The Choices We Carry

A3_CartoonIt has been eight months and 15 days since it happened and I still cannot say the word out loud.

Even typing it out feels strange. Not because it is painful or difficult, but because I do not identify with it. To say “I had an abortion” would feel inaccurate because that word has been sanitized and repurposed to refer to a topic of discussion, not an action or a reality. For me, that word comes with a whole litany of images and connotations that simply do not apply to me when I think about my experience.

That term feels political and what happened to me was not — and, yes, I use that wording deliberately. Both to myself, to the small number of people I have told and now, to you.

What happened to me.

I say “what happened to me” and not “what I did” because, to my own surprise, this entire process felt and still feels like a medical decision. Not an emotional or moral dilemma.

As an enthusiastic Georgetown student, I write this for publication now so that more Georgetown students may be aware of the immediate relevancy of this situation for at least one, but likely many, of their peers. With the email recently sent out by the university about the event on “throwaway culture,” the impending lecture from Cecile Richards, the upcoming Philodemic Society debate entitled “Resolved: Pro-Choice is Pro-Women” and the many other topical and pertinent events surrounding this issue on this campus right now, I thought it was relevant to bring a level of immediacy to this topic for us as Hoyas.

For me, this was the only road I was ever going to take if I got pregnant at this age and in this phase in my life. When I, like most women of college age, thought about what I would do in this situation before it actually happened, the idea felt very possible yet highly hypothetical and distant.

And so, when I found myself sitting on my bathroom floor staring at three plastic sticks that were all screaming the same thing at me with their sober little plus sign faces, it surprisingly felt nothing like I had expected it would. I kept waiting for the emotional wave to crash down on me, for my hands to clench over my stomach and for my mind to be thrown into immediate turmoil. And while there were definite surges of confusing feelings and some tears that fell to the dingy tile, I never hesitated for a second to follow the path I knew would let me keep my body and my life as my own for the foreseeable future.

I absolutely respect the values of those who would choose a different path, because I fundamentally believe there are many valid ways to approach this situation. I also fundamentally believe that even if understanding those choices may be difficult or differ from your own, compassion is key.

When I had to make the call, it was not a decision about politics or internal struggle. It was a medical decision and, for me, the only solution.

In my case, I just found myself on the wrong side of the odds. The two of us did everything we were supposed to do as two consenting and educated adults in that situation: We did not forget to use protection and it did not break. This was not a random stranger I could not fully trust to be safe with me, but rather a good friend I had a history with and still spend time with to this day.

I must also make it clear that this is the only facet of this experience in which I will use the term “we.” He and I were not, are not and never have been in a relationship; I never told him, and I never will. This is not because I thought he would try to tell me what to do with my body or because he had values that conflicted with the choice I knew I would make or because I did not think he had a right to know, but rather because I did not believe he played a part in this story.

That may sound ridiculous to some, since he obviously played a biological role. But this was not something he did to me, it was just something that happened. The knowledge of this would have weighed on him, and I do not think he should have to carry that with him. Even if I could convince him that I have come to terms with what happened and do not regret my decision, it would not help wipe this from his conscience.

This is how I feel about this particular person in this particular situation, and while I acknowledge that it might be different if you switched the players and the game, this entire chapter of my life felt like an independent endeavor. It was all an “I,” not a “we.”

I just happened to come face to face with “guarantee’s” spiteful and ugly cousin, “effective 98 percent of the time.”

Another week and a symphony of deep, calming breaths after that, I was alone in the lobby of the Falls Church, Va. Planned Parenthood with my eyes glazed over in the general direction of some vapid morning show on the waiting room television. They called me in. I answered their questions with an overly breezy voice that I used to poorly mask my nerves. I was told what I already knew and politely denied the technician’s half-hearted offer to show me the sonogram photo. I went home and weighed the options that had been matter-of-factly and helpfully laid out for me at the clinic — I could not access the Planned Parenthood website after protests, which began that week, had shut it down.

I had decided to opt for vacuum aspiration as opposed to the termination pill because I wanted to keep this compartmentalized. I wanted the physical portion of this to be something that began and ended in that clinic as a medical procedure, not something I had to bring home with me into my sanctuary of a room. I did not want memories of this chapter of my life associated with that particular space.

