It is 2016. I am 30. Just 30 – 6 or so weeks in to the decade. I have found myself in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood down the street from my office, because as usual I think I am dying.
I am bloated and spotting and have self diagnosed myself (with the help of webMd) with Cervical cancer. My doctor can’t see me today, but she is sure that, as always, I am fine and could I possibly be overwhelmed by something else in my life that might be making some fairly benign symptoms seem like they could be cancer? And that maybe I could schedule an appointment with my psychiatrist instead?
Instead I hang up and make an emergency appointment at Planned Parenthood down the street from my office. It’s not even 8 am and I have already been at the office for 2 hours, back and forth between obsessing about my health, my inability to live up to my fullest professional potential and all of the emails piling up in my inbox.
As my colleagues are walking into the office, I am walking out. It’s 9am and I can still feel the chill of winter in the soles of my shoes from the cobblestones even though April is nearly over. I convince myself to try to enjoy the sensation because who knows if it will be my last April on earth.
I am met at the door of Planned Parenthood by an escort to guide me through the mess of Pro-Life Evangelists who surround the entrance. For such a small city, they really get a big turnout. I am not impressed by the high quality of their propaganda, and think they are silly to think it will make a believer out of anyone. Their tactics are juvenile and reflect their own simple minds.
In the doctor’s office, the extremely pretty Nurse Practitioner asks me if I could be pregnant. I say no. My nearly 8 year marriage has always been turbulent and our most recent phase finds us more like roommates than romantic partners. It has been a tearful winter and I haven’t found a coping mechanism that works other than working too much and drinking too much. I affirm out loud again, no, not pregnant and actively wonder what it’s like to have straight blonde hair and a small waist and a job that matters. I am exhausted. She confirms my doctor’s prognosis of “probably not cancer” and I pee in a cup.
As it turns out, both my doctor and the nurse practitioner with the perfect nose and even demeanor were right, I don’t have cancer. And as it turns out, I was wrong and all of a sudden I am made aware of the fact that these symptoms are also what it feels like to be pregnant. Which I am.
And all of a sudden I remember the night of my 30th birthday when my husband and best friend (fresh from a flight from California) surprised me with a party at a dive bar and a light up dance floor. It’s impolite to turn down drinks from well wishers on your birthday, so I find myself drinking well tequila out of plastic cups all night, leading to a general dropping of my guard as I ease into the idea that my ideas of being an ingenue are numbered and I might as well enjoy the late stages of youth while I can still pretend to be pretty. And so, that’s what I did. I celebrate my life by conceiving another.
The ultrasound confirms my birthday theory and I refuse to look at the screen. The nurse with the crystalline skin tells me that I don’t have to make a decision now and do I have a support system? Am I safe at home?
The evangelists don’t care about you when you’re leaving and my exit is less eventful. The farmers market across the street is just starting up for the season and I consider visiting my favorite vendor, a Lebanese family selling laffa and hummus, but walk the 6 minutes on cold cobblestones back to the office instead. The taunt of CSNY’s “Our House” is stuck in my head and it’s a menace I really wish I could shake, but at least it’s something else taking up head space. The other headspace is thinking things like: I am 30. I make enough money to have purchased a house in a small city, but not enough money to stay out of credit card debt. I am selfish. I cannot have a child. I am still a child.
I look at Jewish daycare prices when I get back to the office and think about the sacrifices that would need to be made. I look up all of the childhood diseases that impact Jews at a higher rate. I know I am not going to have this child and the guilt of aborting a Jewish fetus is shocking to me. I know there is no religion in utero because there is no life until birth. But for a second I empathize with the simple minded evangelists and their popsicle stick and pipe cleaner signs.
Because I don’t believe in having important conversations via text message (unless I’ve had too many martinis), I have to wait nearly 72 hours before i have a waking moment in person with my husband. And because my development is arrested in the area of adult conversations, I wait until he is on his way out the door again and ask him if he wants to hear something funny.
We decide to think about it on our own for another day and then come back and discuss our options.
Neither of us outwardly want to keep it, so I make an appointment. I am sad and disappointed that my life hasn’t led me to a place where I not only want this child, but am able to have it without worrying if I can give it everything it needs. In my imagined life, we might have a dinner table full of children with whom I talk about things like music, life in general and plans for the weekend. In this life, sending just one to daycare might break us. The idea that I haven’t accomplished everything I want to upsets me and over the next few weeks I am nearly never not on the brink of weeping.
