Note from the Editor: The Mama Sagas has always been committed to providing a platform for women to share their truth. Sometimes these truths are hard to share. Sometimes they are hard to read. Sometimes they are controversial. But they are always important.
Most issues that divide us are not as black or white as we make them seem. There is usually a gray area that is not often talked about. That gray area is an opportunity to cultivate empathy, understanding, and compromise. The gray area is where we meet humanity, foster love, and find solutions of the highest good. This is why storytelling is so powerful: it is the catalyst for bridging divide.
My request is that, no matter your thoughts or feelings on one woman’s story, you give her the respect and compassion you would hope for in return if you shared your deepest truth.
March 9, 2008 | Charlotte, North Carolina
It was early spring in Charlotte, the time of year when everything blossoms with new buds of life. Around my neighborhood, trees returned from their winter desolation and gently unfurled new greenery, testifying of hope and new beginnings, obnoxiously insensitive to my mood.
I lay, quiet and still, blanketed by the pink-flowered coverlet of my king size bed and a soft Percocet haze. A dull ache persisted across my low back and abdomen, punctuated periodically by severe cramping, during which I clenched my jaw and curled more tightly into the fetal position. I considered taking a warm bath, but even subtle movements sent surges of nausea coursing through me, and the idea of bath tinged pink with blood weighed on me like gravity, holding me to the bed as I cried softly into my pillow.
From the living room, the muffled sound of daytime news wafted through the wall. Out there, in the living room and beyond, in the world the news reported on, people were going about their days, caring about things like the stock market, Charlotte’s best Easter egg hunts, and five easy ways to shed stubborn belly fat.
A vise gripped and twisted in my low belly, and I moaned involuntarily in response to the pain. A soft, wet, gelatinous sensation bloomed at my vagina before escaping my body, reminding me of the permanence of my decision. The informational pamphlet said it was normal to see large blood clots (up to the size of a lemon) or clumps of tissue pass in the process. It was normal.
It was all very normal to murder your first baby on a clear, sunny, springtime afternoon.
September 12, 2007 | Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Margaret,” he said, wiggling his toes into the sand, “I like the name Margaret for a girl. We could call her Meg.”
A long, flat expanse of beach sloped down to equally flat water, calm as a lake save for a few ankle biting waves lapping softly against the shore. He sat in a beach chair next to the blanket where I lay, soaking up the midday rays of South Carolina sunshine. We’d escaped to Myrtle Beach for a few days midweek, a business trip for him, a free vacation for me. Somehow our conversation wandered to baby names, and we tossed out options in the playful way of naive lovers’ daydreams.
“That’s my grandmother’s name,” I replied, “so yeah, I like it. She’s an incredible woman. Did you know she finished a degree in zoology at Berkeley after having six kids? She was thirty three. Six kids. Can you imagine?”
“You come from good stock, then,” he said thoughtfully, “a long line of strong women.”
“Good stock? What am I,” I retorted, “a broodmare?” He looked me over appraisingly and raised an eyebrow.
“Well, long legs, nice shiny coat, a fine looking rump, I reckon you’re more of a show pony than a broodmare. But I’ve no doubt you’d do well at both.”
“Spare me your redneck analogies, lover boy,” I said, wrinkling up my nose, “this show pony won’t breed. I’m way too selfish to be a mom, and anyway, you’ve already got all the kids you need. Last I checked, people usually get married before they have kids, and last I checked, you’ve already got all the wives you need, too. Pretty sure one’s the legal limit, even in the dirty south.”
“We’ll see, darlin’,” he drawled, leaning back in his beach chair, “you just never know with these things.”
Glancing at his overweight, sunburned, hairy body, I briefly imagined linking our fates for a lifetime. I thought of his oldest son, disowned at nineteen because he was gay, and his wife, who, after birthing his children, had done nothing but cook, clean, and fulfill her PTA duties, her life defined by the seasonal decorations on their country farmhouse. I thought about bearing his child and inwardly recoiled at the thought.
“Yeah,” I replied, “you never know.”
