I have always considered myself to be a feminist. Growing up Catholic, my non-traditional beliefs occasionally got me into trouble with teachers, fights with peers and a few detentions along the way. From an early age, I never questioned that should I need to make a choice that went against my religious upbringing, I would make it without regret.
In high school, I carved out the inner pages of a book, creating a safe to house what my friends and I dubbed “the emergency abortion fund,” which was essentially a collection of a few hundred dollars from birthdays and celebrations. The name was more of a joke than anything, and I kept it in case anyone had a serious emergency that required large amounts of cash without parental knowledge. In the years since the fund was created, I occasionally made withdrawals – one year for Christmas presents, another for a computer — until eventually, the book was empty.
At some point during that time, I made the assumption that most young people make — that I was infallible and invincible and would remain untouched by the darker side of fate. After all, I was accepted to Stanford, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and my GPA now proves that, to at least some degree, I’m succeeding here.
My life changed in a bathroom stall. I knew before looking at it what the pregnancy test would say. I knew what it would say, and I knew what I would have to do after.
If you’ve never heard the song “Vienna” by Billy Joel, some of the opening lines are, “If you’re so smart, tell me why are you still so afraid?” I don’t think Mr. Joel knew when he wrote that in 1977 how many times I would think of that line throughout my life. I knew I was smart. I know I am smart. I have been told by parents, educators and mentors that I am smart. Tests and transcripts only further serve to confirm that. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, being smart is not an all-consuming force that eliminates emotion, especially the more powerful ones like grief and fear. Making what you believe to be the smart decision does not make the after-effects any less difficult to bear.
I knew the smart decision. I made the smart decision immediately upon seeing those two lines. I called Planned Parenthood and set up the soonest appointment possible. I was lucky enough to have a friend who came over within minutes, who drove and sat with me through everything.
I had my abortion on a Tuesday morning. I had known I was pregnant for five days, and I thought about that baby every minute during each one of those. I remember the doctor leaving the room after the procedure and coming back ages, or moments, later to say the line, “Well, you’re definitely no longer pregnant!” He probably thought that was a smart thing to say. Those words were greeted in my drug-addled brain with a mixture of relief and overwhelming sadness. The smart half of me felt relief. I do not know what to call the half of me that was and continues to be plagued by sadness.
I decided to write about my story originally because I thought I was unique. But when it came time to purge the phrases I wanted to express from myself, I realized the reality was the exact opposite. Every woman who has had an abortion comes with a different story, many from more desperate and infinitely less supportive situations than mine; many go alone, and to them I say: You are the bravest women I may never have the pleasure to know. But every woman who has an abortion and comes to the conclusion of her own volition knows that this is the smart decision. It might not feel like the right one, or the moral one, or even the one you want to make, but it is the smart one. It might be that no one ever tells you that you or your decision is smart. But you are, and it was.
I think the idea that gets lost in all of these debates over whether funding for Planned Parenthood should be cut, or whether abortion should be legal at all, is that the decision to have an abortion is not a flippant, cavalier one that only has a fleeting impact on a woman’s life. One in three women has an abortion in her life. Thirty-three percent of the female population is not composed of sociopaths. Although the procedure is clinical, the decision is not. The prevailing narrative assigned to women who have abortions is one of the failed mother. We are either people who are not trying hard enough or stupid kids who are unable to understand the consequences of our actions. I know I personally was not ready to be a mother, and I recognize that is not true for everyone — some women are more than ready, but circumstances force them to edit a chapter of their life in a way that causes immeasurable pain. No matter what the situation, though, it is not uncommon to grieve, even if making the decision was “easy.”
While relieving, my abortion has caused me to undergo a process of reliving and relearning. I relive aspects of the procedure or think about what would have happened had I made other decisions. I relearn ways to forgive, love and move on. Most of all, I have relearned what it means to be grateful — for supportive friends, for the way ice cream can almost always make you feel better and, most importantly, for my fortunate circumstances. I was able to make my choice without an abundance of hassle, and for that, I can never be thankful enough. The most important thing about a hard decision such as this is the person’s ability to make it. While I do not mean to get overly political in this personal piece, I do hope that this story functions to humanize the people who are often demonized for making a hard decision that is smart for them at the time. Above all, know that the decision is not made lightly. It is something that will stay with me like a gentle bruise on my brain — sensitive, but a reminder that all things heal in time.
– A Stanford student*
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*Editor’s Note: The Daily does not typically grant anonymity to writers but made an exception due to the sensitivity of the content of this piece.