Give Her The Option

I first got my period on my eleventh birthday, in the bathroom of the movie theatre where my mom had taken me and some friends to see the opening night premiere of 8 Mile. You know the movie—Eminem, rap battles, *swoon* (11 year old me).

When my snow white undies screamed at me with bright red brilliance, I thought that perhaps I had hurt myself somehow. Maybe my jeans were too tight? I knew what a period was but I was eleven. “Does this happen to eleven-year-olds?” I thought to myself.

A few months later, over at a girlfriend’s house, the red screamed louder—it wasn’t just a spot this time. It was squishy and warm and gave me goose pimples and made me feel gross. It made me feel like I was wearing swamppanties.

I told my friend Jessica and Jessica told her mom and her mom called my mom and oh, how our moms laughed and laughed. Jessica and I just looked at each other, listening in on the enjoyment they were gaining from my embarrassment from the other room. Not knowing how to feel about everything, I think she said, “So I guess you’re a woman now?” Then her mom washed my underwear for me.

Not long after this had become a regular part of my life, my interest in my sexuality piqued dramatically. I started getting boyfriends. I started kissing boys. I started touching boys and letting boys touch me. I was just so interested in all of it. What is this? Why does it give me butterflies in my stomach? Why don’t adults talk about it? I was determined to answer all of these questions.

When I was twelve I started dating Steve. Steve asked me out in the hallway after a middle school dance while we waited for our parents to pick us up. Actually, he had his friend Adam ask me for him. Or rather, did he ask me? I’m really not sure what it was; it went something like this, “Hey Gabi!” Adam yelled from three classrooms away, “Steve wants you to be his girlfriend!” To which I coyishly responded after a little bit of prodding, “Yeah, sure, I guess so.” That was the first time I felt what it was like to be desired. I was excited to be desired. At the hardly ripened age of twelve, I was excited to be desired.

Middle school wasn’t an easy time for me. I wasn’t a cool kid and I wasn’t a rich kid and more than anything else, I didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of parental supervision. After-school hours were spent riding bikes miles and miles from one friend’s house to another or playing basketball in the street. I started smoking cigarettes and weed and sharing pills from parents’ medicine cabinets.

After Steve and I had  been dating for a number of months, a warm summer night came when Steve and Adam rode their bikes five miles out to my house in the country in the middle of the night. I was thirteen now and Steve was fourteen. I heard the tap of a thrown stone on my window, and I climbed down from my second story bedroom on the ladder I had propped up earlier that day. Whilst Adam busied himself putting around the property, Steve and I climbed the ladder to the tree house my father had built for my brother and I in the woods behind our house. Outside the windows of the tree house, fireflies lighted and insects chirped and hissed. And it was that night, in that tree house, on the rough, dusty, dark green carpet that innocence was lost.

Steve started riding his bike out to my house a lot of nights after that. But soon, we’d lose that house to foreclosure and moved to a duplex in the village—which just happened to be where Steve, now fifteen, had a job washing dishes at a tavern. Living in the village instead of out in the country allowed for me to find trouble much more effectively. When my mom found out I was having sex while snooping through a journal of mine, she called me a whore. I started running away and skipping school. A year after we started spending dusty nights on the treehouse carpet, Steve again rode his bike to my house. With a bag from the drug store. With a pregnancy test in it.

I began to think that I might be pregnant when cigarettes started to make me nauseous. I knew what morning sickness was. When I told Steve, we were both scared. I can’t remember if I told anyone else at that time. He and Adam arrived in the middle of the night and I snuck down to see him in the back of the house. He gave me the test and I went in to the bathroom and read the directions. I peed in a dixie cup and stuck the test in it. I felt terror rush through every inch of my body as I watched the bold, pink cross develop. There wasn’t even room for doubt. I was thirteen and I was pregnant.

I brought the test out to Steve and showed him the packaging which indicated that, yes, the cross did mean pregnant. He smashed the test against the pavement and I watched as it shattered into pieces. He paced and I shook with fear until he came over to hold me and we cried together. I wasn’t afraid of Steve. I was just afraid of the unknown, of whatever was to come next. And I think that he was too. Then they left to go home and I went back upstairs to try to sleep.

Steve was much closer with his mom than I was with mine and at this point in my life, my dad wasn’t around. Steve told his mom what was going on in a matter of days. I don’t even remember seeing my mom during that period. She’d always been very absent. Then I got a phone call and I can’t remember if it was from Steve or his mom, but the message was clear; His mom told my mom that I was pregnant and she was sending me to my sister’s to have her deal with it, to deal with me. I packed a bag and set it next to the front door. I waited for my mom to get home of work, or wherever she was.

