My Abortion Story
Keep the baby. Don't keep the baby.
Last year I got knocked up by a dating coach. I can’t claim naivety since I knew what his profession was and had even sat in on a conference call while he attempted to guide a group of men from around the world into the skirts of their local drunk girls. However, while I was repulsed, I was also intrigued.
We met at a 12-step meeting. He was well spoken and short but handsome. We began a three-month Skype courtship while travelling around different parts of the world – me in San Francisco, him in Rio, me in Austin, him in Trinidad. I learned that he had two kids he didn’t exactly show up for, with a woman he verbally disrespected. He loathed his mother, and told me how he encouraged his first girlfriend to have sex with multiple men in front of him in order to help her “process” a gang-rape she went through years prior. Though he recounted this story with a sense of shame, I still should have taken it as a cue to bow out.
In a week of us sleeping together I did that thing that I hate that I do – I checked his phone. I know it’s a violation of privacy. I know it’s horrible. I know it’s dishonest and shitty. But I did it anyway. What I found was an email from his long-distance girlfriend that read, “I know something is wrong. Something feels off. I can’t lose you. If you want me to lose weight I will. Please don’t leave me. Without you I have nothing to live for.” I felt waves of nausea wash over me. I didn’t want to tell him what I’d done, so how could I get him to somehow tell me. A while later, when he was cooking us dinner her name popped up on his cell phone and he rejected the call. I carried on that night like everything was normal until, in the middle of sex, I just couldn’t stop myself from talking.
“I can’t get serious about you,” I said, continuing to ride him with a slow rhythm.
“You know I’m falling for you.” He looked up at me.
“You already have a girlfriend,” I said.
“You say that with such conviction.”
“I have to tell you something. You’re going to be mad.”
“What is it?”
“I checked your phone. And read your emails. I know you have a girlfriend.”
“How do you feel about that?” He grabbed my hips starting to slowly thrust into me again. This is so fucked up, I thought.
“I can’t date you if you have a girlfriend,” I said.
“I wasn’t afraid of you knowing. I was afraid to tell you.”
“I still can’t date you.” He pushed me off and got on top.
“I understand that.” He leaned down and kissed me.
What the fuck am I doing?
After we came, we went our separate ways. That week I began reading a book I stole from him, Lust Anger Love by Maureen Canning, a sex addiction therapist. Her book goes over a wide array of taboo relationship dynamics and fetishes that her clients had trouble with and pinpoints the exact childhood scenario that they are recreating in their adult life. I could clearly see that a pattern of mine was to go for unavailable men. Every guy I had ever dated was either a friend’s ex, an ex’s friend, had just got out of a relationship and had an ex in the wings or had a slew of female friends that I felt in competition with.
Two weeks later I sat up in bed. I felt like I pulled a stomach muscle. Pregnant, my head said. While normal people would perhaps go to the drug store and get a pregnancy test, I decided instead to listen to some Native American drumming music and meditate to ask my body if I was indeed pregnant. After a few moments of laying on my back, eyes closed, listening to the drumming, a hot warm light came through the top of my head, travelled down my body and then stopped above my uterus, humming with a warm golden yellow light. Fuck, I thought.
Three months before, I had visited my adopted grandparents for the holidays. They are basically my parents. I moved in with them at 14 years old after my adopted parents split up. They let me spin out as a rebellious, drug-addicted teen and loved me unconditionally. When I hit bottom and got clean at 21 years old, they welcomed me back, letting me know that I could come and go as many times as I wanted, and that I would always have a home with them. That winter Grandpa's memory was skipping really badly and Grandma was having severe dizzy spells that kept her sitting most of the day. While her mental health was fine, his was declining. While his physical health was fine, hers was declining. All he wanted to do was take walks, which she couldn't do and she just needed help around the house, which he couldn't manage. I had a complete meltdown at the prospect of them dying.
I sat down and wrote Grandma a four-page letter telling her how much she changed my life. Tears streamed out of my eyes as I typed out my fears that she would die before I found a partner, before I learned how to cook and become a parent. I told her that she was the best mum I'd ever had, and was the only person I felt like I could learn those life skills from. So, since I couldn’t control when she died or when I found a partner, could she please answer the following four dozen questions in the following categories: being a good partner; cooking; gardening and parenting.
