My name is Holly J. I’m a college graduate. I pay taxes with money I earn as a freelance writer and creative consultant. I’m a whiz with a crock pot, know an obscene amount about pop culture, and once spent an entire month trying to catch and release a cat and her kittens living behind my apartment complex. I’m an active member of my community, read The Bible regularly and donate clothes to Good Will. I’ve also had an abortion and as the kids say, #sorrynotsorry. It was the fall of 2000 and I was seventeen.
For someone so young, my cycle had always been surprisingly regular. Still, when it started acting wonky I didn’t think much of it. As a high school senior, I had a lot going on. Along with studying and learning how to drive, I was thinking about college.
To say I was stressed was an understatement. When I found out I was pregnant I didn’t tell anyone. I was good at keeping secrets. It fact, I had been keeping many for the last few years, including that I was in the thick of an abusive relationship.
Most people knew my boyfriend and me. Our school was relatively small. with one of my classmates. People saw us together every day, but I’m not sure if they noticed how he held my hand too tight or his tendency to lead me away when someone who wasn’t him talked to me too long.
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were sort of conservative, but they were also realistic. They never gave me the whole “save yourself for marriage” talk the way I heard other Christian parents give their children. They did tell me that having a child before I was ready was a mistake to avoid. Remember, my mother would say. A woman always gets the short end of the stick. She would know. She had been a single mom once upon a time.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t intended to marry my older sister’s dad. That had been the plan and so it seemed okay-if not ideal-if they did the whole marriage-house-baby thing out of order. But then he showed himself to be a cheater and all around louse.
I can tell you a lot of stories about family members born to people who didn’t want them. My mom and her sister were foster kids when they were teenagers. Originally from Jamaica, their mother who had never been financially independent, sent them to New York to live with their dad who said they’d have more opportunities there. He abandoned them not long after their arrival.
Even after my mom became a nurse, married my dad and had me, there were these invisible scars from what happened to her growing up. She was extremely moody. Often I felt like my presence irritated her, so I became good at disappearing in plain sight by being quiet and non-intrusive.
Should I tell you about T, the second cousin I had? Operative word, had. She lived with my aunt and uncle for many years. Depending on who you ask, it was because her mother, my first cousin, wasn’t ready to be a mom or because my aunt felt she was in a better position to raise her. I don’t know the truth. Anyway, my cousin, the one I had…she spent most of her life trying to deal with the fact that her early years were far from the traditional families she saw on TV. By nine-years-old she was making statements like, “I wish I had died,” and began cutting herself soon after.
I want to note that during her short time on earth, she never lived in poverty. She never wanted for anything material. In fact, she was incredibly privileged. But even though my uncle paid for her to go to Kanye West concerts and she always wore the newest style of jeans and was on the dance squad; even when she was living with her mother again and part of a more traditional family, there was a void in her she could never fill.
To hear her describe it, it was like she was plagued with the feeling that she had never been intended and therefore felt that her very existence was a burden to others. It didn’t matter how much we told her she was loved or that she brought joy to our lives. She started doing drugs in her teens and by twenty she had Oded.
To hear her describe it, it was like she was plagued with the feeling that she had never been intended and therefore felt that her very existence was a burden to others. It didn’t matter how much we told her she was loved or that she brought joy to our lives.
I could tell you more stories, but you get the point. It’s hard to raise a child you didn’t plan for or want, but it’s also hard to be that child. On the rare occasion my mother discussed boys and relationships with me, she’d say that my priority should be finishing school and finding a good job. Having a baby when you had no money or husband was foolish- something idiot girls did.
My school was progressive. Sex ed started in elementary (it was basically a video about reproduction and puberty) and by the time I was in middle school a rep from Planned Parenthood had visited to do a presentation on safe sex and STDs. In my sophomore year, my girlfriends and I would go to get the pill and condemns, because despite what people believe, teenagers aren’t completely stupid and most of us realize that having a baby when you’re a baby is batshit crazy. I didn’t mean to get pregnant. I also didn’t mean to be in an abusive relationship. No one does.
The thing about abusive relationships is that they make you feel ashamed. My high school boyfriend never hit me, but there were other things that made me feel too afraid to leave him. There were sex tapes I didn’t want to make (which I was sure would be passed around school if I tried to leave), confiscated belongings, gaslighting. When I’d tell him I didn’t like the way he always needed to know what I was doing or who I was with, he’d get in my face and bark questions. What was I hiding? Why was I being immature? “I’m sorry,” he’d scream. “But normal boyfriends want to know where their girlfriends are and who they’re with?”
