Author’s note: This tender piece is published here because I’m a parent of teen–and because it takes a village and a voice–and a whole lot more to raise them.
I forced myself to sit down and write this story–and then share it (privately) several years ago when my friend’s 15 year old daughter was considering sex.
Recently, I found the courage to share it with my own son, who in response said, “I feel like I don’t know you… Like you’re a book I’ve been reading all my life and I’ve suddenly found a bunch of pages stuck together that I never noticed before.”
And then he said something even more tender, “You have to share this, Mom. You have to put this out there, where everyone can read it.”
And so, I did…
Part I: In LOVE
I fell in love at 15.
His name was M.
I never imagined then, that his name and mine would be so far apart.
For once, we were as one.
I remember the very first time I saw M.–as he peeked out behind the curtain at play practice. I was in the cast and he was on the crew. He made me laugh. His mother made the costumes. I didn’t want my breasts to show and asked her to refit me–twice. She told him that I was a spoiled doctor’s daughter.
That was the fall. In the spring M. swaggered across the cafeteria from the junior side to the sophomore side and saddled in across from me. As if on cue, all the other underclassmen jumped up, leaving us alone.
M. smiled at that, and then at me, cocking his head this way and that, before saying:“Do you want to?”
I looked back quizzically, anxiously, but M. continued on: “What do you think?” he said, warming me with his smiling eyes and mystery.
“You and me… Friday night?”
I don’t remember saying “Yes.”
I dated two others before, but it never felt like this. Two years older than I, M. scooped me up in his humor and self-confidence until I felt light and safe. He taught me how to kiss, how to hug; what it was to be adored and deeply loved–at a time when I was aching for both.
We grew up together in the light of this gift. “Don’t worry about sex,” he’d whisper, “I can wait. I can wait forever.”
Six months passed and M. turned 18. He was an adult while I was still considered a child. I knew the laws. I was a bright young woman. We were both focused students. He was on the track and cross country teams. I was in all the plays and the French club. We each worked more than one job. We went out for fancy dinners. Mrs. M. said that I would ruin his grades, but I never did.
In December, I turned 16 and in February on the floor of Mrs. M.’s sewing room–or did we move to the couch?–I whispered, “Now.”
M. was just as perplexed by my words now as I had been in the high school cafeteria when he first sat down across from me.
“Now,” I said. But I had to explain before he would proceed.
Flush and trembling, we “attempted” intercourse.
“Love” was something we’d been making all along.
It didn’t work. M. wondered if there was something “wrong” anatomically, and suggested I ask my mother.
I laughed, imagining this conversation, “Hey, Mom, M. and I were trying to have sex in Mrs. M’s sewing room, and he wondered if the uteruses in our family were tilted or something because he had trouble getting in.”
The only “conversation” my mother and I had about sex was a drive-by in the kitchen months later when she spewed: “Do you know the teenage pregnancy rate!”
I assumed this question was rhetorical and kept moving.
My mother was pregnant at 18. He was a tall, blonde, blue-eyed life guard. They’d already gone their separate ways by the time she missed her first period. She was sent to a home for unwed mothers by her Irish Catholic parents. My sister was adopted. My mother confided to me and M. in the kitchen one late afternoon in Autumn when I was 19.
By the end of February, M. and I had sex figured out without a consultation; and by mid-spring, a year after we first met, I missed my first period.
We had learned a bit about birth control at our Catholic highschool, but that was for “sex,” not for love, and we were told not to use it, and we had no idea where to get it anyway.
I can’t remember if we were trying to “be careful.” I think we avoided the middle of the month when I would be fertile–but we’re both Irish.
Within weeks of missing my period, I began to feel nauseous. I can’t remember much more than the terror I felt over what might be happening inside.
I was the oldest of 6 girls. The oldest in a generation of cousins, mostly girls–upheld, again and again, as an example for the others.
“See how Kelly does this. See how Kelly does that. Isn’t Kelly wonderful…”
Ironic that at 16, perfect “Kelly” was now sitting at Planned Parenthood waiting for the results of her urine test. (You couldn’t buy those at the dollar store then–or even at a pharmacy.)
An older woman whose strength reminded me of beloved Nana’s, who had been ripped from my life two years earlier, invited me into her office and told me what I already knew.
She wanted to discuss options–adoption–but I cut her off. “Make the appointment,” I said.
M. drove me to Atlantic City. The clinic was above a florist. I remember the waiting room, carpeted, and a large desk in front of a door which led to another waiting room outside a small laboratory.