One week after that initial visit, I sat shivering in the recovery room on that overly warm Friday in July after having, according to the kind woman who held my hand during the entire process, “as perfect and smooth of a procedure as it could have been.” I drank a cup of juice, got a prescription for extra-strength ibuprofen, exited to the waiting room where my best friend was waiting for me and went home carrying more with me than I had entered with.

I left carrying a weight in the back of my brain that often makes me wonder if I could possibly be the only one here at Georgetown who has gone through this. The only one who has gone through what we, as sexually active women, always know is a possibility but never genuinely think will happen to us as young, full-of-life, safe and swaddled Georgetown students.

Now I understand that I cannot possibly be alone. I wonder how many others avert their eyes from the stickers in the stall of every women’s bathroom that are meant to be a resource, but that scream “Pregnant?” in what now feel like accusatory bold letters. The stickers that have faded around the edges, been written on by some bored bathroom-goers and that still cause a bristle in the base of my diaphragm and down my spine every time I see them, though I did not give them a second glance before that July.

While I was not raised in a religious household and do not hold strong personal spiritual ideologies, Georgetown’s Jesuit identity has touched me deeply during my time here. When I sat through “Pluralism in Action” my freshman year, I reveled in the inclusion and validation of a variety of stories. I believed that I had found a place that would serve as a home for those who came from a range of experiences and that this place would deeply invest in those stories to inform the whole self and community.

While I still hold that thought, there are moments when I cannot help but harbor resentment and sadness at the hypocrisy. When the Office of the President sent an email advertising for an event, called “Resisting the ‘Throwaway Culture,’” on April 5 calling for an end to violence and citing “the destruction of unborn children,” I recoiled. When I sat down to write this and realized it had been eight months and 15 days since a six-week pregnancy was terminated and what that timeline means for me now, I sat there looking at my calendar unable to comprehend how different my life could have been.

This happened to me as an enthusiastic Georgetown student who has been chugging along diligently on the four-year plan my freshman dean set up. I sit next to you in sociology class or accidentally bump into you in the Lauinger Library stairwell because I am checking my GroupMe notifications. I get coffee in the morning from Uncommon Grounds. I sit on Healy Beach when it is warm. I suffer in the pasta line at O’Donovan Hall.

I am no victim. I had the immense luxury of approaching this situation from a place of privilege: I was able to take two days off work without worrying about the financial hit I would take from lost wages. I have personal ideologies strong enough that I never had to fight an internal battle about my choice. I received a subsidy from Planned Parenthood to offset the cost of the procedure and was able to pay for the rest myself. I had a support system ready to talk about it when I emotionally registered what it meant for me personally. I recovered both physically and mentally and jumped right back into my bustling everyday life. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have only personally told a small handful of people, I believe that more of our community should be aware of my experience so it may inform theirs. While we embark on the famed “Georgetown dialogue” this week, we must remember that the things we debate and examine about are not just bullet points to be discussed, but realities for our peers. We are a community of storytellers, but not often a community of listeners.

I offer my experience to the Georgetown community in the hopes that it can inspire an informed discussion, but even more importantly, a two-way conversation that is compassionate and aware of the fact that my reality is, in fact, a reality for others here, too.

The author is a senior in the College. Because of the sensitive nature of this piece, the author’s name has been withheld.

As with all articles published on thehoya.com, comments will be moderated so that they are in compliance with the terms of our comments policy, which can be found here.

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25 Comments

  1. I wonder if the Hoya would publish a piece from someone who got pregnant and decided to keep their baby. Btw, the fact that you remember exactly how many days it’s been since your “experience” tells me that it wasn’t just a “medical procedure” for you. Do you remember how many days since your last physical?

  2. Do you regret your decision to have sex? Did you make a mistake?

  3. Dear Friend,

    Thank you for sharing your story with the Georgetown community. I am glad that you have not, at this point, felt the intense pain that many women feel after their abortions. Nonetheless, you clearly feel that something of consequence happened that day in Falls Church, when you say that you, “went home carrying more with me than I had entered with.” I would simply ask you to consider more deeply what it was that happened that day. What changed as a result of that procedure, and what would have been different had you not gone through with it? Yes, you would have gone through many, many challenges as a result of an unplanned and unwanted (at the time) pregnancy, but please think about what you might have gained had you kept that baby. I ask this not in order to cause you pain, but rather so you might come to terms with what happened: because something clearly happened.

