I got an abortion, and I know it was the right choice for me

This is a story sent to HelloGiggles anonymously from one of our readers.

I’ve told one friend, no one else. Not my parents, not my best friends, not his family. At 23, with a man I’d loved for a year, I made the most personal decision of my life. I have no regrets, but in quiet moments I find myself wondering why it happened and what life would be like if I’d chosen the other option. The option thousands of women make — women of all walks of life, women with more and less financial stability than I have, women with more and less opportunity. Who knows why they made that decision, or why other women chose to get abortions. I only know why I made the decision I did. And knowing you made the right one for you doesn’t mean you ever forget there was another option.

Waiting in the doctor’s office, I knew she’d say the pregnancy test was positive. I felt my body changing days before I went in— my breasts had never been more tender, my emotions were heightened, and I could feel a power in my body that felt new. She came into the exam room, told me the news, and handed me a piece of paper that read, “positive fetus vitality.” I completely swelled to the brim with joy and pride. My body can do that? He and I can do that? I have never felt anything else like it.

In the car, driving home to him, my rational brain was on overload. What would I say to him? Would I tell him at all? How could I not? He had told me once, over a late-night hypothetical game of what-ifs, that he would want us to give a child up for adoption before considering an abortion. I remember it clearly, because I told him I could never give up my baby. It would never happen. If I carried a baby through birth, that baby would be with me forever.

The moment I saw his face, I knew I had to tell him immediately. The words were frozen in my throat, so I sat down on the couch and handed him the paper. He read it. Then, he looked up at me with — I’ll never forget it — the most undeniable, untethered expression of happiness. He gave me a big hug and told me how much he loved me. He said it was beautiful. He said we could get married that summer, and that this baby would get more love than any baby in the world. We spent the next few weeks imagining that version of the future and connecting.

The more we did, the more I felt a soft pull on my heart telling me this path wasn’t right for me. For us. Not yet. Not at 23, with so much more we both wanted to do. I have always believed in a woman’s right to choose when she starts a family, and this experience reinforced to me how wholly that choice belongs to me, alone. And yet, even in my liberal California community, I felt it was a choice best kept quiet. For that, to this day, I am ashamed.

Once I was honest with him about how I felt, the decision was made. I would have an abortion. We drove over an hour to an underwhelming, unmarked, beige building with shaded windows. It was in a commercial park, next to a 24/7 donut shop. No one needs to tell you there are people in this world who will pass judgment for this particular choice; you feel it in the way the building apologizes for existing, seeking to blend in, to go unnoticed. It may be for protection and privacy, but it’s just another reminder that this choice is supposed to go “under the radar.” The building looks the way it does so those who need to utilize it don’t offend people who do not approve. I hated that pathetic-looking building.

He waited alongside mothers and sisters in the waiting room, unable to go back with me. I changed into a paper robe and was led by a sweet older nurse into a small, beige waiting room. More beige. With an IV in my arm, I sat next to two other women — both young mothers who told me they couldn’t support another unplanned child. We watched HGTV and made small talk. It was nice to expand the very tiny circle of people who knew about my choice.

The procedure felt like it lasted less than a minute, and all I remember is a kind doctor, bright lights, an uncomfortable table, and my cold feet. I tried to take a moment and pay tribute to its significance, but my mind wouldn’t slow down. When it was over, a nurse led me, heavily anesthetized, to a bed to rest.

I woke up hyperventilating. Questions of what I was feeling, and what I should be feeling, raced through my head. Am I ok? Am I relieved? Should I feel ashamed? Even in this completely isolating, personal experience, the opinions of others weighed on me. I felt vulnerable, and I couldn’t catch my breath. The nurse came over, placed her hand on my shoulder, and spoke calmly in my ear. “You’re okay. You’ll be okay.”

I asked for my boyfriend, but he still wasn’t allowed in. I just had to sleep and wait for the anesthesia to wear off so I could walk to the lobby. I felt so alone, and the crushing thought that I couldn’t call my mom (we weren’t sure we would ever tell our families) pierced my heart. Eventually, the nurse gave me a lollipop and led me to the waiting room. He stood up, looking at me as if I were a fragile glass vase that could shatter with the wrong touch.

We walked back to the car. He handed me a dozen donuts from the corner shop and a card with a monkey holding his arms around a globe that read, “I love you this much.” In the card, he wrote that he wished more than anything he could help me through this, but wasn’t sure how. I just smiled. He’ll never know how simply having him next to me through all this was more than enough. He didn’t need to say a single word. I thought about all the women go through this alone, and how unfair that is.

Snacking on donuts, we drove a few hours more to a small hotel along the Monterey Bay, where we stayed in isolation for a few nights. We spent most of the weekend resting in bed, next to a calm fire in the fireplace, with the window opened out to the sea breeze. We were nurturing a love that will, one day, build the family I’ve always dreamed of.