I found out I had become pregnant. I referenced Peace Corps’ Medical Handbook and, sure enough, at the bottom of the page it said women cannot be pregnant while serving with Peace Corps. I had just started this relationship with this guy and started on this adventure with PC. I had gotten rid of all of my stuff and moved the few personal effects that remained into my parents’ garage. I was prepared to go off and change lives for two plus years in Peace Corps. It was my dream!
I texted my boyfriend that I took two pregnancy tests and both came up positive. I don’t remember what he said. All I know is that he did not immediately encourage me. A lack of a supportive response catapulted me into a new degree of independence where I knew I would do this by myself. It was all up to me.
As per PC procedure, I had a sonogram done. I alone heard that heartbeat. I was astounded. But I had no choice. I cried at the airport back to the US (abortion is illegal in the PC country), I cried on the plane, I cried at the hotel in Washington, DC, I cried at the clinic. I didn’t want to do it. I prayed and prayed. I wanted an angel to come down and stop me and say my Brown/Black baby’s life mattered. But no one came. No one came to stop me. No one encouraged me.
I thought and thought. I could go back home, but I had nothing. I had one box of things at home and a college degree. But now I would be pregnant while looking for a job. They would soon figure out that I was pregnant and would need time off for maternity leave. Who would hire me? I could wait until after I gave birth to find a job, but what would I do about money in the meantime? I would have to rely on my parents? They just paid for my Berkeley education, and I know that it was not easy. Plus, I had loans to pay. What about my baby’s father? He’s from Virginia. Would he finish out Peace Corps’ two year commitment? Would he move to California to be near his child? Would my baby be fatherless?
Alone, I took the subway to the clinic. Alone I took the pills to calm me. Alone I stumbled away from the clinic because I grew hungry waiting for the doctor to arrive after he finished delivering babies from a local hospital. I wandered back to the clinic. The nurses didn't care, didn't notice. I was called back. I cried during the procedure. I was told to calm down and breathe while he finished sucking the life out of me. A nurse put a pad on me and walked me to a heated chair where I waited with two other women. And I cried. I sobbed. I didn't care about making them uncomfortable. I balled.
My baby was gone. I had no choice.
I flew back to South America alone and reunited with my boyfriend. I cried. A year later he lied to me about something. He did other things that disrespected me. I so badly wanted to work out with him. I had decided the abortion was an investment on our relationship, and I didn't want to lose. I put up with much.
The following year Peace Corps changed its policy saying that, if a volunteer became pregnant she could still serve, but she would be moved to a site closer to a hospital. I guess they finally acknowledged a woman’s capacity to multitask.
A peer became pregnant and I saw her enthusiastically announce her pregnancy. I saw her baby bump develop while she taught in Paraguayan classrooms. I still see pictures of her sweet child on Facebook.
I was bitter.
You can't study while pregnant. You can't be in school while pregnant. You can't find a job while pregnant. Society tells you “you can't.” You can't, you can't, you can't, you can't, you can't. Abortion disempowers women. It says you're not woman enough to handle pregnancy.
Abortion perpetuates a “woman living in a man’s world” mentality. Abortion makes the work and education environment built by men for men the status quo. It doesn’t reject the bias against women's bodies/ biology. Isn't it time for our society to recognize that women are fully immersed in higher ed and work and that our bodies are different?
Instead of telling women to change their bodies, let’s reject this old fashioned system. Paid maternity leave should be a civil right, for more than six weeks. Desks should adjust for a woman’s growing belly. Access to child care centers should be standard.
There were only a handful of pregnant women at Berkeley. They are an amazing example of what it means to be a kick-ass woman. Judith was an amazing Peace Corps volunteer, another amazing example of what supported women can accomplish. Male privilege attempts to define what it takes to be successful and we allow it. God forbid a pregnant woman actually does a better job at work or can still compete in a classroom.
I’m over it! What do we do to make women feel like they have a genuine choice? Like they can say yes to their pregnancy? To let them know you think they're capable? To feel strength in their womanhood rather than dread? Even if it's only long enough to carry the baby to term and give it up to parents ready to love and care for it. I think people worry that with these systems in place women might actually choose life. And I don’t know why it scares them. I wish we would put as much effort into fighting shame of unplanned pregnancy as is being done to fight shame and, in fact, pride of abortion. Our society should be ashamed about nodding along and agreeing that women cannot be successful if she goes through the stages of pregnancy.
I feel regret. And I try to move on and not get down on myself about giving up the opportunity to raise my child. My child would have been amazing! If I'm ashamed, it's at the fact that I allowed myself to be pressured into it. That I doubted myself. I am much tougher than I give myself credit for. I’m a real xingona.
Every once in a while I would have bouts of crying. There were certain triggers and I would become a mess. After five years my boyfriend cheated on me and said he wasn't sure about me. I left him and after a year and a half I was ready to move on. But my heart was still tied up to him because of our child. I finally gave in to going to a Rachel's Vineyard retreat to make sure I really dug through my feelings and at least attempted guided post-abortion therapy. It was amazing!
Now I can’t help it. I have to shout: You CAN do it! You’ve got this! You’re so hard core -- you’re a woman! Let me know how I can help you, sister! You don’t have to keep the child. There are many couples that want children. And what you have in you right now is nothing less than a developing human organism. Like you and me. It’s just a little younger.