When we finally are able to discuss our plan, we decide that neither of us feel a child is appropriate at this time. It’s the right decision, but it’s a painful one too.
Planned Parenthood only performs abortions on Fridays (Someone should tell those simple minded folks so maybe they can get a real job on the days that aren’t Fridays. Do they know how much of their lives they are wasting by trying to influence someone else’s life?) This means that I have to wait three weeks before the procedure. I am conflicted during these three weeks about whether to eat sushi, drink wine, smoke the odd cigarette. I do all three to make the decision final.
I cry a lot during these three weeks. One of my best friends moves away. I constantly feel like I’m not good enough – I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to live up to the life plan I’ve set for myself and wonder if I am just lazy and if there was a course correction that I missed where I wouldn’t be in this current position?
My best friend wants a baby and is having a hard time having one and I feel guilty that all she wants is a baby and it’s so hard for her, and here I am, swelling by the second. I decide not to tell her about my situation, which adds a layer of sadness to my guilt. I feel selfish and juvenile.
The few people I do tell about my situation are empathetic, but not without a twinge of judgement. I get it, I am 30, married and make more money alone than the average American household income. Yet, I’m not ready emotionally or financially and the pragmatist in me thinks that should be good enough.
On the third friday morning, my husband and I are escorted through a group of protestors. I yell right back at them because this is not a one way dialogue and I am a 30 year old woman, not some young girl that they can push around with emotional fear tactics and the threat of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t care.
Because Planned Parenthood only performs abortions on Fridays, everyone in the waiting room knows why everyone else is there. I am the oldest by far. I can’t believe this is the first time this has happened to me as I stopped taking any kind of hormonal birth control nearly a decade ago. The hormones made me crazy and I valued my limited mental health over the protection the pills gave me. It’s a real chore to be a woman.
There’s a lot of waiting. Then there are pills administered. And then there’s a lot more waiting. It’s as if they are running the clock out on you – waiting for you to change your mind, to make a different decision. The harmonies of CSNY keep haunting me.
Come to me now and rest your head for just five minutes, everything is good
Such a cozy room, the windows are illuminated by the
Sunshine through them, fiery gems for you, only for you
The aspiration itself is quick but extremely painful, both physically and emotionally. I wish I could say that even when you know you are making the right decision, there isn’t any emotional damage, but I think there is, at least temporarily. I cry. I want my husband to cry, but he doesn’t.
On the way home we stop for fried pickles and salad pizza. I laugh a little bit. When we get home, I take the pain killers they gave me and I stay in bed, alternating between sleeping, crying and writhing in intense physical pain for nearly 72 hours. I can’t describe the amount of pain there is. I’m not ready for it. They tell you all about the emotional pain, but no one talks about the physical pain, which comes in waves and is a sporadic reminder of all of the choices I’ve made in life.
What do you do when you wake up? You move forward. You cry a lot, and then you cry less. You consider finding focus in your life so you can figure out what you want from it and then life gets in the way of itself and you lose focus. You work a lot and find ways to spend as little time as possible in the bed where you spent 72 hours in a state of emotional paralysis. The pain, physical and emotional, gets less intense and more obtuse, until the month where the baby might have been born should it have come full term. Then the pain gets even worse and you are alone with it because it’s fallen off the radar for everyone except you.
Is it a pain of regret?
No. It’s the pain of being a woman.
Of having to make hard choices, of never knowing which choice is right and all the while losing your social currency before even knowing how to use it properly. It’s all interconnected, there’s nothing singular about being a woman. It’s the pain of wanting to be able to do it all yourself and needing the validation of others in order to maintain motivation. It’s wanting to stay at home and cook and do the laundry and also write OpEds and be on speaking panels and give yourself a high five every time you negotiate a better salary.
And ultimately life goes back to normal except for every December, you might wake up feeling like you forgot something, but that becomes normal too, just another day in the life. Like when Joni and Graham went out, bought a vase, came home, lit a fire and then wrote a song about it. Normal is a unique concept – it means nothing until you make it mean something.
I’ll light the fire while you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today
This is not new news. But not everything important is new. This is my own story. And it was important for me to tell you about it today because our country wants to take away our ability to make our own decisions, to feel our own feelings and we can’t let that happen. We need to keep talking. Keep feeling. Keep sharing. My life is mine and yours is yours. We may not always agree with each other, but we should be able to agree that our choices are our own to make. And unlike the life of a woman, that is an easy, singular thought.