I remember sitting in that narrow hallway in plastic bucket seats among a handful of other girls waiting for the results of our pregnancy-confirming blood draws. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t look at anyone. I didn’t breathe.
I remember the pre-op room and the tiny cubicle beside it where I had to go just before the procedure. A tall, kind woman sat across from me in the dark asking if I was sure. Did I want to change my mind?
I was repulsed at her kindness.
M. said I was brave. I knew I was despicable.
I remember being wheeled into the operating room. The doctor and his assistants were jovial and polite. I counted backwards and I woke later laughing–cruel affects from the anesthesia–in a room filled with others on stretchers.
Before I could dash away from this place and never look back, there was another room with a low circular table upon which sat juice and perfectly round store-bought cookies. Sunday School fare. Another kind woman insisted I take some–for the sugar–even though I refused her counseling.
And thus, self-contempt was thrust into the mix of love and sex in my relationship with M. and it never quite extracted itself.
We were at the drive-in, on a late spring evening, two weeks before we had made it through the six-week waiting period–when we couldn’t wait any longer. Our young bodies raged with hormones seeking familiar expression. Consolation. Connection. Absolution.
Afterward, we both felt a self-loathing that we had never known. We’d taken a risk with my healing body that we had sworn not to. We could no longer trust passion. We could no longer trust each other.
In less than three months, the familiar nauseous feeling returned and my breasts swelled like a mother’s instead of a teen’s. I was working at the hospital in the lab that summer, riding back and forth with my father. The drive from the island to the mainland created a special place of connection between us, one that his busy schedule rarely allowed.
From time to time that summer, he would even join me for lunch in the hospital’s “Cheery Corner” where I ordered a grilled cheeses and he, a BLT. On the rides home I’d share a pack of Rolos that I picked up in the store while I waited for him to finish his rounds. And yet, there was an entire world between us. A world I had not revealed to anyone, but my closest friends.
One Monday morning, in the lab, my secret was threatened. A doughy man with dark hair approached my desk, and quietly asked how I was doing. He had a strange sincerity about him, and when I looked up at him quizzically, he explained that he worked in the lab at Planned Pregnancy on the weekends.
My face must have frozen–and he quickly backed away. He never said another word to me that summer. I could hardly breath whenever I saw him, but decades later, I wish I could thank him for such a tenderness. I wish I could have opened to his support. I needed an adult.
It’s hard to distinguish one blackened memory from another, but what I do remember about my second time in Atlantic City is that there were complications–something that required I return for check ups.
I also remember that M. packed a picnic lunch and that we went to the park afterward, and ate silently, under a bleak summer sun.
My father made an appointment for me to visit his Alma mater that weekend so despite the medical necessity for rest, I traveled to Philadelphia and walked across an entire campus.
M. hovered over me that day and I can see us there on the landing up four flights of stairs at the Villanova library–my parents ahead of us, looking down, asking what was the matter with me.
My childhood slipped away.
Part II: Loss
The next fall M. and I were separated when he went off to college. He lived off campus with relatives so that he could afford school. On weekends, when his parents expected him to study, he’d sneak home to me. I had PE at the end of the day on Fridays, and in the locker room, I’d belt out, “I have got love, ove… on my mind… I’ve got love… on my mind.”
After my second abortion, I returned to the Planned Pregnancy Center and gained a solid and practical know how. I assessed the pregnancy statistics and other variables, and decided upon a diaphram with spermicide. M. and I never again had unprotected sex–and after two unwanted pregnancies, sex never felt the same between us–at least not for me.
But the impact didn’t end there. One bleak mid-winter night, M. reserved a hotel room in Cape May so that we could be together without his parents knowing he was in town. When I think of that room overlooking the ocean, I feel a chill. We had come from a party where he drank too much. As we got into bed in that dark, cold room, he raged at me with ugly words of condemnation.
Abortion had been my choice, not M’s. Raised a proper Catholic, he wanted to get married. He found an apartment and a job at the local grocery store. But I couldn’t bear that for either of us. I knew how important it was for him to rise out of this town and out of the blue-collar life his parents led. I knew he would resent me and eventually leave or cheat. And there was no way I was ending up like my mother and grandmother, and there was no way I could face my extended family in that disgrace.
In these instances of hatred, I never defended myself against M. I had been cold and calculating in my decision for abortion. I let him cry, and I resented him for it.