    At what point would that entity you were carrying in your womb have become a person? At birth? 3 months before birth? one day before birth? one day after birth? Is there any logical point at which that entity can be said to attain personhood besides at the moment of its conception, when it was equipped with the complete set of genetic code that defined it as human life?

    Sometimes a major event like an abortion yields not an explosion of acute remorse, pain, or sadness, but rather a slow, dim ache that ebbs and flows over a long period of time. I don’t mean to explain or diagnose your situation, as I couldn’t possibly know what it feels like to endure the effects of an abortion; all I can say is that this has been true of the major suffering-inducing events of my life. You are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, there is a support group called Project Rachel where you can talk to other women in your situation.

    You are right to say that your story is not primarily about politics or ideology. It is your story, and it shouldn’t be made to fit into a prefabricated ideological box of any shape or size. Despite what you may have been lead to believe, Christianity is not an ideology, or a political platform; Christianity is a story. It is the story of a creator — the infinite reality at the root of all being, who is at the same time a person who loves and wills in many of the same ways that you and I do — and the crowning glory of his creation, human beings, whom he loved from the beginning and will love to the end, regardless of anything we do. When humanity rebelled against the perfect plan of this creator by mistakenly thinking that our lives and bodies are our own (how could they be? we did not create ourselves…), he did not despair, but radically humbled himself by actually becoming one of his creatures. The infinite reality we call God joined himself to finite humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Fully God and fully man, Jesus Christ consummated this radical love story between the creator and his creatures by accepting death by crucifixion to atone for every sin, injustice, and imperfection that humanity has ever committed, then rising from the dead so that every human being, should he or she accept the creator’s invitation of love, might become one with the creator and be raised up like Christ to glory. After this God-man Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, rather than leaving us to fend for ourselves as before, he left us the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in order to make this love story present to all generations until the end of time: especially by making permanent his atoning death and resurrection through the love banquet of holy communion, wherein his body, blood, soul, and divinity, are made truly, physically present each time the holy sacrifice of the mass is celebrated. Whether you believe this story or not, you have to admit it is a beautifully compelling idea.

    It is this story, of infinite love meeting human hearts made for the infinite in spite of their finite surroundings, that defines Christianity. But it is not just a story. These are real historical events that have been passed down through the ages by Jesus Christ’s Church, the extension of his incarnation across space and time, through the holy scriptures and sacred tradition that make up the “ever ancient, ever new” faith we call Catholic. It is a story that is not only beautiful, but reasonable, to believe. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays this all out very well, if you are interested (it is available for free online).

    Jesus Christ is the answer to the happiness we all long for, the source and fulfillment of every human heart’s desire to love and be loved. He loves you as if you were the only being in the universe, regardless of what you do. He seeks you relentlessly, wants to give you the life you deserve, and asks only that you allow him to make of you a new creation by confessing your life-denying sin and accepting the life-affirming love he has for you. Even the gravest of sins is just a drop in the ocean of his infinite mercy. Your unborn child is with him now in the perfect bliss of eternal life. You can meet him or her there one day and know the love that you were deprived of in this life through the unfortunate circumstances that led you to abortion. Become one with him in baptism and walk every day in the radiant light of his love.

    • I’m not going to reply to this whole thing, because it was so long and fictitious that I couldn’t possibly endure it, but I believe you misread a statement of hers. As she said that she came out carrying more than she did coming in, she is mentioning the prescriptions etc. not the supposed guilt of abortion. Normally I wouldn’t argue, but who are you to say this wasn’t her right? That she should be condemned to something she did not commit to?

      Honestly, if you are you adamant about helping a “child’s” life. Take into consideration those children who are born and living in terrible conditions, they are the ones who need to be given a voice and aid.

      • The first portion of your statement, i believe as well.

        However, I take issue with the second point you make. It is a red herring to say we should listen to the children who are born and living in terrible conditions. What does that have to do with the morality of infringing on
        another’s rights to make your own more convenient?