The letter made her cry. The next day she assured me that I would be fine and then went over to my aunt and uncle's house and asked them to step up as my parental figures when her and Grandpa passed. It wasn't the response I expected. I was hoping for a handwritten/hand bound book – a Guide to Life for the floozy, tattooed granddaughter.
When I found out I was pregnant, I thought, This is the opportunity to have Grandma teach me everything. I could move back into the studio apartment next door to their house and she could teach me how to be a good mum, I could learn to cook and garden and I would deal with the partner thing one day. How fucked up could a child be if it was brought into a life where this woman existed?
I texted the dating coach a photo of two positive pregnancy tests sitting on my desk. The phone rang immediately.
“Hey,” I answered.
“Hi. Uh. Wow.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Well, what do you want to do?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. I think I want to keep it.”
“I don’t want to keep it,” he said.
“Wow. OK. Cool.” I was stunned by his bluntness. This was the guy who at one point, in the throes of coitus, asked me if I wanted to have his babies.
“Cool? What does that mean?” he said.
“It means cool. I will let you know what I decide,” I said.
“I should get to be a part of this decision.”
“You are. You voiced your opinion and I will let you know what I decide.”
“OK, well, it will affect me too.”
“I will pay for any procedure.”
“OK? Is that a yes?” he asked.
“It’s an—I will let you know what I decide.”
We hung up. I felt sick.
With each passing day I felt my body shift and change, like there was electricity in me. Though this guy was clearly not the ideal candidate to be the father of my future child, somehow it still felt right to move forward. I ran the tally and noted that at 28 years old with seven years clean and sober, I was older than any of my biological family members were when they had their kids, and I was hopefully more sane, at least on the drug front, plus, I had a semi-successful career. All of these were signs that I was undeniably inching towards adulthood.
Then I called Grandma, the most nurturing human being on the planet. I already had a ticket to go to California that week for her 80th birthday and I decided it might be best to tell her over the phone, thus saving my memory the permanent scar of any unedited facial reactions.
"Frankie!" she gasped. "You are an educated woman!"
“I know…” I said.
"Oh, I am really disappointed.”
My heart dropped.
“Well, I don't think it's a good idea, but it's your decision."
Take advice from people who have what you want is a common 12-Step phrase. In other words, don’t ask the unfaithful for advice on fidelity or the bankrupt how to manage money. Grandma had what I wanted – an incredibly loving 58-year partnership and a wonderful family.
I flew to California to see Grandma, immediately deciding to extend my trip indefinitely to figure out what the fuck I was doing with my life. I went home to find Grandma cooking in the kitchen. She stopped cooking, came over and wrapped me in her arms.
“Oh, Frankie," she said. “I am so sorry you are going through this.” I began crying and squeaked out a high-pitched, “Thank you. I love you.”
“We love you too.” She said. “There are cookies in the pantry.”
The next week I explored the topic from every possible angle with almost every person I came in contact with. Keep the baby; don’t keep the baby; give the baby up for adoption; give the baby to a close friend; give the baby to a gay couple; keep the baby; don’t keep the baby. I went to lunch with the guy who I’d been kissing in San Francisco months prior to getting impregnated. He was an attractive British guy who cooked gourmet food, liked to shoot guns, had a great sense of humour and a stable career with a creative tech company. He was the one that I should have gotten knocked up by.
“It’s OK. Let’s just have sex till we knock the baby loose,” he said over Indian food, which I later vomited up. He laughed. I was repulsed.
I went to a women’s meeting, the first meeting I’d walked into years prior – fucked up and hopeless. I cried to them, ashamed and embarrassed by my situation. Two women in their 40s wanted to adopt the baby, a third woman hugged me and tears poured down her cheeks. She had just aborted twins last month, she said. A close friend drove me home and said straight out that she thought I should have an abortion.
“I truly believe when we have a full generation of children brought into the world because they are wanted, desperately wanted by their parents, the world will change.” Didn’t I want this? Was she picking up on something that I wasn't? I thought. “I’m also worried that Ian and I will end up raising the baby.”
This was a possibility. She and her husband were my first choice of potential parents.
On my way to my third therapy session, I stopped into an adoption agency. After I left the agency I called the dating coach.
“What do you think about adoption? There are so many great gay couples in San Francisco. I was adopted and my adopted mum was adopted. This could be really cool. We could help start a family.” I rattled off my thoughts, excited.