When she did get home, she was surprisingly in a good mood. She asked me how I was doing, I shot back at her with attitude, waiting for her to throw whatever she had in store for me my direction. When my attitude became a bit too hot to handle, she asked me what was going on. Which was when I shouted, “I know that you’re sending me to go live with Sissy, just say it already!” To which she responded, with genuine befuddlement, “Why would I do that?” I yelled, “Because I’m pregnant!

I watched as every drop of blood drained from her face. She didn’t know. Steve’s mom had lied to me in effort to get me to tell my mom, and tell her, I had.

I grabbed the bag I had packed by the door and before my mother could finish screaming the word “WHAT?!” at me I was already down the street and around the corner, a cloud of dust in my wake. I ran.

And when I say I ran, I didn’t just run away for a few hours or for a few days. I ran. I ran away. It was something I had started to get really good at in my youth. I started bouncing around, staying with friends, a few days here, a few days there. I didn’t know what to do so I just avoided it all. I tried not to think about it. I made no plans. I just kept moving.

Morning sickness turned into afternoon sickness, which turned into night sickness, which turned into I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I hate everything and throw up all the time sickness. I was reaching a breaking point. I returned back to my mom’s house when she wasn’t home to take a shower and grab some clean clothes. The friend whom I was currently staying with waited for me on the steps of the church at the corner. My mother returned home while I was in the shower. When I went to repack my bag in my room, she knocked gently on the door. “I would like for you to take a drive with me,” she expressed to me with no visible animosity. I figured maybe she would have figured out some way to help me. Later, I would find out that she had.

I accepted her offer and got in the car. We drove right past my friend on the church steps, she watched in disbelief, I mouthed to her that I would be right back. But I didn’t come back. My mother drove me straight to my aunt’s house an hour away and just dropped me off—she didn’t talk to me at all.

My Aunt Sheryl welcomed me with open arms as my mother peeled away—I was happy to be away from her and I knew she was glad to be rid of me. I was scared and I didn't know what was next, but I felt safe at my aunt’s house. My Aunt Sheryl is a raspy-voiced, lifelong Virginia Slim smoker, but she has a kind smile and understanding eyes. She let me get comfortable for a day and then she asked me if I wanted to talk about it. I told her everything. After a few moments pause and as I sat crying, she began to tell me her whole life story. About getting an IUD that didn’t work properly and caused her to have miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage instead of preventing pregnancy like it was supposed to. She told me about playing pool against a drunken Tom Cruise at a biker bar in Syracuse, NY. “He’s from here, you know?” She still lived nearby. She told me how Tom kept saying, “you really don’t know who I am?” It was the 80’s and he was really starting to make a name for himself at that time. Which doesn’t quite explain why he was back in his hometown, drunk and alone at a biker bar—I’m pretty sure she said it was during the day as well. And then she told me about the time she was gang-raped in a bar parking lot because she’d drank too much and decided to sleep in her car for the night.

And then she told me about another time that she was raped and the abortion that would follow.

I didn’t see any reason for me to be crying anymore.

My Aunt Sheryl is such a wonderful and strong woman, strong because she’s needed to be.  She shared her stories with me to let me know that I was strong too, that I could handle this. And it was then that I knew, I was going to be okay.

My aunt arranged all the paperwork and took me to all the doctors’ appointments. I was eleven weeks along at this point. It had been just over a week since I’d arrived at my aunt’s when the day came that would literally decide the trajectory of my life from then on. Steve rode with us to the clinic and held my hair as I vomited into a tupperware container in the back seat.

I remember that I wore a white t-shirt that day that said “I <3 Shoes”—the heart in red, sparkly glitter—and a long, multicolored green, flowy hippy skirt that was my mother’s. I didn’t know if I’d want to wear booty shorts afterward and that was really all that I had otherwise.

Steve wasn’t allowed in the clinic. One guest per patient. He paced the parking lot while I looked at other women in the waiting room. I was by far the youngest person there. Some sat with a friend or family member. Others sat by themselves. I remember that no one seemed to be as scared as me.

When I emerged from the clinic, disoriented and fuzzy from the meds, the sun was shining and Steve was there and he gave me a hug and some cheap jewelry he bought at a store down the plaza. What else does one do to occupy the time while their thirteen-year-old girlfriend is having an abortion?

I felt relief.

Flashforward a decade.

I’m twenty-two.