He was always good at implying that my desire for any type of autonomy wasn’t normal. He needed to see the grades I received on assignments, what I wrote in my diary, what I said to a teacher after class. He’d police my feelings, telling me I was fucked up when I didn’t agree with him. I quickly learned it was easier if I just did whatever he wanted, including not having sex with a condom.
Needless to say, I had a lot of problems back then and I knew that under no circumstance could a baby be brought into them.
I know what you’re thinking. But there’s a whole psychology to why people stay in abusive relationships and I don’t have time to unpack it here. Needless to say, I had a lot of problems back then and I knew that under no circumstance could a baby be brought into them.
I don’t want to tell anyone about what happens between my boyfriend and me. I’m in major denial. I know that I’m unhappy, but I truly believe it’s my fault and that things would be better between us if I was a different person. Like many people who experience trauma, I’ve learned to compartmentalize and can always find a way to justify what happens between us. To tell anyone about it makes me feel like I’m betraying him. It’s not only that I’m sure people won’t believe me, but that I don’t want to deal with the questions they’ll ask. I don’t know how to explain to them that even when he holds me down, calls me names or makes me cry, I feel obligated to forgive him. I don’t want the judgement or the looks from the eyes of people I know can’t possibly understand. I can only imagine what someone who has become pregnant from rape must feel. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be required to share what probably is the worst event of your life with a stranger in order to convince them that you have the right to determine what happens next to your body.
Why should they suffer for my mistakes? Why should anybody?
I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me. I didn’t expect anyone to feel bad for me back then. All I cared about was that I wasn’t going to add to the pain in the world by bringing a life I was completely unable to properly raise. With me being a teenager, I knew the brunt of the work would fall upon my parents. This seemed horrible unfair. Why should they suffer for my mistakes? Why should anybody?
You may think it’s harsh referring to a child as a mistake. To be transparent, I didn’t think of what I was carrying as such and I still don’t. Nothing had been fully developed. No eyes, ears or brain capable of consciousness. I was more concerned with what would happen when that changed. What would happen when that embryo became a fetus, capable of hearing and moving? What would happen when it was born and life really began? Even at seventeen, I’m not delusional enough to believe I can promise a high quality of life. I cannot promise anything at all, which also feels horrifically unfair to me. Someone might say I can guarantee love, but what a stupid statement that is. Love doesn’t put clothes on your back or make the world less complicated. It cannot fill your belly with food or put a roof over a head. Children should be guaranteed that much. They should be guaranteed to be brought into a world by stable parents. How can you love someone and intentionally hurt them? Being an unwanted child hurts. Not having stability hurts. Seeing your parents regret hurts.
Being an unwanted child hurts. Not having stability hurts. Seeing your parents regret hurts.
I have a hard time wrapping my brain around my boyfriend and my relationship but for the brief time I’m pregnant, I see us for what we are and I know there is no way that I can let a child be subjected to that. Fortunately, he’s in agreement with what I want to do. He knows he’s in no position to be a father.
I am forever grateful that I was living in New York, a state where it’s not mandatory to have parental consent to terminate a pregnancy. I don’t think I could have psychologically handled telling my parents back then. I think I may have been more likely to have thrown myself down the stairs or resort to another dangerous method than telling my dad. I already felt intense guilt about what had become my life. Having others know about it, specifically my parents, would have made it so much worse. Just like forcing someone to have a child is traumatic, so is forcing them to tell a secret or share apart of themselves they’re just not ready for.
The day comes and there are protestors outside. It makes me angry but not deterred. Even then, I understand that they don’t get it. It’s easy to hold up signs with pictures of half formed fetuses, scream murder and other words meant to make you feel differently about your decision. I know it’s not as easy to raise a child and help them feel hopeful about their future and all its possibilities. At seventeen I do not feel very hopeful about anything and I don’t want to spread that misery.
Years later and I have many regrets, but deciding to terminate my pregnancy is not one of them.
Sometimes I think about what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had safe and easy access to care. I thought about it back then too. Like I said, I had a lot of problems in those days and if I hadn’t been able to secure a legal abortion, I would have probably done what a lot of women in that position once did. It makes me sad to know that there are people who’d rather have a woman drink Drano or thrown down the stairs than allow her to determine what happens to her body. Great world to raise a child in, right?
Becoming a parent is profound responsibility. The decision to do so not only effects yourself but those around you. We’re living in a time where empathy seems to be decreasing. More of us are feeling anxious, disconnected, and depressed about the future of the world. I know I am. And although I’m in a far different place than I was when I was seventeen, I still viscerally remember the surety of not wanting to be the reason another felt those feelings. I remember wanting to guarantee that child some hope and knowing I couldn’t. Today, as I follow the headlines about Alabama, Missouri and Georgia, I still can’t.