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I had an abortion 11 years ago, one week before I turned 23. I had been dating a guy, "D", for nearly a year -- a very nice, smart guy -- whom I loved dearly as a friend, but with whom I did not have any intentions of being long-term. When I look back at that time in my life, I see a very young and self-absorbed girl who had just stepped out on her own very excitedly and was sure she had life figured out. The reality is that I was very unsure of myself as a person. I had a lot of friends, most of them male, and enjoyed that attention. I partied often, had lots of left-leaning political opinions, was an atheist and thought that motherhood was probably the worst and most stifling thing that could happen to someone. It was taking me a long time to get through college. I had been having sex with more than one guy and was taking precautions (condoms) only some of the time. My reckless behavior during those years amazes me now -- I don't even recognize that person anymore.

I recall eating lobster with D in a fancy restaurant one night, then running into the bathroom to puke it up. I remember thinking the lobster must have been too rich. A good number of weeks went by before I even noticed I had missed at least one period -- I was too busy getting stoned all day long to pay attention. A chain cigarette smoker, I had begun to notice that I couldn't tolerate the taste of cigarettes. I took a home pregnancy test and it was positive. D and I went to Planned Parenthood to confirm it -- I didn't dare to go my regular GP, as he had been our family doctor since I was 14 and I was ashamed. Strangely enough, the lady came into the room and said "congratulations"; then she noticed the looks on our faces and said, "I guess not, then." She pressed on my abdomen and guessed how far along I was; I don't remember exactly that number now, but it was somewhere at the six or seven week mark.

Driving back from the appointment, I don't remember discussing anything with D, but I do know I already had my mind made up. A baby simply did not fit into my plans, or my lifestyle at the time. I think he told me he agreed, since neither of us was finished with school -- although years later he would tell me, "I would have had that baby with you," which occasionally haunts me. I researched the basics of the procedure online, then made the appointment at PP for about a week later. I made D swear never to tell a soul -- I had decided I would take this to the grave with me. I did not even tell my best friend since childhood, and I definitely didn't tell my parents. I didn't want anyone to change my mind. I am very close with my parents and despite having relatively liberal-leaning politics, I knew them to be against abortion -- my mom had had me at 19 years old under less than ideal circumstances. I often heard them say, "What if we had decided not to keep YOU?" I think knowing that I have let my parents down -- even though they don't know it -- has been one of the hardest things about the decision I've had to contend with. The truth is, I would have had ample resources to care for a child -- I would have had lots of support, and I had a good job, too. My only reason for getting the abortion really boils down to the fact that I did not want to be inconvenienced at that time in my life or interrupt the lifestyle I was leading. That is very hard for me to admit.

Certain things stand out when I think of that day. Walking in, a man holding a picture of a mutilated fetus screamed at me, "Don't kill your baby!" In the waiting room, I looked up and saw a huge banner that read "You are the face of a pro-choice America," or something to that effect. I wasn't so sure I wanted to be one of those faces, yet there I was. I was shocked at the number of women in the waiting room and became even more acutely aware of how common this procedure when I actually recognized a girl I had went to high school with in the waiting room. I remember feeling kind of sick about that. Her mother was with her, and I absolutely freaked out because she had been active in the local schools alongside my mother, and we lived in a small town. (After the procedure, I was terrified for weeks that word would get out and back to my parents that they had seen me there. It was awful.)

Finally it was my turn. They did an ultrasound to confirm how far along I was -- I don't remember if I looked at the screen or not. I was pretty numb to the whole experience, and just wanted it to end. The only other things I remember after that was getting an extra shot of Valium because my heart was racing so fast, and crying on my boyfriend's shoulder in the elevator afterward. I don't remember the procedure as being overtly uncomfortable, nor do I recall any vacuum sounds or anything like that. I do know it was over quickly. One week later, I celebrated my 23rd birthday at a bar where I received a carton of cigarettes as a gift from my friends. Life went on as usual and I have to honestly say that I rarely looked back, nor did I regret my decision for a good 10 years.

At 29, I got pregnant again. Although the circumstances this were still less than ideal, I at least wasn't a chain-smoking pothead this time around and in fact, I was quite a different person, spiritually and emotionally. I had just landed the job of my dreams and had moved to a new city and was only very casually dating the man who got me pregnant; consequently, I have to admit that I was ambivalent about the pregnancy in general. But, I knew I could care for a baby, and I felt that, being almost 30, I had to take responsibility this time around. Ultimately, I decided I did not want a second abortion on my hands. I also wasn't sure if it might be my last chance to have a baby, as I was no longer opposed to having a child. I told many people about this pregnancy and was surprised that so many people encouraged me to have an abortion, including members of my own family. My daughter was born and she was precious. Her father wanted to be a part of her life and insisted that we try to make our relationship work; now, we have been happily married for 3 years and also have a second child. I can't imagine my life now without my kids and husband have been surprised to discover a part of myself that is so nurturing.

I experienced a few pangs of regret over the abortion for the very first time shortly after my first child turned two; I was sitting in a park on my lunch break and saw a toddler who looked just like my daughter. Suddenly my thought shifted to the abortion and I wondered whether that child would have been a boy or a girl and what it would have looked like as a toddler; the next thing I knew, I was crying. The moment passed and I was fine again.

Then, a few months after my second child was born, I began to think even more about that first pregnancy. I gradually became very distressed about not having given that life a chance, when these two kids were so precious to me. I started to obsess and thought maybe I was suffering from postpartum depression. But, a lot of time has passed now and I know now that's not the case. I feel a lot of anguish. I don't believe in the "post-traumatic stress" syndromes, but I do believe that there are many women who are in my same position, especially after reading these stories. I may have personally come to have some regret over my decision, but I know that not every woman does and I respect that. I just know that I, personally, had resources available to me -- and I wonder about who that person would have been, and I do feel guilty about not giving that person a chance to experience this world, breathe this air, and enjoy all of the things about living that I do. I try to tell myself that people evolve, that I would not make the same choice today (and I didn't)-- but that does little to console me in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, I feel a blemish on my soul, and have been wounded spiritually from my decision -- even as I cherish the kids I have now and know they wouldn't be here today if I had chosen otherwise.

I am not into organized religion and don't feel the need to torture myself any further than I already have, so I feel rather alienated in my quest for support. I know that the only thing I can do is try to forgive myself and care for my existing children as best I can -- I am often reminded of the Lucille Clifton's "Lost Baby Poem": "If I am ever less than a mountain for your definite brothers and sisters.... Let the sea take me for a spiller..."