Trauma, Addiction, and Abortion: My Story

I should avoid the comments on this piece, but I won’t. I’ve danced on a lot of bars and crashed a lot of cars. There isn’t anything anyone can call me that I haven’t already been called. Except “Mom.”

With new laws sweeping the South making abortion past six weeks (generally around the time one finds out they are pregnant — if they’re lucky) a felony, it’s important to tell this story. It may offend dozens of people, but if it helps even one person release the shame around their past, I will know that I’ve done my job.

Abortions are like relapses in liberal society. One is permissible: a slip, a do-over, an I’ve learned my lesson and never again. But more than one and it’s what the hell is wrong with you? Why aren’t you taking care of yourself? AS A WOMAN?! I don’t know the answer to that.

I’ve had several; relapses and abortions. I’ve had relapses because of an abortion. And I’ve had an abortion because of a relapse. I was always on the pill, and I was always in or about to be in active addiction. For a long time, I saw the pill the same way I saw drugs and alcohol: I watched others use it with impunity and even though I was shown time and again that it didn’t work for me, I kept thinking I could figure out how to use it the right way.

The first time I drank, I was seven. My parents’ friends brought over a box of liqueur-filled chocolates and I ate them all and played Twister. I was too young to understand what happened, I just thought I really loved Twister and was confused when it wasn’t as fun after that.

The first time I tried to get sober, I was 27 and I hadn’t missed one day of cocaine in the previous 365 days. Things I had missed: work, the mortgage, all other bills, being faithful, knowing I could leave an abusive relationship.

The last time I drank I was 37, the age I am now. I decided to have just one beer for a friend’s birthday. And I did just want to have one beer. But then I turned into a different person. And that person wanted to get wasted, do a pile of coke, and blow someone in a dive bar bathroom.

In the past ten years I’ve let a lot of people down and I’ve caused a lot of harm. As I make my 9th step amends, the list continues to grow as my brain feels safe enough to allow the memories in. I owe a lot of amends, but none of them are to my child. Because of abortion, I don't have one. The one saving grace through the insanity of my using is that I never dragged a child through it.

I learned to drink from my mother, whose passed-out body I used to struggle to drag to the bedroom. She wasn't there for me when she was awake, either. I would wake from night terrors and attempt to get comfort from her. I remember her scream: “Your mother is dead!” 

My mother is in the program yet she has never made amends to me. I’ve often wished she would, but not everyone is ready to face themselves.

I was born nine months after my mother had an abortion. A doctor told me that the body’s tricky that way: when you abort, it thinks you miscarried and sends another egg right away to take the lost one’s place. I can’t find any medical studies to support this but I learned firsthand one summer when I went to get a checkup and an IUD (which they will gladly give you once you’ve had more than one child or abortion) and found I was pregnant again. My boyfriend didn’t want to have that one either.

I didn’t know my own origin story then but I knew that there was no way I could grow and care for a once again drunkenly-conceived embryo after I had just terminated the previous one. In that way I understood a bit of the complicated feelings my mother had for me. 

My grandfather started a pro-life charity and my grandmother had a bumper sticker on her car that said, “Save the baby humans.” My favorite aunt sends out Christmas letters detailing the positive energy at the pro-life booth this year at the Big E. I never felt bad about what I had to do, except when I did. These things are endlessly complicated. 

The first time I was pregnant I was 16. My high school sweetheart asked me if I was sure if it was his. There was never a doubt in my mind. When my mother found out, I was grounded for the remainder of the summer and forced to give up my first job. My boss, a strict Greek Orthodox woman, found out.

“No!” she screamed. “You aren’t going to kill it!” 

I saw no other option. That was my only surgical abortion and it hurt. I was 6.5 weeks along, just this side of felony. I dragged myself out of the room to a boyfriend upset that I didn’t bounce out like the woman before me. He never thought I responded appropriately to anything, even terminating our pregnancy. Twenty years later, he is finally ready to be a dad. I think he’ll be a good one. Now.

The next time I got pregnant it was with the first man I did cocaine with, a man who once held me hostage in my own apartment, bit my hand, and sat on my back for several hours while telling me that I’d never publish anything. (Hi.) We were broken up when it happened and I had a restraining order. Restraining orders are aphrodisiacs to some men.

Thankfully I remembered my symptoms from the previous time, and the early option pill was now available stateside. I took it. Seven weeks. 

As I write this, the Mourner’s Kaddish runs through my head. Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.

I’ve been so protective of myself and so full of bravado because I know I did what I needed to do, that I’ve never really mourned. I never allowed myself to accept that doing the right thing and feeling pain and loss aren’t mutually exclusive. Women who’ve had abortions don’t need your shaming. We can feel bad all by ourselves. 

Then I married, and I went to rehab, and I got divorced, and I got pregnant with my rehab boyfriend, the first man who ever shot me up. Such romance. He wasn’t ready to to be a dad, either, and with his history — dozens of rehabs, overdoses, having been declared legally dead more than once, and my own history not more stable, I agreed. Back to the gynecologist. They sent me back, saying it was too early. I was 5.5 weeks. Just under the new law’s limit.

After me, that man met a very Christian woman. And now he has a child that he doesn’t see or take care of.

My last abortion was almost six years ago. I was trying the pill (and controlled drinking and using) just one more time, and I was dating a guy with a baby he didn’t want on the way, the result of a work fling with a girl who insisted that she’d had too many abortions already to have another. He was so angry with her. I fell down the stairs drunk when he was in the hospital for the birth and hurt my shoulder. I went to the hospital and found out that I was pregnant too. When he came home as a new dad, I greeted him with “I’m sorry I didn’t fall down the stairs harder.” Humor is my best defense mechanism, my strongest armor. 

That time I thought maybe I can do this. I tried the same argument his other baby momma used, but it didn’t work.

“In eight years,” he said, “I’ll have an eight-year-old son. And you’ll be a waitress who does comedy at night.”

Oh, Tanner. Always the charmers, the men I’ve had abortions with. So it was back to Planned Parenthood one final time, a place that has always treated me with respect and kindness and compassion. They’ve been there when no one else has.

At 6.5 weeks I bled out my last pregnancy in a hidden room off the winter rental beach house I would get kicked out of early just a few months later. I watched the waves crash against the shore and I cried for every single one. And I cried for myself, a grown woman who was still unable to even raise herself on her own. A few weeks later I got fired from my job for stealing wine, which was, honestly, Tanner’s idea, and I chugged some tequila and swallowed a bunch of Xanax and drove right into the guardrail, which is probably my favorite thing to do when I’m drinking.

Other than, obviously, get pregnant.

The one boyfriend who gave me a hard time about my history is the one I never got pregnant with. He chased me into the shower after choking me and spat baby killer into my face. He has four children, ranging from 2 to 25, none of whom he can afford to care for, none of whom he didn’t severely damage with his using and his anger and his refusal to look at himself. Their mothers took up the slack, and I think most of them will be mostly okay. 

Those were their choices, and these were mine. It’s a pretty extreme example, my story, and that’s why it needs to be told. If I can forgive myself, so can you. If I can walk through this world and know I did right by myself, that I did the best that I could in the place that I was in with the knowledge and abilities I had at the time, so can you.

Trauma is handed down, and people in active addiction cannot care for children. The cycle of child abuse in my family stopped with me. Abortion is a basic human right, the hallmark of a civilized society.

Je ne regrette rien.