“Frankie. No. I don’t want my baby raised by someone else,” he said.
“Really? You wanted me to have an abortion but you don’t want the baby adopted?” I asked.
“No! It’s totally different. If the baby is here I want to raise it. I want to be a part of its life.”
“So you are OK with me having it then?” I said.
“No. I don’t want you to have it and I don’t want it adopted," he said.
“You are kidding me.” I hated him.
I went to my therapist and told her about the agency and the phone call and cried.
"What do you want for your life?" she asked, perched on the edge of her chair. “More than anything, what do you really want?”
"I want to finish my book, travel around the world, make art and fall in love with a person I can build a life with.”
“Alright,” she sighed. “None of those things consist of having a baby right now. Frankie, you have had so many unfinished links in your life – not knowing where your parents were most of your childhood being a major one. Giving this baby up for adoption seems like creating another open link. I'm sure that feels familiar to you, but I want you to think about what you truly want for yourself. This is an opportunity to make yourself a priority in a way your parents never did, in a way that they couldn’t."
My plan was to name her Odessa. She felt like a girl, based on the frequency of my vomiting. She would have been 25 percent Japanese, 25 percent staunch white republican and 50 percent hippie gypsy liberal. If addiction is genetic, she surely would have had it.
As a teenager, I ranted in class about how my birth mother should have had an abortion. “It’s not a matter of self-hatred,” I said to my classmates, “I’m happy I’m alive, but it’s a matter of practicality – drug addicts shouldn’t have babies.” I never expected to be battling my own judgments coupled with constant twinges of panic and fear about what others would think of me. I was petrified – not only that you would judge me and point out what an idiot I was for falling into bed, again, with the wrong guy, but also fear that you’d think of me as a fool for believing that I could be a parent.
I went home after therapy and told Grandma that I’d changed my mind and decided to have an abortion. She hugged me. “I think you are making the right decision.” I went to my bedroom and emerged a few hours later with a plan.
“So, there are all sorts of safe hippy abortion techniques on the Internet,” I told Grandma while she was cooking dinner. “One says that if you drink super concentrated parsley tea, the overload of vitamin C will naturally reject the pregnancy.”
She shot me a wide-eyed look before shrugging her shoulders and reaching to the cookbook cupboard to pull down Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. She set it on the counter and flipped open to the parsley entry. “The Romans are said to have used parsley at orgies to cover up the smell of alcohol on the breath while also aiding in digestion. The Greeks associated parsley with oblivion and death.” We nodded in unison.
“Well, I have parsley in the garden that’s about to go to seed, but are you sure you don’t want to just go to Planned Parenthood?” Grandma asked.
“I will go to Planned Parenthood if this doesn’t work. I want to try this. It feels all witchy and pagan. It feels right,” I said, as if I had a trustworthy internal compass.
“Alright,” Grandma shrugged. She grabbed the clippers and showed me where the parsley was in the garden.
Part of the instruction that I hadn’t mentioned to Grandma consisted of putting parsley up my vagina. She doesn’t need to know everything, I told myself. After washing the plant, pulling the leaves off the stems, boiling water to make the tea, I sprigged myself and waited. Drank tea. And waited some more.
Eighteen hours later I started to bleed. No cramps, just a light pink streak when I wiped. I had a therapy session scheduled so I drove into the city, bounced into her office and announced that I had parsley up my vagina.
“Wait! What! Frankie, go to the hospital!” she said.
“Really? I mean it’s just Vitamin C – it can’t be that dangerous and I’m not bleeding much,” I said, slouched on her couch like a child.
“If it doesn’t work you could have a mutated parsley baby!” she said.
“OK,” I sighed.
I went into the bathroom, removed my sprig and flushed it, then drove to the hospital. I told them I was bleeding but kept mum about the parsley. After a six-hour visit peppered with friends, food and an ultrasound, I was sent home.
The next day I called the dating coach. He offered to fly out for the abortion. I didn’t want him there. I didn’t want to think about what had happened, or all the ways I hated him, or worse – the few ways I still liked him. I was repulsed by the part of me that still wanted him to like me and want this baby, even though it was all wrong. I hated this.
The day of the procedure a friend who had offered to adopt the baby brought me to the clinic.
“Do you want me to cancel my appointments?” she asked.
“No, thanks though. I feel OK doing this alone.” We hugged.
