An unthinkable Request-when abortions don’t exist as an option

I could not sleep. My stomach was squeezing and my mind was racing. If I had a computer back then, I would have been up all night googling teen pregnancy statistics and suicide prevention tips. Instead I was forced to sit there with my own teenage brain as my only resource.

What were the chances that my friend would get pregnant accidentally? Mrs. B said at school that condoms were like 90 something % effective…right? and how many times of sneaking out and finding some place to have sex x that 90something % would = pregnancy?

I tried to imagine doing what my friend asked me to do. I did not know if the right thing to do was to honor my friend’s request or to go against her wishes and save her life. I knew the weight of secrets and shame and that muddled my moral compass. I just could not figure out what the right thing to do was.

I did not lay in bed that night thinking about abortions or wondering if they were ethical and if I should offer that idea up as an alternative to suicide to my teenage friend. No. I did not even know abortions were a “thing.” They were just not on my radar as an actual possible alternative to unwanted pregnancy. I had never known anyone who had one. I had never heard anyone talk about them except for in the political way and even then it was so far outside of it’s context that it didn’t occur to me in this situation. I just thought it was a grown-up politics thing not an actual medical procedure.

I was a smart kid, but I did not know more than my rural community had taught me to know.

I wrestled with this for hours, replaying the conversation that I had with my friend over and over and over and over again in my mind.

“If I ever come to your house with a box of stuff from my closet and tell you to destroy it for me, just do it. Promise.”

“O..K…What are you talking about?”

“I am serious. If I ever get pregnant, I want you to destroy this box for me so that my parents don’t ever see it. There are some things that they should just never know, ok?”

“……..” I don’t know how serious she was or if she thought I was just going to go along with this, but my mom had attempted suicide a couple of times when I was younger and I had seen it. I had sat glued to the banister on the staircase in my next door neighbors apartment (back when we lived in public housing) and watched the ambulance crew save my mom’s life. This conversation with my friend was scaring me and triggering me and I did not know what to do or what to say to save my friend’s life.

“What do you mean?” I finally asked. “What do you mean…destroy a box? If you are pregnant? …Are you pregnant?!”

“No! God, No. I am just saying IF I ever get pregnant. I’d rather die than be a teenage mom. I’d just throw myself off the Brooklynside Bridge. No fucking way would I let this town know I was pregnant. No fucking way.”

I wanted to feel relief that we were talking about some hypothetical situation where my friend wasn’t now going to kill herself but would only do it if she accidentally got pregnant. Phew. but no. I could not shake the panic rising in my chest. My friend was safe tonight but what about next month? When she came running to me, would I take the box and then hug her and let her go? Or would I go against my promise and hold her against her will so that should could not carry out her plans? But what else could I do? I would never tell on her! Oh my God. OhmygodohmygodOHMYGOD It was the middle of the night. My sheets were soaked in my sweat and it felt like there was 1000 pounds sitting on my chest. I could barely breath when I finally crawled out of bed.

My mom did not sleep in a bed in a room with a closed door like other mothers. She slept on the couch. Every single night. the living room was right on the other side of my bedroom door.

“Mama…?” I whispered but too quietly. I could not force any more words through my clenched throat. The tears started pouring out until my body had released enough to make space for words to squeeze out.. “Mama!”

She woke up to me sitting soaked on the floor beside her on the couch. I had never done this before. For all the trauma and violence and fear of my youth, I had never woken my mom up in the night because I was scared. Well not since I was little.

I poured it all out to her and remarkably I remember nothing after this. Did my mom talk to her mom? Did my mom reach out to my friend directly? Did she give me advice that I took and moved forward with? I do not know. Because telling my mom was the right thing to do and it brought relief. My friend survived. Our friendship survived. My mom took me soon after that to get me on birth control pills and she did not connect it to this night, but as I write this out, I can draw the line from one point to the next.

I was 15 and not asking for the pill, but mom brought it up one day. “Crystal Fawn, I made you an appointment after school tomorrow. you have to see the Women’s Doctor now because you’re just at that age.” I was shocked because my mom was kind of a prude. I mean she had me out of wedlock with a married man when she was young, but as a grown up mother, she was very conservative about sex. Usually she preached, “wait until you are married!” (Sorry mom, I never did get married!) or even worse, “sex is dangerous! sex gives you AIDS!” which was one of the only times that she talked directly about AIDS. Then she would get really quiet and there was no room for discussion. She had said what needed to be said about the topic. but here she was saying this now, “…and um…they will check you out in your hoo-haw and it’s not a big deal. Everybody does it and then they can give you a prescription for some birth control pills…” She stopped talking to let me catch up. She looked at me right in the eye for about one second and then quickly looked away and rattled on, “I mean it’s not just for having sex. It can be for health reasons, like to make your periods less painful and less heavy and stuff.”

I had never had heavy or painful periods. Oh my God. My mom was telling me to get on birth control pills! I did not take it for granted then but I even more so do not now. This was probably one of the miracles that saved my life. I stayed on those pills until I was out of high school and had my first baby within a year of stopping them. I am forever grateful for that gift from my mom. She gave me time to mess up and make mistakes and not become a mom before I was ready. not that I planned to have my first baby at 21, but I was ready to be a mom then. I could handle it then and I knew what I was getting into then. I knew there were options and I chose to become a mother.

This story has always haunted me. I remember the first time that abortions became real for me. In my first year outside of my hometown when girls confided to me over cigarettes outside of our dorm rooms or whispered to me when girl’s snuck into my room for advice. I became the sex therapist for my dorm floor after every one else claimed to be a virgin (It was a Catholic school) and I was honest and not Catholic. Anyway, as these girls would come to me and sit on my floor and tell me their stories in secret, I began to realize that abortion was not just a real thing, but kind of a common thing.

When a friend asked me to support them through their abortion, I sat there holding their hand and rubbing their back feeling so grateful. I would rather hold my friend through an abortion than sit with the request my friend laid on me when we were teens.

I don’t know if teenagers in my hometown have more access to abortions now than they did when I was a kid. The internet has carried information and resources that were unimaginable to me back then but without a local clinic or public transportation, I am not sure that information is enough. I looked up the statistic and found that 25% of births in my hometown are to teen mothers.
I looked this up and as I expected the closest abortion provider is 50 miles away and in another state. How is a poor, rural teenager going to get there?

An afterthought: I know I do this too much, but I almost always have more to say! Just couldn’t end this without SHOUTING that teen moms are MOMS and I love and respect a lot of badass teen moms.

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