When I was an undergraduate, I did a year of special studies at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. I am adopted, and I had a vague sense and a huge fantasy that my birthmother's roots were in Jamaica. I went in search of that identity, and also to escape the elite, lilly white world of my college and upbringing.
In Jamaica I felt a deeper twist on this estrangement (I had become "white" and more elite) and I lost myself in my studies, and in sex. I was eleven weeks pregnant before I realized what was happening. I visited a friend at Spelman College in Atlanta over the Christmas holidays and she took one look at me and shook me out of my denial.
I returned to Jamaica and discovered that abortions were illegal without the consent of a husband and a doctor who could prove that birth control had failed. I sought help from a professor-- a respected feminist. With a lot of subterfuge (back door meetings and packing a change of clothes in the same colors) and US$300 (an extraordinary sum in Jamaica in 1986) I was scheduled for a D&C at a Kingston hospital. I told my mother that I was pregnant and she thought coming home would be unnecessarily disruptive to my life and studies. I wanted her to insist that I come home. She wired me the money, and I folded back into my isolation.
I had the procedure and I remember very little about it: the sound of chickens and goats and city traffic in the recovery room, the nurse who thought my professor (a Ph.D.) was a medical doctor, the pain that night as I tried to pass a huge blood clot and thought I would die in my professor's house because she had gone out as I slept and the doctor had cautioned us not to call him, but to return to another hospital.
Ten years later, I found my birthmother and she was not Jamaican, but Jewish, living in Boston. That same year she had bought land and built a house on the north coast of Jamaica, and was pregnant with a child-- my half sister who she had given the same name. It's a strange twist of fate, an underscoring of my melancholy. Funny how easily you can pull it back up.
Still, the abortion I do not regret. I was so confused and young and in so much pain, with so little support. I would not have been a good mother. A friend once said, "sometimes it's better to have a child on your soul than on your lap."