new and uncomfortable to me. I was put in an open-back paper gown, asked to climb up on the exam table, my feet were put in stirrups, and I was cranked open with a speculum. The doctor moved fast; he'd done a lot. He wasn't mean or nice, he was generically professional with little or no eye contact. There was an overall vibe of "no one wants to be doing this but we'll make the best of it."
I leaned back and I guess a tube was put in me. I couldn't see what they were doing and I didn't want to. The doctor announced that he was going to turn on the machine. It made a low buzz in an otherwise silent room. I lay there letting it suck a life out of me. I felt sick. I felt like I could feel it, but there aren't nerves inside my uterus. But with the sound and knowing what the machine was doing, I could mentally picture it and feel it.
It took about five or ten minutes. When he removed all the devices and said it was over, I let the reality wash over me.
I had kept my emotions at bay so I could get through the procedure, but now they hit me like a tidal wave. I just aborted a baby. Maybe I was supposed to have that baby. What if it did have a soul? What if I can never have kids? What if that kid was special and supposed to be born? My Jesus past haunted me. Did I commit an unforgivable sin? Did I just commit murder? What if my birth mom had done this to me?
I passed out, overwhelmed.
A nurse helped me up, handed me a stack of thick pads and told me to expect bleeding and cramping for the next 24 hours. I was guided to a dimly lit waiting room with about half a dozen recliners and a TV. The other two women from the waiting room were already resting there. I waited there until my friend came and got me. Then I went to my dorm room and fell asleep.
For the next few days, I mostly slept, then eased back into my life. But now I had a secret. At 19, I didn't deal with this well. I felt guilty and sad and depressed. For the next few months, I acted out. I drank a lot and took ecstasy and acid. I fucked. I didn't care anymore. There was nothing special about my sexuality or body now; nothing to wait for. I'd had sex and been punished for it, I might as well keep doing it. It's like I was mad at sex. Like I was having revenge sex to get back at sex. I hated myself for letting this happen, and I punished myself for it for years.
As time went on I'd stop and note how old my kid would have been. When I was 23, I got a job teaching seventh grade and started doing stand-up comedy. I would have had a three-year old. When I was 27, I starred on an MTV show. I would have had a kid in first grade. My mom died when the kid would have been 15. I quit counting when it would have been in its early 20s.
Getting an abortion was a big deal. It took an emotional toll. It's come up in therapy; I've worked through guilt and shame and I fully accept what I did and I've learned to live with it. I've also come to believe that the Christian conservative ideas about sex are simply controlling patriarchal bullshit. That's where my shame came from: They taught me that sex was something I wasn't supposed to do with my body. Sex is definitely something 18 year olds should do with their awesome young bodies. And if I hadn't been raised to be so weird about sex, maybe I wouldn't have been so secretive about having it and wouldn't have gotten pregnant in the first place.
They also say that birth is a miracle and every child is special. That's some magical thinking. How many utterly amazing people do you know? I know a lot of assholes. And I'm confident that if I had birthed that kid, it would now be a pretty fucked-up adult. I'm also certain that not having a baby is not robbing the world of that person. I'm pretty great, but if I had been aborted, I promise you would not feel a void in the world. You'd all be fine.
It wasn't easy, but if I had it to do over again, I would have an abortion every time. It was the right thing to do and I'm grateful I had the option and that a safe abortion was available to me. Having a child is a decision that a lot of thought goes into. I was a horny, slightly buzzed 18-year-old who climbed up on a dick in a moment of passion. That's not the way to bring a person into existence. And it's not a mistake you should pay for the rest of your life.