The first thing my friend did when she told me about her abortion was laugh. She met me where I was waiting for her in the park, and she just laughed. At first I thought it was nervous laughter, the slight giggle that comes when you’re not really sure what else to do. But I saw she was smiling, and I realized that this was the real thing. In a society where abortion is such a contentious and emotionally charged issue, my friend just looked at me and laughed, and when she clutched her tummy I wasn’t sure whether I should be concerned or amused. But she seemed fine. It was over now.
“So,” I said hesitantly, through her laughter. “How… was it?”
She paused for a second, wiping mascara away from the crook of her eye with a pinky. “Oh my God,” she told me, “it was the most absurd thing…”
* * *
My friend isn’t good about safe sex, but she isn’t bad about it, either. Not really bad. She’s just normal, I guess, at least from what she’s told me and from what I can tell. We all make mistakes; we all get a little too hammered, or a little too trusting, and we make mistakes when it comes to being safe. But it wasn’t like she ran around doing this all the time. The lady on the phone from the clinic asked her questions like this, of course, with a voice that was both business-as-usual and a little patronizing. A hint of accusation, maybe, but only a little; the kind of tone that you’d only pick up on if you were sensitive about the whole matter or so carefree that such things were annoying at worst, amusing at best. My friend fell into the latter category. “I’m sure if I had any doubt or shame, she definitely wouldn’t have helped,” she told me. “But I didn’t. She was just being kind of a bitch.”
The lady asked her questions like “has this happened to you before” (no) and “how late are you” (ten days) and “how often do you have unprotected sex” (not a lot). Not a lot. Thinking about it, I guess that any unprotected sex is a lot of unprotected sex. Thinking about it, there are many, many worse things than pausing twenty seconds to grab a rubber. HIV, for example.
It was senior Beach Week, and the result of a series of quickly made decisions. No one wants to wait twenty seconds. Beach Week is the kind of time in one’s life where you wake up from being passed out on the toilet by your best friend either having loud sex in the shower next to you, or your teammates reviving you with a douse of beer. I guess there aren’t really times like that in one’s life except for college. There is no sleeping, there is no thinking, there is just doing; honestly, none of us were really making the best choices that week. My friend just got unlucky, and hitched with the burden.
I don’t even think she took a pregnancy test. She’s good about keeping track of things like her period, almost ironically responsible about that whole thing; and she knew once she hit three days late that it was the bad kind of Something that wasn’t right with her. When she called the clinic, they told her that she had to wait a little longer than just three days. She was ten days late when she was finally able to talk to the judgey lady. My friend made an appointment for an upcoming Saturday at 9 AM, the only time she could make it with corporate hours and a helicopter mother, a consequence of still living at home post-graduation.
The night before my friend’s abortion, she couldn’t sleep because of the discomfort, but also because of the excitement. She was sick of the sensations of pregnancy, nausea and sleeplessness being the worst two. She had decidedly made up her mind that pregnancies were not fun; and still remains reluctant to consider doing the whole thing again, for real this time. But she was also sick of thinking about the whole thing, about the possibilities that crawled through her mind about what would happen should she not get the procedure. She stayed up all night and was awake to switch off her alarm. She was just excited to get the thing out of her.
On the day of, she excused herself from her mother’s house with the story of an early brunch picnic in the park. It was June in New York City, sweltering, which didn’t help her symptoms. Our mutual friend would meet her in Manhattan after picking up celebratory, post-abortion weed from a dealer. I don’t remember where I was that morning, but I probably had a good excuse. I think I told her I could skip whatever it was, but she said don’t bother; it was just her abortion.
She was nine weeks pregnant, not showing at all. If she had been, she could’ve blamed it on stress weight and explained it away to her parents, but was lucky it hadn’t come to that. For the past two weeks, she had become obsessed with checking websites to find out about the growth of the alien being inside of her. She wasn’t religious, or sciencey, or even that sentimental, but she did possess a morbid curiosity. Nine weeks. That, she told me, was when the fingers become distinct. It seemed early, but I didn’t want to question her, or even check that kind of thing online. Fingers. Fingers are so central to our lives. The thing inside of her, the thing that was growing inside of her like some kind of alien; that thing had fingers, too, but that didn’t matter.
“I kind of wish I knew what a kid of mine would look like,” she told me. But of course this was foolish, and of course she didn’t really want to know what her child would look like.
