Health Care, Love, Life Stories

To the mothers who chose to wait

Seven years ago, I made a decision that changed my life. This Mother's Day, I am more grateful than ever for it.

I have the best mom, and that’s one of the reasons I want to be a mother myself.

More than anything, I want to pass that love forward.

As mother’s day draws near though, I am not only thinking about her but about my own strange 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 father was in Afghanistan, my ex was refusing to speak to me, and I had all of two friends in Philadelphia.

I found out unceremoniously: I had gone to the hospital with stomach pains and, while in the ER, a nurse opened the curtain around my bed and said, “You’re pregnant.” 

Those two words made my world fall apart.

I was in a daze from the morphine. I had no idea what to do. My mind raced.

I was still a university student, 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 an overreaction to morning sickness and they would discharge me immediately. It felt wrong, but I didn’t want to question a doctor, so I went home.

I was in excruciating pain for days after, until 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 series of nameless women 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 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 nurse with a big smile and a hijab walked to my bedside and said,

“How are you feeling, mama?”

My heart skipped a beat. I knew I couldn’t have this baby, but word sent me to a place I wasn’t ready for: Motherhood.

I learned I had appendicitis and required surgery right away.

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 historically conservative mother to meet you in the maternity ward of a hospital, secretly pregnant and single, you do not know the meaning of the word, anxiety. It didn’t take long for her to realize what was happening, and through my tears, I had the sweetest realization: My mother was on my side.

Right then, we had to get my appendix out before it killed me, but we talked about what I would do after, and she was completely supportive. She admitted she hadn’t really thought about it, but her willingness to be okay with my choice meant everything.

The next few weeks were a blur.

I got out of surgery and would have to wait three more weeks until I could have the abortion. 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 Philadelphia.

When you’ve made the decision to get an abortion, 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. In the end, I waited for a month and during that time, I felt unexpectedly like a mother.

The days melted one into another.

I slowly wandered my neighborhood carrying a secret in my womb. Pregnancy surprised me and destroyed all of my preconceptions.  I knew the tiny soon-to-be baby inside of me was biologically little more than a rough sketch of human life, but I loved them.

With every breath, I felt the presence of this child that did not yet fully exist and which I knew never would.

Every day, I spoke to them. I explained that I loved them but couldn’t be the mother they 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.

The time passed and I went to Planned Parenthood with my friend and started the process of getting an abortion. The law required me to have an ultrasound to see my fetus and then sent me to “counseling” to make sure I actually wanted an abortion.  

I powered through.

I wasn’t able to be put into twilight sleep for surgical abortion since the clinic was fully booked. I would be awake, which scared me, but I was ready to be strong.

The room was sterile, I met a doctor and a lovely young volunteer 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.

I held onto that woman’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 clenched my teeth. I tried to stay strong. Afterward, I sat up and saw my thighs were covered in blood. I wasn’t ready for that- it looked like something out of a slasher film.

The doctor said it 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 can have the life I do.

I will choose when I have children, and on the days when I get sad about the decision I made so many years ago, my husband looks at me and tells me what I know to be true: That baby is going to come back to me eventually. 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.

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 it’s like to not regret your abortion, but still, have learned motherly love from the experience of pregnancy.