With that sharp edge thrust between us, we struggled to maintain our relationship through college. I became more and more independent, and he became more and more controlling. Ultimately what had once felt like a unique and sacred gift, became a source of anguish for us both.
Despite my autonomy, M. was the one who finally ended us by falling in love with someone else–and not telling me until after he was engaged.
After sharing a depth of love that I have never felt again, M. and I went years without seeing each other, even by chance.
It was 7 years later when he called. I was standing in my kitchen in Vermont, 300 miles away, the handset next to my ear, the cord dangling over my belly.
M. had heard that I suffered two miscarriages and he confessed that this news excavated a depth of emotion inside him that he hadn’t known since loving me.
We shared the joy of our happy marriages and how closely we escaped the doom of remaining together.
He told me about his daughters, and offered his deep regret about our shared past and his concern that my miscarriages were a result of what happened between us. At 18, he felt the responsibility had been all his. He wished me the best with my pregnancy and checked back often that winter.
Those were dark days for me, days where I had to face the pain that I had never fully felt at 16. I remember confessing my abortions to my mother over the phone one afternoon, sobbing that I would never get to be a mother like her.
Unlike me, she and my younger sister chose adoption for their unwanted pregnancies and I admired them for that and wondered how I could be so cruel.
I remember reliving both of my miscarriages during an energy session with a therapist. It was the first time that I ever experienced the body having its own memory.
It was then that I realized that the miscarriages were payments.
“Are you even yet?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, ready to release myself from punishment.
9 months later I gave birth to my first son.
Part III: Resolution
What would I do if I could back in time?
Sadly, I would have chosen abortion again. What I wish I could have done differently is not get pregnant. Armed with this wisdom, I spent my late teens and early twenties educating every friend I knew about birth control.
At 19, I found myself back at Planned Pregnancy peeing in a cup–the result of drunken stupidness with a man I didn’t love; but I knew if I was pregnant this time, I couldn’t have another abortion. There was no excuse.
My best friend waited for me in the car, and I came out leaping out across the parking lot with a prescription in my pocket. I wasn’t pregnant; and I was going on the pill.
For years I kept my abortions secret–a hidden soiling on the cloak of my life though there were moments when I longed for absolution. In the months before I became pregnant with my first son, I sat across from a fellow teacher who made reference to her own abortion; and trembling inside, I was suddenly freed to release mine.
Gradually, I told some of family members and in doing so freed myself from the pedestal of family pride.
This past week–thirty years from the first time I saw M. behind the curtain at play practice–I offered up my abortions in a conversation with a good friend, who to my surprise, was surprised.
I realized then that my abortions have become part of who I am–good and bad– something I longer considered “news” or even private.
The time had come, I realized, to write this story and send it off so that others might know that the good and bad in them doesn’t have to be kept separate either.
I write with deep love for that troubled 16 year old girl and with deep compassion for all those who struggle with any aspect of their sexuality.
Sex is a true, but fragile gift, and ought not be put in such young hands, but having been so, must be treasured and guided so that all might know the gift of love and making love for as many years as I have.
The fallout of my relationship with M. put me in the hands of my best friend and most patient lover, Casey. Twenty-three years into our relationship and I realize that we are one of those more than content middle-aged couples. (They still exist, don’t they?)
It is Casey’s trustworthiness and love that has enabled me to reclaim all that was lost in my relationship with M.–my precious passion, my full sexuality, my tender heart.
Is it a betrayal to our marriage that I write of the depth of my love for M.?
Is it a betrayal of motherhood, that I choose the right for abortion?
Is it a betrayal of the gift of life that I so easily took it?
My story and my learning is far from over. I know this because almost thirty years later, the word “abortion” still chills and constricts me from the inside out; and I feel that familiar ache inside my pelvis.
Approaching 45, I realize that although I have two sons, I have been pregnant six times.
I offer my unfolding path in the hope that it might warm and lighten your own.
Peace in all hearts,
ps. 5 years after this piece, at the age of 50, I was asked to publish one of my blog posts in the local paper. It was the hardest “Yes,” I have ever said. I checked in with my husband and with my older son (who had been the one to encourage me to originally share my writing on abortion) and even his girlfriend–to be sure they were okay about this being local and public. Then I broke the news of my abortion to my younger son, but this time there was no drama. I simply told him and he received it in the same way. There was something very significant about that for me.
This is what the paper published: Anti-Abortion AND Pro-Choice