detail of a painting by Nick Alm
cw: abortion, medical
My mom could only cook one thing well and that was a dry diner-style cheesy omelet. Nothing fancy: 1-2 eggs whisked with a little salt and pepper browned in the pan until one side was dry, flipped over and sprinkled with a generous amount of shredded cheddar until the cheese looks melty, folded in half and placed on a plate with two pieces of buttered toast, definitely arranged so the omelet would look like a big excited open mouthed smile (:D). It's not the first thing I'd think of if someone asked me what my favorite brunch was because that feels like a more public kind of meal but it's the only thing that comes to mind when I think of my favorite breakfast. She made it for me on many first days of school, on many days when we both stayed home from school and work before we as a culture named those days mental health days, on many Saturday mornings, on many evenings when my dad was out for whatever reason and not around to make a proper dinner, whatever that means. One of the last times she made it was the morning after I had my abortion.
I was wracked with guilt during the procedure and could feel myself floating above my body watching it happen. I thought of the graphic "pro life" images they used to include in our weekly take home folder when I was in Catholic school and wondered if I was a bad person. My mom used to roll her eyes and immediately throw those out every time but as she drove me home from the clinic that day years later, I wondered if she thought I was a bad person too. I didn't eat dinner and slept for something like 13 hours that night and woke up the next day to my mom leaving cheesy omelet and toast on my nightstand. I reached out for her hand and she sat down on the edge of my bed. I stared up at the ceiling as I tried to catch my breath.
"Do you think I'm a terrible person?" I whispered.
She didn't say anything for a while but she climbed into bed next to me and held me while I cried. Eventually she spoke.
"If you're a bad person then I am too." she said. "But I don't think we are, at least not for this." She told me about her abortion, how she had felt horrible about it for a long time until she realized she wouldn't have had so much of the life she had then, for better or worse, if she hadn't had it. She wouldn't have married my dad and she wouldn't have had me and we wouldn't be having that exact moment right then. Then she said something that has stuck in my head ever since:
"Aren't my actual in progress life and existence more important than the potential idea of someone?"
She was right, it is. We shared my cheesy omelet and toast.
I was 21 and I got pregnant when I didn't want to be. I used to think the details mattered more and I realize now how much of that was shame around having to justify that I didn't want to be pregnant. I didn't want to have a baby then, I didn't want to have a baby with that person—that's it. Other details distract from the heart of the matter: no one should be able to tell you what to do with your body. Before anything else, you are a person. This goes against everything we're taught, especially when it comes to being a parent, but it's what I keep coming back to: above all else, you're a person and you should get to choose what you want for your body. Abortion is healthcare. Society tells us it's something traumatic and it often is because we are screamed at and called murderers who are going to hell as we walk into clinics and watch the news—that's traumatizing. For so many who get abortions, it's a lifeline, a chance, a regular procedure that feels like everything because you've been told forever that you can't have what you want. 99% of people feel relief, not regret, five years after getting an abortion. And like everything, it's not black and white; some people do feel regret about their abortion. But the important part of being pro choice is that there's space to feel that too—nothing about this is simple or easy but it is necessary and important.
I woke up the morning after the Roe v. Wade draft leaked and made myself a cheesy omelet and toast and thought a lot about how the ball had been dropped. Roe v. Wade should have been codified into law so many times before. Barack Obama could and should have done it when he had a filibuster-proof majority; instead he broke his campaign promise to Planned Parenthood and said in 2009 that codifying Roe v. Wade wasn't his "highest legislative priority". Joe Biden could and should have done it already as he promised in his presidential campaign. We've known this for a while but more than ever, let's put it clearly: voting isn't going to fix this. Our institutions are failing and voting on its own isn't enough. We have to explore other avenues to ensure people's rights to their bodies and their lives by any means necessary. Politicians aren't going to do shit for us. And in case you're reading this in Canada and feeling secure about being able to access abortions, please stay aware of the facts and history of abortion in Canada.
Despite the misplaced guilt I felt at the time, I've never regretted my decision to have an abortion. The guilt I felt around it wasn't because of my decision or the procedure itself but rather a lifetime of being socialized to believe that nothing about me is more important than my ability to bring another life into this world. A decade after my abortion, I felt ready to start a family when I discovered I had an autoimmune illness that would make that hard if not impossible—at the very least, it would potentially cause me physical harm and danger to do so. This was one of the things that informed my decision to not have kids, a process that was sometimes full of so much heartache and grief that there were days I thought it might physically rip me apart. I kept hearing the same messaging from society and even some people close to me: isn't it worth still trying to carry a child no matter the cost to you and your health? don't you wish you hadn't had that abortion so you'd have a child now? isn't this what you're supposed to do?
And on the other side of everything, the answer to all of those questions is a resounding no. My actual in progress life and existence are more important than the potential idea of someone—they always have been.
Please give your money to these causes on the ground doing work to protect abortion rights:
Abortion on demand without apology.
Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.