I’d been rung through the state system at this point. Spent the rest of my teen years in residential centers, group homes, and foster care. The state system gave me access to therapy and life-skills coaching, I excelled in school, I became an honors student, I joined the marching band, and played softball. My junior year at my new school, I was crowned homecoming princess. I’d been given a chance to start over. I graduated high school and moved to Buffalo for college.

I’d tried numerous forms of oral birth-control in my life at this point. Every single one of them flipped my hormones around to the point I was miserable—gaining unwanted weight, crying at absurd times, and eventually it led to me not having sex at all—which, if you know me, makes me even more miserable. Many women take oral-contraceptive for a variety of reason. It makes their period more tolerable (mine is only three days with minimal cramping) or because it lessens their acne (I don’t have acne). The only reason I had to take birth control was to stop me from getting pregnant. Honestly not enough cons to level out the pros.

I wasn’t super interested in an IUD for various reasons: I wasn't interested in anything with hormones because of how sensitive I’d proven to be to them in the past. Regarding the copper non-hormonal IUD, I’d heard absolute horror stories from other women, bleeding for months straight and unbelievable pain. There was also the report of being able to feel it during sex. All things considered, I just wasn’t really interested in trying it. And let’s not forget, my aunt’s telling of her experience with her IUD.

Other than that, there’s the shot. There’s no undoing the shot. I had a girlfriend when we were teenagers that got the shot and gained sixty pounds. And I’m twenty-two at this point, I’m not risking sixty pounds. Not to mention, numerous cases of unwanted pregnancies while on it.

I settled on condoms. Which was great anyway, because I was young and wild and free and needed to protect myself against STDs as much as I needed to protect myself against invading sperm. Kill two birds, use one condom, fine.

This was fine until I got into a more serious relationship and we eventually stopped using condoms. Instead we started utilizing the pull-out method. Which we all know can be rather ineffective...especially when he got lazy with the pulling out.

This time when I missed my period, I knew exactly how it happened. I remembered the specific instance that it happened. I told him I thought I might be pregnant and he said, “I think you are too.” I bought a pregnancy test the next morning and as I waited in the bathroom for the results, he rambled on about work in the kitchen. I watched as the little cross appeared and felt no surprise.

I took a deep breath as I turned the bathroom knob, I stood in the doorway and he tried not to look at me. Maybe if he just kept going on talking about work, I wouldn’t be pregnant. But alas I was, I had to yell to him to get him to stop talking, “I’m pregnant!” He paused and looked at me. “I know.” He crossed the room and held me while I broke down.

After a few moments, I pulled myself away from him, wiped the tears off my face, took another deep breath, and walked into the living room to sit down at my computer.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Looking up abortion clinics,” I replied. I watched relief wash over his entire being. He rushed across the room and embraced me tighter than before. “Oh, thank god.

He had a startup company he was trying to get off the ground. I was in college and had just discovered my love for travelling. We were not about to have a baby.

I found a wonderful women’s center quickly, within a few miles from my apartment. I made an initial appointment on the phone right then. I went in two days later for a test and ultrasound and scheduled my follow-up appointment for the following week. This time I wasn’t scared. I knew I was going to be okay.

I opted for a partial anesthesia which means that you are sedated but awake and aware of what is going on. A nurse in light pink scrubs with kind eyes and an aura of understanding held my hand during the procedure. I could tell she’d helped many women go through this before. I wept. I wept the entire time... Not because I was having an abortion but because I was able to have an abortion. I thanked the doctor repeatedly, I thanked all of the nurses and then I thanked everyone again. I cried and I smiled and I felt grateful. I was going to be able to move forward with the life I had been working toward, the life that I wanted, the one that didn’t involve me dropping everything to be pregnant, give birth, and raise or have to give away a child that I never asked for and did not want.

Flashforward to today.

I’m twenty-seven now. I look back on the last five years and I think about how all of that wouldn’t have been possible if I had never had the option. A thirteen-year-old cannot raise a child—there is no question about this. A thirteen-year-old should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term if they don’t want to. A twenty-two-year-old should be able to pursue their dreams. I’d worked the past ten years to get my life to a place that it was manageable and I wasn't being abused anymore. Should a single night or passion tear down everything that I had worked so hard and so long for? Only to thrust me into a life of caretaking—I could still barely take care of myself.

I graduated college. I have been and will continue to travel the world. I’ve started my own business. I have loved and been loved by so so many wonderful humans all around the globe. And more than anything else, today, I am happy.

I largely owe my happiness today to being given the option. You have to give all women the option to choose their future.