        But to answer your fallacious tactic, you overlook the fact that these persons have at least been given the opportunity to live. They at least have a mean’s of rising out and against, of succeeding and beating the odds. The victims of abortion have no such opportunity. They have no means of resisting and fighting. They have no means of defending themselves and pleading their case.

        The issue is obviously that you overlook the fact that you are comparing an infinitely more complex opportunity at life to a case where there is no opportunity, either good nor bad. That is the tragedy.

      • I commend you for your eloquence and courage. I am pro-life, but respectful of your ability to share your experience to illuminate the dialogue you cite.

        May the lord bless you.

  4. You are incredibly brave. You have done this entire school’s community — students, faculty, staff, alumni alike — a service by putting a human voice to this reality. Don’t listen to the nasty comments. Some people have too much time and too little compassion. As a woman, I thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  5. Mara Hollander says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and please know that despite the inevitable comment mess that has already developed, there are Georgetown students and alumni who support you and your decision.

  6. You are so brave. You are so strong. You are such an inspiration. I am proud of you, and I stand with you. Thank you so much for your voice.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your story. You are so brave and strong for choosing to share this, especially at a place like Georgetown. What is so important about stories like yours is just how common they are. You are 1 out of 3 women who will have an abortion in her lifetime, and it’s so important that society begins to approach the topic without the shame and stigma that is surrounded by now, because there are so many people walking around that have experienced this as well. Coming forward with this is a courageous thing to do, and I applaud and really admire your strength in doing so, even more so in such a public forum that is open to public commentary (beware the many bible quotes and shaming rhetoric inevitably coming your way). So thank you for making your personal story so public, and for actively and consciously helping to end the stigma around abortion. Just by publishing this piece and speaking out about your experience, you have contributed tremendously to the creation of a compassionate, open-minded, and understanding culture. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. First, I just want to say that having the courage and self awareness to write this and process this all is really impressive. Second, to many of those commenting on this, I think it is fine to disagree with the author’s choices, but you should respond thoughtfully, instead of just trolling and asking if she regrets if she had sex.

    Regardless, thank you for sharing this very important story with the Georgetown community. Hopefully it helps future Hoyas in the same situation will read this and knowing that other people have faced this, are able to think through and make choices for them.

    Thank you, again, for your insightful commentary and brilliant writing.

  9. Fellow Hoya says:

    I’m impressed by how articulately you were able to share such a personal experience, to the point that something that surely feels foreign to a lot of us felt very relatable. Abortion is difficult to talk about in general, let alone at a Jesuit university like Georgetown, so I’m glad you made the choice to engage in dialogue through this article. I find myself angry that the comments above aim to tear you down when you had the chance to do the same to their position but admirably did not. Thank you for writing this.

  10. Soraya Chemaly says:

    Thank you to the writer and to the editorial board for sharing this story. It’s incredible important to hear voices like yours in spaces like this.

  11. It’s so easy to incorrectly believe that Georgetown students never have abortions. It can feel like a fairly pro-choice campus (esp. compared to other Catholic schools), but your story serves as a poignant reminder that the culture here still leads many students who had abortions to keep silent about their experiences.

  12. Justin Quam says:

    This community is privileged to have as brave and compassionate a voice as yours among us.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I really identified with many of your thoughts. I myself never found myself in a situation where I was faced with this decision. But if I had been, I would have acted the same way. While many might make you try to feel guilty for your actions and feelings, I wholeheartedly applaud you for taking a path you knew was the right one for you. I’m sure you will be able to achieve so much having made this decision. And one day, if you choose and are able to become a mother, that child will be in such a better position than a child you weren’t ready for/didn’t want at the time would have been.

  14. Chills ran down my spine when you described those details of Georgetown life– I remember those stickers– which is your life, and rightfully so. Aka you shouldn’t have to bring in another life to this world and give up yours if you don’t want to.

    Evolutionarily, across species, it has always been the woman’s right to choose. So it never ceases to surprise me to see the comments on these types of articles. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I commend you for your eloquence and courage. I am pro-life, but respectful of your ability to share your experience to illuminate the dialogue you cite.

    May the lord bless you.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing this. It was stunningly and eloquently written and expressed an abundance of bravery, nuance, and understanding. I have never read anything quite so compelling and even keel about this issue. Despite the haters, there are many people on this campus who stand with you.