February 25, 2008 | Dayton, Ohio
I woke up freezing, despite the heater being set to eighty five degrees in the rundown courtyard-view room at the Dayton airport hotel. Shivering, I drew the covers tight around my body, and rolled over in the bed. The sudden movement sent a shock wave of nausea rippling through my body, and I lurched out of bed, feeling the bile rise in my throat as I raced for the bathroom. From the back corner of my brain, a knowing arose. As I violently spewed deeply digested Top Ramen into the not-quite-clean toilet bowl, the rational part of my mind segued to practical calculations. How many weeks since I last saw him? Slumped against the porcelain throne, hazy with sleep and chilled to the bone, it dawned on me: I was in my third week of flight attendant school, pregnant by a married man, and I was terrified.
March 23, 2007 | Knoxville, Tennessee
Outside the window of the truck, inky blackness obscured the hills and valleys of the Smoky Mountains. We’d been driving for hours and were somewhere outside Knoxville. I’d finally given in and allowed him to drive, despite my initial objections. Mindy Lou, my little spotted black and white terrier, was curled up in my lap, a small blanket of warmth and familiarity in the foreign landscape and company.
I’d only known him for seventy two hours, and so far, he’d defied most of what I expected a sugar daddy to be. He was chivalrous, almost excessively so, and funny. During our three day visit to Tunica, Mississippi, he wined and dined me like a true Southern gentleman, even going so far as to book me my own room – despite the fact that our previously discussed terms clearly specified having sex, at some point. I kept trying to get him in bed, but he repeatedly demurred, putting me off with chaste kisses and excuses of tiredness. I wondered if it was a virility issue. He was, after all, forty-four, which seemed like a reasonable age to be struggling with impotence.
He was good for the money, though. On our last day at the riverboat casinos, I watched him magically transform a paltry five hundred dollars into over fifteen thousand at the blackjack table – which he handed to me as a token of his affection. Though at first I was put off by his short, wide stature and ruddy complexion, I’d come to consider him an unconventionally attractive and charming specimen of a man – somewhat like a leprechaun (albeit, one I was willing to sleep with for the right price). He was supposed to fly back to Charlotte, but we’d found an odd kind of solace in each others companionship, and when he offered to drive with me from Mississippi to North Carolina, I surprised myself by accepting.
Oncoming headlights blinded me briefly, illuminating his features sharply in the darkness, then dimmed as the driver turned off their brights. I found my thoughts wandering to my life situation: just weeks out of an abusive relationship, I’d abandoned California and was now traipsing across the United States with a broken heart, a truckful of baggage, and a deep desire to leave everything behind me.
“Do you believe in God?” His voice broke the stillness and drew me out of my rumination. I turned to look at him, surprised by the random question.
“No,” I replied, “ I don’t.”
“Why not?” he inquired, “if you don’t mind my asking.”
I paused briefly, curious at the depth with which I was considering his question. I’d always scoffed at the idea of God, annoyed by the western conception of a patriarchal voyeur in the sky, a determinant reality ordering my steps and doling out judgment or blessing according to His whim. But it was more than that, too. The depth of despair I’d encountered over the past few years, the pain in the world, the universality of suffering – surely these belied the existence of a divine reality.
A long moment passed, then softly, I spoke. “If God is real, then why do I feel so empty inside?” The words hung between us, erecting a barrier, but also extending an invitation. He was quiet, too, for a beat longer than necessary for a canned reply.
“A cup isn’t empty unless it can be filled,” he ventured. “Any vessel, by definition, if empty, can be filled. It’s emptiness doesn’t mean it can’t be filled – it means it was created to be.”
“Deep,” I said, returning my gaze to the darkness outside my window.
“And you know,” he went on, “God knows your doubt. God knows everything about you – in fact, he made you just exactly the way you are, on purpose. He knit you in your mother’s womb, and designed you perfectly for the purpose that He has for you. If you feel empty, it might just be that you’re aching for that purpose.”
“Sounds like God likes a challenge,” I said. I meant it to be sassy, but it came out vulnerable instead.
“Why else would we have free will?” he asked.
I said nothing. If he wanted to save me, he could do his best. I’d ride the glory train as long as the conductor kept doling out cash.
Nevertheless, his words made some sense. Maybe my emptiness could be filled. I lit up a cigarette, rolled down the window, and closed my eyes, inhaling deeply the night, the open road, and the possibility of redemption.
March 8, 2008 | Charlotte, North Carolina
God told him I should have an abortion. I was pretty sure God had never spoken to me, so I listened to him instead. It was convenient that God agreed with me – there was no way we could have a child together. So I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood, resolute to solve the problem. The Bible says anyone with anger in their heart has already committed murder, so I figured it wouldn’t change that much on Judgment Day. Double jeopardy and all that.