They sent her back into the waiting room after the initial checkup, where she waited for our other friend. She whipped out her phone and put in headphones, determined to find the perfect abortion song. She ended up choosing Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” an interesting choice that she found to be “sufficiently upbeat, yet a bit somber.” As she listened to the hit song of the summer, she wondered if this was the last time she would see daylight. If something was about to go horribly, horribly wrong. She couldn’t go to the hospital if it did; she didn’t have insurance, and would probably have rather died than have her mother find out. I wondered what I would’ve done in her situation. When I was a teenager, my father, a pediatrician, told me calmly that if I ever got pregnant I should have the baby and give it to my parents to raise. I thought about this as my friend was telling me the story of her abortion. What I would’ve done, because I had the family support, financial and otherwise, that she didn’t have. Would I have kept the baby? Of course I wouldn’t have kept the baby. Of course I would’ve done exactly this. It was hardly a choice.
Our other friend showed up in the waiting room. She usually wears all black, but today she had for some reason donned a colorful summer dress, and they laughed about that for a while. Their mood was cheerful; they sat and told jokes like they always did. My friend filled out some additional forms and waited for them to call her name. The waiting room was full of young to younger middle-aged women, some accompanied by men (were these the responsible ones? The would-be fathers?), some looking worried and alone. One Indian couple seemed to be having an argument; the woman kept on shaking her head, a firm no. My friend was one of the youngest there. She had one earphone in and the other was in our friend’s ear, and the two of them sat there, chatting, laughing, listening to Foster the People on loop. And then she went into the operating room. And then it was done.
My friend started laughing hysterically again. “But all I can think about is the waiting room: they were playing these terrible Tyler Perry movies!” she told me, clutching her stomach again, her eyes tearing. “Huge, loud-ass families: makes you want to put a lot more thought into family planning!”
Tyler Perry was perhaps a good choice of movies on the part of the abortion clinic.
* * *
You may view my friend’s experience with pregnanacy, and her attitude towards abortion, as flippant: too light-hearted for such a “serious matter.” The entire idea of having a kind of practice pregnancy; the fact that she then went to the park afterwards and promptly forgot about the whole thing. The fact that she hasn’t told her current boyfriend about her abortion, nor did she tell the boy who was the father that she had been pregnant. The fact that she could’ve taken twenty seconds to grab a condom, and is now using abortion as a kind of backup plan. All of these things lend themselves to an almost easy perception of my friend as callous, or irreverent. You may role your eyes at the situation in the first place: a Latina girl, 22 years old, from a working class home in Brooklyn. How typical. You may do these things, but I hope you don’t.
There’s nothing really political about my friend’s story. It’s a story about a girl who made a mistake, and instead of letting it ruin her entire life, she did the responsible thing and dealt with her mistake. This was her decision. Just like it was her fetus, and like it was her choice to deal with it, in whatever way she chose. She could’ve become a young, single mother with a child to raise, and the stigma of being just another statistic. Or she could use her Ivy League degree to rock a job in the corporate world, achieve financial and professional success, and remain unburdened by a child she was just not ready for. So she chose the latter. Obviously. Sometimes she forgets that it ever even happened. It wasn’t a hard choice for her. It was her decision, but it was hardly a decision. It was just what needed to be done and, thankfully, she was able to do it.
People make it political, though. And religious. Never a good combination, those two. People try to define what constitutes a “just” abortion, what makes an abortion “right,” which situations are “appropriate” for an abortion. It doesn’t have to be like this. No one has the right to tell my friend she should’ve cried instead of laughed; chosen Mozart’s Requiem, some “Lacrimosa,” instead of “Pumped Up Kicks.” To tell her that this decision was supposed to be one of the hardest decisions of her life. It’s her life, and it’s her choice what to do, and how to feel. Her attitude isn’t flippant, or sacrilegious; but rather, her attitude about her life. It just wasn’t a thing of gravity for her. And it needn’t be. We try to assign value to situations, to circumstances, and she assigned an amount of value to hers.
It happened during Beach Week; some people’s bodies got sunburnt, and hers got pregnant. They chose to apply aloe, and she chose to get an abortion. No, you’re right, these things are not comparable. Or are they? It’s not your call. It’s not your place. It’s not your body.
We all make mistakes, and we all have to deal with them the best we can.
Some people find something unholy about getting rid of a non-sentient collection of cells, particularly one that is developing fingers. But there is perhaps something more unholy about throwing away enormous potential when you simply don’t have to; or casting stones at those who choose not to. My friend had a choice to make, and she chose life. Her life. Which isn’t selfish, or anything like that, but rather, her choice.