  17. Hoya Alum and Faculty Member says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I attended the “Resisting the Throwaway Culture” event last week and am very sympathetic to its message. While I do not agree with the decision you made, neither do I judge you. I am very sorry for the entire experience you endured. I hope you will feel welcome on the Hilltop during the last few weeks of your senior year, and forever as an alumna.

  18. thank you for sharing your story <3

  19. My Parallel but Opposite Story
    It has been years since it happened to me: I became pregnant while a senior at Georgetown University. I say “what happened to me” not “what I did” because the creation of every human life depends ultimately on God.
    As a Georgetown alumna and wife of an adjunct Georgetown professor I write my story for publication now so that more students may become aware of the presence on campus of living human beings hidden from view but there, with you, with beating hearts and souls destined to live forever.
    The two of us did everything we were supposed to do as two educated adults: we dated, became engaged, got married, and were open to life. I could fully trust to be safe with this good friend who fathered the baby in my womb. We were in a permanent commitment until death.
    He played a part, I played a part, and God played a part.
    This entire chapter of my life felt like a “we”. It wasn’t a honeymoon baby, the automatic consequence of consummation. We wondered when or even if God would decide to allow conception. We understood that the creation of a new life was ultimately up to Him.
    Morning sickness came just on time for final papers and exams. The growing unique human being in my womb accompanied me everywhere. She went to class with me in the ICC, attended Mass with me in Dahlgren Chapel, ascended and descended the staircase in Loyola with me, and was inches away from the President of the University when he handed me my diploma. There was another living human being amidst us on campus that semester of my senior year, but only I knew it and those whom I told.
    When the baby had grown to term I opted for an epidural during the birth process at the recommendation of my mother and the medical staff at Georgetown hospital. That was a medical decision. I absolutely respect the values of those who would choose a different path. I left the hospital carrying in my arms a 7 lb. 7 oz. baby girl.
    The Jesuit priest, my former professor, who had married us also baptized our baby, Mary. Years later another former professor of mine, Father Thomas King S. J., would baptize our son, Thomas. The Jesuits of Georgetown have touched our family deeply over the years.
    I sit here today unable to comprehend how different my life could have been, unable to imagine life without my daughter Mary. Mary grew up, became a music major, and fell in love during college like her mother. She married at age twenty-one, as I had before her. And as she had accompanied me in utero to receive my diploma, her newborn son accompanied her to her graduation ceremony.
    Neither of us entered into marriage under duress. We were adults with our parents’ blessings on the relationships and timing. We have had the luxuries of chastity, patience, and other virtues as well as the luxury of God’s mercy. Such virtues and grace were available to us at a great cost, “for God so loved the world that He gave his only–begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). That Son, Jesus Christ, suffered, died, and rose from the dead to provide us all the graces we need to exercise respect for God, ourselves, and others. The priests who hear Confessions have offered up their lives to mediate that grace to us. The sacrifices of Christ, the teachings of His Bride the Church, and the witness of my parents and others have provided me with an “unlimited bank account” of help.
    Being a wife, mother, and homemaker has been a mentally and physically bustling life; a laying down of oneself that another may live. I offer my experience to the Georgetown community in hopes to inspire healing and hope. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (Deut 30:19).

  20. Wonderfully said and beautifully written.

    Thank you, love.

  21. Jane Jimenez says:

    In college in the 1960’s, discussion about abortion was open, passionate and comprehensive. Forty years later, returning to college, I was surprised at the absolute shut out of information in support of life and that raised serious problems with current pro-abortion policies. This personal story from “Anonymous” is important if it generates a fully open consideration of abortion at Georgetown that welcomes and respects pro-life arguments…including further Hoya columns, academic course content, campus guest speakers and events. Many women of my generation have shared their personal abortion stories but have met with rejection and closed doors that deny their courage and truth. Why? Because they reveal serious medical, relational, economic and policy problems resulting from on-demand abortion. This woman’s story is a beginning. Only a beginning.

  22. Elizabeth, how I wish the Hoya would tell your story too. It is comforting to hear about your beautiful Georgetown experience; there are still some of us students and alumni who love the Christ, the Church, the Jesuits, and the Lord’s gift of life. God bless you.

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