At the consultation I was numb as medical assistants and worn out nurses carried on efficiently around me, asking me questions about my mental and uterine health, poking and prodding my most sensitive areas with a detached resignation. A nurse, whose name tag read Rhonda, wore a mask of neutrality while invading my body with the least friendly dildo I’d ever encountered (which they said was an ultrasound device – tomato, tomahto.) Her free hand (the one that wasn’t spelunking in my lady cave) pointed to a meaningless blob.
“You’re about five weeks,” she said flatly as she pressed a button to print the image. With one fell swoop, the ultrasound wand vacated my vaginal premises. Flipping on the lights, Rhonda handed me a small brochure with a picture of an absurdly joyful young woman and cover text that read: Conscious Family Planning.
“Because it’s so early,” she continued, “you have the option to take an oral medication instead of undergoing surgery. It’s a pretty simple process: there are two pills. One, we administer to you here at the clinic. You’ll take the second four hours later, at home. The combination will block your progesterone production and induce a heavy, crampy period. You can expect about four to six hours of heavy bleeding, tapering off to a normal period-like flow for a few days. It’s a pretty simple procedure. Do you have any questions?” she asked in a tone more finite than querulous.
“Um, no,” I said, drawing the paper sheet more tightly across my lap. I was still lying down, and felt exposed beneath the stark white medical lights. “But I know that I’m ready, I mean, I want the pill, so can we just take care of that now?”
Help me, Rhonda. I stifled a giggle as the song lyric popped into my head. This obviously was not the time for giggling.
“No,” she said, “North Carolina has a mandatory twenty four hour waiting period for all abortion procedures. You can’t get the pills until tomorrow. When you decide what you want to do, you can inform the receptionist at the front desk.” The nurse turned abruptly and walked out of the room, leaving me on the exam table: half naked, cold, and empty, but not in the way I needed.
Five minutes later, I silently accepted the appointment reminder card the receptionist handed me and tucked it quickly into the back pocket of my jeans. It seemed unlikely I would forget about an appointment occurring twenty six hours from the present, but I decided against submitting that helpful feedback to the suggestion box.
I slapped an Amex on the counter next to a jar of assorted colored lollipops. I grabbed a red one, which I hoped was cherry.
“Can I see your ID, please?” she asked.
“It’s not mine,” I said, “it’s my – boyfriend’s. I mean, the guy responsible for all this.” I motioned to my belly. “He’d be here with me, except he’s married, and a Christian, and told me to do this even though apparently it’s not somewhere he can go or be seen or whatever.” I waited, thinking I’d said too much, and wondered if she would refuse to run the card.
“I see,” she said, swiping the card and silently handing me the receipt to sign. She turned back to her computer, letting me know I was free to go.
Tearing the wrapper from my sucker, I stuck it gratefully in my mouth before heading for the exit. Brisk spring air nipped at my nose and burned my cheeks as I stepped out the doorway and stood still to soak in the moment. Exhaling deeply, letting the stale medical air drain from my lungs, I loitered. Outside the clinic, protesters rallied, waving signs citing bible verses and shouting condemnation at passers-by as they headed to and from the building. Apparently some kind of legal restraint required that they stay a certain distance from the clinic premises. Behind their imaginary boundary line, crusaders for the preservation of zygotes drilled a patriotic parade of reproach, seemingly hoping to guilt and shame sinners into sainthood.
My phone buzzed. It was him.
“How’d it go?” he asked. In the background, the sounds of drunken revelry. It wasn’t even noon, and he was at a bar.
“Fine,” I said, “I’m coming tomorrow. It’s a pill, so I don’t need a ride.”
“Lover…” his voice trailed off in the way that said he was waiting for me to make everything okay.
“I used your card. And I won’t be able to lead youth group tomorrow. I’m texting Cici to let her know.” On Wednesdays I led a small group for Christian teenagers through Young Life. It made me feel good about myself to volunteer with people who thought I wasn’t totally fucked up.
“Lover, I’ve been praying about this constantly and it seems counter to God’s nature, but I know His voice.” He paused. “It’s not the time for us – or for you – to have a baby. I want you to know, it’s okay. God knew since the beginning of time the path your life would take. He knows all your sin. You’ve already been forgiven.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, “listen, I gotta go. I’ve got another call beeping in. It’s my mom,” I lied.
