Almost ten years ago, I was 19 years old, a freshman at Georgetown University. I was doing the last thing any woman with a bright future in front of her wants to do: sitting in a bathroom stall in the basement of a dorm, staring down, blankly, at a test. Positive.
I’d be lying if I said I felt a rush of anything. There wasn’t an immediate slew of thoughts of what I’d lose, nor some surge of maternal happiness you see portrayed in pregnancy test commercials. Just stillness. The beginning of a four-week journey of introspection.
I wasn’t a conservative in college—in fact, quite the opposite. I wanted to go into politics, perhaps foreign service, to help use the power at the disposal of the government to right all the world’s social ills. I’d come to DC from Macon, Georgia, a town riddled with failing schools, teenage pregnancy, poverty, and violence. Despite my intense desire to push policy in a direction to help my hometown, I was also happy to be out of it, to be surrounded by people I found interesting, all of whom, like me, were “going places.”
I was adamantly pro-choice. In my mind, where life begins is an unsettled question scientifically, and, as such, the government has no business weighing in. The flip side of this, however, is that when you find yourself in my shoes, you have to decide for yourself. Over the next few weeks, my head and my heart went back and forth, as I tried to think through my future as well as any 19-year-old can.
My Unpleasant-Looking Choices
I thought about adoption, but couldn’t bear the thought of taking a year off in shame or having the baby while at school and giving it up. I thought about having the baby and returning to Georgetown, but with no culture of such a thing, I worried I’d never be able to navigate school, friends, and any sort of life without family support.
This left me two choices: return home, have the baby, change schools, and start again, or abort. The more I mulled, the more an undeniable truth set in: this was a life, and I was responsible for creating it. For one who was dedicating her future to the idea that society should take responsibility for the ills it had created, how could I deny my responsibility to the life growing inside me?
So I went home and settled down. I took a year off, swapped schools, worked multiple jobs, stayed up late, and in the process, I met my son, and I met the joy and the pain that is motherhood.
A Baby Does Change Your Whole Life
It was almost a decade ago, but I’d be lying if I claimed that my life isn’t still defined by that one moment. So in some ways, everyone who supports abortion for the reason that, without it, your entire life would change, is completely right. It’s defined in unpleasant ways at times—from the stress over money and time, to the small but constant indignities when people (still) assume I’m his sister, to the intense desire to work harder, smarter, and faster than everyone around me to prove I’m not just the girl who got pregnant at 19, but that I’m an intelligent, professional woman capable of making her mark in a city where the freedom to schmooze in the evening is a key part of getting ahead.
I can’t swap stories about my travels in my twenties. I spent them changing diapers, singing the alphabet, teaching a little one to read, and finishing up my “real work” on many late evenings because I had to leave the office by 5:30. I can’t do brunch on Saturday, go to grad school, or take a large number of appealing jobs with too much travel or long hours.
I’ve had to rely on family for food, financial support, and transportation, spent time on PeachCare, felt the dread that sets in adding up the food costs in your head while walking the grocery store aisles. I learned the value of community as I finished college and worked to bring in a little extra money while my grandmother kept my son during the day, a blessing of family support too few people have.
But despite the challenges, where am I today? If I’m honest, I’m exactly where I wanted to be, but better. I’m living in Washington DC, on the same career path I’d always imagined, because, yes, it’s possible to do with dedication. The only way I’m different is I’m wiser in ways I would never be had I been able to take a few trips abroad or spend more time in the evening networking and hanging with friends.
Losing a little “life” I thought I’d have in favor of the challenge of raising one from scratch has taught me more patience, drive, gratitude, balance, resourcefulness, and grace than I ever could have accomplished on my own. I think about where 19-year-old me was headed, and though it was everything traditionally defined as success, there’s an emptiness in wisdom, a vacuum of humility, and a lack of understanding of real challenge that make me feel very incredibly sorry for who I would have been.
What Women Who #ShoutYourAbortion Never Know
My heart breaks for those who made the decision to focus on themselves. This isn’t a commentary on women who make the decision to abort a child with a disability, or one on a woman who feels she has few resources and no hope. But this is a commentary on those who do it because they simply “aren’t ready” to have a baby now. Those who tweet to #shoutyourabortion and loudly proclaim the benefits to their lives—I weep for you and the lessons you’ll never learn through sacrifice. I wasn’t a special case, one whose preconceived convictions led me to a decision. I have my convictions because of the decision that I made and all I’ve been able to do.
So if you want, shout your abortion. You can shout it from the rooftops, while I wake up in the morning, shower, and climb up into the loft of my precious 8-year-old, waking him up with a few snuggles and songs as he pulls the covers over his head and grumbles. I’ll make his breakfast and get him dressed. I’ll send him off for the day and climb on my bus, and I’ll spend my evenings and weekends going to baseball games and Cub Scout camping trips, checking math homework and helping him shape his future, watching him become the man I already see so strongly inside the little boy.
His name is Seth, which means child of replacement. When I was 19, young and naïve, I sometimes cherished the name bitterly. As I mulled over my decision in the middle of the night with a kicking baby disturbing my rest, as I cried through the sleepless nights of infancy, as I struggled to find the hours for work and for school, I thought of what I was going through then and where I’d been just a few months before.
But as the time I found for a nurturing an infant gave way to time for nurturing a toddler, and in turn, a child, I found the joy and the peace that comes from struggle, sacrifice, family, and love. Life brings hard choices, and though it may not be the popular one now, the path of the woman who faces hardship and rises up, the one who is fierce and lives and loves fully, will never be the wrong one. In the end, what I thought was a replacement brought all that I needed to become the best that I could be.