I called my 12-step sponsor – a nurse with over a decade in recovery and two kids of her own. “How are you feeling?”
“Sad. I don’t feel like I decided to have an abortion, I feel like I decided to trust the people who love me the most.”
“You'll go through a whole range of emotions. How are you feeling about taking pain meds?”
“Oh, I feel fine about that.”
“OK, good. Well addicts relapse on pain meds. Tell them you are in recovery then call me back and let me know what options they give you for drugs.”
I told the nurse at the front counter. “There are three options.” She pulled out a sheet of paper. “You can take two Vicodin now, with a Vicodin prescription to be filled later. Or, one Valium now for anxiety, plus two Vicodin, with a prescription for later. Or a Fentanyl shot administered intravenously right before the procedure, with 800mg Ibuprofin for afterwards.”
My stomach twisted. She handed me the sheet. I walked away and called my sponsor back.
“Well, the Fentanyl will kick in quick and wear off quick,” she said. “The Vicodin will take a while to kick in and you’ll have to be careful not to relapse on the prescription later. Do you feel anxious? Do you think you need the Valium?”
“I like Valium, but I don’t feel anxious so I guess I don’t need that, and I don’t think I should take home any drugs in case I decide to just eat them all like candy,” I half-joked. “Plus, I never shot drugs, so honestly, the Fentanyl sort of sounds like a good idea. But maybe that’s crazy. What would you do?”
“I would probably take the Fentanyl,” she said.
“OK. I think that’s what I want to do.”
“Alright. Call me afterwards and let me know you’re OK.”
I'd always imagined abortions to be a horrific experience with a shop vac wedged between your legs sucking out any fertilised egg, narrowly missing your entire uterus and bladder system. A nurse called my name, brought me into a procedure room and told me to undress from the waist down. My stomach flipped and twisted. After a moment a doctor and two different nurses, all female, came into the room. They introduced themselves and described what would happen during the procedure. One of the nurses was there to hold my hand and comfort me, while the doctor and the other nurse performed the abortion. They asked if I had any questions.
“Is there going to be any noise?” I asked.
“Maybe a faint clicking noise, but nothing too noticeable.”
“So no shop vac?”
They laughed, said no and asked me to lie down on the table while they did a sonogram. I held the first nurse’s hand.
"Do you want to see the sonogram?” the doctor asked. I looked up at my hand-nurse.
"I shouldn't, should I?" She gave me a soft smile. "What do normal people do?"
"Some people do want to see it and some don't," the hand-nurse said.
"I do, but I don't think I'm supposed to." I looked between their faces for guidance.
"It is entirely up to you," the doctor said. I took a breath.
"I want to see it," I said.
They printed out a black and white image with two sonogram photos side by side, and there, in me, was this tiny little bean of a thing. I felt my heart expand and a wide electric blast of warmth come over me. It is all OK. It is all going to be OK. Without words I felt this little soul say that we were cool, that we'd meet again and there was nothing to worry about.
“Can I take a picture of it?” I asked.
“We can give you a copy of it if you sign a release form,” the doctor smiled.
“Yes!” I looked down at the printout smiling.
I lay back on the table and the nurse put the IV in my arm. I was struck with awe for this staff of saints: women who help other women walk through one of the most heart-wrenching decisions of their life. As the drugs began to flow I started to talk. "My Grandma and Grandpa met in college in a Spanish class and made a living as potters but really he was an architect and... Grandma loves… me… but she didn’t think…" Wow, I thought immediately, I’m high. The white blinds began rolling up and down like a bad television channel. I took a deep breath.
“Man, I love drugs," I sighed.
"I don't know what the big deal is… with drugs... this is great...” My hearing began to echo. “That is probably… the big deal… that I don't think… it’s… a big… deal.”
I looked up cross-eyed at the nurse holding my hand.
“Oh yeah! I… have seven years… clean and sober... this is my first time… doing the drugs… in over. SEVEN. years… I'm in recoveeery," I slurred.
A flash of panic spread across all three women’s faces.
"Oh… don't you worry… I talked to my sponsor… I did… and the other ladies out there," I nodded towards the door.
After the procedure was done I stood up and a trickle of blood shot down my thigh to my knee then to my calf. I looked down and promptly vomited. The doctor grabbed some paper towels. “In Native American… ceremonies…” I said, “That’s called Getting Well.” I looked at the vomit splash. “Pretty.”
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