“Ok baby, I love you so much,” he said.
I hung up and tossed the phone in my purse, sticking the sucker back in my mouth. I swirled it on my tongue, greedily absorbing the sugary sweetness as I watched the pro-lifers pacing, waving their flags and signs, full of faith and unfettered by the weight of grave decisions. Zealous light shone from their faces as they marched for God’s glory, vindicated by the knowledge that they were pure, right, and whole.
I watched, swirled, and sucked until all that was left was a tiny little candy nub on a chewed up paper stick. I bit the nub in half, crunching the last remnants between my teeth, and tossed the stick into the nearby ashtray. Then I lit up a cigarette and drew the acrid smoke through my sugar-stained teeth. It tasted like cherries, loneliness and freedom.
May 16, 2019 | Oceanside, California
I had an abortion at 22.
If that had not been an option, I would have had a child by a man 20 years my senior, who was married to someone else, and who is now in prison.
I was fresh out of a 6-year abusive relationship when I met him. Addicted to prescription diet pills, coke & alcohol, and using both when I found out I was pregnant.
He said despite everything he believed as a born again Christian, God told him it was okay for me to have an abortion. In fact, God told him I should do it. I couldn’t hear God, but I agreed.
When I went to the clinic to research options, protestors screamed at me, told me I was going to hell, called me Jezebel and sinner and whore.
Here’s what I know now:
I felt every ounce of guilt and shame I could feel for this. I lived with fear for years that God would punish me, that I would not be able to have kids, or that my husband or child would die because of what I’d done.
I wrestled (and still do) with the spiritual ramifications of my choice – what did it mean for this angel spirit, the one who could have come but didn’t?
Somewhere between predestination and free will is an agreement: I chose, spirit baby chose, God chose – we chose, and the choice we made was the perfect one – for all of us.
I thank God for my 14-year-old self, who had the option of plan B after being assaulted, for my 22-year-old self, who had the courage to choose a different future, and for the grace, forgiveness, and healing I’ve found since.
If I’d had that child, I would have become a drug-addicted single mama with a baby daddy in prison and a story very different from the one I share today.
For the children who aren’t yet ready to be mothers, for the teens who can’t support themselves, for the women lost in addiction, for the babies who deserve to be wanted, for the simple fact that we are sovereign beings with a right to discern what is best for our bodies and our lives…
FUCK YOUR ABORTION BAN.
Nothing in life is black and white. There are infinite complexities and nuances which shape and mold our daily experience, and my path from ‘there’ to ‘here’ is no different. But, eventually, I realized that I had a future that deserved much more than an imbalance of power with an older married man, and I left.
Moving back to California, I had a series of spiritual experiences which moved me into a deep, abiding connection with God – a word I use to describe the foundation of being, and the infinite, boundless, compassionate love which holds us all.
When I got pregnant with my son (who is now 2), I was so afraid that because of my abortion choice a decade prior, I would suffer. I was afraid I would lose my son, my husband, or in some way be stricken down because I’d done something wrong.
What I realize now is that I am softer, wiser, and kinder – to other women AND to myself – because of the difficult choice I made. Where my essay may read as irreverent, it’s not. It’s merely the story of a 22-year-old girl protecting herself by shutting off her emotions to something that was deeply challenging. Choosing to not have that child felt like a big decision, but in truth, it was a series of small, clear decisions – leading up to it and following – to honor my own future, to trust that a different hope would blossom for me. The abortion was the turning point which helped me realize no one could navigate my relationship with God, or myself, except me. It woke me up to the fact that everyone is complicated – even the religious man who thought he would never sanction something like this. He’s not a villain in this story – just another human doing the best they can with the tools they have.
The buzz around this issue right now extends so far beyond abortion, women’s rights, even human rights. It’s about the unalienable right to CHOOSE. It’s about free will. It’s about our position as sovereign beings with autonomy on all levels – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. It’s about us realizing that we have the power and privilege to create the life we imagine, and to decide what that will look like.
Amelia Travis, founder of Stoked Yogi, is an E-RYT 500, writer, speaker, and business coach who has impacted thousands of lives through yoga education programs, stand up paddle and surf experiences, and women’s empowerment retreats. She is a TEDx speaker and her writing has been published in Yoga Journal, Huffington Post, and the Inertia. She lives by her personal mantra: Set your intention, breathe it to life.