The question “Who is Mother’s Day for?” seems like it would have an obvious answer, but for me, that’s not the case. I usually spend this day with my mother, a powerhouse of a woman who raised me in nine locations across the globe and still managed to be there for us despite spending a quarter century doing one of the hardest jobs on earth- being a US Diplomat and working in Systems-a field dominated by men.
I have the best mum, and that’s one of the reasons I want to be a mother myself- more than anything, I want to pass that love forward. Today though, I am not only thinking only about my mother, but about my own experience of motherhood. In the summer of 2012, my birth control failed and two weeks after a tumultuous breakup I found myself pregnant in a city where I barely knew anyone, my mother was three hours away by bus, my ex was refusing to speak to me, and I had all of two friends in Philadelphia. I found out rather unceremoniously- I had gone to the hospital with stomach pains and while in the ER, a male nurse opened the curtain around my bed and said “You’re pregnant”, then walked off.
With those two words and my world fell apart.
I was in a daze from the morphine I needed to to survive the pain, and I had no idea what to do. My mind raced through the problem, I was still in University, I didn’t have a dime in the bank and I was pretty sure my parents weren’t down with abortion, but then again,they’d never talked about it. After what felt like an eternity, a doctor came into the room and told me that the pain and vomiting were likely just me overreacting to morning sickness, and they would discharge me immediately. That felt wrong, but I’m not one to question a doctor so I went home. I was in excruciating pain for days after, and I finally broke down and tried to get a public bus to the hospital. I was so delirious that a fellow passenger removed me from the bus and brought me to the hospital herself. She was the first in a long line of nameless women who I will always love for what they did for me. When I arrived, I was nearly triaged back to the waiting room- until I mentioned I was pregnant.
I don’t remember getting up to the tenth floor, but when I came to my senses and the pain subsided, I was in the most peaceful hospital ward I had ever been in.Everyone was smiling, the nurses and doctors were taking my pain seriously, and maybe it was in my head, but I swear there was soothing music playing the whole time. That’s when a sweet, hijabi nurse walked to my bedside and said,
“How are you feeling, mama?”
That was possibly the strangest moment of the whole ordeal, I knew I couldn’t have this baby. There was no chance I would, but that word sent me to a place I wasn’t ready for-motherhood.
I smiled and said I was alright. They had learned that I had appendicitis and it was extremely serious. I called my mother, who did not yet know I was pregnant and was scheduled for life-saving surgery early the next morning. Now, until you have waited for your card-carrying Republican, somewhat sex-negative (or at least, I thought) mother to meet you in the maternity ward of a hospital, while pregnant and single, you do not know the meaning of the word anxiety. It didn’t take long for her to realise what was happening, and through my tears I had the sweetest realisation- my mother was on my side. Right now, we had to get this appendix out of me before it killed me, but we talked about what I would do afterwards and she was completely supportive. She admitted she hadn’t really thought about it, but her willingness to be ok with my choice makes me tear up to this day.
The next few weeks were a blur, I got out of surgery and would have to wait almost three weeks until I could have the abortion. I was stuck on my couch, seven weeks and pregnant waiting to get to ten before I could go to Planned Parenthood. I wanted to be at home with my mother, but my parents lived in Virginia and getting an abortion there was complicated and difficult. My only option was to stay in Philly.
When you have an unwanted pregnancy, there is an overwhelming sense of urgency. You want it done and over with. Every minute you spend pregnant is strange, emotional, confusing and heartbreaking. I sat on my couch for weeks, and during that time I was a mother. I do not think that the tiny soon-to-be baby inside of me was biologically anything more than a rough sketch of human life, but I loved her.
Every day, I spoke to her. I explained that I loved her but couldn’t be the mother she would need. I fell asleep with my hands over my bandages, sending vibrations of adoration. Despite all of this, I was never unsure of my choice and after the time had passed, I went to the Philly Planned Parenthood with my girlfriend Amanda and started the process of getting an abortion. In Pennsylvania at the time, they made you get an ultrasound to see your foetus and then sent you to “counselling” to make sure you really wanted an abortion. I powered through. I wasn’t able to be put into twilight sleep for the surgical abortion since the clinic was booked up. I would be awake, which scared me but I was ready to be strong.
The room was sterile, there was a doctor and a lovely young woman who smiled at me and said she was there to hold my hand. I lay down on the paper lined bed and he put the cold forceps inside of me. The pain of dilation was intense, and I held onto that girl’s hand like my life depended on it. I don’t know who she was, but I love her for being there for me. After what felt like forever, the vacuum began to roar. I was clenching my teeth, I was trying to stay strong. Afterwards, I stood up and my thighs were covered in blood, I wasn’t ready for that- it looked like something out of a slasher film. The doctor said that was normal.
I sat in the recovery room, cramping and listening to my iPod. I wasn’t mourning, I was grateful. Abortion isn’t easy and it doesn’t come without a cost, but because of my abortion, I am able to have the life I do. I will choose when I have children and on the days when I get sad about it, my partner looks at me and tells me what I know to be true- that little baby is going to come back to me. I love the child I never had. I know now that it’s possible to love something more than anything in the universe, the love of a mother is incomparable and I tasted it- that’s why I know that motherhood will be the greatest thing I ever get to experience.
To mothers of children who never were, to the mothers who chose to wait- happy Mother’s Day. Our stories aren’t told, and I want to be open about what its like to not regret your abortion, but still have learned motherly love from the experience of pregnancy.
Note: There were many things about my experience that illustrate how horrible the politics of getting an abortion are for women. First, I nearly died because of the epidemic of doctors not taking women’s pain seriously. I was forced to have the abortion far from my family because of the variation in state laws, I was also forced to get an ultrasound that I didn’t want. I had to experience this wide awake because the Planned Parenthood in my city was one of only a few clinics and was overbooked- unable to serve all of the women who needed them. Lastly, because I couldn’t afford the abortion (which is why I didn’t have the child) I was paying off the $900 bill for nearly a year after the ordeal. Every time a bill came I was reminded, and I was lucky enough to have a campus job that allowed me to pay it off eventually.
Thank you to all the women who got me through this, during and after. I have so far confided in just a few friends, but they all provided me with incredible support to deal with this, to Michele M, my roommate in Philly, Amanda M, Samantha T who was the first person I told after I left the hospital and walked into her place of work nearly crying, Liv and Erica who visited me in the aftermath, and my mother who is one of my best friends and champions. To my Alway Something Girls- you know who you are, you were so important.
Sam and Liz
My roommate, who also showed up for me while I was crying about motherhood on her couch for weeks on end.
Me, post pregnancy, pre appendicitis.
Amanda, my Planned Parenthood rock