Editor’s Note: The following story was provided to me by a friend who felt it was time to tell her #YouKnowMe story. At her request, I’m publishing it here.
I’m one in four. You know me. I don’t owe you my story, but I’m ready to tell it – and to do whatever it takes to protect long-standing rights of women AND young girls, including my three daughters and countless females without the resources I had.
It was 1985. I was working at my first summer job, as a file clerk in an insurance agency for minimum wage. The work was monotonous but that didn’t explain why I was so tired. A co-worker saw me laying out the couch in the women’s room one lunch break and commented, “what are you, pregnant or something?”
Her comment seemed odd, but then I started thinking that while my periods were not yet regular at age 15, maybe it had been longer than usual. So, I went to a Planned Parenthood in my South Florida town and had a pregnancy test done. If there were drug store kits back then, I didn’t know about them. Two days later, I got a call at work, which I had to take from the kitchen there, and when the nurse told me it was positive – about 10 weeks – I dropped the phone. I began shaking, triggering the second anxiety attack since my father’s death two years before. She offered counseling and explained that should I choose to have an abortion, I had two weeks left.
I had my first boyfriend Sophomore year. I’m Crazy for You by Madonna was ‘our song.’ A sign o’ the times. After a few months, we fooled around several times at his house after school, including once in his pool without a condom, where he said he’d pull out. Apparently, he hadn’t . . . I’d been naïve. I was so angry at him, and at myself. We had recently broken up and he had already moved on to a new girlfriend. I didn’t want him, or ANYONE to know. Ever. Years later, I learned that what he’d done was essentially “stealthing.”
How did I let this happen? I generally knew it could. I’d lost my dad and had the ‘things can’t happen to ME’ bubble already burst. I was an Honor Roll student. Super responsible, right? It would instead be the girls who had sex with the football players, who would get pregnant.
This was not a potential baby to me. It was a nightmare. Alone, I ran through every scenario. Moving away to carry and give up a baby (could my body even handle it?), abandoning plans for my future. Dropping out of high school and keeping a baby, ruining my future, and adding to my mother’s stress and financial hardships as an already overwhelmed widow. I had planned to go to college. I wanted to leave Florida and regain some of the joy I’d had before the ugliness of my father’s death.
After looking at the yellow pages and making some calls, I found an abortion clinic an hour away that could fit me in that weekend. They explained it would cost $350, but at $3.35/hour I didn’t have the money, nor did I want to ask (or tell) my mother, who had her hands full raising three younger siblings.
I confided in a friend, who was proudly Catholic and whom I felt I could trust. She convinced me to involve her dad to lend me the money. I made an appointment, and that Saturday morning they drove me to the clinic, tucked in a generic strip mall in a poor section of town. With no cell phones, the understanding was that they would pick me up in a few hours.
I paid with cash and waited my turn, heart racing, along with several latina and black girls. A woman called me in to an office for last-chance counseling and to explain what would happen. She closed the door, took my hand and said “Aww honey. What are you doing here? It’s going to be okay. You are going to make it through this.”Did she say that because I was so young? Because I was white? Because I reminded her of her own daughter? Or simply because she saw that I was scared out of my mind?
To this day, I am thankful for her kindness – the only empathy I had that day, or ever, as well as for my friend’s Dad, who went out on a limb to help me. I have my unknowing co-worker to thank as well. Had she not commented on my fatigue that day, I may have missed the 12-week window.
Then came the dreaded move to the procedure room. I’d never even had a pap smear, so being exposed like this was petrifying in itself. The doctor came in. A tall tanned man with a turban, accompanied by a nurse, who stood bedside. They were all business. I don’t know how long it took, but each phase was incredibly painful. No IV. No numbing medicines. I still remember the sound of the suction machine and the glare of the lights overhead. When it was over, the doctor swiftly left the room and I sat up, then threw up. Finally, the nurse comforted me, breaking her silence beyond the rehearsed ‘what’s next’ updates during the procedure.
I was still vomiting but needed to move back to the lobby to await my ride home. I was told to rest and not lift anything for several days; to even be careful opening doors. My friend and I spent the afternoon on the hot beach, fully clothed, making small talk. I was still dizzy, bleeding, and in shock. My friend swore she would keep my secret, but I knew she was judging me as she said it.
When she and her father dropped me back at home, my mother was outside doing yard work. As I got out of the car, she said “Great. You’re home. Go help your brother drag those bags of fertilizer around the house.” Instead, I went to my room, only to be yelled at again. I finally said, “I’m not supposed to lift anything, okay?” Her guard went up, I began crying, and ultimately caved, explaining what had just happened.
That day and in the days following, I desperately needed a big hug and to be told I was not a bad person. That this was something I’d put behind me with time. But in her shock, my mother was instead angry that I had involved other people in our private business. She called my friend’s house and I heard her repeatedly thank her dad for his help, then arrange repayment. She felt betrayed. How could a daughter she thought was so mature do something so stupid, and then not confide in her?
The good from the bad is that for the next six years, throughout high school and college I greatly appreciated the decision I’d been afforded. I studied as hard as I could, I made Dean’s List throughout college, and I had only a few trusted relationships afterward; each incredibly respectful and careful.
Thirty-five years later, with a life I cherish – husband, three very-wanted healthy children, and a career – I often think about how different my life would be if I’d been forced to carry and give up a baby at such a young age. Or, if I’d been sentenced to teen motherhood and a lifelong tie to an ex-boyfriend who represented only the death of my “could-have-been” future, along with deeper hardship for my mother and siblings.
It was a traumatic and haunting experience, but AT LEAST I HAD THE CHOICE!