by Lex Voytek
My partner and I went to Albertsons because I remembered they had the cheapest pregnancy tests and the brand of pickled cauliflower I liked. We also picked up a bottle of gin to make G&Ts, because I knew I wasn’t pregnant. The pregnancy test was just my tried and tested way to summon my period, since my cycles were often irregular.
Daniel settled on the couch with our second round of G&Ts and I excused myself to the bathroom once the need to pee finally hit. I took one of the tests out of the box and unwrapped the white plastic packaging. I sat down and pointed the absorbent fibers toward the stream of urine—as instructed on the back of the box.
I cleaned myself up as the results came in. I barely glanced at the results window.
I washed my hands and checked the final result... a plus sign where a minus should have been. I double checked the box—a plus sign meant pregnant. That couldn’t be, I thought.
I pulled the second test out of the box and sat back down on the toilet. I positioned the second test between my legs and pushed, hoping my bladder would yield another small stream. I managed to soak the fibers enough for it to give a second result, another plus sign.
I heard a knock at the bathroom door. “You ok, my love?” Daniel asked.
I stayed silent, then opened the door and gave him a grave look.
“We can’t have this baby,” I said with certainty.
“What? You’re pregnant?”
“I won’t have a child, now, or maybe ever,” I continued. “We’re not religious.”
“Of course,” Daniel said, with what I thought looked like a hint of defeat on his face.
I walked over to the table where my full drink was waiting for me and chugged it for good measure, as if to show my defiance and my conviction of the choice I was being forced to make.
“You know I support this decision, right?”
“I know,” I said, but I felt suspicious.
“It’s hard for me, because you know I want to be a father someday, but I also know that this isn’t the right time. And you know I would never judge a woman for abortion, right?”
“I have a half a million eggs to work with; there’s no reason to be sad over this,” I snapped. “How will we continue our plans—you going to school to be a teacher, me going to grad school? This is not fucking sad!” I yelled.
He didn’t yell back. He let me go to the bedroom to cry alone.
the morning after
I was helping a literary magazine by reading through the slush pile, recommending or passing on stories. The morning after I found out that I was pregnant I was reading through some stories before I went to see my doctor. I ran across one story that I soon wished I hadn’t read.
The story was about a woman who finds out she’s pregnant. She has a well-meaning—but ultimately clueless—boyfriend and faces a lot of uncertainty as she seeks a medical abortion. The story details the onset of dread and sickness just after she takes the first round of pills.
Her boyfriend looks at her helplessly as she throws up green bile and cramps set in. There’s no going back, but suddenly she feels the weight of public opinion on her.
She worries she’s in too deep… or is that the shock of hormones wreaking havoc on her body?
As I read the story I began to feel sick. I closed my laptop before I got to the end, imagining the helpless looks Daniel would give me and the assault of public opinion weighing on me as I fought the pain in my pelvis. Or maybe this was just what the world wanted me to believe. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. But, I was still afraid to go to my doctor’s appointment later that afternoon.
Daniel came home from work to pick me up. “You like the sour cream donuts from Krispy Kreme, right?”
“You’re my hero!”
He got a to-go mug from the cupboard, saying he was going to fill it with tea, but I knew the mug was mostly filled with vodka. I feared I’d mostly be alone for my ordeal. He could slip into whimsical drunken self-pity about his lack of choice over my body, and I would be forced to endure the pain alone.
I had it all wrong though. I was naively looking for solace with the man in my life.
Rose was my doctor and a long-time friend, which is why I turned to her when I got the news. She welcomed me into her office, which looked more like a spa than a sterile medical facility. It was after normal hours, but as a vocal feminist and defender of abortion in the community, she wanted to ensure I was seen in a supportive environment.
We left Daniel waiting in the waiting room. As soon as Rose closed the door she gave me a big hug. “Pregnancy is either a cause for celebration or to be treated like an urgent medical issue, like any other ailment. And there is no 100% safe or pleasant way to become un-pregnant. Either you have the baby, or…”
She trailed off, then said sincerely, “Abortion is not as bad as the pro-life propagandists want you to believe. The emotional damage they inflict in young women is far worse,” Rose tried to soothe me. “Is Daniel supportive?”
“Yes, but he won’t ever really understand.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “Speaking of, your blood type is O negative, so I should ask you if you know Daniel’s blood type.”
“A positive, I think.”
“You do know that with your blood type there is a possibility that your body will reject the blood of a baby from a positive-blood-type partner, right? You are well under twelve weeks though, so I am not entirely sure it’s necessary to give you the shot that will prevent any complications in the future. It’s up to you.”
“Yeah... I’ve heard of that,” I said. I thought about how at least I was a modern woman, with people like Rose on my side. When I was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor at twenty years old, she helped me navigate the healing process. She’d warned me I might be infertile or have difficulty carrying a child to term someday. But she stood by the belief that women don’t have to be mothers to be valuable.
Now it was clear that I could conceive, but maybe I was effectively allergic to my lover’s blood type and my body wouldn’t want this baby in my body anyway. I was musing irrationally, but I couldn’t help but feel that if I’d lived as a woman in any other era I would have been stoned or beaten for my lack of functioning reproductive organs. And I was happy to live in a time where women were finally rising up and defining themselves on something other than genitalia and body parts.
I was a valuable woman because I existed.
a good woman
I opted out of the shot, trusting that I was close enough to conception that it wasn’t necessary. Then I let Rose administer the drugs.
“You’re sure...” she almost said instead of asked.
“I’m positive. I’ve said before, in a blind rage, that I would never forgive the man that got me pregnant. I like kids; I just can’t have them—not now at least.”
“That’s ok. Kids are amazing, but I will remind you: You don’t have to be a mother to be a good woman. You are not just your relationship to men. You are not just Daniel’s girlfriend or even your father’s daughter,” she said.
I let the words hit me as I had lost my father when I was only six. I was looking for failed points of connection to what I thought I should be as a good woman—a doting daughter, a willing parent. And perhaps failing at motherhood, either medically when I thought I was infertile, or now when I made the choice not to be a mother, was just my sick perception of my life in relation to men.
“Thank you, Rose. I need more women in my life.”
“And maybe less men!” She joked.
“Well, I am going straight over to my mom’s before these drugs kick in and she said she would take care of me.”
“My mom is the coolest. She is making me nourishing soup and making up my old room as we speak.”
“That’s good. You also have my home number so you can call me if you need me. I’ll take you to the emergency room myself if I think we cannot handle just in case anything goes wrong in the next couple of days. But, likely in the next few hours it will just be as if you are having a painful and heavy period. You can also just call me if you need to talk.”
I gave Rose a long hug and fought the urge to cry. I wasn’t sad about my choice; I was sad that not every woman had such a loving and safe place to turn.
I met Daniel in the waiting room. We were mostly quiet on the drive to my mom’s house. When we arrived, my mom came out to hug me tightly. She had a bed already made, a bowl of soup and a freshly baked chocolate cake waiting for me.
Lex Voytex is a restless wanderer, and writing—and sometimes a good whisky—can remedy the inner chaos. She teaches English to Chinese students and tutors math to appear well rounded.